The 2010 Remix Report Card, Vol. 1

Sunday, January 31, 2010
"Don't Make Em Like U No More (Remix)" by Ruben Studdard featuring Rick Ross
Ruben and Rawse feeling some fat boy unity here, the latter opening the song with the dubious compliment "SHE GOT A BODY LIKE A MERMAID." I don't even know what else to say about this one.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"How Low (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring Twista and Rick Ross
This is what the fuck I'm talking about, one of my favorite singles of the past few months with motherfucking Twista doing his thing on the track, brings me back to that awesome track with Luda on Kamikaze. Rick Ross's voice sounds weirdly pitched up ever so slightly on this, which makes me want to put forward the theory that he had to record his verse at a lower speed because that clumsy oaf couldn't keep up with the beat.
Best Verse: Twista
Overall Grade: B+

"It Kills Me (Remix)" by Melanie Fiona featuring Ghostface Killah
As much as radio plays this song to death I still haven't really gotten into it or even seen its appeal, but I can't deny that Ghost is a pretty perfect choice on here as far as the vibe goes. Unfortunately, his flow is really halting like he really just didn't try to figure out how to rap over a beat this slow, and he splits up the word "obligation" across two lines in a way that's awkward as hell.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"I Wanna Rock (The Kings G-Mix)" by Snoop Dogg featuring Jay-Z
Usually Jay is really predictable about what songs he'll do remixes of, generally by artists he's affiliated with or has some reason to strategically align himself with at the moment, but I'm surprised about this one, even though he's worked with Snoop a bunch of times in the past the only remix he did was for a much bigger song, "Drop It Like It's Hot." Anyway Snoop totally murders him on this.
Best Verse: Snoop Dogg
Overall Grade: C+

"O Let's Do It (Remix)" by Waka Flocka Flame featuring Trae, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross
Trae is such a cool and offbeat choice to appear here, and it's genuinely interesting to hear his voice on this beat, so kudos to Waka for getting creative with the lineup after Gucci presumably got locked up before he would've got around to doing a verse for this. The rest ain't really worth talking about, though.
Best Verse: Trae
Overall Grade: B-

"Sex Therapy (Remix)" by Robin Thicke featuring Ludacris
I had somewhat high hopes for this, since Luda's at his best when he's sleazy and with Polow on the beat there was always the possibility he'd go in on a new track for one of those crazy Zone 4 remixes, but this is really about as much of a snooze as the original. The way the beat gets chopped a little on Luda's 2nd verse is cool, but he goes and ruins it by ending it with the line "got the banana, now let me split you."
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C-

"Whatever U Want (Bad Boy Remix)" by Consequence featuring Puff Daddy and The Lox
I really don't get this. Cons already did a remix full of G.O.O.D. labelmates for this tepid non-hit a couple months ago, and that at least made sense, but now here's Diddy reuniting with the Lox (even being billed as Puff to maximize the nostalgia) for another one, despite the fact that this just doesn't work thematically or musically or in any way at all.
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: D

Friday, January 29, 2010

In the last few weeks on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog, I've posted live reviews of John Berndt's Multiphonic Choir @ the Windup Space, Man & Dog and The Feast of Epiphany @ An die Musik, and a year-end Club Beat column listing my top Baltimore club tracks of 2009, by K.W. Griff, DJ Pierre, the Doo Dew Kidz with Mullyman, DJ Excel, Rod Lee, Ultra Naté with King Tutt, and Say Wut, among others.

Narrowcast's 25 Most Anticipated Albums of 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Beauty Pill - TBA
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Jaguar Love - Hologram Jams
Styles P & DJ Green Lantern - The Green Ghost Project
Ted Leo - The Brutalist Bricks
Young Jeezy - Thug Motivation 103
Maxwell - blackSUMMERS'night
Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
The-Dream - Love King
Freeway & Jake One - The Stimulus Package
Mike Watt - My Shubun No Hi
D’Angelo - TBA
Ludacris - Battle Of The Sexes
Reflection Eternal - Revolutions Per Minute
Usher - Raymond v. Raymond
Gucci Mane - The State vs. Radric Davis: The Appeal
Lil Boosie - Free At Last
Fishboy - TBA
Young Dro - P.O.L.O. (Players Only Live Once)
The Roots - How I Got Over
Medications - Completely Removed
New Pornographers - Together
Big Boi - Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
My Chemical Romance - TBA
Mariah Carey - Angels Advocate

Movie Diary

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
a) Legion
Last Friday the wife and I got to go on a date with just the two of us for the first time since the baby was born, and naturally we went and saw the kind of special effects-heavy popcorn movie junk we both have a weak spot for. This movie was kinda hit and miss in that from moment to moment it might look awesomely expensive or kind of chintzy and cheap, and feel pompously self-serious or kind of Sam Raimi-style campy and over-the-top. Overall, though, a pretty enjoyable flick with a ton of really memorable imagery. After "Lost" last season and Smokin' Aces and this, Kevin Durand is carving out a good niche for himself playing big scary motherfuckers.

b) Fired Up!
As far as bawdy cheerleader-themed comedies go, this is really clever and well written. I wasn't sure what I thought of Eric Christian Olsen in the first couple things I saw him in, but after his guest spot on "Community" I think dude is really funny.

c) Synecdoche, NY
Reviews, both positive and otherwise, that constantly refer to this movie as "complex" or "ambitious" give it too much credit. It's obtuse and involved, but as an artistic undertaking it's old hat for Charlie Kaufman. I'll go to bat for Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind or even Adaptation, but here he bashes you over the head with meta so artlessly and relentlessly that what little emotion and humor there is in individual scenes is just mashed into a fine pulp that barely comes across in the turgid final product. "Masturbatory" would be the right word for this movie even if he hadn't given his stand-in protagonist something like 5 different love interests.

d) Taken
I feel like there's so many movies these days that could basically be summed as "(male movie star) has a gun," that at this point I want to just make a franchise out of the idea. Clive Owen Has A Gun and Jason Statham Has A Gun would be no-brainers, but this, Liam Neeson Has A Gun, is a pretty good entry in the series too. For some reason the idea works better with British/Irish actors. Maybe it's a James Bond thing.

e) The Uninvited
It was interesting to see Elizabeth Banks play a creepy character in a horror movie after all the rom coms she's done in the last few years, but she took to it pretty well. There were some good scares and some disturbing imagery in here, but the big twist at the end, and a lot of bending over backwards the movie did to get there, made it overall kinda dumb.

f) Keith
A nice little teen romance movie, with a weird brooding atmosphere that made it a little less saccharine that it would've otherwise been, especially considering how it ended.

g) Wonder Boys
This was nice, didn't love it, didn't hate it, good performances all around. Went in some unfortunate and predictable directions, especially towards the end, but I enjoyed the ride well enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2010
I voted in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop's critics poll for the third time in 2009, and the results went up a few days ago (posts about my previous two years). My ballot's here, and as usual Glenn McDonald's amazing All·Idols 2009 stats breakdown has numbers on how well the albums I voted for did in the poll and where I fall on the voter centricity spectrum.

The 2009 Remix Report Card: The Year-End Wrap Up

Thursday, January 21, 2010
The Top 20:
1. "Obsessed (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring Gucci Mane
2. "Throw It In The Bag (Remix)" by Fabolous featuring Drake
3. "All I Really Want (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Twista, Krayzie Bone and The-Dream
4. "5 Star Bitch (Remix)" by Yo Gotti featuring Gucci Mane, Trina and Nicki Minaj
5. "Who's Real (Remix)" by Jadakiss featuring DMX, Eve, Drag-On, Styles P. and Sheek Louch
6. "Boom Boom Pow (Remix)" by The Black Eyed Peas featuring Gucci Mane and 50 Cent
7. "Swag Surfin' (Remix)" by Fast Life Youngstaz featuring Fabolous, Juelz Santana, Red Cafe and Maino
8. "God In Me (Remix)" by Mary Mary featuring Ne-Yo
9. "Wasted (Remix)" by Gucci Mane featuring Lil Wayne, Jadakiss and Birdman
10. "Hustler's Anthem (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Ryan Leslie, OJ Da Juiceman, Gucci Mane and T-Pain
11. "Halle Berry (Remix)" by Hurricane Chris featuring Ludacris, Lil Boosie, Yo Gotti, Pitbull, Beenie Man, Yung Joc & C-Ride
12. "H.A.T.E.U. (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring OJ Da Juiceman, Big Boi, Gucci Mane and Jermaine Dupri
13. "Lions, Tigers & Bears (Remix)" by Jazmine Sullivan featuring Fabolous
14. "Why R U? (Remix)" by Amerie featuring Nas, Jadakiss, Caine and Rick Ross
15. "She Wolf (Remix)" by Shakira featuring T-Pain
16. "Magnificent (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Diddy, Special Ed, Big Boi and John Legend
17. "Boyfriend #2 (Remix)" by Pleasure P featuring Flo Rida
18. "I Invented Sex (Remix)" by Trey Songz featuring Usher and Keri Hilson
19. "T-Shirt (Remix)" by Shontelle featuring The-Dream
20. "Rotate (Remix)" by Capone-N-Noreaga featuring Ron Browz, Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes and Jadakiss

Hall of fame: 6 appearances by Gucci Mane, 3 by Fabolous.

The Bottom 20:
1. "Ice Cream Paint Job (Remix)" by Dorrough featuring Jermaine Dupri, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em, Jim Jones, Slim Thug, E-40 and Rich Boy
2. "Make The Trap Say Ay (Remix)" by OJ Da Juiceman featuring Cam'ron and Gucci Mane
3. "That's Not My Name (Remix)" by The Ting Tings featuring Wale
4. "Don't Trust Me (Remix)" by 3OH!3 featuring Kid Cudi
5. "I'm Yours (Remix)" by Jason Mraz featuring Lil Wayne and Jah Cure
6. "So Good (Remix)" by Electrik Red featuring Lil Wayne
7. "Turn My Swag On (Remix)" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em featuring Lil Wayne, Jim Jones, Maino and Jadakiss
8. "Rockin' That Shit (Remix)" by The-Dream featuring Fabolous, Juelz Santana, Ludacris and Rick Ross
9. "Epiphany (Remix)" by Chrisette Michelle featuring Rick Ross and Juelz Santana
10. "Heard Em All (Remix)" by Amerie featuring Lil Wayne
11. "Video Phone (Remix)" by Beyonce featuring Lady Gaga
12. "Go Hard (Remix)" by DJ Khaled featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West and T-Pain
13. "Blame It (Remix)" by Jamie Foxx featuring Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy
14. "Blockstars (Remix)" by DJ Kay Slay featuring Ray J, Busta Rhymes, Sheek Louch, Rick Ross, Papoose, Vado and Cam'ron
15. "America's Suitehearts (Remix)" by Fall Out Boy featuring Joe Budden, 88 Keys and Murs
16. "I'm Good (Remix)" by The Clipse featuring Rick Ross
17. "Maybach Music 2.5" by Rick Ross featuring Pusha T, Birdman, Fabolous, DJ Khaled and T-Pain
18. "Whatever You Want (Remix)" by Consequence featuring Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Common, Big Sean and John Legend
19. "Turnin' Me On (Remix)" by Keri Hilson featuring T-Pain and Lil Wayne
20. "Hottest In Da Hood (Remix)" Part 1 by Red Cafe featuring Diddy, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Fabolous and OJ Da Juiceman

Hall of shame: 6 appearances by Lil Wayne, 6 by Rick Ross.

Previous year-end Remix Report Cards: 2008, 2007.

Reading Diary (33 1/3 Edition)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
a) Let It Be, by Colin Meloy
Last year, I said "I do want to read a book on Let It Be by the Replacements, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to buy one written by the guy from the fucking Decemberists." But eventually I did, and I have to say I should've gone with my first instinct. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a crime against humanity, but it definitely fell victim to exactly what you'd fear from a semi-famous non-professional writer taking on this series, a lot of indulgent autobiography without the writing chops to make it work and keep steering it back to the album. However, this is one of those albums that I think bonds together everyone who loves it, and to some degree I did feel affection for the guy's stories about his relationship with the 'Mats, but this is still probably the weakest entry in the series that I've read to date.

b) Armed Forces, by Franklin Bruno
I was pretty excited about this one, since I'd heard good things about the book and there are few records I've pored over more in my life than those '70s Elvis Costello albums. And while this does have a ton of great research and insight, musical and otherwise (the number of time signature changes and half measures and odd rhythmic hiccups in this album that never occurred to me before Bruno pointed them out is mindblowing and reaffirms what an amazing band the Attractions are), it can be kind of tough to read at times. That's mainly because there's no chapters, and the organization is choppy and hard to get into a groove with (an Amazon commenter pointed out that there's an unstated A-to-Z thing going on with the order things appear in, but somehow that knowledge just makes the net result more annoying, that he sacrificed readability for a cheap trick like that).

c) Illmatic, by Matthew Gasteier
I didn't realize this until I searched Amazon for the author's name, but this is by the same guy who did the "F U, Penguin" blog-turned-book. What a bizarre pair of books for one person to publish in the same year. Anyway I mainly bought this out of a general enthusiasm for the rare occasion that a 33 1/3 about a hip hop album gets released, but generally Illmatic is such a great and universally loved album that it's kind of hard to imagine anyone saying anything new or insightful about it at this point, and this book doesn't really knock down that impression (although I'm sure this other recent Illmatic book is a way bigger drag). To give you an idea of just how much Gasteier eventually overthinks everything into total nonsense, here's a sentence about what Nas says on the album intro: "It's conceivable that when he says he doesn't know how to start this shit, the shit he could have been talking about is a revolution, musically and politically."

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's been out for a while but I finally got around to reviewing Double Dagger's More for

Monthly Report: December Albums

Friday, January 15, 2010
1. Gucci Mane - The State Vs. Radric Davis
I already put this in my big year-end list, but anyway obviously I’m still banging this, although it’s one of those overlong major label albums that works better if you just put it on shuffle and skip around and not make yourself listen to shit like Keyshia Cole singing the title of a Tyler Perry movie.

2. Robin Thicke - Sex Therapy: The Experience
Robin Thicke’s last album, Something Else, was a minor masterpiece that covered a pretty wide variety of musical ground while still being a cohesive work, with no guests or outside producers aside from the Lil Wayne track borrowed from Tha Carter III, which still fit really well into the context of the album. But it seems like it’s all the rage in R&B to follow up a mellow artsy record with a bright radio-friendly one (see also: John Legend, Raheem DeVaughn), and I was a little apprehensive about the direction Thicke was headed in with those Rick Ross and Leighton Meester songs, and the first few leaks from Sex Therapy, including the really terrible songs with Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because the album, at least the deluxe version, really hangs together well and is stylistically consistent with his previous stuff, while getting more playful and campy with the sexy slow jams in a way that allows the guest-heavy parts to fit in better. That moment where Kid Cudi and the bad metal guitars drop in is still one of the most horrifying listening experiences I’ve had lately, though.

3. B.G. - Too Hood 2 Be Hollywood
It’s depressing to think that after B.G. cranked out four albums in four years on Koch Records, culminating with The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2 (I Am What I Am), which was pretty dope, the moment he hooked up with T.I. to do an album on Atlantic, his career got stopped dead in its tracks and all that momentum was lost as it took nearly four years for his next album to be released. And the worst part is, Too Hood 2 Be Hollywood is still on Koch, as part of some weird joint venture with Atlantic with no real major label-level profile, and most of the big collabs, like “For A Minute” with T.I. and the Hot Boyz reunion track “Ya Heard Me,” have been out for literally a year or two. Still, B.G. is a really underrated rapper with an awesome distinctive voice, and this album turned out pretty solid regardless of when it came out.

4. The Roots - Sandwiches EP
With all the talk about the Roots having to work up a huge backlog of original compositions to play on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” it was just a matter of time before they found a way to release some of that stuff, and it finally happened with this internet-only EP. I’m not sure I expected a bunch of dark nasty grooves in the mold of Game Theory and Rising Down, but it was kind of surprising not just how brisk and lighthearted all this stuff is, but how much random cover material they throw in (considering that the whole idea of them composing all this new music was so that NBC wouldn’t have to pay a ton for the rights to well known songs they could cover), I guess chosen either for comedy bits or as walk-on music for guests. Still, in the context of this little jam record it’s pretty entertaining to hear The Roots suddenly break into “Werewolf Barmitzvah” or the “Woman” song that Mike Myers does in So I Married An Axe Murderer.

5. R. Kelly - Untitled
It’s weird to think about what a low ebb R. Kelly’s career is at right now, given that for the first time in like 7 years he doesn’t have the strong possibility of jail time looming over his head, and his influence on mainstream R&B remains so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine The-Dream or Trey Songz or T-Pain existing without him. But ultimately that just means you can’t chalk it up to anything but the quality of his music, which is also at a pretty low point, as he continues to flail around with AutoTune way past it having any commercial benefit or yielding any creative rewards. So this album is about as undistinguished as its sales and its title might lead you to believe, but it’s still an R. album, which means it’s got some jams, and it really picks up toward the end with the awesomely funky “Be My #2” and “Religious” and “Pregnant.”

Monthly Report: December Singles

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
1. 30 Seconds To Mars - "Kings And Queens"
I’ve been thinking a lot about how ambition, or at least the act of loudly proclaiming your ambition, has become kind of a commodity in and of itself, to the point that sometimes it feels like just saying you want to be big and important is enough to be big and important. Lady Gaga certainly doesn’t make the absolute best pop music, Kanye certainly doesn’t make the absolute best rap music, but they’re at the center of conversations about either because they’re very effective attention whores. And it makes a certain kid of sense that Kanye is on the new 30 Seconds To Mars album, because they’re definitely working from the same playbook of just making big ridiculous ambitious videos that aren’t necessarily good but stand out by virtue of so few of their peers doing the same (although in terms of mainstream rock, Muse currently have them beat in terms of big stupid ambition trumping all else). Anyway Jared Leto and his band are completely terrible, but they’re grand sweeping gestures do have an undeniable appeal, and it ups the comedy value that their best single to date climaxes with him screaming “WE ARE QUEEEEEEEEEEENS!!!!!”

2. Chris Brown - "Crawl"
I hated Chris Brown with a passion before I had any reason to, other than his screechy vocal style, his overrated dancing and his completely obnoxious and smug public presence, so you can guess how I feel about him now that the world knows what a disgusting scumbag he is. But he has made a couple songs I really love, including “No Air,” so the best thing he could’ve done to melt away some of my renewed hate is make a song that sounds exactly like it, which this does. I still can’t stand the dude and the video for this is one of the most infuriating ones he’s made yet, with his stupid glasses and Cassie's hideous haircut, but I’ll sit there and watch it because the song is catchy as fuck.

3. Snoop Dogg - “I Wanna Rock”
I’m aware that this was received as, and probably conceived as, an attempt to chase the ‘jerk’ trend. But fact is, Snoop has been rapping over those kinds of swinging snares and open hi-hat beats a lot in the past few years (on “Life Of The Party” and “Hollywood Divorce” in particular) and sounds great on them, so I think of the song in those terms. Plus this is better than “You’re A Jerk” or whatever because even at his laziest Snoop can actually rap and sound comfortable on a record, which those kids just fucking can’t.

4. Michael Jackson - “This Is It”
I know this has been out for months, and I heard nothing about it that convinced me I needed to hear it, but really this is a lovely little tune, people are really sleeping on it, and I say that as not always the biggest fan of Mike’s sappy midtempo numbers.

5. Young Dro f/ Yung LA - “I Don’t Know Y’all”
I only just like this song, but I love the video. More than that, I love that there’s a rap video with a really fresh visual technique out that wasn’t just ganked from some indie rock video that already did it first, Kanye-style.

TV Diary

Monday, January 11, 2010
a) "Worst Cooks In America"
I like the premise of this show, but I think I'm mainly into seeing incompetent cooks make totally weird disgusting dishes, like they did in the first episode, than them being taught how to make good food, which is what the rest of the show looks to be about, so I think I've already gotten as much entertainment value as I'm ever going to get out of this.

b) "Men Of A Certain Age"
A few episodes in, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this show, it being one of those dramedies that's neither really funny or particularly emotionally affecting. But I like all 3 leads, Andre Braugher especially, and I feel like they're in a good groove and that the more they reveal about the characters, the more entertaining each turn they take becomes. Also, I'm a sucker for any show that uses "Willin'" by Little Feat in a scene.

c) "The Forgotten"
I like the premise of this show, a volunteer organization of civilians investigating unsolved murders instead of the usual cop show, and for some weird reason I'm rooting for Christian Slater to pull off the move to TV in his second vehicle in two seasons. But ultimately it's still got the cookie cutter procedural feel that puts me to sleep, and I've only really gotten through one of the three or four episodes I attempted to watch.

d) "Parks & Recreation"
I finally gave this show a second chance, after hearing so much about how it's improved since the first season, and it is growing on me a little bit. I'm still not into those dry "Office"-style comedic rhythms, though, and it's kind of depressing that even in a show like this with a female-led ensemble cast, Rashida Jones and to a lesser extent Aubrey Plaza generally get stuck doing the mockumentary sitcom version of standing around and looking pretty, which basically amounts to eye-rolling reaction shots to male characters who get funny things to do and say. They are very good at looking pretty, though.

e) "Top Gear"
Apparently this show has been on the BBC for decades and is hugely popular, but I'd never even heard of it until my brother raved about it and I saw an episode at his place. But that race to the north pole they did was awesome and hilarious, easily one of the most entertaining things I've seen on TV in a while.

Friday, January 08, 2010

I reviewed the self-titled debut album by We Read Minds for

The 20 Best Shows I Saw In 2009

Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Since I’ve spent the last 3 months consumed with fatherhood and generally haven’t gotten out much, the overwhelming majority of shows I saw in 2009 were between January and September, including all of the ones listed below. Still, I did see well over 50 shows in those 9 months, including a lot of really amazing local acts that you’ve probably never heard of even if you live around here, more than pretty much any other year of my life except for the previous one (others years I made lists: 2005, 2007 and 2008). Artists in each show are listed roughly by order of enjoyment rather than billing:

1. The Baltimore All-Rap Round Robin featuring Height With Friends/Mickey Free/AK Slaughter/Rapdragons/P.T. Burnem/etc. @ Load Of Fun
2. Sonic Youth/The Entrance Band @ The 9:30 Club
3. The Water/The NerfTones/Stugottz @ The Ottobar
4. Out Of Your Head Collective @ The Windup Space
5. Birds And Arrows/Kadman/Porcelain Doll Club @ Metro Gallery
6. Mania Music Group/Minlus & McCracken/Jade Fox/Wordsmith @ The Quarter
7. The Gaslight Anthem/Pela @ the Recher Theatre
8. Big In Japan @ The Windup Space
9. Aural States Fest: Wye Oak/Caverns/Arbouretum/Sri Aurobindo/Cannot Be Stopped/etc. @ Sonar and The Talking Head
10. Susan Alcorn @ The Carriage House
11. Mongoloidian Glow/Pariah Piranha/Embarrassing Fruits @ The Talking Head
12. Soul Cannon/Ndelible/Ad Lib @ Club Reality
13. Time For Three with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra @ The Meyerhoff
14. Si-Notes/Shy Lady Heroin/Alicia Peace/Tiffany Couture/etc. @ The Black Hole Rock Club
15. The Paused In Time release party: The Get Em Mamis/E Major/Ty Gudda/etc. @ Sonar
16. Eureka Birds @ Mobtown Studios
17. Austin Stahl/NOMO/Red Sammy @ The Ottobar
18. Ted Leo/State Radio @ Rams Head Live
19. The Baltimore String Felons/Spoke Ensemble/Matt Pless @ The Sidebar
20. George Clinton @ Rams Head Live

Netflix Diary

Monday, January 04, 2010
a) Funny People
It seems like there must've been so many miscalculations and bad ideas that went into this movie being kind of an underwhelming flop, from focusing on the sadsack dramedy aspects of it in the trailer to the ridiculous 2 and a half hour running time, that it's easy to overlook that there's a lot of really good lines and individual scenes peppered through this, probably about as many as Knocked Up (which is also in my opinion pretty spotty, if much more successful at what it's going for). It doesn't help that the ultimate arc and outcome of the story it spends so much time on is completely pointless and stupid, or that the layers of meta going on with Adam Sandler's character are really weird and confounding. I mean he's basically playing a sad loner version of himself, but it's impossible to imagine a Sandler without all his little Alan Covert-type cronies surrounding him at all times, and his character's movies in this are supposed to be some kind of recurring gag like Tracy Jordan's movies in "30 Rock," but it doesn't really work because they're not really any dumber or more ridiculous than most of Sandler's own movies.

b) Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
I thought that the first Transformers, for all its faults, was a decent popcorn movie that left a lot of room for improvement with future installments. Instead, they obviously rushed out the next moneymaker with as little thought as possible, and this shit was just a mess, not really enjoyable on any level.

c) Land Of The Lost
Like Funny People, another movie where I totally understand why it flopped, because really Will Ferrell is just not the box office draw studios seem to think he is, not every campy '70s TV show is a blockbuster franchise waiting to happen, and they really made no effort to appeal to kids with this and a lot of the jokes were about as blue as any other Ferrell movie. But again, I enjoyed it anyway, partly because I like how the dinosaurs and other effects were expensive and slick while at the same time kind of cartoony. They didn't really know how to pull off this movie with such a small cast, though, it felt a little empty.

d) Drag Me To Hell
Man, I fuckin' loved this. This movie is like my ideal combination of gore and cartoon violence, camp and straight up comedy, earnest drama and over the top horror, such a straightforward premise with so many entertaining little surprises and diversions along the way to the inevitable and awesome ending. Alison Lohman seemed a little strained toward the end by some of the things the movie demanded of her, but otherwise was a perfect foil for all the crazy shit that happens in this movie.

e) Up
I'm pretty much putty in Pixar's hands at this point, especially after Ratatouille and the incredible Wall-E, and although I don't know if I liked this as much as either of those, it wraps up their recent hot streak pretty well, since they're about to go in sequel mode for a couple years (looking forward to Toy Story 3, not so much Cars 2). Still, this was awesome, didn't quite live up to the amazing opening montage but had some really funny bits in there nonetheless.

f) Adventureland
I thought I was enough of a sucker for '80s college rock and wistful coming of age stories that I'd just instantly warm to this movie regardless of how good it was, but man, I just couldn't ignore the stench of bad autobiographical writing, manipulative music cues doing the dramatic heavy lifting, boring performances, and hackneyed love triangles. You can tell after 20 minutes every single beat the story's going to hit, and unless you really love the atmosphere of the movie, there's really not much point in sticking it out to the last terrible scene. My brother's classic description to me after he saw this, which it turns out isn't far off, was "like if Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppala took a shit on a piece of paper and turned it in as a script."

g) Still Waiting...
There's always a big red flag over straight-to-DVD sequels of raunchy comedies that don't feature most of the original stars (oh Eugene Levy, did you sign some kind of lifetime contract with the American Pie people?), but I was optimistic about this since Waiting... was a pretty funny ensemble comedy where a lot of the best cast members weren't the bigger stars that skipped out on this installment (Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, Dane Cook, etc.). So this one still has some of the best people from the first movie like Luis Guzman, Alanna Ubach and Chi McBride, along with John Michael Higgins and a lot of other lame new characters, and though it's funny enough at times, it's definitely very straight-to-DVD. What really irked me, though, was how focused this one was on a cheesy plot, when the whole appeal of the first movie, to me, was how well it portrayed the boredom and drudgery and aimlessness of my own experiences in the food service industry. Also it was pretty goofy how the writer/director totally changed his role from a loser in the first movie to a total ladies' man with the flimsiest of explanations.

h) The Orphanage
This was more sad and sweet than scary, but there were a couple super creepy scenes that really stick out in my mind that made it memorable and not too treacly.

i) "Damages," Season 1
Man, this show is a motherfucker, in a good way. The first season was so well constructed, with the flashbacks and flash-forwards slowly pulling closer together with incremental increases in the overall sense of dread and death hanging over the whole thing. I'm not really sure who they can top this, although I'm definitely gonna watch the second season anyway.

j) Smokin' Aces
I think I absentmindedly put this on the queue expecting some empty fun, and then the DVD sat in the apartment for 3 months before I got around to watching it, and man, I wish I hadn't, what a fucking waste of time. It wasn't even a guilty pleasure in the way your average post-Tarantino shoot 'em up is, it was just pompous and loud and dumb as dogshit.

k) "Friday Night Lights," Season 1
I got through two and a half episodes of this and just sent the disc back without finishing it, this show is just fucking insufferable. I know all pilots lay on the exposition thick, but I've never felt so spoonfed in my life. Here's a THEME, here's an important CHARACTER TRAIT, here's a CONFLICT, here's a METAPHOR -- like literally two consecutive scenes of uncommonly worldly teenagers going "this town is...a crossword puzzle!" and "Moby Dick is a good metaphor for...this town!" Oh yeah and I can't even remember what the town is called, just that everyone says "this town" 80 times a day. Plus the editing from scene to scene to scene is so relentless that the whole thing feels like one exhausting montage. People like this shit?

l) Career Opportunities
My posthumous stroll through the lesser John Hughes films continues with that one movie where Jennifer Connelly was basically the hottest girl in the history of the world. In fact I still don't remember much about it beyond that, although I kinda liked how in this movie the motormouthed bullshit artist was the anti-Ferris Bueller, where nobody ever fell for it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Gary B & The Notions - "Hall and Oates" (mp3)
This week in the City Paper I have a feature about Gary B & The Notions, an excellent Baltimore band whose debut album A New Twist & Shout is out on The Beechfields, and who are playing at the Windup Space this weekend.