Deep Album Cuts Vol. 25: Counting Crows

Monday, September 29, 2014

Counting Crows are incredibly uncool, and I get it. The first time I heard "Mr. Jones," I was pretty appalled that alternative rock radio and MTV taking time away from all my beloved grunge bands to play a song that began with a cheesy "sha la la la la la" and ended with the goofy dreadlocked singer openly wishing he was Bob Dylan. But the ubiquitous, 7 times platinum August and Everything After got under my skin over the next couple years, and the follow-up Recovering the Satellites was even better, a surprisingly bombastic and guitar-driven record that gave me a whole new respect for the band.

Since Counting Crows began their inevitably commercial decline, it's been easy to just let them fester in uncoolness -- their two only hits since the '90s ended were a really embarrassing cover of "Big Yellow Taxi" and song from the soundtrack to Shrek 2 (a really catchy song, in fact, though it was more memorable for the horrifying video starring an animated rabbit with Duritz dreads). But after listening to their pretty good new album Somewhere Under Wonderland, I decided to check out the later albums I was content to avoid. And I gotta say, they've remained a pretty impressively consistent band, whether you love them or hate them. I may not ever develop a relationship with any of their other albums like I have with Recovering the Satellites, but I have to admit that that's at least partially because loving one Counting Crows album is embarrassing enough as it is. But Hard Candy is surprisingly good and none of the albums since then isn't at least listenable.

Counting Crows Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Children In Bloom
2. Sullivan Street
3. Hanging Tree
4. High Life
5. I'm Not Sleeping
6. Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)
7. Raining In Baltimore
8. Dislocation
9. St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream
10. Recovering the Satellites
11. Hard Candy
12. Colorblind
13. Four White Stallions
14. Anna Begins
15. Chelsea
16. Goodnight Elisabeth

Tracks 2, 7 and 14 from August and Everything After (1993)
Tracks 1, 5, 10 and 16 from Recovering the Satellites (1996)
Tracks 15 from Across a Wire: Live in New York City (1998)
Track 4, 9 and 12 from This Desert Life (1999)
Tracks 6 and 11 from Hard Candy (2002)
Track 3 from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008)
Track 13 from Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation) (2012)
Track 8 from Somewhere Under Wonderland (2014)

I've never been able to resist the charms of "Raining In Baltimore," and slotted it next to a couple of other songs that nod to Duritz's Maryland birthplace. If their songs weren't so long, I would've included more than one song from the later albums, and even more from the first two albums, but oh well. I don't even know if I like "Colorblind" but thanks to Cruel Intentions it's their most popular deep cut, so it seemed necessary to include it. Duritz is probably the popular singer who's most openly dealt with depression and suicidal tendencies who hasn't become any kind of romantic cult hero. But something touching does really come out in some of these songs that makes me feel real empathy for the guy.

When I listen to these songs, I'm really impressed with how versatile the band is and how well they conjure all these '70s singer-songwriter and classic rock influences into something that sounds good with contemporary production and brings the hooks closer to the fore than a lot of less commercially successful bands with similar influences. It's tempting to imagine the band with a less divisive lead singer, or with Duritz simply not wearing the goofy dreads and holding back on both his strained high notes and his self-pitying poetry. But making these mixes is kind of about appreciating bands that aren't critical darlings, that have something to offer beyond their hit singles that you sometimes have to dig in a little to find.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters

Reading Diary

Friday, September 26, 2014

a) Who I Am, by Pete Townshend
This is perhaps the most lucid celebrity memoir, spanning all 60-odd years of an author's life, that I've ever seen, certainly by a rock star. I'm sure Townshend had a lot of help jogging his memory with the obsessively archived and memorialized history of The Who, but even beyond the verifiable public records of what he was doing at any given time, he just has an incredible emotional memory of all these private moments and instances that inspired songs. That's both the best and worst thing about the book, because after a while you're just in this guy's head for hundreds of pages, as his output peters out (no pun intended) into the post-Keith Moon decades. But he's got an incredible amount of stories, certainly one of the best rock memoirs ever.

b) Behind The Boards II: The Making of Rock 'n' Roll's Greatest Records Revealed, by Jake Brown
This was an impulse buy, when I was in a bookstore with my wife and she offered to get a book for me while buying hers, and I just grabbed the most interesting-looking thing from the music section. I partly grabbed it because there's a chapter about the biggest music industry figure who shares my surname, Def Leppard mixing engineer Mike Shipley (no relation), but there's a lot of great stories about producers who've worked on tons of classic records but aren't really household names. Unfortunately, Brown is kind of an incompetent writer and he mostly just writes these tepid little blurbs, often writing tepic little paragraphs that heavily draw from All Music Guide reviews and such to frame big block quotes from the producers. But it works for me because it's fun to just hear the producers tell their own stories, and I got tons of great trivia from this book.

c) Signifying Rappers, by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello
As a David Foster Wallace fan who listens to and writes about a lot of rap music, I had always kept kind of a nervous distance from this book, which doesn't have a great reputation. But I'm glad I finally picked it up. Some of the passages haven't aged well, but in some ways their awkward outsider survey of the late '80s rap landscape really gives me  a lot of "the more things change, the more things stay the same" feelings about the current hip hop industry and local scenes I obsess over and dwell on the fringes of. A lot of the writing is kind of over eager Lester Bangs lite, and sometimes Wallace gets a little too into his own world while Costello is engaging more with the actual topic. But either way, pretty fun read.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a Rap Sheet column, which has news about UllNevaNo and other artists, and The Short List.

Monthly Report: September 2014 Singles

Monday, September 22, 2014

1. Florida Georgia Line - "Dirt"
Florida Georgia Line's first album had 5 singles that were all huge on country radio and all pushed bro country to obnoxious new extremes, so I was pleasantly surprised when the lead single for the second album had a totally different vibe. They still have weird sneery voices, but this big corny power ballad really works for them to the point that I'm not even thinking about how some country singer I actually like could've done it better justice. Love that lead guitar line, especially, sounds like some Slash shit. Check out all these songs on my running favorite 2014 singles playlist on Spotify.

2. Jeremih f/ YG - "Don't Tell 'Em"
I'm pretty happy that Jeremih has a serious hit and is finally releasing an album, but I'm also glad that this has emerged as DJ Mustard's biggest pop crossover hit (and highest charting production besides "Rack City" so far). I guess it's a pretty derivative of Kid Ink's "Show Me" (which Jeremih co-wrote) but it's just better in every way -- the singing, the rapping, the beat, even the '90s song it interpolates.

3. Lupe Fiasco f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Next To It"
As you may remember, it was less than a year ago that I got into a little Twitter beef with Lupe Fiasco for suggesting in print that over the years his music has become perpetually disappointing and underwhelming. I don't think this is a terribly rare opinion to express, but I guess he caught wind of it, shit happens. Every now and again, though, he does release a song that suggests to me that he's not doomed to make music that only his diehard fans can defend, and this song is pretty great. So many times when he engages in something commercially savvy it feels half-hearted or even trolling, and considering the way Atlantic Records just throws all their artists on tracks together even if they're not musically compatible at all, it's just a miracle that this song actually works. The beat is this weird skronky sax thing that Ty Dolla $ign co-produced with one of the Sa-Ra Creative Partners guys (not the one who worked on Frank Ocean's album, or the one who wore funny clothes next to Kanye, the other one). And Lupe actually sounds like he's having fun for once, putting his talent to use with some simple but really deftly executed wordplay and goofy punchlines.

4. Yo Gotti - "Errrbody"
I feel like Yo Gotti had been such a boring, underachieving B-list trap star for so long that nobody can even be bothered to notice that he's become a really consistent singles artist in the last two years ("I Got That Sack," "Act Right," "I Know," among others) and I Am was one of the better major label southern rap albums in recent memory. This song feels like it could either bring him up a notch or maybe it'll just be another underappreciated moderate hit, but it's pretty great. Kinda rides a repetitive lyrical structure in a similar way to "Next To It." But it's all hinged on this claustrophobic echo chamber of things people say on social media, which Yo Gotti sometimes responds to in his own addled Twitter logic while occasionally registering some actual insight ("errrbody need to be theyself/ errrbody famous, ain't no regular people left").

5. Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"
I have no problem with Taylor Swift going full-on pop in the sense that most of her singles that I've really enjoyed were basically power pop songs with a perfunctory amount of country instrumentation ("You Belong With Me," "The Story Of Us," "Red"). But I hated 2 of the 3 Max Martin productions on her last album and still don't know whether this new Martin-heavy album will be great or awful. But "Shake It Off"  has grown on me pretty quickly. I listened to it twice the first day it was out and made my snarky tweets, but within 24 hours it had started getting stuck in my head, and even with some iffy lyrics and that cringe-inducing spoken bridge it's just a jam.

6. August Alsina f/ Jeezy - "Make It Home"
It's weird to write about my mixed feelings about August Alsina right after the poor guy apparently came out of a coma, but: I was never a fan of "I Luv This Shit," and in the year since that song blacketed R&B radio, his label has thrown out 5 follow-up singles that have all drifted around the lower reaches of the charts. "Make It Home" is one of those underachieving singles but in the last few months it's become a staple of the Baltimore and D.C. stations I listen to and it's the first time I've been really impressed with dude, pulls off the whole somber dramatic thing well with great production.

7. Elle Varner f/ A$AP Ferg - "Don't Wanna Dance"
Perfectly Imperfect was the shit, but unfortunately any non-superstar female R&B singer is just in industry purgatory these days, so she's been flinging out good singles for her second album for a minute with very little success, until this one, which is still not getting as much buzz as it deserves. Really feels like a great encapsulation of her whole persona, and works as a song beyond the nostalgia triggered by using that sample from Kanye's "We Don't Care." Even A$AP Ferg is a surprisingly good fit for the song, although him showing up on this a year after he had a minute of fame is kinda like when Trinidad James got to extend his brief career thanks to "I Luv This Shit."

8. Diggy f/ Trevor Jackson - "My Girl"
There's something distinctly depressing about Run from Run DMC's son having a middling career as a teen rapper who makes Drake-lite music. His flow on this is more baby Kendrick, though, and anyway this song jams, especially if you just ignore him and pretend it's Trevor Jackson's song.

9. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - "Take It As It Comes"
Very happy these guys finally got a rock radio breakthrough with "Heavy Bells," most Baltimore bands only every break through on an indie level but they're definitely a band that writes radio singles. The album still has a bunch of potential hits to me, so I'm glad they got a 2nd chart hit and I hope the label keeps pushing for a 3rd and 4th.

10. Twin Atlantic - "Heart And Soul"
It probably says something about my love of Scottish accents that I enjoy this generic rock song more than a lot of other generic rock songs on the radio right now just because the singer has a really thick accent. This is a catchy song, though.

Worst Single of the Month: Avenged Sevenfold - "This Means War"
It says something about the state of hard rock in America that Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart seems to exist now, paradoxically, as the less popular flipside of the Alternative Songs chart. And the biggest 'young' hard rock/metal bands in the decade since the rise of Nickelback and Linkin Park are bands with zero pop crossover like Avenged Sevenfold, who are basically some kind of weird embarrassing metalcore version of '80s Sunset Strip hair metal. But this single (Avenged Sevenfold's 10th top 5 song on the Mainstream Rock chart) is just the most hilarious thing they've ever done, because it's this weirdly meticulous recreation of every single element of Metallica's "Sad But True" into a new song. It doesn't have the same melody or lyrics, but every riff, every vocal cadence, every drum fill seems designed much like a "Weird Al" Yankovic 'style parody' of the Metallica song, only the comedy isn't intentional.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I was part of a big great team of writers that put together Rolling Stone's 100 Best Singles of 1984: Pop's Greatest Year, enjoyed writing about some awesome songs.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The City Paper's annual Best of Baltimore issue is out this week, and I wrote a few blurbs for it, congrats to all the winners. Also wrote The Short List as usual.

Monthly Report: August 2014 Albums

Monday, September 15, 2014

1. DJ Mustard - 10 Summers
In a way, YG's My Krazy Life is so decisively the definitive DJ Mustard album, and maybe the best rap album of the year of Mustard, that it kind of automatically dimmed my excitement for a proper Mustard album. But even as overexposed as he is on the radio, he somehow manages to put together these albums that sound like the hits but are just different enough from the songs on the radio, and when they're all lined up you hear the subtle differences from track to track and how deep his bag of tricks is getting. So I like how the album kinda sticks to a gangsta rap thing and doesn't lean on superstars that much, the only track I really dislike is the Rick Ross/Wiz Khalifa one at the end. All the albums from this year on Spotify that I've been listening to are in this 2014 albums playlist btw.

2. FKA twigs - LP1
I tend to regard these kinds of weird tumblr beat music millenial trip hop records that get a lot of blog hype with a healthy dose of skepticism. But I'm glad I gave this one a chance, it's got some really striking sounds and songs that actually make use of all the blank space and twitchy sonics and give them a sense of purpose that I rarely get out of records with this kind of aesthetic. The 1-2 of "Hours" and "Pendulum" is the part of the album that hits me hardest, but the whole thing hangs together well, this woman is talented.

3. Guy Gerber and Puff Daddy - 11 11
Last Train To Paris is still my album of the decade so far, and I'm happy to hear anything from Sean Combs that continues to explore the universe he created on that album, which I didn't think was really gonna happen after he disbanded Diddy-Dirty Money and started releasing stuff like "Big Homie." So this album (which you can hear here) was a pleasant surprise, some new Emotional Diddy Music over actual EDM beats. There's actually a couple reworkings of Last Train To Paris songs on here, because apparently 11 11 has been in the works for years and years, but for the most part this is a different trip, not as satisfying but still pretty enjoyable. My favorite track is "Floating Messiah," and not just because it's called fucking "Floating Messiah."

4. Kix - Rock Your Face Off
I already said most of what I have to say about this album in my review, but really it is nice to hear a band who did their best work in the '80s come back and sound like they've barely missed a beat. They were one of the biggest bands to come out of Baltimore, but are so disconnected to anything happening in the city in recent years that it's hard to even explain to anyone around here how awesome they were, but I totally rate those early albums with peak Aerosmith and AC/DC, and while this album isn't the best album to start with or anything, I'm glad they made it. I hope their fanbase is cool with hearing new songs like "Rollin' In Honey" and "Love Me With Your Top Down" at the shows. "Inside Outside Inn" is great because they manage to make a power ballad that retains the band's personality and sense of humor, which was what was always missing from "Don't Close Your Eyes" in my opinion.

5. The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt
The Gaslight Anthem's last album was their major label debut and it sold OK and had a radio hit but didn't really take them significantly beyond where they got on an indie label, And now this one is the lead singer's divorce album and they kinda switch up their sound a little and the single isn't doing anything and the sales are a little less than before. So Get Hurt just feels like it has a black cloud hanging over it and nobody wants to say anything good about it. After a really rough opening track, though, I would say, it ends up picking up steam, and the back half is about as good as any Gaslight Anthem record. I like the "Anywhere I Lay My Head" cover in the bonus tracks.

6. Ariana Grande - My Everything
Yours Truly and "The Way" were one of 2013's truly refreshing surprises, Ariana Grande pretty much arrived on the pop scene with a fully formed aesthetic and singing style that was undeniably derivative and retro-flavored but still had talent and a certain individual sensibility that felt very of the moment. Unfortunately, followup singles like "Baby I" that best demonstrated what she was going for didn't get any radio play. And it feels like Grande has decided to leave behind Babyface and a lot of the R&B sounds from her first album to leverage her initial success for a pop radio takeover with guys like Max Martin and Zedd who really don't fit her singing style. Obviously, this has worked out really well for her and people who love the new singles have new complaints, but I'm speaking as a fan of the first album (I already ranted about how awful "Break Free" is here). But I'm happy to say that if you removed the singles from the running order, this actually feels like a pretty good follow-up to Yours Truly that doesn't stray too far from that album's charms or the kind of tracks that suit Grande's voice and persona best. Even Childish Gambino rapping in a Biggie flow isn't really that out of place after Mac Miller quoting Big Pun on the first album. I fear for album #3, though.

7. J Mascis - Tied To A Star
I was pretty into J Mascis's live album Martin + Me where he did solo acoustic versions of Dinosaur Jr. songs, and the J Mascis + The Fog albums that were basically Dinosaur albums under a different name. These last two albums he's done under his name, though, are proper solo acoustic studio albums of new material, and I have more mixed feelings about them. I like the parts with drums on them, though, Mascis is such a brilliant, underrated drummer.

8. Jeremih - N.O.M.A. (Not On My Album) EP
In July, Jeremih dropped the EP with Schohmo, in August he dropped this EP of 7 great album outtakes, and in September he's dropping the album. Very happy that "Don't Tell 'Em" seems to have kicked his career back in gear and we're getting all this new music. Some of these tracks are almost too dope to be left off the album, especially "4 The Freaks" and "Can't Go No Mo." Listen to it here.

9. frnkiero andthe cellabration - Stomachaches
My Chemical Romance has been broken up for over a year now, and we're starting to hit the solo album/side project offshoot era -- it seems like pretty much all 4 of the permanent members of the band have something either just out or coming out in the next few months. Gerard Way's solo album is obviously the only one that's going to be on a major label or get much attention, but this one is really solid, impressed by what Frank Iero can do on his own. It's not too close to the MCR aesthetic but you can hear what parts of the band were him, and his voice isn't bad, album feels very lived in and personal.

10. Twista - The Dark Horse
Twista never seems to make music quite on the level of his talent, and much less now than before when he used to regularly make some pretty classic shit. But this ain't bad, mostly bearing down on some dark midwest goth rap like the EP he did last year instead of still chasing the R&B crossover dollar.

Worst Album of the Month: Travi$ Scott - Days Before Rodeo
The amount of hype this tape has gotten is a depressing sign of the state of rap in 2014, people are really starved for the some arty G.O.O.D. Music b-team shit that they'll forget about whenever Kanye drops. The worst part is how hard he leans on cameos from guys like Young Thug and Migos and Rich Homie Quan for the most enjoyable parts of the tape but they're still not really as good as the other songs those guys have been doing this year. And the rest of the time he's just constantly saying "straight up" in the exact same way Future did on "Straight Up." Guy just has no personality of his own and his aesthetic is some played out Tumblr shit.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Back in August, I drove up to New York to see the Boiler Room's Baltimore club music webcast. Now, the Baltimore Club Special is online, with footage of the DJ sets from that night is online, and the accompanying feature article I wrote. Check out the sets from Rod Lee, DJ Technics, Scottie B., James Nasty, and Mighty Mark & TT The Artist.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monday, September 08, 2014

I wrote a piece for Complex about rappers with only one good album.

The Imaginary Box Set: Sloan

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Perhaps no band with a good-sized discography has spread singing and songwriting duties across four members more evenly than the Canadian power pop band Sloan. The Beatles, of course, had contributions from every member, but the least active songwriter in Sloan has written dozens of songs compared to Ringo's handful of credits. All four members of Queen wrote hits, but Freddie was the unquestionable lead singer. Meanwhile, every member of Sloan has written and sung multiple singles, and has songs on pretty much every album they've released (the only exception: Andrew Scott has no songs on 2003's Action Pact).

Previously I've done 'box sets' of multiple themed Spotify playlists for Superchunk, Elvis Costello, and Pearl Jam. And years and years ago I posted the tracklist here for a Sloan best-of that I made for my brother-in-law John (who now plays in my band). But I always wanted to break up Sloan's discography into the specific contributions of each member. And now is a good time to do that, because this week the band is releasing their 11th album, Commonwealth, which is the first time they've actually divided each member's songs into its own section of the album instead of mixing them all together. It's also their first double album since the late career masterpiece Never Hear The End Of It, which is reason enough for me to get excited.

Chris Murphy is easily the most prolific songwriter in Sloan, with over 60 songs in the band's discography, while the other guys each have somewhere between 30 and 40. Those songs include the first five songs on the band's debut, among them their first hit "Underwhelmed," which marked him as the band's de facto frontman at first. And in some ways the bassist is the embodiment of the collective personality Sloan, a self-deprecating wiseass with glasses and a nasally voice. But Patrick Pentland has emerged as the band's most effortless hitmaker, writing the lead singles for 7 of the band's 11 albums, including several of their biggest hits, and he really just has a great rock voice and an ear for Stonesy riffs. Jay Ferguson's whispy voice and electric piano give the band its strongest '70s AM gold vibes. And drummer Andrew Scott, though the weakest link in the band's singer/songwriter chain by default with his limited vocal range, has been responsible for some of Sloan's greatest hard rock moments.

Of course, I'm simplifying and stereotyping each of those guys, when they've all stretched out and done lots of different kinds of songs over the course of the band's career. And the division of labor isn't so tidy -- you can hear other members do backing vocals and call-and-response lead parts on each other's songs all the time, and I'm sure there's a fair bit of collaborating in the writing (there's only one song in their discography, "Flying High Again," where all four share lead vocals). Hopefully each of these playlists shows their strengths individually and collectively. I think any of these would be an impressive best-of for a whole band's career, although they definitely sound best all balancing each other out and blending their ideas and influences together. But if you need an introduction to this great, great band, it'd probably be good to sample a few songs from each playlist and figure out whose voice you like the most at first.

Disc 1: Chris Murphy (Spotify playlist)

1. Underwhelmed
2. G Turns To D
3. I'm Not A Kid Anymore
4. Coax Me
5. I Am The Cancer
6. The Marquee And The Moon
7. The Other Man
8. Your Daddy Will Do
9. She Says What She Means
10. Penpals
11. Oh Dear Diary
12. Autobiography
13. Set In Motion
14. Left Of Centre
15. Nothing Left To Make Me Want To Stay
16. Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore
17. Keep On Thinkin'
18. Pick It Up And Dial It
19. Ready For You
20. Try To Make It
21. Take It Upon Yourself
22. Last Time In Love
23. Another Way I Could Do It
24. The Rest Of My Life

Disc 2: Patrick Pentland (Spotify playlist)

1. The Good In Everyone
2. If It Feels Good Do It
3. Listen To The Radio
4. Money City Maniacs
5. I Was Wrong
6. It's In Your Eyes
7. Sugartune
8. Iggy & Angus
9. I Can Feel It
10. Everything You've Done Wrong
12. Burn For It
13. A Long Time Coming
14. Ill-Placed Trust
15. I've Gotta Know
16. Can't Face Up
17. Losing California
18. Believe In Me
19. Is It Never
20. All Used Up
21. Friendship
22. I'm Not Through With You Yet
23. I Understand
24. Unkind

Disc 3: Jay Ferguson (Spotify playlist)

1. C'mon C'mon (We're Gonna Get It Started)
2. Don't You Believe A Word
3. The Lines You Amend
4. I Hate My Generation
5. Witch's Wand
6. Lemonzinger
7. Snowsuit Sound
8. Junior Panthers
9. Waiting For Slow Songs
10. Are You Giving Me Back My Love
11. Right Or Wrong
12. Cheap Champagne
13. Who Taught You To Live Like That?
14. The Answer Was You
15. Step On It Jean
16. Midnight Mass
17. Take Good Care of the Poor Boy
18. Green Gardens, Cold Montreal
19. Dreaming of You\
20. False Alarm
21. Light Years
22. If I Could Change Your Mind
23. Before the End of the Race
24. Fade Away
25. What's There To Decide?
26. I Wanna Thank You

Disc 4: Andrew Scott (Spotify playlist)

1. People Of The Sky
2. On The Horizon
3. I've Gotta Try
4. 400 Metres
5. 500 Up
6. A Side Wins
7. I Can't Sleep
8. In The Movies
9. I Know You
10. Sensory Deprivation
11. Down In The Basement
12. Something's Wrong
13. Seems So Heavy
14. Where Are You Now?
15. The N.S.
16. Never Seeing The Ground For The Sky
17. Too Many
18. Love Is All Around
19. The Great Wall
20. Traces
21. Before I Do

Movie Diary

Thursday, September 04, 2014

a) Boyhood
I always thought it would be great if someone shot a film sporadically over a number of years, so that the actors could age naturally without the filmmakers coming up with hokey visual touches to artificially span time. So I was pretty interested to see this just by virtue of it being shot over 12 years. And given the fact that it started with a kid just a little older than my son, and followed him until he started college, I just kind of assumed it would reduce me to tears. But I dunno, I have pretty mixed feelings about it. I haven't seen too many Linklater films but I didn't think of him as making such completely slapdash TV movie-looking flicks. By the end there was a lot of accumulated affectionate familiarity with the characters that started to become entertaining on its own, even some of the deliberate callbacks and narrative devices paid off pretty well. Charming and enjoyable overall, but still a pretty sloppy and flawed movie with a couple of howlingly stupid scenes that make the unanimous praise seem kind of mystifying.

b) Ender's Game
Growing up, I read Ender's Game and probably 4 or 5 other books in the series and really enjoyed them (although my favorite ended up being Speaker For The Dead, which is a pretty different story from what most of the other books are about). And there were a good 20 years where I was pretty excited by the prospect of there being an Ender's Game, and the longer I waited the better it seemed like the movie industry was prepared to adapt it well and launch a whole sci-fi franchise around it. But of course by the time it came out last year, it'd been forever since I'd read any of the books and Orson Scott Card had turned out to be kind of vile and it was hard to get enthusiastic about the whole thing. The movie was alright, it was interesting to see how they visualized some of the more novel concepts, but it never really felt like they captured the tone of the book or what it made it fascinating to me and so many other kids.

c) Runner Runner
This is the movie that had just flopped when Justin Timberlake had his whole GQ tantrum, and that actually made me kind of curious to see it. Plus I will really watch anything with Gemma Arterton in it, she is amazing. This is not that bad, really, pretty boilerplate thriller stuff and if anything it's Affleck who should've been recast.

c) Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has always just seemed vaguely pretentious and corny to me, but the trailer for this looked light and entertaining enough that I was kind of rooting for the dude to jump into directing with a thoroughly unambitious romcom. This movie actually does somehow end up a little too ambitious for its own good, though, chasing its big themes about love and sex and chick flicks and porn so thoroughly that the characters and the story feel beside the point. Gordon-Levitt is committed enough to his character that it feels warmer than just a snide Guido stereotype, but not enough. ScarJo gives a surprisingly great performance that's actually kind of enhanced by how the character is less than the sum of its parts, really thought it showed her comedy chops. Overall fell a little flat but not terrible. Reminded me of how the very serious actorly Edward Norton made his directorial debut with the light fluffy romcom Keeping The Faith.

d) The World's End
I'm a fan of the previous Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg movies, and more than that I appreciate that they seem to really pointedly not making the same movie over and over or recycling character types -- Pegg and Nick Frost play very different people, with very different relationships to each other, in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and this. This, unfortunately, is not remotely as funny as either of those movies, but not unpleasantly so. In fact it's pretty well made, I liked the storytelling especially -- none of the high concept sci-fi stuff in the movie is even hinted at until about 37 minutes in, a full third through the movie. But once it kicks in, it gets pretty nuts.

e) White House Down
As dumb action movies go, this was pretty proudly dumb, although they didn't have as much fun with it as I hoped for. I did appreciate James Woods playing a villain who hates the black president at a time when that's kind of his IRL persona on Twitter.

f) Coffee Town
A decent little comedy starring a bunch of random D-list TV actors (and also Josh Groban, who's pretty funny in it). I like that the whole caper that the plot revolves around kinda gets saved for the last minute and then barely even happens, leaving the rest of the movie to just be kind of entertainingly aimless.

g) The Internship
Wedding Crashers is not exactly a classic but I think it's aged pretty well, and I would've have minded Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson had done a bunch more buddy comedies together of varying quality. But doing this one after so many years is pretty anticlimactic. I don't know how this guy Shawn Levy failed upward from tepid family comedies like Big Fat Liar and Cheaper By The Dozen to projects with some of the biggest comedy stars out, Date Night was actually decent and so is this to a degree but you just wonder if someone else could've executed them much better.

h) Hyde Park On Hudson
I think it's interesting to see how Bill Murray has kind of crossed over into being accepted as more than a comedic actor without doing a whole lot of serious or dark stuff -- even something like Lost In Translation or the Wes Anderson movies trades heavily on his impish charm but made an impact by putting him in a different context than, say, Caddyshack or Ghostbusters. So it's interesting that they even were able to find a historical film for him to star in as an American president that still manages to be lights and within his wheelhouse. It's maybe a little too light, though, it just kinda came and went without ever really registering with me. I did watch it late at night while I was writing on deadline, though, maybe I was distracted but it didn't seem good enough to watch again more attentively.

i) Free Samples
Another decent little indie comedy with a lot of recognizable but not very famous actors (and also Jesse Eisenberg) bumming around in a plot without much consequence. But I always dig movies like this that all take place in the space of one day, and it really kinda perceptively captured some particular things about working a shitty service job and dealing with customers.

j) Triangle
This is one of my favorite horror movies that I've seen in a while, starts off just building all this dread and paranoia as a group goes out for a day of sailing and then gets lost and stranded. And then it gets weirder and more high concept from there, but the production values are really high and the direction is really artful in pulling you into this weird world. It gets a little repetitive towards the end but it kind of serves to make you feel as insane as the main character.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I profiled DJ Pierre for the latest BPM column, and also wrote The Short List.