Monday, October 23, 2006

Here All the Bombs Fade Away: The Decemberists at The Wiltern LG, 10/21/2006

Los Angeles concert-goers are notorious for their lack of enthusiasm. I can't count how many times I've been told that a perfectly good rock and roll show was ruined by a seemingly disinterested crowd of Angelinos who would have been too cool to do more than clap unenthusiastically had John Lennon himself come back from the dead to play during the encore. Somebody must have forgotten to tell the crowd at the Decemberists show what city they were in last night, because I haven't been to many shows in my life in any city where the crowd and the performers were so obviously in love with eachother. In fact, the last time I'd had such a perfect experience at an L.A. show was about a year ago- the last time The Decemberists were in town.

There is something magical about front man Colin Meloy and his merry band. The Decemberists should be one of the most pretentious and boring bands in music. This is a band that favors writing ten minute long songs that retell old Japanese folktales and Irish myths. Almost every critic who writes about them is quick to point out that their lyrics are much more literate than almost every other rock song ever written. Musically, the band likes to experiment with tons of bizarre instruments and various styles, never sticking to one sound for long. Their songs are usually period narratives, telling tales of Mariners seeking revenge, suicide pacts, and Chinese Trapeze artists. In theory, it should be really lame and indulgent. Yet somehow, The Decemberists more than pull off what could have been annoying and precious- in fact, they are one of the most fun, entertaining, engaging, inventive, catchy, and insanely listenable bands around.

Playing at the Wiltern last night, one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles, the band rocked through a lively, fast paced set that lasted almost two hours but passed like lightning. They played almost their entire phenomenal new album, "The Crane Wife," a lot of cuts from their 2005 release, "Picaresque," and a healthy sprinkling of hits from their first two albums. Opening with the first two tracks from "The Crane Wife,” including the mind bending, prog rock epic "The Island" (which has a much longer full title, tells a tale of a mysterious island where a murder occurs, and features a kick ass synth solo- yeah, this band can even pull off synth solos,) Meloy was in full control of the stage from the get go. Joking with the audience, organizing call and responses, and even leading us in "vocal warm-ups" so we could sing along, Meloy clearly loves being in front of a crowd, and we loved him back. This is the rare rock star who lets you see how much he enjoys being a rock star- there is no snobby, too cool to be there attitude that many front-men favor. For two hours, Meloy kept the energy up, making it clear just how much fun he was having.

When he launched into live staple "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," the crowd erupted. Meloy's love/ hate letter to the city summed up the contradictory feelings many of residents feel to the city of Angels, and we sang along lyrics like: "How I abhor this place/Its sweet and bitter taste/ Has left me wretched, retching on all fours /Los Angeles, I’m yours" with gusto and abandon. The new, Smiths and Talking Heads influenced track "The Perfect Crime 2" had the crowd on the floor dancing wildly (another thing that apparently Los Angeles crowds don't ever do,) while the gorgeous "Sons and Daughters" turned into a beautiful sing along that felt like a giant group hug.

The encore was even better. After letting the crowd go crazy for a few minutes, screaming and stomping for more, the band came back out. Meloy, for the first time all night, didn't pick up a guitar and the band launched into a terrific new song. Just singing, Meloy was free to launch into an all out Morrissey impression, reaching out to an adoring crowd, gyrating wildly, singing on his knees melodramatically, grabbing an audience member's cell phone and dialing a random number and singing the new songs awesome, slightly creepy lyrics (Cut 'im up, boy,") into the phone, while whipping the mike chord with abandon. I don't know what this song is called, but I can't wait to hear the next album if it's as good as the new track they played last night. They closed the set with a rousing, extended version of "16 Military Wives," with Meloy splitting the crowd in two for the sing along, getting us to follow his every command. This is a performer who is confident and in command of his audience, and clearly loves it. The audience was going nuts, and Meloy couldn't stop smiling through the whole show. At the end of the night, he admitted (ambiguous lyrics to his ode the city aside,) how much fun he has every time he comes out to L.A.

The feeling was more than mutual.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Project Runway: Assholes Finish First

I wanted to do a short post on "Project Runway's" finale tonight. Anyone who makes fun of me for watching the show, by the way- you just haven't seen it. I thought that a show about designing fashion would blow too- but man is that shit compelling viewing. And it's funny to take a step back and look at yourself critiquing the clothes that the designers make- what the shit do I know about clothes? Not much.

Will my total lack of fashion knowledge (all I ever wear are a small group of T-Shirts and two pairs of jeans that I wear for two weeks straight until I finally do the laundry) stop me from bitching about the winner of Season 3?

You bet your ass it won't. They created the art form of blogs so that uninformed people could state their opinions, and state them loudly.

Jeffrey is the winner?

The asshole with the neck tattoo? With the ugly "rock and roll" clothing? The guy who may very well have cheated on his final clothing line (when he was accused, he seemed nervous and annoyed- but if somebody had accused me of cheating on something and I hadn't, I know I'd be pissed off, not act fake surprised.) The guy who made another designer's mom cry? Who was pissed off every time one of his ugly designs didn't win a competition? Who badmouthed everybody else to no end? That guy won?

His final line was better than anything he'd done all season- but still had some turds in it. And the guy is just such a creep, he's impossible to root for. I wanted Michael to win, but clearly the youngster blew it with his ugly line. I wouldn't have minded if Uli, the crazy German who just loves colorful prints, had won with her line, which actually looked different than every piece she made all season. I would have even been fine with Laura winning, the Cruella De Vil of the group (when the designers were all given the task of creating an outfit for a dog, I thought she was going to make it out of the dog.) Anyway, enough about the clothes- I don't really know anything about them in the first place. But I've watched every episode this season, and hated Jeffery for every minute of it.

The guy is an arrogant putz- and not even an entertaining one, like last season's hilarious Santino. The guy made someone's mother cry- because she had the audacity to say she didn't like the clothes he made for her.

Shouldn't the fact that he possibly cheated have hurt his chances? And if not, shouldn't he lose some points for that fucking stupid neck tattoo?

When did I start to care about a fashion design reality show so much?

Shit, I can't wait for season 4.

Lost Watch: Polar Bears, Visions, and Naked Psychics

Episode 3 of Season 3 of "Lost" sees the show regaining it's status as one of the most out there shows on television. I mean, this episode was loopy...and I loved it for that reason.

We finally find out what happened to Locke- he's relatively unscathed after the Hatch meltdown at the end of season 2- except he can't speak...not until he talks to The Island. Yes, we're back to Locke's first season obsession with the idea that the island is trying to talk to him...and who should show up in his vision but Boone, the first major character to die on "Lost" (and I'm sure the actor who played him was glad to get a bit of work after being fired from one of the hottest shows on TV, which films in Hawaii...basically the best job in the world) who shows him a crazy vision set in a dream world airport. After having his bizarre vision, Locke realizes he must save the missing Mr. Ecco and "clean up his own mess." Charley, everyone's favorite burn out from an Oasis wanna be band, joins him on his quest...basically because the writers needed to give Locke someone to talk to.

And they end up tracking a polar bear.

As we learned early in season one, there are frigging polar bears on mystery island. Apparently one of them has got himself a cave, and he's a mean as fuck CG monster. Locke has to crawl into the creepy bear cave out in the jungle, (and I expected him to fight Darth Vader- only to reveal that he is fighting himself) to save the bruised and injured Ecco. Using a clever hair spray flame thrower, Locke sends the big ol' bear running.

On their way back to the main camp, Charlie runs off to fetch water just in time for Ecco to speak to Locke, telling him he can go after their captured friends at the Others' resort- because he's a hunter. By the time Charlie gets back, Ecco is passed out again. So the island is definitely on speaking terms with Locke again. After his long, drawn out love affair with the hatch last season, the island has taken him back. It was inevitable- the island and Locke are like Ross and Rachel. They may not always get along, but those two crazy kids are meant for each other.

The flashbacks for Locke were semi-interesting as well. Locke picks up a hitchhiker on his way to a hippie commune, played by Justin Chatwin- Tom Cruise's son from "War of the Worlds," who turns out to be an undercover cop who will probably end up busting his friend's for growing pot- lots and lots of it. Chatwin was fine, but it woulda been kinda sweet had it been the other Cruise kid from that creepy Spielberg alien epic- Dakota Fanning, undercover agent. Anyway, Locke tells his pissed off friends that he can deal with it, taking the cop on a hunting trip. Locke points his gun at him, telling him he's ready to kill him- but is unable to pull the trigger. That Locke, a good man even in the worst of situations.

The whole idea for the flashback is that Locke wanted to "clean up his mess" since he brought the cop to the commune in the first place. But really, when you are hippies growing that much weed, can you blame Locke for getting caught? Letting the numbers run down, after Desmond and Ecco tell you that it will doom you all is kinda a lot more "his bad" then accidentally busting a bunch of hippies who encourage you to murder cops. But anyway, Locke comes through, kicking a bear's ass and reminding us why he was a badass in the first place. It's nice to see hunter Locke back, and this episode confirmed that he was back with a vengeance.

Oh yeah...and Hurley returned. Poor Hurley looks a bit worse for the wear after his terrible trip to bring back the message that Jack, Kate, and Sayid have been kidnapped. On his way back to camp, he runs into Desmond, who is naked and confused after pulling the fail safe in the hatch, which caused it to implode. But somehow he's fine- though naked and unsure of what happened to his clothes. When Hurley tells him his message that the Others have got their friends, Desmond tells him it's okay- because Locke made a speech vowing to go after them. A speech that Locke did not make.

Until the end of the episode. Hurley, listening to Locke talk about going after their friends and finding the Others, rallies the demoralized troops after they've been told their friends have been kidnapped. Charlie, Claire, and a couple random islanders (there are so many things going on with the main characters that they needed to grab a couple randoms to make Locke's speech seem a little more dramatic- though where are Rose and Bernard?) Hurley is stunned as he hears the speech, looking over at a still dazed Desmond. So now Desmond can see the future- even though he can't remember what happened to him in the last few days?

More mysteries and weirdness than you can shake a stick at were thrown our way in this hour of "Lost." It's good to see the mystical weirdness returning to the show- I dig the Others and Dharma initiative stuff, but season 2 focused on that way too much, sorta forgetting all the weird magic voodoo that season one did so well. I mean, this is a show with a weird cloud monster that can see your fears. I'm glad that we're getting back to that- and will hopefully see how it connects with the Dharma stuff. It's also nice to see that Locke and the Island are speaking again- the Hatch was never gonna love him the way he loved it, anyway. And it’s just good to see Locke as his old self again- knife wielding, tracking through the jungle, being more badass than bears- you know, just getting out more.

So far, the season has felt oddly disjointed, focusing on the main group this week, Sayid's crew last week, and the captive love triangle the first week and a bit last week. There is so much going on, the show can't hope to cut between everyone this season. But it's clear that all these stories are going to connect somehow, and very soon. Hopefully we'll see some resolution to this whole thing before the long hiatus- though don't be surprised, "Losties," if we're left with a cliffhanger so gripping that we'll all end up regretting ABC's decision to split the season in two.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lost Watch: I Miss Hurley

The second episode of season 3 of "Lost" didn't blow my nuts off the way the season premiere did. It wasn't a bad episode, but the main problem was that it was a Sun and Jin centered story. It was probably the best Sun and Jin episode since season one, but to me, they are the least compelling characters among the main survivors. Maybe I just feel that way after last season's group of Sun and Jin stories that did nothing to advance what we understood about them. Episode 2 certainly filled in some questions we have about them- but honestly, Sun and Jin's issues are probably the questions I'm least eager to find answers to. Plus, I'm starting to miss the other survivors. I'm glad that episode three is supposedly about the main group. I just miss poor ol' Hurley.

That said, there was plenty of good stuff in this episode. Sayid's hard-ass yet ill conceived plan to wait for the Others and "kill all of them but two," using one of the two to show the other why he should cooperate showed just how far off the rails ol' Sayid has gone. I love Sayid, and want more from him this season. I feel like he became a lost character for all of season 2, moping around about the loss of Shannon. Maybe I'm being harsh, because he supposedly loved her. But while I was celebrating the death of the most annoying character in the history of the show, a death that was basically demanded by the show's audience (as opposed to her brother in law's death, which Locke creepily described as "demanded by the island,") Sayid was moping. If he could have, he would have locked himself in the hatch with some Elliot Smith records and drank whiskey, crying himself to sleep. Anyway, I'm just trying to say I wanna see more Sayid this year, and see Sayid kick some serious ass again.

The stuff with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer hanging out in Other-town was interesting too. Kate and Sawyer were forced to do hard labor, moving giant rocks around. Clearly, what they were doing probably had no purpose other than giving the Others something hard for their prisoners to do. Sawyers sudden kiss of Kate followed by his bad ass yet failed escape attempt was probably all part of the Others'' designs- they are certainly manipulating them psychologically, but it's not yet clear to what end. When Kate and Sawyer are thrown into their cells later that night, they discuss the fact that Sawyer thinks he can take the guards, the next time he has a chance. Then the rug is ripped right from under us again when we realize that Ben- the head Other, or at least highest ranking among them that we know of so far- is watching them through a monitor, and hearing their every word. Spooky.

The best scene in the episode is the very last one. Ben comes into Jack's cell, and finally introduces himself properly. He tells him that he's lived on the island his whole life, and by choice. Jack doesn't believe him, telling him that he would have left if he could. Ben then rattles off a group of facts that happened in the outside world recently- remember, the plane crashed in 2004, and the survivors have been their only 69 days. When Jack doesn't believe that the Red Sox won the world series, he plays a tape of the last game for him. It's the first evidence Jack has seen of the real world in over two months, and it kind of overwhelms him. So a few fan theories are smashed- that the island exists in some kind of bubble, like a giant snow globe, and the theory that there has been some sort of apocalyptic event, and that the people on the island are the only left on Earth. Or are these theories really dead? Those clever writers- and Others- could spin things around again. But for now, it seems that there is an outside world, and Ben promises Jack that he will send him home if he cooperates "when the time comes." When you see Jack's face staring at the last out of the Red Sox World Series, you can tell that Ben has got him.

Just what is he going to ask him to do? Whatever it is, it'll probably be totally fucked, but we'll just have to wait to find out- hopefully we'll have an answer before the show's long hiatus.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Scorsece Schools Em All

"The Departed" is the cinematic equivalent of a nice, perfectly cooked steak, in a year when you've been eating nothing but fast food hamburgers. It's meaty and satisfying, and it makes you wonder why you've been wasting your time on hamburgers for so long. This is a movie that brings the pain, and brings it hard.

I'm going to make this entry short and sweet. Martin Scorsece's "The Departed" rocks harder than any other movie released this year. It's a joy to see Marty firing on all cylinders again, after the messy and unfocused "Gangs of New York" and the well made yet un-involving "The Aviator." Scorsece revisits the world that he has defined and redefined cinematically many times over the years- the gangster picture- and breathes new life into it again. I can't overstate how much I love this movie- if you are a true fan of movies, this is the film you've been waiting for all year.

A remake of the equally awesome yet more slick and action driven Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," "The Departed" stars Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a cop working deep undercover with Boston's most notorious criminal, Frank Costello (a out of his mind Jack Nicholson.) On the other side of the law, Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a Costello loyalist who is a mole within the state Police Special Investigation Unit- the very unit who hired Costigan. The two men enter into a desperate cat and mouse game, trying to ferret each other’s identities out in order to survive. That's all I'm gonna say about the plot- if you have not seen it yet, I don't want to ruin any of the twists along the way. And by the way, if you haven't seen it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this for? See the damned movie already.

Every performance is right on. DiCaprio has finally come into his own, playing Billy as a paranoid and sometimes violent badass. Yes, folks, Leonardo DiCaprio kicks some serious ass in this movie. The guy from "Titanic." The retarded kid from "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." The cousin from "Growing Pains." That guy. After seeing this movie, you'll never bring up the fact that he seemed like a sissy in any of those roles, because you'll believe that he could probably kick your ass after you watch him brutally beat up a couple of Italian gangsters in a liquor store, or smash a glass across a guy's head for making fun of him for drinking cranberry juice in a bar. Matt Damon is equally impressive, playing Colin as with icy intelligence, methodically working his way up within the police force even as he helps the crime boss his bosses are obsessed with catching.

As for that elusive crime boss- Nicholson's Costello is an insane, off the rails beast of a performance. Nicholson plays Costello huge, acting all the way to the edge of madness but never falling off. Jack clearly relishes his role, adding bizarre character touches that will make the performance one that is hard to forget. Nicholson's performance is so out there, it's as if it came from Mars. He eats a bug, plays around with a severed hand while talking about John Lennon, tosses cocaine around his bedroom with opera music playing, and even wields a dildo to scare one of the main characters. It's a thoroughly unhinged, deranged, scary, hilarious performance that will surely be remembered when Oscar nominations come out.

The rest of the cast is right on the money as well. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are hilarious as a tough talking cops looking to finally catch Costello and prove they have the biggest dick in the room at the same time. Ray Winstone is quietly intimidating as Costello's second in command, and Vera Farmiga is impressive as a police psychologist with connections to both Billy and Colin, holding her own as the only major female role in a movie dripping with testosterone. Screenwriter William Monahan should be nominated for an Oscar for his brilliant screenplay, which weaves this complex tale tightly, while providing the brilliant cast with some of the best dialogue to come out of a Hollywood movie in a long time.

But Scorsece is the real star here. His camera dips and glides, his music choices are impeccable and witty as always, his editing choices (with longtime cutter Thelma Schoonmaker) are brilliant, and all his directorial choices add up, creating a movie that absolutely pulses with energy. "The Departed" is paced like a locomotive, never feeling nearly as long as it's two and a half hour running time, moving from moments of laugh out loud comedy to shocking and horrific violence without skipping a beat. This movie feels like the effortless work of a true master who is cutting loose and having fun with the material. "The Departed" is a rollercoaster in the truest sense of the word, taking you for a ride that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated. This is the type of movie that reminds you why you love the art form, restoring your faith in the very power of movies. It will kick you ass and leave you gasping for more. This is by far the best, most exciting, most kinetic, and most flat out entertaining movie so far this year. Scorsece has raised the bar for this year's movies, and by letting go of loftier ambitions, by making a such pure piece of pop entertainment instead of grasping for Oscars, he might just find himself walking away with a statue at the Kodak Theatre early next year afterall.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lost Watch: Boom! And We're Back

This one goes out to Drew, by request.

Spoiler warnings are in effect as always. You've been warned, all of you folk out there who don't watch the show. And for all of you folk out there who don't- get on it. No excuses. The show rocks, and after the stunner of a season opener, it looks like it's gonna rock harder than ever.

"Lost" is back with a mothereffin' vengeance. After a sophomore season that stumbled when it should have soared, the creators of the top rated mind fuck of a show seem to have figured out what we hungry Lost heads have been missing since the excellent first season- a sense that this story is moving forward and is actually heading in some direction, while at the same time knocking us off our collective feet by turning the same story in a whole new direction.

The first three minutes of season three are as good as any of the best moments of season two. The scene starts with a meeting of a book club of all things in a normal looking suburban neighborhood. A woman we do not recognize is being chewed out by a member of the club for choosing a trashy book instead of artsy literature (a Stephen King novel, and knowing what a huge Lostie Mr. King is, I'm sure he was pleased as punch to see one of his novels featured in such a key scene.) The snob makes a snide remark about somebody named Ben not approving. The woman gets angry, claiming she doesn't care what Ben thinks, that last time she checked "we still have free will." In the middle of their argument, the ground begins to shake- so we, as an audience, think we've been clued in. This is probably a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles. We- being the geeks we are- know that this is an episode that is going to deal with Jack during the flashback portions. This scene is clearly a flashback, and this woman must know Jack somehow, right? Then the woman and her book club run outside.

Oceanic Flight 815 is splitting apart right above their heads.


The suburban neighborhood is on the fucking island.

Ben steps out of the shadows- it's the captured "Other" from last season (one of the actually interesting subplots that got dragged out for far too long last season,) who called himself Henry Gale. He barks some orders to the group, including the "Other" who pretended to be a passenger all the way back in season one, kidnapping Claire's baby.

A series of wider and wider shots shows us just where this normal looking neighborhood is- right smack in the middle of "mystery island."

Bam. Welcome to season three of "Lost."

The rest of the episode brings us back to the "present" in our story. I put that word in parentheses because we're not really sure when this whole thing takes place for sure. In theory, after the full two seasons of the show, the castaways have only been on the island for a few months- but that's only in theory.

Jack, Kate, and Sawyer have been kidnapped by los Others and separated, Jack is kept in a creepy, windowless basement and locked in a room, ala the "Saw" movies. Sawyer is thrown into a weird cage that is clearly a psychological experiment for animals. Kate is pulled from her cell and told to put on a nice dress, then is taken to a nice breakfast on the beach with the artist formerly known as Henry Gale, who we now know is named Ben.

As stated above, most of this episode is about Jack. The girl from the book club talks to him, communicating through a glass wall. Jack is defiant at first, stubbornly attempting to escape even as he is told his attempts are futile and could get him killed. He is able to get out of his cell, but when he tries to open a door down the hall, a wall of water comes rushing in. Turns out they are in an underwater hatch called the Hydra. An underwater hatch is like ten thousand times cooler than "the Swan" hatch that we spent almost all season hanging out in. Locke would be totally jealous. He refuses to stand down to accept food from her, doing his best hero act to try and defy his captors. The flashbacks are actually interesting as well for the first time in a long time for this character- we flash back to after Jack's wife has left him, as he goes on an obsessive quest to find out who she was sleeping with when his marriage ended. Inside his cell, Jack is slowly broken down by the woman, who tells him that she knows everything about him- and his wife. Jack is finally able to let go, and when he is given the opportunity to ask her anything about him, he just asks if she is happy. It seems like a triumphant moment for Jack, as he is finally able to let go and stop obsessing, But then Ben tells the mystery woman "good job," while smiling creepily. They've just manipulated him, broken him down. But we're not sure to what end yet.

Overall, it was pretty classic "Lost." We are given a few great nuggets of info, but just enough to create a hundred more questions in our obsessive little fanboy and girl minds. And, like I said, there actually feels like there is some sort of narrative momentum finally winding up in the show. Things are actually building to...something. We can't be sure what they are actually building to...but that's the fun of the show.

It's nice to know that the show is finally moving in the right direction...or any direction at all, after the frustratingly looping narrative of season 2. We'll see where things develop from here, but things are looking very good, since series co-creator and Hollywood it-guy JJ Abrams has returned to the show.

And man, those first three minutes were amazing.

So far, the fall TV season has proved disappointing- “Studio 60” continues to waver, maintaining a pretty boring streak of episodes without, you know, compelling conflict, while “Friday Night Lights” the most kickass show of the season so far, floundered in the ratings and probably won’t make it more than a few more episodes- it’s nice to have “Lost” back, and kicking ass the way it should be.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Armchair Quarterback

Last night, I watched the best pilot I've seen all season- and it's a sports show. "Friday Night Lights" kicks ass on just about every level. The show, which was inspired by the movie that was adapted from the book of the same title, tells the story of a small Texas town and their obsession with high school football. Adopting the handheld camera and choppy editing style of the movie, the show has a lot more grit and realism than the typical high school drama. This is by no means "The O.C.-" the characters of "Friday Night Lights" are poor people living in rural Texas. Football is not just a past time for them- for the kids on the field, it is the only way out of their tiny little town. The adults in of Odessa, Texas live vicariously through their team, pinning their hopes on group of high school kids. It's pretty compelling stuff.
Watch it.