Monday, November 30, 2009

At the Movies - Top 10 of the Decade Countdown: #5

Another week, another couple of wonderful Best of the Decade picks by the new hosts of At the Movies. This week, Michael Phillips selects one of my favorite modern foreign language films, Y Tu Mama Tambien, while A.O. Scott unexpectedly grabs from this year's strong slate of underrated films, naming Spike Jonze's awe-inspiring Where the Wild Thing Are as his fifth favorite film of the decade. Personally, I like to let hindsight set in before I exalt new release films onto lists like these-- you can expect Wild Things to file in around #50 on my list, while Tambien will probably get as high as #30-- but I can't say that I disagree with any of his reasoning in the slightest. Good show.

Film Review Update

As you may have noticed, since I've taken over as Music Editor at InRO in the least year or so, my film review output has crawled to a bare minimum. In the meantime, I've done my best to keep up with quick capsule reviews of most new films I see, but now it's gotten to be a little too tedious for me to consistently keep up with. What I've decided to do, then, is to altogether scrap my capsule film reviews, and from hence forth focus solely on the Oscar race and awards side of the industry. I'll still offer up my thoughts here and there of course, as outside features and online debates invariably heat up across the year-- not to mention when the Academy drops the ball in most every major race-- but the days of full-fledged film critiquing is all but behind me, at least at this stage. I'm sure there will be the odd occasion where I'll go ahead and give myself over to a full review when InRO needs a helping hand, but as the music side of the site continues to grow, I have decided to dedicate myself to that aspect of the InRO world, at least for the foreseeable future.

My film intake has not and will never be curbed, however, and if you follow this blog or my twitter page, I'm sure you'll get all the film opinion and dissension that you'll ever need out of me. Also, I will still offer up my Top 10 of the year each December, so chances are you won't even miss those half-written capsule reviews anyhow. This obviously effects your movie going life in no way, shape or form, but I thought I'd point out my plans as we head into the thick of the Oscar race and the beginning of a new year at the movies. So keep a look out for our new Chasing Gold couple in a couple of weeks, as well as a late-December best of the year column. Oh, and just to wrap things up fully, here are some quick grades of a few recent films:
Precious (**), The Men Who Stare At Goats (**), The Fantastic Mr. Fox (**1/2), The Road (***).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

At the Movies - Top 10 of the Decade Countdown: #6

I don't have much commentary for ya on these picks-- the new At the Movies hosts sum up the merits of these two films quite succinctly. I'll have plenty of gushing praise for Zodiac when I get around to finalizing my decade list, and I finally hope to set aside six hours to finally watch The Best of Youth sometime in the coming month or so. I was wondering, however, when A.O. Scott was gonna start curving into the foreign terrain. He's two weeks running now, and I fully expect a couple more when it's all said and done. So, until next week...

"Greenberg" Trailer

So after working with Jack Black on Margot at the Wedding (which is a wildly misunderstood film I might add), Noah Baumbach returns with a new film starring...Ben Stiller?! Well, if nothing else, Baumbach is well on his way to re-aligning my views on certain comic actors, though Stiller does admittedly have a handful of solid films to his name. No actor, however-- or anything really-- could stop this from being my most anticipated film of 2010.

Monday, November 23, 2009

eMusic's Best Albums of the Decade

I don't mean to keep bashing on that Paste list, but when a website that is only pooling from a select number of albums can come up with a better and more comprehensive list than your own, than something is wrong. But that's exactly what eMusic has done with their solid list of the best albums of the decade. They've only included albums that are currently available for download on their site, so you won't find any pre-In Rainbows Radiohead albums for example. But this opens up the door for many other creative selections, including Burial's landmark dubstep opus Untrue, Fugazi's classic millennial transcription The Arument, Tim Hecker's ambient masterwork Harmony in Ultraviolet, Tinariwen's desert-blues document Aman Iman: Water is Life, Califone's junkyard folk-rock masterpiece Roots & Crowns, prog legend Robert Wyatt's late-career baroque-pop gem Comicopera, Studio's balearic disco workout West Coast, Mclusky's sadistic middle-finger Do Dallas, and even Comet Gain's cult favorite Realistes.

In other words, it's nice to finally see a list with bit range, and, more importantly, a few selections that go against most band's de-facto "best album", such as Spoon's excellent Girls Can Tell and Destroyer's Streethawk: A Seduction. Anyway, they've been rolling out this list for the last week or so, and it's been a treat to re-evaluate some under-praised records. Here's the top ten for quick perusal, but it's certainly worth clicking over to check out the entire list.

1. The Strokes - Is This It
2. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
3. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
4. M.I.A. - Arular
5. Burial - Untrue
6. Ghostface Killa - Supreme Clientele
7. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
8. Spoon - Girls Can Tell
9. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
10. Arcade Fire - Funeral

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Music Review: Magma - Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (***)

"Stay with me, earthlings, as our Kobaïan ambassadors have returned yet again, and they come bearing gifts.

Christian Vander is certainly no stranger to long-winded, labyrinthine musical concepts. Magma itself is arguably the longest running concept of the rock era, though the band’s wildly convoluted yet consistently intriguing marathon-length narratives deserve a dissertation in and of themselves. And though these albums have rarely been bound to any sort of linear structure, Vander has gone so far as to stretch his ideas and theories across multiple full-lengths, not to mention the fact that it’s all rendered in Kobaïan babble-talk, upping the pretension to near unheard-of levels, even by prog standards. And now, the French legends’ second post-reunion album, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, completes their second official trilogy, which has now stretched across 35 years, two full-lengths—1975's classic Köhntarkösz and 2004's monstrous K.A.—and multiple dead-end narrative strands, which have up until now only popped up on a handful of peripheral Magma releases. So if K.A. felt like a confident reinstatement of purpose and a boldly uncompromising continuation of their pioneering zeuhl style, then Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré appropriately enough feels like the closing of a chapter, the finale Vander has been working toward for over three decades now. That, and it’s about as close as they’ve come to ripping a hole in the time-space continuum." [Continue Reading]

Music Review: Molina and Johnson - Molina and Johnson (*)

"There are exceptions to every rule of course, but more often than not the best collaborations result when the two artists in question are working at or near a creative peak—think My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) or, more recently, Orchestra of Bubbles (2006). In the case of Molina and Johnson, however, we have one artist in kind of a post-peak nomad period (Magnolia Electric Co.’s Jason Molina) and one who hasn’t even tapped what little potential he may have yet to fulfill (Centro-matic’s Will Johnson). In other words, it was never the most promising endeavor. Though after this summer’s intermittently great but altogether average Magnolia record, Josephine, there was at least some reason to hope that these two could push each other in an interesting direction. Unfortunately, the resulting self-titled debut is just about the most innocuous, bland and wholly boring album I’ve heard in 2009. If directionless, unmelodic, vaguely downcast acoustic rumination is your bag then you may be able to at least lose yourself in the overriding atmosphere, but more often than not these 14 tracks just don't move, failing to build on what few interesting ideas these two have at their disposal." [Continue Reading]

Friday, November 20, 2009

InRO Feature: Chasing Gold - November

After a few setbacks, Chasing Gold returns this month with our updated predictions and analysis of the ongoing and ever-evolving Oscar race. Sitting in for Luke Gorham this month is fellow InRO contributor/From the the Front Row blogger/film writer Matthew Lucas, and together we breakdown each of the major categories, along with a handful of the techincal categories which are slowly beginning to come into focus. This is our last Chasing Gold column before the onslaught of critics awards begins full force in early December, so look for some movement over the next few weeks as (hopefully) some fringe contenders make a play for gold. Also, I'll be updating the sidebar for easy reference, so continue to look there for even more up to date predictions. Anyway, enjoy our November edition of Chasing Gold.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Paste's 50 Best Movies of the Decade

I think it's safe to assume-- at least after their frankly terrible list of the Best Albums of the Decade, followed by their solid selections of the Best Documentaries of the Decade-- that the Paste film staff is the only avenue worth pursuing around those parts, at least for the time being. I am most impressed, however, with their list of the 50 Best Films of the Decade. There is a nice cross-section of films here, certainly, but there are also some flat-out inspired selections, including Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon (a film that continues to grow in my estimation with each viewing), the dueling Dardennes masterpieces L'Enfant and The Son, Michael Haneke's gripping Cache, Gus Van Sant's galvanizing Elephant, and, most surprisingly, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's mesmerizing tone poem Syndromes and a Century, which I just recently re-watched and was floored once again by. They also have room for a wide swath of American classics such as There Will Be Blood, Lost In Translation and Traffic. Oh, and their #1 pick-- I won't spoil it, but I envision many lists being topped by this kinetic crime classic. Check it out over at the Paste blog.

At the Movies - Top 10 of the Decade Countdown: #7

Last night Michael Phillips and Tony Scott continued their weekly countdown of the best films of the decade, selecting two films that have a similar stark realism and uneasy aura of impending dread. Of course, without even seeing the film, we all know how United 93 turns out, though that makes it no less of a technical achievement, a point which Scott argues convincingly here. I would, however, say it is a difficult film to truly love, and as such, seems to me that Phillips has elevated the film's status based on his respect for the intentions and the uncompromising approach to narrative that Paul Greengrass has enacted here. And there's nothing wrong with that at all, but I have no intention of seeing it again any time soon.

Scott, meanwhile, goes with the great Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, one of the standard bearers for modern international cinema and one of the more unforgettable films you'll ever come across. In fact, both these films are rather scarring and extreme examples of realist cinema. Can't really fault either of these guys for their selections. Check out the discussion below.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Music Review: Beak> - Beak> (*1/2)

"The most fascinating thing about Beak>—the band, the album, whatever—is that something like this took so long to materialize. Portishead proper have averaged just about seven years between each landmark outing thus far, leaving what would seem to be plenty of time for side projects and various other creative outlets. During the 11 year hiatus between the band’s last two albums, singer Beth Gibbons has worked with ex-Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb, while guitarist Adrian Utley has lent a hand to any number of British rock records and film scores. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist/producer Geoff Barrow has been running Invada Records while producing a handful of albums on his label’s roster, though generally keeping a low profile. Surprisingly, a full-on side project had yet to emerge. For now, then, the aspirations of Geoff Barrow’s new Beak> project will have to remain somewhat mysterious, but on evidence of their self-titled debut, it certainly sounds like this band could be an ongoing concern. If only the music were as intriguing as what the enterprise might suggest, then this would be something to celebrate. Instead, Beak> have arguably made the first background listening art-rock record." [Continue Reading]

Music Review: Espers - III (*1/2)

"The opening track on III may be titled “I Can’t See Clear,” but from the sound of things, Espers have never been more lucid. And though I’d venture to guess that the least desirable route for a sinister acid-folk troupe to embark upon is one away from the darkly ominous woodlands of old, Espers’ move here toward a brighter and considerably less foreboding pasture isn’t totally surprising. More than within most any other genre, folk artists tend to move from the starkly singular to the more communally expansive over the course of their careers (unless, of course, you’re Nick Drake or Jandek or some such recluse). So while a handful of the tracks on the Philadelphia freak-folk survivors’ latest album tend toward the compact and song-oriented, it’s to their credit that the results, while not the most interesting sound for the band, are at least well defined amongst the consistently sprouting thickets of underdeveloped foliage lurking within the tired grooves of III." [Continue Reading]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Podcast: End of Radio #15 - 'The Decade in Noise'

"Those of you with weak stomachs, sensitive hearing, aversions to the aurally unpleasant, and those currently with child, may want to approach the latest addition of the End of Radio podcast with caution, as co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Jon Staph take a decade-long look back at the some of the biggest names in underground noise."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paste's Top 25 Documentaries of the Decade

Paste really dropped the ball in a depressing way with their Top 50 Albums of the Decade last week, so it's with some minor relief that their latest list of the 25 Best Documentaries of the Decade is at least respectable. As much as I respect Man On Wire, though, I really don't think anything besides Capturing the Friedmans can be at #1 on a list such as this, but nevertheless there is a diverse range of some pretty stellar product here. I mean, Grizzly Man, The King of Kong, The Devil and Daniel Johnston and The White Diamond are some of the best films of the decade period, while stuff like Dig! and Anvil is just straight-up entertaining displays of film making. I will say, however, that if they were gonna take a doc to represent this year, I would have preferred The Cove, which either way should be racking up its share of critics awards soon enough. Anyway, good stuff here. Looks like their film staff at least have their heads on straight. Here's the top ten:

10. Waltz with Bashir
9. Murderball
8. Spellbound
7. When the Levee Broke
6. The King of Kong
5. Bowling for Columbine
4. The Fog of War
3. Grizzly Man
2. Iraq in Fragments
1. Man on Wire

Monday, November 9, 2009

At the Movies - Top 10 of the Decade Countdown: #8

Alright, now things are getting interesting. After a couple weeks of average and in some cases surprising picks, the men of At the Movies are bringing out the big guns with their picks for the 8th best film of the last ten years. What they've got here are two of the best American films ever made in my view, though only one of these is guaranteed a spot on my top ten. So yeah, pretty deep decade I'd say, though I think Scott is way off in his view of Mulholland Dr, which you'll be hearing plenty about from these quarters in the coming months. Check out the convo below.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


From Hollywood Elsewhere via Incontention

Music Review: Do Make Say Think - Other Truths (***)

"As we’ve sat and waited patiently for the next worthwhile statement from the collapsed post-rock scene, Toronto journeymen Do Make Say Think have quietly been working toward redefining the parameters of their specific formula. Along with Tortoise’s Beacons of Ancestorship, Do Make Say Think’s sixth full-length, Other Truths, has ably transcended these genre tags and finally (hopefully) led us towards something beyond post-rock—call it post post-rock, if you will. And similar to Tortoise’s promising return-to-form, Other Truths doesn’t necessarily present anything new or groundbreaking, but it does evidence a band reinvigorated by the lack of pressure set upon them with each new release. Particularly coming after 2007’s lackluster You, You’re a History in Reverse, Other Truths seems like a very strong record, both a welcome reconciliation of this collective’s boundless talent and further proof of the potential this mostly instrumental strain of guitar rock carries. The four, roughly 10-minute pieces which comprise Other Truths are each unique entries in the DMST catalogue, presenting as they do distinct iterations of the band’s subtly expansive sound through conveniently self-titled track names." [Continue Reading]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Video: Magma - Phases (Sample)

Here's a sub 3-minute excerpt of a DVD packaged with the just released Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê, the newest album from French progressive rock giants Magma. In a lot of ways, the album is about 35 years in the making, as portions of the album have appeared in various forms on such prior Kobaïan landmarks as Üdü Wüdü and Attahk. If this all sounds like a foreign language to you, well, it is (well kind of). I'll explain more in my upcoming review, but in the meantime catch a glimpse of Mr. Vander himself alongside (I believe) Philippe Bussonnet on bass.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Paste's 50 Best Albums of the Decade

Well here's a terribly depressing list for you to peruse on a Monday morning. I think calling Paste's list of the 50 "best" albums of the decade safe would be an understatement. I don't even know where to begin, and I won't even try except to say that I wouldn't even consider half of these albums even good. Make of the that what you will, but it's looking like this list could end up rivaling Rolling Stone's for irrelevance. Head over to Paste to shake your head at the other 40 picks, but here is the watered-down, predictable top 10. Sigh.

10. M.I.A. - Arular
9. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
8. Outkast - Stankonia
7. Gillian Welch - Time (the Relevator)
6. The White Stripes - Elephant
5. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
4. Radiohead - Kid A
3. Arcade Fire - Funeral
2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

At the Movies - Top 10 of the Decade Countdown: #9

A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips continue their countdown of the ten best films of the decade this week with their surprising #9 picks. I say surprising not because I question the quality of the films-- I actually really like both, with each making my personal top ten for their respective years-- but because I don't imagine these showing up on a whole lot of other critics' lists in the coming months. I'm sure some lingering Altman goodwill has powered Gosford Park onto Phillips list, while I agree with Scott that Spike Lee's 25th Hour is a film that grows in power with each successive viewing. Anyway, I'm more on board with these picks than their #10 selections, though there still hasn't been any overlap between my 10 favorites and theirs, though I'm sure that's inevitable at some point.