Saturday, December 19, 2009

2009: Andrew's Picks


Top 10
1. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
The incomparable Neko Case returned in 2009 with the strongest album of her solo career. Her haunting voice is on display here, and her unconventional songwriting shines.

2. Doves – Kingdom of Rust
3. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
4. The King Khan & BBQ Show – Invisible Girl
5. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
6. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
7. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us
8. Collective Soul – Rabbit
9. Muse – The Resistance
10. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream

Honorable Mentions
Chris Isaak – Mr. Lucky
Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane and Sugar Cane
Booker T. Jones – Potato Hole
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009: Mark's Picks


CREAM O’ ‘09
01 A Serious Man
02 Up in the Air
03 Inglourious Basterds
04 Adventureland
05 The Hurt Locker
06 Sugar
07 500 Days of Summer
08 Funny People
09 Precious
10 District 9

In the Loop
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Men Who Stare at Goats
The Messenger
The Hangover

Miss March
The International
Serious Moonlight
Taking Woodstock
Public Enemies
Away We Go

The White Ribbon
An Education
The Road
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans



CREAM O' '09
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
Fever Ray – Fever Ray
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Up From Below
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Passion Pit – Manners
The xx – XX
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
U2 – No Line on the Horizon


CREAM O' '09
Mad Men
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Shark Tank
Modern Family
Bored to Death
Party Down

Parks and Recreation
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Battlestar Gallactica
Friday Night Lights

Friday, December 11, 2009

Film Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air – a funny, sad, naturalistic and polished dramedy from co-writer/director Jason Reitman – is undeniably a contender for the 2010 Academy Awards. Yet it has no elaborate costume or set design, James Cameron-engineered digital effects, an epic narrative or even propulsive drama. This comparatively small film by Oscar’s standards will rack up nominations but should win only the smaller awards by no fault of its own. It just isn’t that breed. This is the kind of winter film that's comforting in its bleakness and uncertainty and doesn’t flaunt production value but instead sees it as economic cache.

Reitman's solid antecedent comedies, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, laid the bricks for his best feature yet. It doesn’t hurt that he's the son of the guy who made Ghostbusters.

An apotheosis of the George Clooney persona, Ryan Bingham flies 270 days a year as an expert layoff specialist, formally dismissing employees from companies around the country when the bosses lack the cojones to do so. It’s an unusual job that has manifested itself into a life mantra for never having to really know anyone.

“How much does your life weigh?” asks Ryan at the podium of motivational seminars. He coaches traveling professionals on the mentality of someone with a successful, baggage-less solitary existence. Home in Omaha for Ryan is torture. Not because of sour relationships with his sisters or painful memories but because he lives for traveling. “No man is an island” means zilch to him.

He meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), sleek, sultry and professional, whose occupation is never revealed, in a cocktail lounge. They hit it off right away. Alex is even shallower than Ryan and requests keeping their relationship strictly business-sexual. “Think of me as you with a vagina,” she says.

Then, enter Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a 23-year-old precocious Cornell grad has new plans for the company – upgrading from in-person layoffs to cost-saving video chat firings from the Omaha office. Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman), absolutely smitten with the whiz kid, strongly considers it but first sends Natalie on the road with Ryan for a series of corporate send-offs.

The sight of two people nervously preparing to deliver bad news to an unsuspecting American taxpayer triggered déjà vu ala The Messenger. And Ryan’s seminars reminded me of the faux-profound nature (thanks to Carter Burwell) of Clooney’s speech about the Massey prenup in Intolerable Cruelty.

No doubt this new depiction of romance and seduction is as impersonal as the coupling of 21st-century technology and the application of sociology. Witty, sexual banter is exchanged via text messages, and post-coital activity includes Ryan and Alex logging onto their adjacent laptops to check flight times and layovers.

Critics swooned over Up in the Air in the past month for being delightfully modern, which certainly makes Ryan’s senseless detachment from family, dependence and commitment a relatable flaw. Although Reitman shows the hardship and adversity the recession has incited, he probably will ironically make a healthy sum from it.

Clooney has amassed plenty of mileage in a decade and a half, and he delivers one of his most complete performances in this role. Farmiga, who more or less faded into the back of The Departed’s decked-out ensemble, may finally have a chance for meaty roles in the future.

The screenplay, adapted from Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel, doesn’t shy from corporate lingo and appropriates fearlessly astute dialogue within romantic scenes, a rarity in post-George Cukor and post-Howard Hawks cinema.

There is a great scene in a hotel lounge in which Natalie, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend, and Alex take turns describing their ideal life mate while Ryan listens. Alex’s standards for a man are much lower than Natalie’s, though both desire a figure of status. The 15-year gap between them is vast, and Natalie can’t imagine a life without the potential for perfection.

Before the film digs itself into a hole of depression, it bursts out with a happy hour of sorts. The two large-group events in the film include the tech convention after-party and Ryan’s sister’s wedding. Natalie’s drunken exuberance in the former and Ryan and Alex’s closeness in both scenes are sportively amorous yet also sincere.

Actors known for their comedic relief - Zach Galifianakis, J.K. Simmons (Reitman regular) and Danny McBride – have small bit parts in essentially serious roles. McBride is given one of his first roles since All the Real Girls to prove he can actually act.

The soundtrack plays to the strengths of the wavering tone. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ sassy version of “This Land is Your Land” is the opening number, and somber, folky tracks from Crosby, Stills & Nash, Elliott Smith and Roy Buchanan fade in at the right moments.

The story gets blotchy in its final ten minutes. Some surprises and the jumpy cuts to suitcase handles and airport terminals dizzies up the mise-en-scene in an otherwise smooth conclusion for the characters.

While still an unlikely pick for Best Picture, Up in the Air scores a lot of points for pathos. Reitman's film offers a refreshing blend of classical star wattage and a potently contemporary perspective that forge a connection with the audience on many levels despite an overall elegiac tone.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Flobots gets behind local economies

This past week, Denver-based alternative rock/hip-hop band Flobots issued a statement supporting the local economy. They have designated this week "Buy Local Week," promoting the importance about supporting the local economy, especially in these times of need. The holidays have always attracted many shoppers to spend more money than usual on gifts and holiday cheer.

The Flobots are particularly known for supporting many activist groups pertaining to everything from war to music to food. They have issued these statements on their Web site, Fight with Tools. They are very much community members and share their views on their activists ways through their music and fan base.

Although, hailing from Denver, they are vehement advocates of the Colorado economy and asked us all to do the same thing around our local neighborhoods.

I have, many times, discussed the importance of buying local pertaining to our food supply. Keeping local farmers around is a prominent factor. Even though buying local, especially in the food sector, might be a little bit more money, it's money that is circulated back into the local economy and not sent to big business and government. Remember: we all pay taxes and therefore should help our neighbors pay their taxes too, rather than supporting corrupt multimillionaire CEOs who don't necessarily look at the environment - their employees, and our economy - but how they can squeeze every little cent into their own pockets by the year's end. Many local producers work very hard, trying to make a living and feeding their families this holiday season doing what they love. So go out and support your local economy by buying from local farms, shops, and craft fairs.

And remember there are major corporations out there, although few, that do support the local economy and environment. So do your research, and if you feel the need to stop into a major chain, make sure it is one that supports local!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Room for Squares

John Mayer is a musician loaded with talent.

One must look only as far as his appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival to see how monstrous his guitar technique really is.

So why does he choose to continue releasing albums of panderous crooning and safe, mellow grooves?

A guy who could have been the guitar hero of our time, the Eddie Van Halen of the Aughts, has chosen instead to condemn himself to the world’s soft rock radio stations for all of eternity.

There’s no doubt he’s a solid songwriter. I can call the melodies of “No Such Thing” and “Gravity” and “Daughters” and “Waiting on the World to Change” to mind instantly. But when I want to rock out, Mayer’s got nothin’. He goes with the Jack Johnson brand of hazy brain-fuzz strumming instead. There’s a time and place for that, of course, but Mayer’s capable of so much more.

Those music fans who have been waiting for Mayer to come out of his shell probably got excited when word got out that 2006’s Continuum contained a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.” Finally, Mayer takes a shot at the role he should be playing, right? But they were likely disappointed when the album actually dropped.

Mayer’s covers of “Bold As Love” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” (on the recently released Battle Studies) pay homage to his influences, two gods of rock who he has the talent to copy. Unfortunately, neither song rises above that “copy” status. His Stratocaster cuts like a knife on “Bold As Love” but the song still manages to sound sanitized. The beaten-down-but-still-tryin’ vibe of “I’m On Fire” is replaced by a pale imitation.

John Mayer Trio’s live album Try! is the closest Mayer has ever come to baring his soul on a recording. “Who Did You Think I Was,” the disc’s opening track, is a rock song. Unfortunately, he settles back into his familiar groove later in the set.

Taking Mayer’s entire recorded body of work into account, maybe it’s time to admit it: Mayer is overrated as an underrated guitarist. He can replicate the burning blues licks of his heroes, but he can’t make them his own.

He won’t be recording Springsteen’s “I’m A Rocker” next because he’s not. He’s a singer-songwriter who crafts pleasing mid-tempo melodies. His influences may be some of the blues-rock greats, but he’s content to imitate them in his spare time and then go back to recording low-voiced snoozefests.

He’s probably happy with his legacy. How many children have been conceived to Mayer records? It has to be at least a few. But the chances of Mayer throwing us a bone and making a rock album are looking mighty bleak.