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For those who may be wondering, the bulk of my quick posting has migrated to facebook, as that’s where most of my friends had gone. Lengthy posts will still happen here, but my brief updates will be more frequent at facebook.

Movie Night

For the past 13+ months we have held a saturday movie night at the condo. With the move to Young Harris, this will be ending. For posterity, here’s the film list.

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28 June 2008 – Hitchcock’s “The Birds”
5 July – The Coen Brothers’ “Fargo”
12 July – “Singin’ in the Rain”
19 July – Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz”
26 July – Icelandic comedy “101 Reykjavik”
2 Aug – Tati’s “Playtime”
9 Aug – “Like Water for Chocolate”
16 Aug – “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (Robert Downey Jr. Appreciation Night)
23 Aug – “A Fish Called Wanda”
30 Aug – (no movie)
6 Sept – The Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”
13 Sept – “Chaplin” (Robert Downey Jr. again; apparently we really appreciate him)
20 Sept – Pixar’s “Ratatouille”
27 Sept – ‘Shorts festival’ (episode of Spaceballs cartoon, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Red Dwarf, Snookey the Humanzee, MST3K, and a Mexican dramatic soap opera)
4 Oct – Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”
11 Oct – (no movie)
18 Oct – (no movie)
25 Oct – (no movie)
1 Nov – “Casino Royale” (Daniel Craig version)
8 Nov – Sam Newfield’s Dracula rip-off “Dead Men Walk” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000 the Movie”
15 Nov – Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera”
22 Nov – John Barrowman in “Shark Attack 3”
29 Nov – “A Muppet Christmas Carol”
6 Dec – “A Garfield Christmas” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
13 Dec – several episodes of “Invader Zim” plus as much as we could tolerate of the “Star Wars Holiday Special”
20 Dec – (no movie)
27 Dec – (no movie)
3 Jan 2009 – (no movie)
10 Jan – (no movie)
17 Jan – “Team America: World Police” and an episode of “Captain Scarlet”
24 Jan – “Moulin Rouge”
31 Jan – “O Brother Where Art Thou?”
7 Feb – “National Treasure”
13 Feb – “Eraserhead,” “Dumb and Dumber”
21 Feb – “Lone Wolf & Cub 6: White Heaven in Hell”
28 Feb – “Baby Mama”
7 Mar – David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”
14 Mar – (no movie)
21 Mar – SABU’s “Postman Blues”
29 Mar – (Marc’s Birthday) Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels”
4 Apr – (no movie)
11 Apr – (no movie)
18 Apr – Tarsem’s “The Fall”
25 Apr – (no movie)
2 May – “Hot Fuzz” (again)
9 May – Hitchcock’s “Psycho”
16 May – Roger Corman night: “A Bucket of Blood” and “Little Shop of Horrors”
23 May – (no movie)
30 May – “Little Shop of Horrors” (musical version)
6 June – “Young Einstein”
13 June – “The Pillow Book”
20 June – “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog” and “Commentary the Musical”
27 June – George Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
4 July – (no movie)
11 July – “Scarves: Tie Into a New Look” and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”
18 July – “Cinematic Titanic: Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks”
25 July – “SNL: The Best of Christopher Walken” and “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother”
1 Aug – Sabu’s “Unlucky Monkey”

Is it just me, or is it a lot harder to imagine a world without Billy Mays than a world without Michael Jackson? It has effectively been a Michael-free world for quite a while now, while I was watching Billy Mays on TV less than four hours before I heard that he’d died…

Bye bye, Billy. For a capitalist pig-dog, you were one of the greats.

Regarding “Up”

Not really in the mood for a full blown review of this film, but I did want to share some thoughts after a couple days of percolating.

To cut right to the chase, this film is being grotesquely over-reviewed; as far as quality and enjoyment are concerned, I’m pretty confident that this belongs in the bottom tier of Pixar films, including Cars and The Incredibles.

The reasons why I say that are a bit complex (in much the same way that my reasons for hating The Incredibles are complex). The first 15 to twenty minutes of “Up” are nearly flawless. Up through the unleashing of the balloons and the first few minutes of flight, it’s truly pitch perfect. So much so, in fact, that I tend to wonder if it didn’t start as a short which they then decided to expand because it was too moody and not funny enough for a typical animated short.

Unfortunately, that’s where the film pretty much ends. Rather rapidly, our central character simply falls asleep, waking up a few seconds later only to discover that he’s already arrived at his destination! Any and all actual experiences in the air have been cut from the film; as such, the soul has been cut from it.

What replaces the ‘odd couple in an air balloon’ plot that everyone was surely expecting, is a poorly thought out swashbuckler in which realism is further and further jettisoned in favor of inexplicable fun. Talking dogs, a ‘roadrunner’ clone, the return of the old man’s childhood hero (who is inexplicably now NOT 30 years older than our old man), and the long and tedious dragging of the house across a bleak landscape. Melodrama to the hilt.

Not that this is necessarily bad. The problems are in the planning. Jennifer and I, in random discussions about the film, have found it exceedingly easy to rewrite this film and make it more coherent, pleasant, and ultimately meaningful in the way it should have been. The logic flaws provide ample opportunity to fix the film. Unfortunately those opportunities were not taken.

For example, the fact that the childhood hero should, by all rights, have been dead by this point, means they could have found his dog colony rather than him; we could still have had the menace of the talking dogs – and the clever idea of the ‘alpha’ dog – without the jarring ‘lightswitch’ evil of the childhood hero. This could further have provided a unification to the moral of the story that the journey is more important than the goal; we could have discovered recordings of the childhood hero saying how happy he was that he actually never caught the bird, but that he had lived a full and pleasant life trying. Of course, the removal of the childhood hero as villain would also remove the problem of our old man transitioning from needing a cane to being able to have a swordfight and jump off of airships in the space of 90 minutes, as though being old is simply a state of mind and not equally as much about the body breaking down; it’s a little insulting to the elderly, actually, to act as though they could be action heroes if they’d just try…

And, of course, it should go without saying that we could have had far more witty banter and sight gags while flying, rather than dragging the house along the ground for 80% of the film.

All told, this is an extremely problematic film. Though it had extraordinary potential, it desperately needed a rewrite before the starting of the animation process.

As with all Pixar films, its still entertaining enough to be worth seeing, but the coherence and meaningfulness latent in this story never comes together

general admission

updated for correct setlist and a link to a youtube video or two.
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Saw The National perform at the Tabernacle in Atlanta last night. Solid show. I’m not sure if it was them or me, but one of the two of us took some time to warm up, but by about 5 or 6 songs in it was a pretty good performance.

It’s a bit disappointing that either their gear, or the Tabernacle itself resulted in a rather muddy show from an audio standpoint. Much of the intricacy of their songs did not come across live. The long and short of this is that certain songs when performed seemed drastically inferior to the album version (Mistaken for Strangers), while others seemed far superior to the recording (Secret Meeting, Abel, Squalor Victoria); largely the harder edged rock songs were the stronger tracks live. Though, as I said before, the performances got stronger as it went along regardless of the quality of the sound.

I’m a little bummed that we only apparently heard two, maybe 3 new songs, considering there are apparently six or so floating around in their set lists right now, but I’m happy to hear anything new. Judging by what we did hear, the new album should be on par with their last two.

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What I remember of the setlist:

Main set – in no particular order
The Runaway (Karamazov) – new
Start a War
Mistaken for Strangers
Brainy
Secret Meeting
Baby, We’ll Be Fine
Slow Show
Vanderlylle Crybaby – new
Squalor Victoria
All the Wine
Abel
Ada
Apartment Story (I don’t remember this)
Green Gloves
Fake Empire
Daughters of the Soho Riots

Encore
Daughters of the Soho Riots
Mr. November
Blood Buzz Ohio – new
About Today (a pretty spectacular closer – significantly extended from the EP version)

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I’d’ve sworn we heard Wasp Nest, considering the jingle-y bells, but I don’t know that song very well. There must be something else that uses jingle bells…

I spent part of last weekend in Frederick, Maryland, at the Schifferstadt architectural museum. Though I had never heard of it until a year or so ago, it turns out to be one of my many, I presume, ‘ancestral homes.’ It was built (1756/1758 ish) by the son of my seven-times-great grandfather, Joseph Brunner (Josef Bruner? there are various spelling permutations), and named after the German town in which he was born and from which he left for America. (The lineage, for those who care, is Joseph, Jacob, Johann Heinrich, Jacob, Elias, Othneil Sr., Othneil Jr., Haver, Haver Lyall, Marsha, me.)

The house is now preserved as an architectural museum, and as such is in a permanent and intentional state of disrepair (so one can see the way it was built and how it has been renovated), but is still a nice site to visit for general historical purposes. (And if architecture is your game, I have to assume it’s flat out awesome.)

As a descendent let me just say that it is decidedly odd to walk in the house your ancestors built over 200 years before you were born – years before the American revolution in fact. A picture of me leaning against a wall upon which my great great great great great uncle Joseph has scrawled something in old-german is self-evidently surreal.

(I attempted to include some pictures but it would appear that since my last image upload, yet another of the interminable ‘upgrades’ to the wordpress system has occurred. I’ll upload the pictures as soon as I figure out why it’s not working this time.)

Tori Amos, my favorite singer for a span of roughly ten years, returned on Tuesday with yet another recent album which displays the same distinct inability to self-edit and produce a work of consistent quality that has been troubling her for quite a few years now. Though it features none of the one-minute long horrific pieces of shit that littered the last album (two years later, I’m still angry that she would even consider “Fat Slut” to be a ‘song’).

I was really worried (probably because of the rather uninspired title) that this would be the first truly bad Tori album, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it includes several quite good tracks, even if the overall quality is still troublingly below her first several albums. Much like her previous American Doll Posse, then, we have a collection of tunes which would have produced a solid 10 to 12 track disc, which has been padded out to 17 tracks via the inclusion of things which aren’t even really good enough to be B-sides.

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The Good
Track 1 – “Give”: A very listenable opener, with a decidedly slower pace than is usual for Tori, and a return to the style of the From the Choirgirl Hotel album. This is quite good. There is a rumble here that would probably sound fantastic live.

Track 2 – “Welcome to England”: Though I’m not too fond of the central conceit of being ‘welcomed to England,’ this is the closest thing on the album to a typical Tori pop-single, and it’s pretty solid. Nothing spectacular, but a nice traditional voice and piano dominated pop tune.

Track 4 – “Flavor”: Another slow jam, with odd technical instrumentation and understated electric guitar work – again somewhat reminiscent of Choirgirl. This is probably my favorite track on the album. And I love the way her accenting of the syllables turns the words into something just slightly alien.

Track 7 – “Curtain Call”: Though I am hard pressed to elaborate exactly why this is superior to “Maybe California,” as both seem equally uncreative in terms of Tori’s oeuvre (and the use of “China’s wall” feel’s like a distinct reach for a rhyme), there’s simply more intensity and a little more intricacy to this. Perhaps it also contains a little bit of the slightly Alice in Wonderland disenchantment from Choirgirl as well. (It’s odd that I keep coming back to Choirgirl as the touchstone for the good tracks here, as it was never particularly a standout album to me when it was new, but its tone has grown on me in the past few years.)

Track 10 – “That Guy”: Every fiber of my being wanted to hate this song upon the first listen to the first two words, but I simply can’t. It has a certain French chanteuse feel to it at the front end, which molts into something quite lovely, and even unexpectedly powerful. It’s a real unexpected gem.

Track 11 – “Abnormally Attracted to Sin”: It really is too bad that the bulk of this song is somewhat bland (and the main lyric is kind of stupid). There is a piece roughly a minute and a half in (lasting only about 30 seconds) where it breaks loose in a creative acoustic guitar frenzy that is totally unequalled by the rest of album, and extremely rare in her work. This is the Tori that I expected to emerge in her later years and which has been stubbornly rare. Perhaps I simply yearn for it because it is so reminiscent to the style of music I was writing when I finally gave up the dream of becoming a musician, but one way or the other I love that little piece.

Track 15 – “Fast Horse”: Though I must admit that I find the odd time signature here to be more distracting than pleasurable, this is a pretty nice pop-rock song. And I love the latter-years Tori-style baseline that rumbles through this. Would probably make a decent single; certainly a better one than “Maybe California,” which the album packaging seems to imply will be the second single.

Track 17 – “Lady in Blue”: Up until recently, it had been Tori’s custom to put the weirdest song on the album at the end. (Last time, the oddball – “Big Wheel” – was technically the opener; before that, the weirdo – “Ireland” – was in the middle.) Happily the old pattern returns here, and returns well. This thing is just plain weird for the first several minutes. A good description of the front end might be a New Age keyboardist playing Blues with Radiohead doing the mix; the latter half is pretty much sinister slow-bass-rock Tori. I’m not sure I enjoy all of it, but I respect the hell out of her continuing ability to change things up this much. I wish she’d do it more often.

The OK
Track 5 – “Not Dying Today”: A wholly uninspired Tori-rock tune (from the lyrics to the music). Complete with a no longer surprising reference to Neil Gaiman. Whatever…

Track 6 – “Maybe California”: Despite being listed on the cover, this is also a pretty spectacularly uninspired Tori-ballad. Nothing special here…just piano and strings in a not particularly impressive tune, and lyrics that fail to inspire any particular connection.

Track 8 – “Fire to Your Plain”: This is the track which will be reworked into a club mix…and will probably be all the better for it. The tune itself is fine, but the mix here is really problematically lifeless in my opinion. Where are Tori’s almost inexplicably loud drums and bass when you need them…?

Track 12 – “500 Miles”: This seems like it should be a relatively nice little acoustic ballad, but it just doesn’t gel the way it feels like it should. Perhaps it’s the uninspired lyrics (come on, Tori, you’ve already done “A Thousand Oceans,” and the Proclaimers have already done a ‘500 miles’ riff – enough ballad numerology!). Perhaps it’s the mix. Either way, I’m not buying it…though I don’t dislike it. Only the last 30 seconds holds up the way it seems like it should.

Track 13 – “Mary Jane”: Hot on the heels of the nearly trite numbers game in the lyrics of “500 miles” comes this actually trite thing in which a young man’s experimentation with weed is predictably feminized via ‘Mary Jane’ slang. Musically this is fine, but, I mean, come on…“she even bakes these odd brownies”?!? You’re a far more cunning linguist than that, Tori.

Track 14 – “Starling”: I like the rhythmic digitalia that opens and underpins the song, and the chorus is actually quite good, but yet again we have a song in which the verses seem almost perversely proud of not being catchy. And there’s a rocking piece at the end which should be the high-point which is, instead, probably the worst part of the song.

Track 16 – “Ophelia”: Piano verses and rockin’ choruses. This is pretty much the epitome of what Tori’s work has been like for the past several years. As such, it is both fine and somewhat boring (been there, done that). I kick it down from ‘good’ to ‘ok’ for the line “Ophelia / I feel you.” Ick. Tori’s eloquence with a lyric seems to have really degenerated in the last few years.

The Bad
Track 3 – “Strong Black Vine”: the verses are fine, but the music for the chorus is pretty bland, and the bridge is perhaps the worst thing she’s ever written for a full-fledged song (which means I’m discounting terrible things like “Fat Slut” from the last album). And that “baby” bit….yikes.

Track 9 – “Police Me”: This is Tori reaching back into the industrial-Nine Inch Nails bag that she has tinkered with a few times over the course of her career. The execution here is pretty poor, with a terrible chorus. The delivery (and even the inclusion) of the phrase “Blackberry girl” is nearly as bad as the “baby” line from Track 3. There are pieces of this that I like, but the whole thing comes off as sloppy.

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All in all, I think I’m happier with this than the last one, though it suffers from much the same problems. I hope that next time Tori really sits down with a pruning knife and puts out only her best work, as she’s quite clearly still capable of putting out a spectacular album. Lately her work has displayed a distinct air of laziness both in lyrical construction and editing. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that she simply releases an album every single time she finishes 78 minutes worth of music – including every song without cutting a single one…