Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Bloody Valentine- Loveless


A couple weeks ago, I was browsing through FYE. Came across this band called My Bloody Valentine and an album called Loveless. The cover was different shades of pink with only the neck of a guitar showing along with the band's name in the left hand corner. Now I had heard about the band from the forum I frequent as well as a friend's list of their 100 favorite albums. So I decided to buy it. Put it on in the car and the drums kick in. What follows sounds like a keyboard getting destroyed with a saw. Female vocals follow. Now the vocals are not discernable on the album. But that's part of the band's unique style. Vocals are just another instrument in the wall of sound that they create.

My Bloody Valentine started out in Dublin, Ireland in 1984 and were one of the pioneering bands of the shoegaze genre. They released their debut album Isn't Anything in 1989 and followed that up with Loveless. This was due to funding problems. The album is looked at as the defining album of the shoegaze genre and one of the best albums of the 90's in general. After the album, the band became inactive. Until they started recently touring again.

The album starts off with Only Shallow: the sound of a drum beatr and then kicks into to what sounds like a keyboard being destroyed. Loomer and Touched are short but still contribute to the overall mood. To Here Knows When is the dreamiest song on the song n the album. Bilinda Butcher's vocals are very effective here just as they are on Only Shallow. When You Sleep has a hypnotizing riff that just sucks the listener in and doesn't let go. If I was forced to pick one weak song it would probably be Come In Alone. It's the song I have the least number of plays for. With the track Sometimes, you can totally tell that The Smashing Pumpkins took influence from this album when creating Siamese Dream. Blown A Wish brings back Bilinda's glorious vocals back into the fold. What You Want is a rockin' tune and is a lead up to the album closer, the 7 minute Soon. One of the best tracks on the album and a perfect way to end it.

Loveless would go onto become a favorite of musicians ranging from Brian Eno to Radiohead to The Cure to The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. It's an album that broke new ground sonically and regarded as one of the best albums of the 90's.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Problems With Adapting the Watchmen

Just last week I decided to sit down and read the graphic novel by Alan Moore. I am now kicking myself for not having read it before seeing the film. However, I did see the film again after I was finished with the novel and it did make a difference. Alan Moore said Watchmen was unfilmable and I agree in a sense that it deals with elements that cannot be translated well to the big screen.
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam also said that Watchmen would be impossible to translate to the big screen. He planned on doing a series on it. When reading the novel, I felt that is was more richer than the film. Ozymandias had more of a presence and

Zack Snyder took on a brave decision when choosing to film Watchmen. Watchmen was a film that no matter what it did, it was going to disappoint fans. He faced the challenge: How do you adapt the most acclaimed graphic novel of all time onto the screen while making it mainstream enough for audiences to fully understand it all all the while staying as faithful as you can to the source material? Well the answer to the question at hand is you can't. Snyder was screwed either way.

There are many films that are adapted from books where it does indeed stray from the source material. However, the problem that some critics are pointing out with Watchmen is that it is TOO faithful. This poses a problem for Joe Shmoe audience member who walks into the movies having never heard of the graphic novel and expects a film like The Dark Knight. This very well could contribute to its large decrease in box office intake during it's first week.

At the same time though, you are faced with pleasing the fans of the graphic novel. In that sense Snyder did a fantastic job of translating the source material. The fans did not want to see Snyder's interpretation or anyone else's for that matter. They came to see Alan Moore's book. However, there HAD to be adjustments made. The ending of the book dealt with a giant squid. In an interesting podcast between both the writers: & David Hayter, Hayter explains that there are just o many fantastical elements an audience can withstand. Had the squid been included in the film, I bet there would be quite a few walkouts of the theater when it would come to the part in the film. The changes Hayter made when adapting the novel fit the film well.

Still, the whole Tales From the Black Freighter was cut out along with Hollis Mason's story arc. Not to mention the explanation behind Bubastis, that one creature that belongs to Ozymandias that sparked a reaction in one of the audience members in my audience to say "What the hell is that thing?" Again, if Snyder had included the exaplanation behind it along with Hollis Mason and the Black Freighter, the film would have clocked in at 3 hours and 40 min. Given the short attention span of several audiences these days, this would have been a death spell on marketability to mainstream audiences.

However, for all the fans that are bitching and moaning about how they left that stuff out, you're going to get your 3 hrs. 40 min. Ultimate Director's Cut Edition.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let the Right One In, Mastodon, Metallica's Hall of Fame Induction

For all those who flocked to the theater to see Twilight and missed out on Let the Right One In, you missed a far superior version that starts truer to the vampire mythos than the former. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, this Swedish vampire film is one of the best horror films of the decade. There is an atmosphere to the film that is so chilling and one that I have never seen used to an extent in a vampire film before. It's basically two films in one, a vampire film and a relationship film, and I dug how both worked.

For those who are interested in checking out, keep in mind that the company who made the DVD altered the subtitles. 'Dumbing it down' would be the correct term when you compare the theatrical subtitles to the DVD subtitles. However, the company has heard the fans responses and have now decided to re-release the DVD with the theatrical subtitles....without exchanging the original DVDs that were releeased.

The Atlanta based quintet's 2009 release came out recently and it has been in constant rotation in my CD player and iPOD. By far the best new album I've heard in 2009. A major move forward from their brutal onslaughts of metal in Blood Mountain. Crack the Skye sees them show their progressive influences more than ever. Very doomy sections at times are another plus. Some of my favorite tracks include Oblivion, The Czar, Ghosts of Karelia and The Last Baron. Divinations is a track that will please the hardcore fans of Mastodon while the majority of the album shows them progressing into new territory.

Just recently it has been confirmed that Newsted, former bassist for Metallica will be playing with them as they get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I've always had much respect for him as he got the short end of the stick when he was in the band. Here was a guy who wrote brilliant songs for his the band Flotsam and Jetsam and once Metallica recruited him, he hardly got to write very little (Blackened and My Friend of Misery to name a couple). Not to menntion his bass being turned way down in the mix on And Justice For All. The documentary Some Kind of Monster shows him expressing his thoughts toward the whole situation and shows that he is a guy that is pretty level headed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Film Review: Synecdoche, New York


One of my favorite bands Rush once proclaimed in one of their songs Limelight: "All the world's indeed a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers."

In Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, the stage is HUGE and set in a warehouse. It is a film about the life of Caden Cotard from 40 to 80. He is a theater director who sinks into loneliness. Throughout the film he struggle with several romantic relationships- Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams. One of the interesting things about a couple of the films of 2008 was that independent films shared themes of some of the bigger studio pictures. For example, the studio Twilight and the far superior foreign film Let the Right One In. Curious Case of Benjamin Button shared the theme of aging and mortality with Synecdoche. The film Synecdoche taught me more about the struggles growing old in its first half than Curious Case did in its entire running time.

Charlie Kaufman is easily my favorite screenwriter working in Hollywood today. He is unmatched when it comes to his inventiveness and originality. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are among some of the most original films to come out of the medium. This is a film that has divided audience and critics. Many of the films that have done that however, are the ones that you don't usually appreciate upon first viewing. It takes multiple viewings to appreciate it. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance is quite good. He remains the one actor who has been in more films that I have proclaimed as a favorite of that particular year than any other actor in this decade. He certainly knows how to pick his projects wisely.

I'm not going to go into too much detail on the whole plot. Just go see it. If you like, good. If not, then it's not your thing. It took me two viewings to appreciate the layers and complexities of Charlie Kaufman's film. The types of film that touch on mortality and the struggle of just getting by in life engage me moreso than others. In the film Caden Cotard delivers what to me is the thesis of the film: "We are all hurtling towards death. Yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're gonna die. Each of us secretly believing we won't." Caden Cotard puts on a production of epic proportions and later on in the film states the possibility of "What if everyone had a part in this play and nobody was just an extra." This type of dialogue helps the viewer gain a better understanding of the overall theme of the film. What the film did so well was show how fast life goes by.

Overall, I really loved this film. It is one I revisit because it is one of those that reveals more and more upon each viewing. The best film of last year and certainly one of the best of the decade.
Rating: 5/5

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dream Theater Tenth Studio Album Updates

Just found out about the title of the tenth studio album from prog metal giants Dream Theater as well as track titles and a cover:

March 13, 2009

New York, NY:

Progressive metal veterans DREAM THEATER have announced BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS as the title of their tenth studio album. The band commenced work on the album – their second for Roadrunner Records, following up 2007's Systematic Chaos — in October of last year. Roadrunner will release the record on June 23. In addition to the standard version CD, the album will also be available on vinyl LP, as well as a 3-disc Special Edition CD that will include the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs, the titles of which will be revealed at a later date. Six weeks prior to the June 23 street date, Roadrunner will release one cover song per week through digital retailers. Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are once again at the helm as producers, while Paul Northfield mixed the record. The band will embark on a world tour in support of the album beginning in Europe throughout June which will be followed by the second edition of the band’s PROGRESSIVE NATION tour featuring Zappa Plays Zappa, Pain Of Salvation and Beardfish throughout North America in July/August. A video for the first single, "A Rite of Passage" will be shot in late March.

The track listing for BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS is as follows:
1. A Nightmare to Remember
2. A Rite of Passage
3. Wither
4. The Shattered Fortress
5. The Best of Times
6. The Count of Tuscany

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Album Review: Umphrey's McGee- Mantis

Mantis is Umphrey's McGee fourth studio album and what a great one it is. This is a band that has been attracting more and more people to its music. They have taken over where Phish left off. Fans of the bands try to trade as many shows to each other as possible. Umphrey's live performances include improvisation like Phish and King Crimson. This gives each show a new and unique set each night. I have heard about this band on the forum I go to many times but I never really was anxious to dive into their catalog. I knews they were a jam band from Chicago but that's about it. When Mantis was released on January 20, I decided to check it out and I LOVED what I heard. And now onto the review of the album.

The album at times feels like it owes itself more to modern prog giants Beardfish than it does Phish. Made to Measure employs a string arrangement and while it does feel like it is tacked on to the beginning it still has much to offer. The 12 minute title track is one of my favorites on the album and moves through multiple sections that are completely addicting. Cemetary Walk is another one of my favorites. The ending is a moment I keep returning to on the album. The electro-beat infused reprise is very cool as well. We then come to Turn & Run. A solid track but it didn't hit me upon first listen. It is growing on me though. Spires is the track I first heard from this album via the band's myspace. Another song that's a clear standout on the album. The whole vibe given off during the instrumental section at the end is great. Prophecy Now is pretty good but to me it acts more as a link between Spires and Red Tape. Red Tape has some really good vocal harmonies/ Again, the instrumental sections are just on fire. 1348 is the album closer and what a great closer it is.
The drumming by Kris Myers is VERY impressive. Great vocals and superb instrumental sections. I would love to see these guys perform this material live and see how they add improv to some of the songs. This a band that would be perfect for Progressive Nation. Maybe next year perhaps? Overall, this is clearly the best album of the year so far and I expect it to be in my top 10 by the end of 2009.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen Review

"An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

On July 25, 2008 I was sitting in a packed theater ready to watch The Dark Knight. A preview for a film came on that was set to the tune The End is the Beginning Is the End by Smashing Pumpkins. The words "Most Celebrated Graphic Novel of All Time" appeared. It was a trailer for Watchmen. Now I had not read the graphic novel but from the trailer alone I was greatly anticipating this film. Flash forward March 6 2009. Still haven't read the graphic novel (I know...).

Anytime a film plays around with the film company logo (in this case Paramount), it gets points. It opened up with a sucker punch like many good films have done in the past. The opening credits set to Bob Dylan' The Time Are A Changin is one of the most inventive sequences I've seen used in film. As someone who is fascinated with the historical period covered within the sequence I was very amused at the whole take on it from the Watchmen angle.

The use of music was one of the most effective things here other than the visuals. Probably the most effective use of it is Philip Glass' Pruit Igoe and Prophecies which was originally part of the Koyaanisqtsi soundtrack. That sequence in the film was seamless and really stood out.

The visual aspect of the film was absolutely amazing. The author of the graphic novel Alan Moore said that Watchmen is unfilmable. Now I don't know if he was talking about the complexities of the visuals but if he was then Zack Snyder pulled this off very well. I was not a big fan of his last film 300 but this film has redeemed him for me. Jackie Earle Haley (Rorshach) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan's (Comedian) performances were among the best in the film. However, Malin Akerman's performance as Silk Spectre II did nothing for me. I feel that Janey Slater was better in terms of female performances.

I did have an unpleasant viewing experience. My friend and I arrived at the theater and it was on one of those ultra screens. However, the theater was packed and we ended up having to sit front row. Hopefully, when I see it again I'll have a better experience.
Now I have read that the original director's cut was 3 hours and 10 minutes and the Zack Snyder intends to release that cut in July in theaters in New York. In addition to that, he plans to release an Ultimate Cut with "Tales of the Black Freighter", a 20 minute animated short that will be incorporated into the film. Making it a total running time of 3 hours and 30 min.

I'll add to this review when I finally get my hands on the graphic novel and am able to compare the two and see how faithful it was and what sacrifices were made in terms of cinematic adaptation.