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Rewatching Indy: Indiana Jones and the Last Cruade

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There is a whole generation of people, 10 or so years younger than me, who saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the big screen as their first experience with Indy, and it is mostly these people who count this entry in the series as their favorite.  I get that.  If Last Crusade were the first one I saw and then retroactively went back and watched the first two on VHS, I would probably hold it in higher regard, too.

Last Crusade is certainly the biggest of all the Indy movies. It location-hops from Utah to Spain to Italy to Austria to Germany, with a conclusion in the Republic of Hatay. It is probably the lightest, funniest entry, too. Spielberg brought in a ringer with Sean Connery, and his interactions with Harrison Ford are funny, and remain the primary reason for this movie to exist. But the best of the series?  Better than Raiders?  That is tough to buy (although I will concede that Last Crusade does fall in the top 3 of the series).

The biggest problem is that the movie is guilty of shamelessly recreating the original as a response to the “problems” with Temple of Doom. This is fine, I suppose, if you haven’t seen Raiders.  If you have, the feeling of  “been there, done that” has to intrude on your enjoyment, right?  The “Indiana Jones as a Professor” scene at the beginning is almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the original. The originality of this movie lies in the father-son relationship between Indy and Henry Jones, Sr., but Connery doesn’t make his first appearance until the 45 mark of the movie.

Until then, we must make due with the fantastic locations, the admittedly rousing action scenes, and Ford’s performance as Indy (which he understands on a molecular level by this movie). Don’t get me wrong; I like Last Crusade, and I it played even better on this recent viewing. It is a good Indiana Jones movie, but it can’t compete with the first two, which are legitimately great Indiana Jones movies.

A dividing line, at least for me, is something that most people seem to especially love about Last Crusade: the insight into Indy’s past. The discovery of how Indy developed his fear of snakes, received the scar on his chin, and got his hat are something that I never really needed to see, and I think knowing that information takes away from the mystique of the character. Indiana Jones is like James Bond- he arrived on the scene fully formed and ready for action.

That said, River Phoenix does a pretty good job of playing young Indy (aside from his Tony Hawk hair). His facial tics and body language are spot-on Harrison Ford, as his delivery of a line like, “That belongs in a museum!” But watching him develop all the Indy quirks that we know and love over the course of one afternoon is a little too cutesy.  For me, anyway.

The whole movie is a little too cutesy. Last Crusade was the movie where Spielberg and Lucas felt they needed to bring back all the players from Raiders.  So we get a whole lot of Marcus Brody and Sallah, both diminished from what they did the first time out.  Brody especially suffers here; where in the original movie, he came across dignified and knowledgeable, in Last Crusade he is essentially a buffoon who has never stepped outside of a classroom and “once got lost in his own museum.” When in Raiders, he said, “If I was five years younger I would go after it myself”, to me that indicated that a younger Brody would have been an archeologist to be reckoned with.  Last Crusade pretty much destroys that image.

Sallah comes off a bit better, although he is forced to wear a fez throughout the whole movie. Come to think of it, there is a whole lot of fez wearing throughout this movie.  I maintain that it is difficult to look good while wearing a fez, unless your name is Howard Cunningham or Fred Flintstone.

So what is good?  Yes, the action scenes hold up pretty well, although they too are a bit diminished here, at least when compared to Raiders and Temple of Doom.   In the first two movies, the action set pieces were established logically in the context of the plot. No matter how ridiculous the action became, we as the audience were able to shake our heads in disbelief, right along with Indy, because it made sense as to why he was in a given predicament.

In Last Crusade, the set-ups for the action scenes were pretty lazy, as if no one could be bothered to think of good reasons for a given sequence. I’m thinking of when Indy and his dad escape from the burning chateau, they surprise the Nazis by bursting out from a sealed crate on a motorcycle. The first time you see this, the reaction may be one of surprise or delight, but every subsequent viewing has to have one asking, “How the fuck did they seal themselves in the crate?”

I know, you aren’t supposed to ask these questions in an Indiana Jones movie.  But why not?  Even in the most ludicrous of sequences from this series, like the mine cart chase in Temple of Doom, the circumstances that lead to the three heroes being in that mine cart make perfect sense based on the preceding events.  You can’t say the same for Last Crusade, and it suffers as a result.

Also, that scene when Indy poses as a Scottish lord interested in tapestries?  To me, that scene is more embarrassing than any nuked fridge.

It probably sounds like I don’t like this movie at all, which is not the case. I just loved the first two so much that when this one came out, it was a bit of a let down. I think that may be why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, while certainly not a good movie, didn’t offend me in the way it seemed to with others. I think that the seeds were planted in Last Crusade for all the criticisms that befell #4.

My takeaways from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and what will keep me coming back to it from time to time, are the individual moments. The look Sean Connery gives a gleeful Harrison Ford on the motorcycle. The look a Nazi pilot gives the Jones boys while careening past them in a tunnel. The tank chase. Henry Jones finally calling his son, “Indiana”. It is a fun movie, but all things being equal, they could have stopped at the sequel.

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Rewatching Indy!

Before jumping into thinking about the four Indiana Jones movies again, I should say that these movies as a collective mean as much to me as any movie out there. More than the first Star Wars trilogy?  Maybe.  There is certainly an argument to be made.  The first two movies especially made a dent in my imagination, as I was probably the perfect age to absorb Indy and his adventures (9 for Raiders, 12 for Temple of Doom).  I know those two movies as well as I know… anything, probably. The action beats, the dialogue, the various facial tics of the actors are all as familiar to me as breathing.  When I used to have trouble falling asleep, I would recreate the entire movie of Temple of Doom scene after scene, from the opening at Club Obi Wan until I fell asleep (usually before Dan Aykroyd made his cameo).

 So I just got this new Blu-Ray set, and yesterday I sat down and watched the first two Indiana Jones adventures. They both look great, but I’m not the guy to knowledgeably discuss the sound or the picture. As I said, they looked good to my eye. But how does 39 year old me feel about these movies that I love so much?

Raiders of the Lost Ark

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First off, none of this Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark nonsense.  The opening credits still list it as simply Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that’s good enough for me.  As for the movie as a whole, yeah, it holds up. 

 Raiders belongs on a short list of perfect movies.  There is no flaw that I can find.  Sure, there are some effects stuff that looks dated, and you can still see the pole that makes that one truck flip over in Marion’s “death” scene, but story-wise, character-wise, momentum-wise… there are simply no competitors to Raiders.  Feel however you want about the other three movies in the series, but each has (at least) one deficit that prevents it from breathing that rarified “perfect movie” air.

 The way that it is put together seems effortless, which is probably why watching it is the fastest two hours you can spend with a movie. You hear about action moving the story forward? Here is that idea done about as well as you can do it.  That opening scene, which is remembered (rightly) as the best of the series, not only introduces the hero in the coolest way possible (close-ups, silhouettes, and bullwhips), but it also finds a way to introduce the main villain of the movie and establish a backstory with him and Indy, all in maybe three lines of dialogue.  Oh, and it also provides one of the most iconic images in film, that of a giant boulder rolling after Indy, dialogue that has been absorbed into pop culture (“Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip”), AND it establishes the hero’s Achilles Heel, his fear of snakes. The fact that this is all done in less than 15 minutes continues to amaze.

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 That economy of storytelling continues through the entire movie. The scene in which the two government officials task Indiana with finding the Ark is an incredible piece of exposition, giving the audience everything they need to know about the Ark’s history and power, why Hitler wants it, and what will happen if he gets it. Established in this scene are the story beats for the rest of the film: the stop in Nepal for the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra which will lead to the Map Room of Tanis which will lead to the Well of Souls, where the Ark is supposedly hidden.  So plot-wise, this scene plants a bunch of seeds that come to fruition later. Not to mention that we also find about Indy’s history with Marion Ravenswood and her father, Abner, all in a scene that lasts less than three minutes.

 I keep mentioning time and how little of it Raiders needs to get the job done. As I said, I think it is a perfect movie and that has a lot to do with how little fat this movie has on its bones.  In terms of directing and editing, Raiders is something to behold.

 One of the themes that I remembered but never really gave much thought is that of Belloq and Indiana being two sides of the same archeologist coin. Belloq states that he is “a shadowy reflection” of Indy, and that it would only take a slight nudge to push our hero into the darkness.   Watching this again, he kind of has a point.

 The Indiana Jones of the first movie is an obsessive in terms of the artifacts in which he pursues.  Take the golden idol that he loses to Belloq in the opening scene- the first thing that he says to Marcus Brody upon his return to the US is how he can get it in Marrakesh and that all he needs is a little more money. Harrison Ford’s delivery here is almost like an alcoholic in need of a drink. But notice also how his obsession with the lost idol shifts as soon as the government officials dangle something more valuable, the Ark, in his face.

 Indy is so obsessed with finding the Ark, in fact, that he leaves his lady tied up in the desert so as not to ruin his chances of getting to it. Yeah, he says he’ll come back for her, but the guy just found his girlfriend after thinking she was dead in a tent, only to gag her and leave her to Nazis. Later in the movie, he has the chance to destroy the Ark (along with the entire cast of the movie), ensuring Hitler will not get it. His respect for antiquities and a speech from Belloq prevents him from doing so, leading to the Wrath of God face-melter of an ending to the movie.

 But consider that for a moment. Indiana had to believe that he was allowing the Nazis to take the Ark back to Germany after the opening ceremony, as he had no way of knowing that by opening it every Nazi would die. In fact, he would have to at least consider the possibility that he and Marion would be killed as well, as he had some culpability in the fact that the Ark was no longer in its resting spot in the Well of Souls. So by this logic, Indy is allowing Hitler that Ark, all because he can’t bring himself to destroy an ancient artifact.

 I don’t consider this to be a plot hole; in fact, I think it says a lot about who Indiana Jones is in the original movie. As the series went on (aside from Temple of Doom), the tone got lighter and Indy got softer. But here, in Raiders, we got my favorite version of Indiana Jones: improvisational, determined, and just a bit ruthless.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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Say what you want about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but at least it took the heat off of Temple of Doom as the worst entry in the series. In fact, I think that fourth movie really helped people to appreciate what was once the definite black sheep of the Indy series.

Now, that is an opinion that I have never shared; I loved and continue to love Temple of Doom. I find it to almost work as a (very) physical comedy on the grandest of scales, with the laughs coming from the ingenuity and invention of the amazing action set pieces that pile upon one another rather than attempts at “ha ha” from the filmmakers.

See, that is something about the movie that hardly gets mentioned. The action in this is pretty insane, with the last 35 minutes or so achieving some sort of fever pitch of rising action, the stakes escalating as Indy and the gang try to escape the Thuggee cult. I would say that Temple of Doom, more than any other entry in the Indy series, delivers best on the relentless action for which the movies are famous. The mine car sequence is the ultimate rollercoaster ride, I would assume intentionally, but my favorite moment on this rewatch was when Indy and Short Round were trapped in the collapsing room with the spiked ceiling. The way that plays out is so well edited, that even now I find myself laughing at its timing and character beats.

There are, uh,  problems with the movie. What is mentioned often is how dark and violent the whole affair is. This is true; you probably don’t want to show this movie to anyone under 10 or 11. But I’m not sure why Raiders gets off so easy in this regard; it is no picnic in terms of violence. Aside from the face-melting and exploding heads of the finale, you have a close-up of Alfred Molina impaled through the forehead and throat, a man being shot point blank in the face, and a dude chopped up in a plane propeller.

Sure, Temple of Doom takes it a bit further, what with the hearts being ripped from the chest and so forth, but I think the main problem was that the main victims in the second one were kids. Maybe parents didn’t want a summer movie where a child actively prays for death to Indy.  Still, I don’t think anyone should have been too surprised that Steven Spielberg was capable of this sort of thing.  Didn’t anyone remember Poltergeist two summers earlier?

So there is the violence.  But perhaps a bigger problem is the character of Willie Scott, “American female vocalist” and all-around whiny pain in the ass. To be fair, I think she was written that way and I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with the role than Kate Capshaw could, but man… I think Indy said it best: “Biggest problem with her is the noise.”

I suppose another criticism could be that the Sankara Stones, the McGuffin that fueled the plot of Temple of Doom, was not as compelling as the Lost Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail in Last Crusade. I’ve got no argument there either.  But Temple of Doom deserves more respect than it gets, and here is why:  It is the only movie of the four that doesn’t follow the same beats as the original. It goes its own way and tries something different, right down to the opening credits. Temple of Doom is the only one of the series that veers in terms of the typeface used (and I love the title-jump, with Willie literally blocking some of the letters of the movie’s name).

I love the originality of it, and while there are things to love about Last Crusade, my feelings were always that if it tried a bit too hard to be Raiders. Temple of Doom has no interest in being anything like the first one, and that is something to be admired.

Check back for a re-look at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!

No One Really Knows What I’m Talkin’ About, Yeah That’s Right My Name’s Yauch.

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So… unreasonably sad about the passing of Adam Yauch this weekend. Not much to say beyond what everyone else has said in various posts, tweets, rememberances and retrospectives, so I thought I’d pass along some of my favorite MCA rhymes.  A lot to this guy, obviously, but these are the ones that made, and continue to make me smile.

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“People How You Doing There’s A New Day Dawning
For The Earth Mother It’s A Brand New Morning”

Jimmy James (Check Your Head)

“Strictly Hand Held Is The Style I Go
Never Rock The Mic With The Panty Hose”

Sure Shot (Ill Communication)

“Jump out the window onto a parade balloon
My style is iller than the goblins in Troll 2

Long Burn the Fire (Hot Sauce Committee Part 2)

“Like Ernest Shackleton said to Ord Lees
I’ll have dog pemmican with my tea”

Oh Word? (To the Five Boroughs)

“I’ve got billions and billions of rhymes to flex
‘Cause I’ve got more rhymes than Carl Sagan’s got turtlenecks”

Hey Fuck You (To the Five Boroughs)

“I’ve got depth of perception in my text y’all
I get props at my mention ’cause I vex y’all”

So What’cha Want (Check Your Head)

“I got books with hooks and it looks like rain
Would someone on the Knicks please drive the lane”

Unite (Hello Nasty)

“I’m fishing with my boat and I’m fishing for trout
Mix the Bass Ale with the Guiness Stout”

A Year and a Day (Paul’s Boutique)

“I’m bad ass, Move your fat ass ‘Cause you’re wack, son
Dancin’ around like you think you’re Janet Jackson”

Professor Booty (Check Your Head)

“Now my name is M.C.A. I’ve got a license to kill
I think you know what time it is it’s time to get ill
Now what do we have here an outlaw and his beer
I run this land, you understand I make myself clear.”

Paul Revere (License to Ill)

And finally…

“A cold chill of fear cut through me
I felt my heart contract
To my mind I brought the image of light
And I expanded out of it
My fear was just a shadow
And then a voice spoke in my head
And she said dark is not the opposite of light
It’s the absence of light
And I thought to myself
She knows what she’s talking about
And for a moment I know
What it was all about.”

Namaste (Check Your Head)

Movies! 2011!

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Without much preamble, these are my favorite movies that were in theaters between the months of May and August, which I consider to be “the summer months”.  These aren’t necessarily what you think of when considering prototypical summer movies- I didn’t even see Transformers:  Dark of the Moon (which is what I think of when I think of big action blockbusters) or Hangover II (which is the same thing, but with comedy).

These are just 10 movies that I saw last summer that I would recommend to anyone.  Here we go:

The Tree of Life

If I were picking a favorite movie of the whole year, this would probably be it. It is one of those “swing for the fences” movies, which to me are always more exciting than, well, “bunts” I guess. I love that this movie takes big risks and sometimes doesn’t succeed.  I love that some people really hate it- aren’t those the movies that always mean something down the line?  I love that it is as beautiful as watching that Planet Earth series, especially since one of the more common criticisms is that it is no more than a series of unrelated pretty pictures.

I don’t agree with that at all, but I also think that it is a movie that doesn’t bash you over the head to tell you exactly what it is. My brain has been in a million different places this year, and I think this movie is perfect for that mindset. It tells a story, yes, but it lets you decide what the story means to you. Personally, what I saw was beautiful and moving.  I guess I agree with the people who say it is pretentious, but in this case, it earns its pretension. Great, great stuff.

The Trip

A stealth comedy for me; I had no idea how funny I’d find this.  I saw Tristam Shandy, the last collaboration between stars Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom.  I was underwhelmed. The Trip, though… wow. It is the best use of Steve Coogan so far, playing a dickish version of himself, who brings along his puppyish friend Rob on an assignment to review quaint restaurants in Northern England. From there, I was treated to scene after scene of these two guys basically free-associating conversation, from an impromptu eulogy given by Coogan about Brydon, to a much You Tube’d scene of dueling Michael Caine impressions. You get the sense that Coogan and Brydon are recreating actual conversations they have had at one time or another; this is a movie about two really funny guys talking to one another.

Bridesmaids

Not at all a stealth comedy; I fully expected this to be funny. But Bridesmaids was even better than funny- it was grounded in relatable moments and therefore these women were recognizable to anyone who saw it, male or female. The degree of difficulty in making this movie must have been tremendous- how do you make every single member of a fairly large cast unique AND funny? Anyway, Bridesmaids is as good as everyone says it is.  And where I’d love to see this cast work together again, I hope there is no sequel. Comedy sequels are especially difficult to pull off (I can’t really think of one that was good), and I’d hate to see even one bit of varnish on the original.

Fast Five

The best of the blockbuster summer action movies, without a close second. I am on record as enjoying each of the previous four Fast/Furious movies. They are unique in that each one was exactly as good as the one before and after it (but if I had to pick one, I would say go with Tokyo Drift).  But Fast Five made two crucial tweaks, the first being less car thievery, more Ocean’s 11 capery. The second tweak was even more important- add The Rock.  By doing these things, Fast Five transformed itself into something great. Yes, great… because it knows exactly what it is and goes about achieving that with ruthless professionalism. There are set pieces at the beginning of this movie that would be the climax of lesser movies (the train heist comes to mind). This is probably the most Fun (capital ‘F’) movie of the summer.

Meek’s Cutoff

Maybe the least Fun movie of the summer. Its slow, its deliberate, the dialogue is mumbled much of the time, and there is a whole lot of bonnet-wearing, for whatever that is worth. It is also the most suspenseful movie I saw all year. If you submit and put yourself in the place of any of these 1800s settlers who are lost in the Oregon desert, it doesn’t take long to realize how fucked they are. The more you think about it, the more nerve-wracking their situation becomes. Something as simple as a broken wagon wheel absolutely would be devastating, if you really think about it. Then consider the terrain of the unpaved Oregon desert and think about how easy it would be to break one of those wheels. (spoiler alert:  they break a wagon wheel).  I don’t know if my tiny little words can convey how much this movie worked for me, but give it a try- you will be done in 80 minutes or so.

Midnight in Paris

The best Woody Allen movies make me want to live in them, and this is the first one that has done that for me in a long, long time. That may be because the idea of living with, say, Jason Biggs (Anything Else) or Hugh Jackman (Scoop) isn’t that appealing.  Well, maybe Hugh Jackman- the guy seems up for anything, doesn’t he? It would just be hanging with a pal, a “mate”, as they say… Anyway, Paris looks as beautiful here as New York does in some of those classic early Woodys (Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters), which is very beautiful indeed. My only problem with this is that I think that the character of Ines is fairly one-note; she is nothing but an unlikeable, shrill bitch. Other than that, this is my favorite Woody Allen movie since Deconstructing Harry.

X-Men: First Class

As good as X2, with Michael Fassbender as Magneto taking the MVP. The rest of the X-Men here are just fine as well, but Fassbender takes the character and improves on the complexity and darkness of what Ian McKellan brought to him. That can’t be an easy thing to do; maybe one day he’ll play young Gandalf and we can really see how good Fassbender is.

Fright Night

I love the original Fright Night, so I was surprised that I thought this one was just as good. In fact, I’ll say this is the best horror remake since Dawn of the Dead; Colin Farrell brings his own sort of menace to the role of Jerry Dandridge and the story is different enough that the idea of remaking it is warranted. I like the tone that Marti Nixon, a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought to the movie as well; at the very least, we finally have someone mention how terrible the name “Jerry” is for a vampire.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Maybe the cure to Alzheimer’s isn’t worth it… after seeing this movie (in which the cost to curing the disease is a plague that wipes out the world’s population while simultaneously granting simians super-intelligence) and Deep Blue Sea (in which the cost is smarter/faster/deadlier Mako sharks), maybe we should just leave well enough alone. So much has been said about Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar that I don’t feel like I need to get into it all that much, but I will say that he is the reason to see this movie. Caesar is pretty incredible to watch, and the movie gets better the more you think about how they achieved it.

Combo:  Non-monster sequences of Super-8 and first half of Friends with Benefits

Super 8 was wonderful until the pay-off of the monster, when it became generic feeling to me. Still, I can’t deny that those early scenes created a sense of nostalgia in me, which seemed to be the mission statement of the movie. Friends with Benefits followed the trajectory of a typical romantic comedy, but was much funnier and smarter than most of its ilk. Until the movie got to the inevitable “pseudo-break up” of Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake before the equally inevitable “reconciliation”, Friends with Benefits was about as good as one of these movies get.

Platter Chatter!

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Despite getting smacked down, pop-culturally speaking, with one of those life changing events last August, I still feel like I was able to listen to just about as much music as I always do. Where becoming a father to twins was cataclysmic in terms of seeing movies and keeping up with my programs on the TV, I still had to walk the dog and drive to work, so music remained a pleasant constant.

More than pleasant, because I tended to like almost everything I heard this year.  That may make for a boring Platter Chatter, or at least a fairly non-discriminating one, but I just seemed predisposed to dole out the benefit of the doubt in almost all cases. You know how Roger Ebert seems to give nothing but good reviews now that he lost the bottom part of his face and is now infused with the joy of life? I feel the same way, but get to keep my lower mandible!

So here we go. Since I couldn’t really add much to the concert-going section of this thing, I added a few other categories:

 Top Five Records:

1)   Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

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Between this and the Decemberists record, it was a great year for music about orchards. As much as the first FF record was a wonderful winter album, this one seems to summon imagery about spring and summer. I give Helplessness Blues the edge over their first one, though, because the lyrical content seems to jibe more with where I am these days. The whole idea of becoming a “functioning cog in some great machine” was an extremely comforting thought in the latter half of the year, giving credence to my family’s new mission statement as well.  As much as I love the title track, the one that has really been grabbing my ears lately is “Grown Ocean”.  I expect this record to continue to pay dividends throughout 2012.

2)   TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light

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This is the first TV on the Radio record that has blown me away from start to finish. There is a much warmer sound here than the guys have summoned before; where I always appreciated what they brought to the table, I now really and truly love it. The first song (called “Second Song”) is a fantastic entry point, sounding weirdly out of step vocally until catching a groove that I just can’t seem to get enough of. Another thing that struck me about this  album (and something I hardly ever take note of) is the sequencing of the songs.  The progression of the sounds here seems to make sense, and is a journey well worth taking.

3)   Das Racist- Relax

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Not a record I expected to keep coming back to, but it has hung in there and keeps making me laugh. Not that this is a jokey record at all; in fact, I love the way these guys wrap their tongues around some of the most clever, pop-culture infused lyrics since early Beasties. The beats are good (I am no expert on such matters), but for me, it is all about the chemistry of the MCs and the creation of such quotable sound bites.

4)   Destroyer- Kaputt

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My friend Danny described this initially as “mesmerizing.”  I cede to him in this regard, as I cannot come up with a better adjective to describe this beautiful, weird, hypnotic set of songs. Bejar’s delivery is unique, but not inaccessible and works perfectly with the smooth stylings he gives his songs here.  I feel like almost any of these songs could have been on the Romancing the Stone soundtrack, if that makes any sense. In any case, it all gels into a record that is challenging and comforting at the same time. Well done, Bejar!

5)   The Decemberists- The King is Dead

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One of the first albums I got into in 2011 and one that seems to keep working on me. They give the Fleet Foxes a run for their “summer imagery” money, especially on “June Hymn”, with lyrics about “training jasmine how to vine”.  Yes, Colin Meloy’s wordsmithery at times make for a marble-mouthed delivery, but I think he’s getting better at it with every record.  Of all the albums in this top five, this is the easiest to love and the most accessible. Almost any song would work well on a mix as well, something I have recently put to the test.

Close But No Guitar:

Wilco- The Whole Love

Radiohead- King of Limbs (Not their best, but still…)

Cut Copy- Zonoscope

Bon Iver- Bon Iver

Beastie Boys- Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

Panda Bear- Tomboy (Not Person Pitch, but what is, really?)

Justice- Audio, Video, Disco

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Mirror Traffic

Smith Westerns- Dye It Blonde

REM- Collapse Into Now (I was unreasonably bummed when they announced their break up, considering I hadn’t been listening to them for the last few years.  Solid final record that can stand up with… uh, Accelerate?)

 Top 10 songs for A Compilation  (Without using any songs from my top list)

High Hawk Season (Mountain Goats), Non Stop Disco Power Pack (Beastie Boys), Love the Way You Walk Away (Blitzen Trapper), Queen of Hearts (Fucked Up), Rider (Okkervil River), Last Night at the Jetty (Panda Bear), The Last Living Rose (PJ Harvey), New Lands (Justice), Calgary (Bon Iver), Brothers (War on Drugs)

 Top Live Show

OK, here is where my lifestyle change has stymied me a bit.  I only saw one live show in 2011, and it was Ween. It was really good, but didn’t do anything Ween hasn’t done in concert for me at least 10 times before. So where I had a great time, I don’t feel like I can contribute to the “live experience” in Platter Chatter 2011.

 I Don’t Get This Thing That People Love

Tuneyards.  I actively hate (HATE) Tuneyards. It hits me so wrong that I really can’t rationalize or adequately explain why this record works on my raw nerve endings in the way it does. Rather than admit that the singer is probably talented in her own way, I will accept that it is OK that I despise this critically acclaimed piece of shit.

I Am So Embarrassed For…

Paul Simon and his new record.  Again, this is an album that got quite a bit of critical acclaim.  I listened, and man… that first song about Christmas? With all that random muttering in the background?  Wow, that is terrible.  Paul Simon is certainly a guy who has nothing to prove at this point, but his lyrics on this record are literal in such an obvious and boring way here that I wonder what happened to the guy who wrote Songs from the Capeman.

Old Discovery/Revisit
I bought the remastered Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here recently. On vinyl, too, because I want to be viewed as an insufferable hipster who constantly reminds you of the existence of vinyl and to watch Portlandia. Anyway, it sounds great in and of itself, but also still works (to my ears) as the best front to back Pink Floyd album as well.

Thankfully I Did Not Give Up
Not that I could really ever give up on them, but the Beastie Boys delivered what I think is their best record since Check Your Head way back in 1993. I liked To The Five Boroughs, but it felt a bit pedantic and it hasn’t dated well, lyrically.  This one doesn’t seem to be trying as hard and works so much better as a result. Granted, I have an unreasonable soft spot for them, probably derived from a heaping dollop of nostalgia, but Hot Sauce Committee stands on its own with absolutely zero reliance on nostalgia (which is weird, considering how the album traffics in non-stop old-school references).

Wilco is also a band I’m glad I didn’t give up on.  I had pretty much settled on just enjoying them as a live band at this point, but The Whole Love is pretty great record that just happens to be sold at Starbucks.

To Do List (Need to give it more time or a real first try)
Beirut, The Rip Tide

Real Estate, Days

Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Wolfroy Goes To Town

Wild Flag, Wild Flag

Cults, Cults

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Summertime Rolls

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I saw the big finale to the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, on the same day that I watched the second season finale to Sons of Anarchy. Before I get into the connection here, I will say that I thought that this was the best of the Harry Potter movies, the first one that I can say that I really liked quite a bit.

Why did this one get a pass when the rest of them ranged from just fine (Prisoner of Azkaban) to pretty terrible (Deathly Hallows Part I)? I think the answer to that lies in the age-old pleasure in watching the bad guys get their comeuppance. Now, bad guys in movies have paid penance since the beginnings of storytelling (just ask Claudius in Hamlet), but sometimes the bad guy has been such a vile shithead that the comeuppance, when it comes, is extra satisfying for the viewer.

There is no tried and true formula for that feeling you get in the deepest, darkest caverns of your soul when you watch the hero take out the villain, but it hits that lizard part of your brain that thrives on bloodlust and wants to exact pain and retribution on the bad guy. Like I said, that doesn’t happen with every movie; most movies don’t really make you hate the bad guy.  Sure, you recognize that there is some morally questionable things going on in terms of the things they do- heck, maybe they are even downright evil.  But to really get to you, to get past the blockades of morality in your psyche and make you as the viewer want payback as much as the hero of the movie?  That is a special kind of bad guy.

I wouldn’t include Voldemort in Harry Potter along those lines, although I think Ralph Fiennes did a great job in the role.  Yes, I found it pretty satisfying when Harry gave him what was coming to him, but not as much as Harry Potter fans who have Loved (with a capital ‘L’) the series. Me, I always had a tough time getting past the silliness of watching wizards shoot one another with magic wands. Yes, I loved the books, but my imagination was able to render the inherent ridiculousness of the idea of wizard fights with a bit more dignity than the movies were ever able to achieve.   Still, I do think the success of this last Potter movie has a lot to do with getting to watch the bad guys get theirs.

Season 2 of Sons of Anarchy was a lot like that, too, although I found the bad guys there to be a whole lot more vile and deserving of the type of revenge only a motorcycle club can dish out. After watching an entire season of the “good guys” (yeah, I recognize that the good guys on this show are gun-runners and murderers) eat shit from the white supremacists, I was more than ready to watch payback. And yes, I had that sense of satisfaction in watching the comeuppance of most (but not all) of the bad guys.

Bottom line in movies and shows like this- you need a good bad guy.  Without the truly bad, the triumph of the good is not nearly as powerful.  When you can put an entire audience in the shoes of the hero, that is something special.  Here are a few movies that captured that feeling for me, along with the moment of comeuppance.

 The Untouchables (1987): Eliot Ness, the quintessential do-gooder, throws Frank Nitti off the courthouse roof.

Superman 2 (1981):  Superman crushes General Zod’s hand and then throws him to his death (into a dry ice ravine, but still…)

Aliens (1986):  “Get away from her, you bitch!”  This reminded me a bit of the moment in the new Harry Potter when Mrs. Weasley says something similar to Bellatrix.

Rocky IV (1985):  Not my favorite Rocky movie, but the moment when Rocky lands his first punch on Drago is pretty great, mainly for his trainer’s reaction (“You see?  He’s not a machine!  He’s a man!”)

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989):  Glover taking out Mr. Diplomatic Immunity.  He should have known he was in trouble when he saw the patented Murtaugh “head roll”.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987): The double slap Hardy Jenns (“With two ‘N’s!”) receives from Lea Thompson. Seriously, Craig Sheffer’s Hardy was one of the best villains in all of John Hughes-dom. “I want you to beg!”

Summertime Rolls: X-Men First Class

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Just saw X-Men: First Class, and I can say that there is still only one “great” X-Men movie, the second one. The rest? They range from “pretty good, actually” (the first one), “ to “more disappointing the longer I think about it” (the third one), to “botched, but still looking forward to them doing the Japan story” (the Wolverine spin-off).  The newest one comes closest to breathing that rarified air of X2: X-Men United (I still think that the best X-Men movie has the worst title, though), but suffers from a lack of good mutants.

The series moves away from being a gay analogy (isn’t that what X2 was about?) to a civil rights story, as we watch Professor Xavier and Magneto first join forces and then ultimately fall out over the best way for mutants and humans to proceed into the future. The allusions to the ideologies of MLK vs. Malcolm X are pretty blatant, with Professor X wanting to work together with humans and Magneto taking the “by any means necessary” stance.

The first half of First Class is the best, as we see a mid-20s Magneto on a mission of revenge against the evil Nazi doctor who killed his mother in the opening scene.  While the movie is missing the bad-assedness of the Wolverine character, it almost makes up for it in a scene set in an Argentinean villa where Magneto shows a couple of Nazis in hiding what he can do with a knife, a gun, and well, complete control over all types of metal.  Michael Fassbender is the best thing about this new X-Men movie- he brings that danger and anger that the character of Wolverine lent to the series up til now.   This isn’t the classy, subdued Magneto that Ian McKellan brought to life- Fassbender is out of control and pissed off at the world, at least until he meets Professor X.

The middle section of the movie is these two guys recruiting their team of X-Men, and ultimately I didn’t find these mutants to be as interesting as the ones from the first couple of movies.  A wasp-girl who can spit firebombs and a kid whose main power is that he screams so loud he can fly just can’t compare to Wolverine or Rogue (although it was nice not to have Halle Berry around.  Still disappointed in what she did with Storm, who was one of the best characters in the comic books.  Sigh.)

But I did like the Professor X/Magneto storyline, and I thought Kevin Bacon acquitted himself nicely as the Nazi mutant.  I thought they could have done more with the idea of a Nazi mutant, especially since the whole idea of the Final Solution was to create a master race of beings.  The movie doesn’t really get into that except on the opening scene, set in Poland during WWII.  This is Bacon’s best scene as well, as he gets positively gleeful in watching Magneto bust out his powers in the midst of blinding rage at the murder of his mother.

It’s nice to see the X-Men boat righting itself after a few rough years of choppy waters. I guess the best thing I can say is that I am ready for more X-Men movies now, although I want to see some new mutants.  I guess Beast can stay, although I wasn’t sold on Kelsey Grammar’s furry blue make-up in 3 and I’m not down with Nicholas Hoult’s here.  The only caveat to more of these movies is that Fassbender must return as Magneto.  If he was only signed on for this one and they can’t get him back?  Sorry, pack it up.  No more X-Men movies for now.  Go make that Wolverine movie.  The one in Japan.

Top 5 Movies with Kevin Bacon as a Villain:

 

5.  Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:  Only a cameo, but he is pivotal in that he steals Neil Page’s cab, thus setting off the chain of events leading directly to the misadventures of Del Griffith.

4.  Sleepers:  Bacon plays a vicious prison guard who rapes the young versions of Jason Patric and Brad Pitt.  So, sort of the same role he played in Footloose.

3.  National Lampoon’s Animal House: More wormy than villainous, but still. Actually, anyone who sided with Niedermeyer has to be called a villain, right?  And he seemed a bit too enamored with the various aspects of hazing.

2.  The River Wild: Aside from Hollow Man, this is probably the most overtly villainous character Bacon has played.  This is teeth gnashing, moustache-twirling villainy.

1.  Wild Things: True, you don’t realize the extent of the Bacon villainy until the end of the movie, but when you put it all together, you realize what a complete bastard this guy really was.