Archive for September, 2008

Judd Apatow: The Greatest Thing to Happen to Comedy Since Ever

September 28th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

(Note: this is an old article I wrote for my school paper, the Lawrence Park Panther Print. I’m posting it just because if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be available for your reading enjoyment anywhere else…and that would be too terrible…)

Judd Apatow? Ummm…who is he again? Oh right, he’s the auteur who directed The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, produced Superbad, Anchorman, Talladega Nights and executive produced the cult classic TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. What’s so special about him? The answer is simple: everything.

Judd Apatow and his loyal gang of misfits are changing American comedy in an awe-inspiring way. For the last couple decades people did not expect much from comedy. The 90’s were ruled by Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler movies. While they were undoubtedly funny, they were largely brainless fair that were conventional and conservative in retrospect. It didn’t look like much was going to change until Apatow’s 40 Year Old Virgin was released. While the movie’s cartoonish, clueless main character and outrageous situations were nothing revolutionary, the movie’s honesty, subtle wisdom and pitch-perfect characters were. That honesty and purity is Apatow’s trademark. Few other comedic filmmakers (let alone filmmakers in general) can inject it so perfectly into their work.

This summer’s Knocked Up allowed Apatow to continue to evolve as a filmmaker and writer. “Virgin” was about the discovery and excitement of sex, dating, flirting and relationships. Knocked Up is about growing up, responsibility, commitment, trust and change. It was a natural progression for Apatow and it couldn’t have been pulled off better. The direction was tighter, creating a more well-constructed film that was at times funnier and more outrageous than “Virgin…”. The story was filled with issues far more pressing than in “Virgin…” such as the difficulties of marriage , the inability to cope with responsibility and the pressures of relationships and dependency. Steve Carrell’s relationship with Catherine Keener’s character in “Virgin…” was pretty smooth despite the lovely innocent awkwardness of it all. In Knocked Up, Seth Rogen’s relationship with Katherine Heigl seems doomed from the start. It was clear that these two are two very different people and that many painful sacrifices would to have to be made to make the situation work-if it ever even could. I’m glad that it still had a happy ending – that may change in Apatow’s future.

It should be noted that Apatow’s actors adore him. Seth Rogen has been in everything “Apatow” since they met while working on Freaks and Geeks more than 7 years ago. Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Martin Star, Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel are all also part of his entourage, having worked with him in various movies and TV shows. In interviews they will often attest to his brilliance. The characters they play in Apatow’s movies are always oddballs, losers, stoners and just general outsiders. Generally the type of characters people most easily relate to and remember. The actors sometimes say that the amount of “acting” they do is very minimal.

By combining brilliant characters, serious issues, honest dialogue and enough lewd humor to fill ten “Animal House”s and “Road Trip”s combined, Apatow is truly changing comedy. His films are now instant hits before their trailers are even on TV. Just several weeks ago I remember how nobody had any doubts that Superbad was going to be brilliant simply because it was well known that it was an Apatow comedy. If I had seen the trailer without the knowledge he was behind it, I wouldn’t have expected anything more than a dumb teensploitation movie. Studios will have to catch on that his brand of brilliant, honest and truly well-crafted filmmaking sells and rethink their game-plan. I’m very excited about this. To know that in the next decade there’ll be more Knocked Ups and Superbads and hopefully no more American Pie sequels is a very exciting concept. Already, Apatow and crew are getting the funding to make all the crazy stories they’ve dreamt of over the last couple of years. Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are all booking up their schedules, now that their respective films have made them instantly recognizable by appearance, if not by name. The 40 Year Old Virgin ended with a completely random rendition of The Age of Aquarious. Perhaps the song should have been changed to The Age of Apatow.

Morgan Geist: Double Night Time

September 27th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Morgan Geist
Double Night Time
[Environ; 2008]
7.8/10.0

Morgan Geist is no amateur DJ. The man released his first 12’’ in 1994, set up his own label in 1995, has remixed scores of other artists and released plenty of his own work over the last decade. His new album, Double Night Time, sounds like the work of the schooled professional that Geist clearly is, while still sounding fresh and alive.

The album’s title “Double Night Time,” is appropriate, as the album’s style and lyrical themes conjure images of neon lights, dance clubs, girls in high heels and infinite possibilities. Every instrument seems florescent. Each bass beat burbles as luminous synth lines pulsate overhead. Even Geist’s vocals seem to have some kind of backlight to them while the lyrics describe what happens before, during and after the right honey’s been found and brought home.

As a producer, Geist is a marvel. Classy, yet innovative beats act as the vehicle for a brilliant display of bleeps, bloops and other brilliant sounds. Everything flows together beautifully and nothing feels out of place. Geist’s only shortcoming is his lack of personality, particularly in a dance-rock playing field dominated by characteristic frontmen like the brilliant James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and the jokesters in Hot Chip. In comparison to the aforementioned, Geist is an unnecessary presence in his music. His singing, though workable, lacks any kind of pull, as does his tame subject matter, which he treats with little emotion or insight.

Though his personality adds nothing to the music, it doesn’t take anything away from it either; and the music is pretty damn good. Geist knows how to construct a killer dance track with tight beats and catchy melodies. Each song on the album displays this, resulting in an exciting and original dance album experience perfect for any Saturday night on [insert main club-district street here].

www.myspace.com/morgangeist

Xiu Xiu

September 26th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This week’s band of the week is an experimental outfit that creates a disturbing, almost-dystopian sound, mainly with the use of heavily treated electronic and computer-based sounds. This week’s band of the week is:

XIU XIU!!!

Led by Jamie Stewart, Xiu Xiu have been making different, difficult music for years. The band’s albums have consistently been critically acclaimed and publications such as Pitchfork.com hold special regard for them. In addition to this, the band’s music has been showing more and more crossover potential (check out the catchy chorus on “No Friend Oh!” off Women As Lovers). They could, in a few years, end up not unlike another edgy, artistic indie outfit: Modest Mouse.

The band’s music, as I’ve said before, could be described as disturbing. Like Katie Stelmanis’s music, it’s sort of the audio equivalent of the terminator when parts of the flesh are burned away, revealing the machine inside covered in blood and guts. It’s a gruesome melding of machine and human innards and it’s just gorgeous in it’s own terrible, gory way. So yeah, imagine that, but like, musically. What makes it all work is that over all the churning, crunching, bleeping and buzzing cacophony, Stewart’s melodies are often beautiful and affecting and his lyrics are nothing if not emotionally charged.

Xiu Xiu is not a band for everyone. In fact, they’ll likely downright annoy or sicken many people who prefer their music tame and easy on the ears. For those who like it rough though, Xiu Xiu will definitely make things interesting.

Brian Wilson

September 16th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

“At 25 I turned out the light/ cuz I couldn’t handle the glare in my tired eyes/ but now I’m back/ drawing shades of kind blue skies.” These lyrics seem to sum up this week’s artist of the week’s situation. He’s an artist widely considered a genius, who’s composed countless classic songs and influenced thousands of songwriters, singers and producers from all over the world. Bands ranging from Kraftwerk to Miracle Fortress to Animal Collective all display a dept to him and his incredible body of work. This week’s artist of the week is…

BRIAN WILSON!!!

So much has been written about this man’s incredible past that I’m sure many find it refreshing to see things being written about his present. The Beach Boys’ resident genius recently released the album Lucky Old Sun and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it all week. The album reunites Wilson with notable lyricist and arranger Van Dyke Parks (with whom he worked with on SMiLE) and the result is a wonderfully organized album that showcases Wilson writing and producing some of the most vibrant, beautiful pop songs of his career. No small feat for the man who wrote “G-d Only Knows,” “Good Vibrations,” “I Get Around,” and “California Girls”.

The album works as an intriguing song-suite which seems to build upon the foundations of SMiLE in terms of it’s strangely coherent, almost-classical organization. Much of this is accomplished with repeated themes and melodic motifs, as well as several hit-and-miss spoken-word interludes. The album has it’s share of flaws, but overall it’s a refreshing, interesting and accomplished work absolutely deserving of attention.

Not surprisingly, Lucky Old Sun is at times shamelessly nostalgic, with songs like “Forever My Surfer Girl” (a reference to one of Wilson’s earlier classics) and the title track, a childhood favorite of Wilson’s. On the other hand, at times it’s view of the past can be achingly painful. When Wilson sings, “I cried a million tears/ I wasted a lot of years,” or “swept away in breaking storm/chapters missing, pages torn,” we’re reminded that it’s been a long, hard journey for the man out of time. G-d only knows indeed. The album seems to alternate between songs like the aforementioned of unconvincing innocence (“Morning Beat”, “Good Kind of Love”) and hard-learned wisdom (“Midnight’s Another Day”, “Southern California”).

In many ways this has always been the incredible draw of The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. They entered the world’s eyes as squeaky clean, good ol’ California boys, with no worries or cares other than surfing and pretty girls. Lurking beneath that speckless surface though, there always was some kind of distant sadness. As the Beach Boys evolved, more of that sadness came to surface. The album that best exemplifies this balance is The Beach Boys Today!, with it’s A side of happy pop songs like “Good to My Baby” while on the flip side beautiful, pain-smeared gems like “In The Back Of My Mind,” clued the world on to Wilson’s ability to write and produce songs with a grandeur seldom seen anywhere else in the pop world.

In many ways Wilson’s breakdown during the original recording of SMiLE was quite foreseeable. Pet Sounds displayed a man coming to terms with all the pain and beauty of the world, whereas the absurdity of SMiLE displayed a man trying to escape all that. Did anyone not see a song about vegetables as sign of oncoming mental illness?

As the story goes, Wilson broke down and became a childlike hermit, turning out brilliant gems every now and then, though essentially a shadow of his former self. At some point in the last couple years though, Wilson found himself again and his completion of SMiLE and now Lucky Old Sun reaffirm that this old master might still have a couple tricks left up his sleeve. Lookout world, Brian Wilson is back in action.

http://www.myspace.com/officialbrianwilson

Yellow Submarine: Possibly the Greatest Movie Ever

September 13th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A couple nights ago, I ran for some kind of movie-related position here at King’s. The winner would get to pick which movies to show in relation to the texts we’re reading in our program. All the candidates were asked what their favorite movie was (though we were not asked to explain why it was our favorite). Among choices such as Pulp Fiction, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fountain and Fight Club (all of which were made in the last 15 years), my pick for my favorite movie was Yellow Submarine. Yes, the Beatles’ animated 1968 acid trip is, I believe, one of the greatest movies ever made, if not the greatest. Why? Close your eyes (or don’t unless you can read with your eyes closed), relax and float downstream while I explain…

Though the film was made for no reason other than to fulfill a contractual obligation for the Beatles without them having to do any work (they didn’t even do their own voices), those who made the film decided that they were going to do a kick-ass job with it anyways. They crafted a brilliantly whimsical storyline in which the Beatles travel across the seven seas (the sea of time, the sea of holes, etc.) to save Pepperland from “blue meanies”. Though on the surface it sounds ludicrous, the movie’s seemingly childish simplicity begs for interpretation. In fact, many believe that the movie is so crazy that it MUST have some kind of “secret meaning” just as many believe the same about Beatles songs like “Come Together” and “I Am the Walrus”. While the movie actually was not created with a deeper meaning (as far as I know), the individual meanings people give to the movie and it’s plot already make it something special.

You’d think that the persons who wrote this entire thing would be too cracked out to write a decent script, right? Wrong again. The script written by Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal, is chock full of brilliant little puns (“don’t touch that lever”, “can’t help it, I’m a born lever-puller” -aha, aha) and surreal spins on language and reality. For instance, in one scene Ringo finds that there’s a hole in his pocket. He then takes it out and steps through it, which then leads him into the next sea, the sea of green (!?!?!?!??!). The humor is so twisted and un-comedic by contemporary North American standards that many people watching it might not even find anything funny, while others will never get tired of it.

Of course, no triptastic odyssey would be complete without a couple crazy characters, right? There’s Jeremy, a short, weird little pseudo-intellectual creature that speaks in rhymes; there’s the leader of the blue meanies, a sort of blueberry-man wearing pilot-goggles who hates music, happiness and wants to make everything blue for some reason; there’s the flying glove of the blue meanies which is…a flying glove; and there’s Fred, the bumbling captain of the yellow submarine who travels to London to find help and comes back with The Beatles, who then impersonate Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band.

The most lasting impression Yellow Submarine has made on pop-culture would likely be it’s animation style which has been parodied for decades in everything ranging from Clone High to Walk Hard. Over the course of the movie, the animators stretch and experiment with the possibilities of animation, including not only hand drawn elements but cutouts of photographs and multi-layered backgrounds as well. They experiment with art (not animation) styles ranging from impressionism to pop art and pay tribute to artists such as Chagall and Warhol in various scenes. The way that many of the film’s scenes each have their own unique artistic style makes this movie a kind of trip through an art gallery in addition to the many other ways in which it is a trip.

Lastly there’s the music, which is of course outstanding. The film contains insanely great musical segments for classics like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Nowhere Man,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “All You Need is Love” and “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The movie’s exclusive songs like “Only A Northern Song,” “It’s All Too Much,” and “Hey Bulldog” are up to par with everything the Beatles ever wrote and their musical sequences are awesome as well (particularly the mind-melting one for “Only A Northern Song”).

The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca and 8 & 1/2 are all incredible movies that mine the depths of the human soul while being at the same time aesthetically and technically incredible, but Yellow Submarine has to take the cake. Why? It’s got a completely original storyline (seriously, I have no idea where these guys got the ideas for this), a great script, amazing and innovative animation and possibly the greatest soundtrack in the history of film. In George Harrison’s “It’s All Too much,” he wrote “the more I go inside, the more there is to see”; I would say exactly that about Yellow Submarine.