Latest Blog Posts

by C.L. Chafin

10 Apr 2009

Live and in person, Brooklyn’s the Naked Hearts are explosive, charming, and [something] exciting. With Amy Cooper on hollow-body electric guitar and Noah Wheeler on drums, the impeccably turned-out pair (Noah was in a suit jacket, Amy in leopard-print leggings and a headband when I saw them) ooze a fuzzy rock sincerity; every song is a stripped-down challenge to cut loose. Their debut EP, These Knees doesn’t quite do them justice. The recording gives their notes just a bit too much space, and makes their vocals just a bit too echoey and melancholy. Live, this guitar and drums duo is something like Williamsburg’s 2009 answer to Local H. On record, they’re somewhere between Sleater-Kinney and Sonic Youth. Both versions of the band are fantastic, but I’m partial to the hollow-bodied messiness of their live show. Call me old fashioned. Their EP’s first two tracks, “Cat & Mouse” and “Call Me” are below.

Naked Hearts
“Cat & Mouse” [MP3]

“Call Me” [MP3]

by Bill Gibron

9 Apr 2009

It’s safe to say that, somewhere down the line, Jody Hill is going to make a truly f*cked-up masterpiece. He’s going to drop all the idiosyncrasies and preplanned insularity, dig deep into his feverish and often fetid imagination, dump the angst-ridden Apatow shtick and come away with something truly remarkable. You can sense it in the work he’s done so far - the mean-spirited satire of The Foot Fist Way, the equally ugly honesty of Eastbound and Down. Now comes his latest big screen screed, the wickedly weird mall cop craziness known as Observe and Report. Starring funny business flavor of the month Seth Rogen and dealing once again with an isolated individual struggling to make a statement in a world that only wants reassurances, Hill definitely has his hands full. This time around, however, audiences may not be ready for the eerily familiar juggling act.

All his life, Ronnie Barnhardt has wanted to be part of law enforcement. His dream is to become a police officer and carry a gun. Unfortunately, he is stuck as head of security for a local mall, and while he takes his job very seriously, the rest of the employees think he’s a joke. When a flasher starts stalking women at the facility, including Ronnie’s dream babe make—up counter girl Brandi, the mentally unbalanced rent-a-cop vows to solve the case. In doing so, he hopes this prissy party gal will become his regular Saturday night thing. Of course, he will have to get around actual lawman Detective Harrison, a severe lack of clues, and his own inept sense of self to apprehend the pervert. To add to his frustration, Ronnie finally takes the necessary steps to enter the police academy. While physically capable, his current psychological “deficiencies” might make this a one way street as well.

It’s not Hill’s fault that Kevin James stole his thunder. Indeed, the stand-up turned pseudo-star could not have anticipated that Paul Blart: Mall Cop would be one of 2009’s surprise hits (hackneyed and horrible as it is). Indeed, as audiences exit Observe and Report, many will probably wonder why Rogen and company choose to ride the coattails of said slapstick slice of family farce - especially with such an antisocial take on the material. The truth, of course, is that both films found their way to market without direct correlation of competition from the other. In addition, Hill was hacking away at this screenplay long before James was jumping up and down like an overstuffed burrito in a ball pit. Still, the similarity in subject matter (and the eventual acceptance of Blart‘s mindless mediocrity) means that Observe and Report has absolutely no chance at the box office. By the end of April, it will be listed as one of the Spring’s bigger disappointments.

And that’s too bad. Clearly this film is not for everyone. It doesn’t reach across commercial boundaries to try and embrace the demographic or be everything to everyone…and fail. Instead, Hill is like a stubborn old man, sitting on his motion picture front porch and chasing away all but the more adventurous from his aesthetic lawn. Let’s face it - anyone who uses a naked fatso running full frontal throughout the finale (in slow motion, nonetheless) is tweaking the tenets of modern audience attention spans. He’s challenging those who expect warm and fuzzy with material tepid and frazzled. Rogen is not the cuddly teddy geek he’s portrayed in numerous films. Instead, his Ronnie is a bi-polar problem with a penchant for inappropriate comments, obsessive-compulsive fantasizing, and a real love of weaponry. The minute we watch Rogen shooting targets with a massive handgun, we can guess where this contextual characteristic is going to eventually reveal itself.

There are a lot of hidden agendas in Observe and Report, from a fey Hispanic co-worker who might not be completely honest, to a police detective who’d rather screw around with Ronnie than actually solve the case. There is a classic, curse-laden crossfire between Rogen and a kiosk worker that proves that the F-bomb is still the most versatile of all putdown, and we do enjoy the drunken directness of Ronnie’s mother. Her combination of inebriated insights and off the wall warmth are almost magical. Indeed, one of the best things about Hill’s particular brand of humor is that it’s based wholly on people - problem, hate, and pain filled individuals, but human beings nonetheless. He doesn’t go for the gross out, unless it’s part of someone’s personality, nor does he dim the sentimentality to keep the anarchy alive.

This doesn’t mean that everything works in Observer and Report. Two important players - Ray Liotta’s sarcastic investigating officer and Michael Pena’s lisping security guard are significantly underused and ambiguously formulated. When each one reveals their true nature, it’s less of a surprise and more like a sudden, senseless shock. The same can be said for Faris’ fried make-up clerk. Ditz can only take you so far, and this otherwise capable actress is reduced to playing potted and prone to date-rape like sex. Hill also has a hard time keeping things straight. In one scene, Ronnie is so fascinatingly adept at fighting that he beats down a bevy of street toughs. But in a last act confrontation with the cops, he gets a few good licks in before having his clock cleaned.

And yet, when placed alongside the current crop of gutless comedies, films which manufacture funny stuff out of grade school level quips and uncomfortable physical crudeness (isn’t that right, Pink Panther 2?), Observe and Report is like Conan (the Barbarian, not the late night talk show host). It’s not afraid to take chances, to push envelopes, and explore elements that usually don’t make it into a satire or spoof. With a cast that, for the most part, fits perfectly into Hill’s humor ideals and a story that serves the basic needs of the underdog hero formula, a good time should be had by all. But don’t underestimate that dreaded Blart effect. Word of mouth will doom the eventual bottom line, but that doesn’t take away from what Hill has accomplished. One day, he’ll create his classic. Until then, we’ll have to put up with above-average efforts like Observe and Report. It’s very good. We’ll have to wait until Hill achieves ‘great’.

by Jason Gross

9 Apr 2009

Sad to see that Associated Press now wants to blame Google for all the problems in the newspaper industry.  Luckily, a number of articles have pointed out that their anger is either stupidly misplaced or a distraction from their real problems (or why not just blame Craigslist for taking away their ad dollars, aka their life blood?).

Google and YouTube (which it owns) are both doing fine by striking deals and innovating, something that the news industry should be doing itself. 

Of course, some in the music industry also think YouTube is evil for not striking deals with labels and publishers who demand more money- i.e. Billy Bragg in this recent interview.

As this Paid Content article points out, there’s a lot that the news biz can learn from the music biz’s mistakes.  Whether they will or not remains to be seen.  If they don’t, they could turn into prima donna’s faster than the major labels have become, thanks to their own ignorance. Let’s hope that’s not the case with the news biz.  We need ‘em and you’re dreamin’ if you think online-only content is gonna fill all the gaps if they’re gone.

by Rob Horning

9 Apr 2009

This is obvious and probably has been commented on many times, but the Jim Carrey movie The Yes Man is a pretty good encapsulation of the pre-economic-depression mentality in America. In the film—which, admittedly, I saw in a semi-delusional state on a flight yesterday—Carrey plays a low-level loan officer in a California bank. The opening scenes set up the idea that his character is too guarded, too careful, too risk-averse and is therefore missing out on the opportunities life presents us with. One of his friends—played I think by the actor who played the cop at the car pound in The Big Lebowski (“Leads? Yeah I’ll just check with the boys down at the crime lab.”)—takes him to see a motivational speaker who persuades him to say yes to everything. As part of that program, we see Carrey dutifully okaying all sorts of absurd small-business loans without so much as an inspection of the paperwork. Now, obviously, that sounds a bit like what they were doing at Countrywide and Washington Mutual, not to mention the fly-by-night brokers who brought us Ninja and liar loans—extend credit to anybody and everybody and let the chips fall where they may. The difference, though, is that most would-be borrowers are not entrepreneurs; they are somewhat instinctively risk-averse, and it required massive targeted marketing efforts to encourage ordinary people to borrow more, to ignore the common-sense skepticism of free money and say yes to the opportunity that perpetually rising home equity was said to provide.

So the opportunity is there for the film to play as a satire to the easy credit of the bubble years, but viewers must read it against the grain. The film itself isn’t satirical at all and has nothing to say in favor of prudent risk management. Its big message is that when we say yes to everything, it’s hard to know when we really mean it, or rather, it’s hard for others to judge our sincerity and know which of our desires are “real”. It verges initially on the somewhat subversive message that we have no real desires at all, only circumstances and opportunities. During the film’s build-up, when the rate at which Carrey is agreeing to do things is building momentum, his character becomes pointedly schizophrenic, and other characters comment on how unpredictable he is. He starts to have no fixed identity at all and slips toward the post-structural ideal of moving beyond subjectivity to some existence of unbounded free play. But then, of course, the film’s main lesson kicks in: that this identity-free state is utterly unacceptable. His love interest—a sort of phony free spirit played by Zooey Deschanel; she is in a Flight of the Conchords-type band, rides a scooter, and isn’t hung up, as she says at one point, with being “mainstream”—shuns him because she can’t know if his love is real. Love, of course, is always the primary bait for the identity trap, but in films like these, it always seems like a punishment, defined by upholding dreary, rote responsibilities defined by social expectations that often reflect the consumer-society prerogatives of buying the right gifts or experiences to prove love. This is the quintessential set-up for comedies—it’s fun to vacation from responsibility, but ultimately we should crave the return to stability, typically figured and symbolized as heterosexual love, with the strong implication that raising a family will be next. We have to reproduce the status quo, after all.

That traditional theme of reaffirming the reality principle is now overshadowed by the light the financial crisis now sheds on the film’s historicity. The peculiar delusions of the decade—that no one ever really defaults, that all loans can be made good, that a lack of optimism is a kind of character defect—now show up in sharp relief, because paradoxically enough, the films’ producers seem to have taken them so much for granted. In the movie, the idea of “Getting to yes” gets supplanted by a much more convenient negotiation strategy (just say yes) that is blithely presented as sound. No one has to compromise or put forth any effort, and everybody wins! Carrey’s character is even praised by one of his bank’s higher-ups, who interprets the lack of risk management as the introduction of a profitable microlending program. These touches are now local color from a tour through the zeitgeist of 2006.

by Diepiriye Kuku

9 Apr 2009

”Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free…”

…at night I lock the door so no one else can see. I’m tired of dancing here all by myself. In the fourth grade, Madonna and I had danced together, alone in our rooms. I remember hearing 1985’s Get into the Groove and would almost be ashamed to listen to it in front of others, particularly my around other Black folks, many of whom where disappointed that yet another Elvis had emerged. Yet, her looks and her lyrics bent at more of the classic traits of Black music, her beats pushing towards a resolution to any sadness, more than most other white rip-off artist: “At night I lock the doors so no one else can see/I’m tired of dancing here all by myself/Tonight I want to dance with someone else.” Snapping her fingers and ruling the dance floor of a steamy nightclub—a fantasy she’d ultimately repeat in several videos- she pleads: “Live out your fantasies here with me,” where no one else can see.

I too had plenty such fantasies. This “nasty secret,” kept neatly behind locked doors, closed windows and fantasies in my mind, was threatening to emerge. Since this need to explore a side of sexuality not often widely accepted, men and women, in their respective roles, easily exploit it. Madonna’s music told me that we had both acted out, trading sex for affection—for the freedom to give and receive affection. If I ran away, I’d never had the strength to go very far. Madonna, like millions of other young people including me had substituted anonymous sex for daddy’s love.

//Mixed media

Con Brio: The Best New Live Band in America?

// Notes from the Road

"There’s a preciousness to McCarter and the rest of the mostly young band. You want to freeze the moment, to make sure they are taking it all in too. Because it’s going to change.

READ the article