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by Bill Gibron

17 Aug 2009

We all complain about talking in today’s movie theater experience, a combination of lax living room viewing habits translating over to the big screen scenario as well as that most senseless of addictionas - the cellphone. We crow about texting and other forms of technological shorthand, kids incapable of leaving their portable video game consoles long enough to absorb a 70 to 90 minute movie. But there are worse affronts to the sensibilities of a faithful cinephile, acts of egregious insensitivity and inappropriate behavior that, 100 years ago, would probably mark the difference between a civilized and callously uncouth society. While by no means all inclusive, here’s a list of 10 things that happen almost regularly in Bijous around the country that warrant a little more than a passing criticism. Sadly, strict laws against homicide keep film fans from resorting to outright violence, even if light of such affronts as:

Catcalls and Wolf Whistles
While definitely sexist and reminiscent of a time when chauvinism battled feminism for the proper way of dealing with a fetching guy or gal, aurally expressing your sexual approval of a star or onscreen sequence is just pointless. Megan Fox doesn’t want your horndog howl. She’s quite content with the million dollar salary your blind sense of beauty provides her. Besides, the only person hearing your approval of Eric Bana’s naked bubble butt is the un-attentive teenager zombie out in front of you. Also, when was the last time anyone acquiesced to physical congress with you based on a bleated sound of sensual acknowledgment. Thought so.

by PopMatters Staff

17 Aug 2009

Hugh Cornwell
Hooverdam
(Invisible Hands Music)
Releasing: now (digital) / 8 September (physical)

Frontman of one of the original British punk bands, the Strangers, Hugh Cornwell is releasing a new solo album in early September that displays his life-long love of gritty rock and roll. But in a true punk twist, Cornwell is offering the album for free right now from his website www.hughcornwell.com. The head of Cornwell’s label, Charles Kennedy, explains the free offer as such: “Everything that’s ever been recorded or filmed is now online and free – whether the copyright owners like it or not, and any work of artists that is honest – either from decades ago or right now – has intellectual value that will always translate into monetary value.”

SONG LIST
01 Please Don’t Put Me on a Slow Boat to Trowbridge
02 Going to the City
03 Delightful Nightmare
04 Within You Or Without You
05 Rain on the River
06 Beat of My Heart
07 Philip K. Ridiculous
08 The Pleasure of Your Company
09 Wrong Side of the Tracks
10 Banging on the Same Old Beat

by PopMatters Staff

17 Aug 2009

Maserati
Passages
(Temporary Residence)
Releasing: 8 September (US)

The Athens, Georgia psych-dance rockers are releasing a collection of rarities this fall containing out-of-print vinyl songs from the past several years. Look for a new album from the group in 2010.

SONG LIST
01 Join Us, Mystic Sister
02 No More Sages
03 Monoliths
04 Thieves
05 The World Outside (Thee Loving Hand Remix)
06 Inventions (Justin Van Der Volgen Remix)
07 Monoliths (Steve Moore Remix)
08 Do You Hear The Nightbirds Calling You?

Maserati
“Monoliths” [MP3]
     

by PC Muñoz

17 Aug 2009

Nina Simone - “Mississippi Goddam”
Written by Nina Simone
From Nina Simone in Concert (Philips, 1964)
[Videos: Live / Live 2]

As her accompanists bustle along in a brisk show-time tempo, Nina Simone begins this song from her 1964 album Nina Simone in Concert by saying “The name of this tune is ‘Mississippi Goddam”. The drummer then drops a vaudeville thump accent on the kickdrum, and Simone pauses for audience reaction, which is laughter and a smattering of applause. Without changing the timbre of her voice, she quickly adds, “And I mean every word of it.” There is more laughter from the audience after that, but it’s more tentative than the first burst, and this time no one applauds. There’s no possible way the audience could have prepared themselves for what follows. “Mississippi Goddam” is a subversive tour-de-force, a highly sophisticated piece of musical signifying which mixes confrontational anger, point-blank accusation, and deeply felt frustration with a bouncy show-tune melody and a wonderfully expressive vocal by Ms. Simone.

I love “We Shall Overcome”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “A Change is Gonna Come”, and all the other songs associated with or about the Civil Rights struggle of the American 1960s, but for my money, as powerful and accessible as those songs are, none are as emotionally immediate, or possess more unrelenting spiritual force, than “Mississippi Goddam”. The lyrics are a marvel, unraveling at first in a deceptively lighthearted strut (“Alabama’s got me so upset / Tennessee made me lose my rest”) before turning into the most solemn of lamentations around the middle ( “Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We’re all gonna get it in due time”), and then a full-on, unapologetic demand by the end (“You don’t have to live next to me / Just give me my equality!”

The most striking lyric arrives at around 1:44, just as Simone is starting to dig into the real intent of the song. Here, in a single line, Simone captures the dual existential uncertainty of living in a society which repeatedly pronounces you “other”, while also realizing you don’t really have anywhere else to go: “I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer.” Like the song’s title, these lines are a deeply symbolic statement from a bona fide church girl (Simone’s mother was a minister), both a declaration of painful truth, and a plea for that truth to be heard, understood, addressed. By the time Simone murmurs “Bet you thought I was kidding, didn’t you?” after the refrain following those lines, the Carnegie Hall audience is dead silent.

Given Nina Simone’s undeniable prowess with bluesy tempos and songforms, demonstrated in countless later recordings, one has to wonder why she chose to deliver her most confrontational message in the vehicle of an upbeat songform more suited to a Rodgers and Hammerstein-style musical. The lyrics of “Mississippi Goddam” lyrically give voice to the contemporary concerns of African Americans, but ironically, there is not a lot of obvious church, blues, jazz, or R&B to be heard in the music here. The result is a somewhat dislocated sonic context, a feeling that you’re hearing something that just might be different than what it appears to be on the surface. Whether the African Trickster in Simone intended this or not is always up for discussion, but clearly, “Mississippi Goddam” is not meant to be comforting, uplifting, or reassuring in any sort of way; on the contrary, it is meant to be confrontational, discomforting, prophetic: a call to wakefulness in a dangerous time, and perhaps an apocalyptic warning of sorts, as well.

We celebrate and cherish songs and songwriters often because their words and music bring us joy, comfort, and feelings of empathy and belonging. In this case, we remember and celebrate Nina Simone and “Mississippi Goddam” because in 1964, amidst great turmoil in the country and unbearable race-related murders and violence, Nina Simone had the courage to stand on the stage of one of America’s most hallowed venues and deliver a song that expresses the dismayed yet indefatigable heart of a prophet.

 

by Bill Gibron

16 Aug 2009

It’s safe to say that Miley Cyrus has had her moment. Those elusive fifteen minutes are up and the time clock toward irrelevancy is carefully ticking down. Sure, the House of Mouse can find a few more ways to milk some additional dollars out of her ever-diminishing fad phenom fanbase, but the truth is, she’s like every other teen (or in this case) tween cause celeb - hot as Hades one day, working the drive-through another.

So it makes sense that after the stunning box office figures for her 3D concert experience, Disney would attempt to continue building on such bank. The result - Hannah Montana: The Movie. As much a set-up for the fourth and final season of the TV series as a way of exposing the fleeting star to the 14 and older crowd, this incredibly mediocre effort actually makes you feel sorry for the dissipating celebrity. Somehow, you sense, for all she’s done for the corporate bottom line, she deserves better than this.

When we first meet Miley/Hannah, she is late for her most recent concert appearance. Later, she has a depressing diva tantrum over a pair of shoes. But when she ruins her best friend Lilly’s birthday party, daddy Robby puts his foot down. He thwarts a planned trip to New York, and instead, puts Hannah (for those who don’t know, the commercial cover for his real life daughter Miley) on a private plane back to their hometown in Tennessee. There, they meet up with grandma, hunky teen farm hand Travis, and equally fetching female foreman Lorelai. When Miley learns that an unscrupulous land developer is trying to buy up her past, she promises to get “Hannah” to put on a concert. In the meantime, a persistent tabloid reporter is trying to uncover the secret shared by both Miley and her far more famous “friend.”

Again, it needs to be said - Miley Cyrus has made the Walt Disney Company so much moolah that she really mandated a better starring vehicle than this. Hannah Montana: The Movie is a lifeless amalgamation of plot contrivances, narrative non-sequitors, and pointless pandering. It’s a wannabe musical that doesn’t have the chutzpah to stop the action and let its actress actually sing! Instead, like a Billboard chart backdrop, Hannah is given a few onstage screeds, while Miley makes nice with a single solo moment (with some help from her pappy). For an audience that wouldn’t know a show-stopper from a slog, it really doesn’t matter. Their favorite TV talent is up on the big screen delivering the sonic dross they can’t get enough of. However, the uninitiated, or uninterested, will find it all very, very dull.

The biggest problem with Hannah Montana: The Movie, is length. There is no need for a film version of this character’s adventures to last longer than four of her TV episodes - especially when we are dealing with a basic “fame is soulless and fleeting” formula. Director Peter Chelsom, still paying penance for the cinematic atrocity that was Town and Country (the Hear My Song filmmaker’s path to redemption is littered with the likeable Serendipity and Shall We Dance? ), has a real flare for physical comedy and the sequences of slapstick tend to work. But since Uncle Walt’s current meal ticket needs moments of reflection and romance, the energy built up is all but depleted. Instead, we find the narrative dragging just to get to the so-called “good” parts.

Movies are also not the best avenue for Cyrus’ limited scope. She is “TV cute”, meaning that film brings out the worst in her chiseled chipmunk look. Certainly she can sing - or at least, the studio technicians who put her voice through various electronic permutations can recreate a certain sense of vocal prowess - but Ms. Cyrus is an incomplete performer. She doesn’t know how to sell cinematic emotion. When Miley wants new boy toy Travis to “jump”, we know what the line is supposed to mean. In her less than capable hands, however, it comes across as blank and unconvincing. Billy Ray has the same basic problem - he’s turned the art of passive geniality into an example of onscreen stasis. We never see the turmoil celebrity is causing either ‘character’. Instead, both serve the story and simply move on.

As for the rest of Hannah Montana: The Movie, its light and empty, cotton candy made out of sugar substitute, not the real sweet deal. There is never a question about saving the small town, and the creative cameos tossed about (Tyra Banks as herself, Barry Bostwick as the button-down land developer) do little to elevate the mood. Fans of the TV series will also be a bit disappointed that go-to guys Oliver and Rico are pushed far off into the background, while Emily Osmet’s Lilly is reduced to a plot device. This is Miley Cyrus’ moment to shine and nothing - not even the hardworking child stars that’ve supported her for the last three years - is going to get in her way. Even Daddy’s potential love story is scuttled for more Hannah histrionics.

The recent Blu-ray release also underscores the Miley-ccentric approach to the production. Chelsom is on hand to explain himself, and while friendly, he seems forced to tow the cunning corporate line (“she’s such a major talent…”). We are also treated to a mass of music videos, a bunch of bloopers, deleted scenes (yep - they actually filmed MORE stuff for this movie) and some additional cast and crew interviews. Oddly enough, the movie itself doesn’t ‘pop’ on the new digital format. Unlike other examples of high definition totally redefining a film, Hannah Montana: The Movie, looks as made-for-TV on the fledgling format as the regular DVD version does.

All of which leaves one with the following question - where does Miley Cyrus go from here? After this final season of Hannah Montana wraps, when another wannabe pop chanteuse takes her place as part of the Disney dynasty, what does this seemingly single-faceted ‘talent’ wind up doing? Does she try for country or pop legitimacy, hoping to find a Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood/American Idol like transformation from product to performer? Or will making millions for her family be enough? Will she simply slip away, coming back every once in a while to introduce a House of Mouse repackaging of her productions. If Daddy Ray is any indication, there will need to be a break, and some biology, before the Cyrus name equals stardom again. One imagines that some saw Hannah Montana: The Movie as Miley Cyrus’ introduction into the big leagues. As it turns out, this may instead be her swansong.

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