Latest Blog Posts

by Bill Gibron

9 Oct 2009

Things that go bump in the night. The unexpected chill running up (or down) your spine. The unknown shadow sitting at the foot of the bed. The touch of some unseen hand on your shoulder. The fear of something sinister infiltrating your otherwise rational life. These are the classic signs of the paranormal, human interaction with spectral beings of either supernatural or otherwise unexplained origins. For decades, cinema has capitalized on these undeniable creep-outs, utilizing them to create haunted house horrors and other ghostly delights. As with many examples of the genre, as much is left to the imagination as is illustrated outright on screen.

Now comes the efficiently titled Paranormal Activity, an $11,000 indie effort that wants to utilize the post-modern first person POV camera technique to tell the tale of a doomed couple and the unearthly presence that won’t let them be. Micah and Katie have been having some restless nights as of late, and decide to by a camera to document what is happening while they sleep. After seeing random events and experiencing unsettling noises, the couple calls in a psychic for some help. He explains that a demon is behind these night terrors, an entity that has been stalking Katie for years. As they grow more and more uncomfortable in their home, the sinister situations increase. Soon, they are living day to day, in fear for their lives, utterly disturbed by what the camera is picking up.

Overhyped to the point of hysteria and lacking anything remotely redeeming for the seasoned fright fan, Paranormal Activity is all smoke and one too many mirrors. It’s an accurate reflection of an audience incapable of separating truth from trickery, a waste of time in both concept and execution. Kudos to writer/director Oren Peli and the various dread websites that have successfully ballooned this minor movie all out of proportion. They have made an event out of a non-entity, a direct to DVD title that would have showed some promise had it inexplicable and unexpectedly arrived in someone’s mailbox one day. In its barebones, low rent approach is an attempt to mimic reality without actually dealing with the actual implications of such a style. As a result, we get a typical scary movie gussied up with too much media expectations and too little onscreen substance.

You see, Paranormal Activity takes a long time getting to its point, playing possum with the viewer as we watch two amateur actors try and sell us some happy families. The initial scenes are so mind-numbingly pointless, lulling the audience into a sense of complacency so static that you wish a monster would appear out of the shadows and swallow both betrotheds whole. It may seem unfair to pick on their performances but both Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat are way out of their league here. They believe that bickering and whining somehow translates into empathy, that simply being belligerent and irrational will get a crowd behind their funhouse fallacies. Instead, we grow so angry at these two, so frustrated by their inert desire to do nothing, that we hope their passive approach to the situation costs them their lives.

Had Featherston and Sloat been better actors, had they understood that there needs to be some manner of counterbalance to all the complaining, maybe Paranormal Activity might work. After all, if you can’t afford a special effects extravaganza, or at the very least, a setting outside your parent’s San Diego home, you got to give us something. People we care about can lift a viewer past many low budget roadblocks, but Peli can’t provide said connection. Instead, his cast acts like imbeciles, sitting back in subservient resolve as an unseen presence does whatever the Hell it wants. Seasoned horror fans will instantly recognize the manipulations applied - the trip into the attic, the wonky Ouija board bit - all adding up to an uneven attempt at fear. But suspense is only successful when a vested interest or known villainy is offered. Paranormal Activity is just stagnant shuck and jive.

And the hype isn’t helping matters, especially for anyone beyond a certain age who remembers the classic come-ons of the ‘50s and ‘60s. This is definitely NOT the ‘scariest movie ever made’, and the trailers featuring freaked out audiences are clearly picking through footage to find the most extreme reactions shots ever. Truth in advertising would demand that the preview also provide glimpses of the first 40 minutes, where nothing at all scary happens, or the various moments of inadvertent humor as viewers chuckle along with Katie and Micah’s multiple boneheaded decisions. Well formed films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Exorcist don’t need their legacy illegitimized by a short attention span generation that can’t remember past the easy access days of ‘80s direct to video horror. To consider this film better than some of the seminal works of the past is undeniable genre heresy.

Suffice it to say, Paranormal Activity is yet another in a long line of oversold cinematic situations that can’t possibly live up to the mythos being built. Those who fall into this film quickly, nervous for the couple and what happens to them over the course of 20 uneven nights, will definitely declare it a winner. To them, it will be an unnerving experience that reminds them that unusual sounds in a darkened room are not just the house settling, or the neighbors acting up. As the demon forges ahead with its plans to possess Katie, continuing a pattern that’s been in play the girl’s entire life, they’ll cringe and cry out in cathartic expressions of adrenaline fueled release.

But don’t discount those who simply cross their arms and dismiss everything that’s happening onscreen. Paranormal Activity pretends to be a heart-stopping edge of your seat entertainment. It’s actually just a homemade horror movie blown all out of proportion by studios sensing a hit. As with all examples of cinematic chicanery, the only person to blame when you’re burned is yourself. This is moviemaking as an elaborate trick. Pray you don’t get fooled…again.

by Bill Gibron

9 Oct 2009

When Swingers stumbled onto the scene back in 1996, it was championed as a brilliant piece of indie smarm. With Jon Favreau providing the script and Doug Liman directing, the cast (including then unknowns Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and Heather Graham) took the tale of a group of fun loving friends and, for a moment, transformed it into a one way ticket to Coolsville. While the cult didn’t last long, it catapulted the cast into the lower levels of Hollywood’s soon to be heavy hitters. In the 13 years since, Vaughn has transformed into a comedy chameleon while partner Farveau has gone on to become an A-list director, thanks in no small part to Elf and Iron Man. Now the duo are reteaming for a relationships laugher called Couples Retreat. Sadly, it appears their sense of humor is stuck squarely in the middle of the Clinton Administration.

With their inability to have kids complicating their marriage, anal duo Jason and Cynthia are desperate for a solution. So they sign up for an exclusive couple’s retreat in a fabulous tropical locale. The only problem? In order to afford it, they have to get six more of their friends to join in. This means convincing the happily married Dave and Ronnie, the headed to divorce court Joey and Lucy, and the already single Shane (hooking up with a horny 20 year old) to come along for the therapeutic fun. Naturally, they all say “No”, that is, until Jason more or less begs. Before they know it, they’re in Eden, a gorgeous getaway that offers jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling - and of course, endless sessions of intense analysis and soul bearing with founder Mr. Marcel. All seems to be going well until Shane’s gal pal bails, heading over to the singles side of the island for a little fun. With the rest of the group heading in that same direction, it looks like this is one marriage oasis that will result in more break-ups than make-ups. 

Couples Retreat is well-meaning but dull, really nothing more than a retread update of the far superior 1981 comedy The Four Seasons. While not an actual remake, writers Favreau, Vaughn and What Happens In Vegas’ Dana Fox obviously recognize the potential in putting four paramour pairings together, letting their various idiosyncrasies and thoughts about love seep into the silly stuff. They also more or less mimic the Alan Alda/Carol Burnett offering, giving us the settled couple with some minor issues (Vaughn and Malin Akerman), the duo who just don’t connect anymore (Favreau and Kristin Davis), the weirdoes who think that a Power Point presentation on Testicular Cancer it a good reason for a party (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell), and the recently divorced sugar daddy (Faizon Love) whose brought his braying whiny baby doll (Kali Hawk) into this mix.

By throwing all these types at the camera, director Peter Billingsley hopes to offer an overview of commitment and complaints circa 2009. Instead, Couples Retreat feels decidedly old school. In a current comedy climate which sees shock-a-thon masterworks as The Hangover rake in millions of dollars, poking gentle fun at New Age marriage counselors is not the most up to date means of making people laugh. Even more disconcerting, Favreau and Vaughn overload the film with all manner of touchy feely gender clichés. The men here all think with their privates - except Vince, who is constantly mocked for being so libido-less. The gals all complain about a lack of romance, their otherwise complicated lives easily appeased with a simple trip to an ethereal waterfall. In between, RomCom formulas are dusted off and discussed, tired vaudevillian portraits of psychotherapy are brought out of mothballs, and the entire premise pays off in ways that even a novice to the world of husband and wife narratives could easily predict.

Of course, if the material is making you roll in the aisle with laughter, all of this tried and true treacle won’t matter. But aside from some obvious giggles, Couples Retreat is more of a smile producer than a side splitter. Sure, we chuckle when Vaughn’s infant son relieves himself in a home improvement store toilet, but its one of several such bodily function gags. Faizon Love is a massive mountain of a man, so it makes perfect sense that his bare buttocks get a huge audience reaction. Then there is the yoga scene, already hinted about in the trailer. Going on for far too long, we get stud boy sex puppet Carlos Ponce as Salvatore, a man who doesn’t mind shoving his groin into provocative places - female OR male. The first few crotch thrusts are funny. By the ten minute mark, we want out.

At least the performances pack some punch. Vaughn and Akerman make a good team, and she’s excellent when not required to act like an idiot. Favreau and Davis are so busy making cow eyes at the available paradise playthings that we never really discover why they no longer lust after each other (it has something to do with getting pregnant at prom, supposedly). Bateman and Bell take the type A personality to its logical, and sometimes laughable, ends, while Love is always likeable as the big black teddy bear who just can’t keep up with his much younger bed buddy. Perhaps the only embarrassed member of the cast is Jean Reno, who seems stuck in a role Ben Kingsley obviously abandoned. We are supposed to be shocked at seeing the familiar French treasure taking on such silly material. Instead, we are just embarrassed.

While Billingsley acquits himself well in the directing department, it’s the script that finally sinks Couples Retreat. Perhaps five years ago, before Judd Apatow irreparable turned cleverness toward the penis, this would have worked. But ever since The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, relationship comedies have to be over the top, scatological, and loaded with F-bombs. At PG-13, this movie is playing in a completely different cinematic territory. There is no denying the talent on display. Everyone involved has been better, and more importantly, more box office friendly than where Couples Retreat finds them. A mere 13 years ago, such a film would seem like a major leap forward for Favreau and Vaughn. Today, it’s like a look back - and not a very fun bit of unnecessary nostalgia at that.

by Eleanore Catolico

9 Oct 2009

Cosmic Egg
Releasing: 23 October

Wolfmother returns with their second studio album, Cosmic Egg, off Modular, set to come out October 23th. This is in the wake of the Australian hard rock band’s reformation: bassist/keyboardist Ian Peres, guitarist Aiden Nemeth, and drummer Dave Atkins step up as Wolfmother’s new core after the departure of original band members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett last year. Pounding guitar riffs, militant drums, and singer Andrew Stockdale’s wail drive Cosmic Egg‘s first full single, “New Moon Rising”, a rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut.  Wolfmother will tour in support of Cosmic Egg beginning this October. Watch a live performance of “New Moon Rising” and check out more of their tour dates after the jump.

01 California Queen
02 New Moon Rising
03 White Feather
04 Sundial
05 In the Morning
06 10,000 Feet
07 Cosmic Egg
08 Far Away
09 Pilgrim
10 In the Castle
11 Phoenix
12 Violence of the Sun

by Eleanore Catolico

9 Oct 2009

Adorable Memphis boy-girl pop act Magic Kids has a new single entitled “Superball”. The song’s glowing, playful sound derives from a sunshiney Beach Boys melody and an ‘80s video game soundtrack. “Superball” will come out as part of a split 7” release off Fat Possum.  Hear “Superball” now on the Magic Kids’ MySpace.

by Eleanore Catolico

9 Oct 2009

“Treeship” is a spellbinding 22-minute symphony imbued in a mysterious synth-pop universe. Virtual troubadour Dayve Hawk created and produced the track under the moniker Memory Tapes. Memory Tapes is a hybrid of Hawk’s other personae, Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes. “Treeship” is a bonus track on Memory Tapes’ full length album Seek Magic, but Hawk generously posted “Treeship” on his blog in all its enchanting glory.

Memory Tapes
Treeship [MP3]

//Mixed media


"No Dollars in Duende": On Making Uncompromising, Spirited Music

// Sound Affects

"On the elusive yet clearly existential sadness that adds layers and textures to music.

READ the article