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by Sarah Zupko

20 Apr 2009

Late Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt was both a friend to Steve Earle also a massive influence on his artistic development. Fourteen years ago Earle said, “Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” So, it’s only natural that he would want to record a Van Zandt tribute album and we’re lucky for it. Earle sounds re-invigorated on this tour through his mentor’s songs released as Townes on May 12th via New West Records. Earle’s wife Alison Moorer joins in the harmony vocals on this track, “To Live Is to Fly”.

Steve Earle
“To Live Is to Fly” [MP3]

by Mike Schiller

20 Apr 2009

The people at Nintendo never cease to amaze.  Do you remember Excitebike?  Perhaps you remember playing it, you mastered the timing of flattening out that little bike for perfect landings, you remembered just how long you could keep the turbo jets on before you overheated, maybe you even created a few custom tracks for the game (which, looking back, was a surprisingly forward-looking feature for such an old title).  It was absolutely a good game.

What it wasn’t, really, was exciting.  Even at its fastest, the scrolling of the racetrack was really pretty slow, and you could almost always see obstacles coming way ahead of time, even if you didn’t necessarily have the reflexes to do anything about it.  It was a skill game, not a speed game.  And yet, by way of simply giving it the name “Excitebike”, Nintendo told us it was exciting.  As long as it’s a good enough game, the mere presence of the name offers it a sense of exhilaration that the game on its own simply doesn’t offer.

As such, I’m surprised it took them until the Wii to resurrect the Excite* name.

by Bill Gibron

19 Apr 2009

They’re gross, over the top, sexually pigheaded, and so filled with amplified ultraviolence that Alex DeLarge and his mates would definitely consider them “excessive”. The first film was a marginal success at the box office, but literally exploded on DVD. On home video, fans flocked to its mixture of video game hyper-action and subversive, in your face, cinematic counter-culturalism. So naturally Lionsgate would demand a sequel, especially since the last scene suggested the angry anti-hero Chev Chelios actually survived his thousand foot free-fall from an airborne helicopter. Yet with a mere $7 million in receipts over the 17 April weekend, it looks like Crank: High Voltage failed to find a warm Cineplex welcome.

It’s not surprising. The studio, clearly believing that they had something nominal and niche on their hands, decided against screening the film for critics. Even today, with few in the mainstream media present and accounted for, the title stands at 69% over at Rotten Tomatoes. Now, that’s currently better than Zac Efron’s 17 Again, Hannah Montana: The Movie, Observe and Report, or Knowing, but an argument can also be made that most of these opinions come from fringe geek onliners who fail to see cinema in the proper, non-blogger, perspective. Indeed, the overall view of the Crank films is that they are the byproduct of ADD-addled filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (who use the oh-so-gauche moniker of ‘Neveldine/Taylor’ when they work), two a-hole hipsters who assault the artform with their too-cool-for-film-school sentiments. 

Granted, Neveldine and Taylor throw everything they can at the screen, both Crank and Crank: High Voltage perfected examples of surfeit giving way to a kind of crazed creative aesthetic. And they are disrespectful to the genre in the same way that exploitation challenged the notion of what could and could not be shown in a commercial motion picture. If having fun with the format is crime, Neveldine and Taylor are as guilty as a pow-wow between Phil Spector and OJ. But outside the need to be aware of the medium’s mandates, there is nothing wrong with spending megabucks to make a wild ass carnival sideshow of filmic freaks and celluloid tweaks. Deny their artistry or skill, but the Crank films are the guiltiest kind of pleasure - one that’s inexcusable and insatiable.

When the first film arrived in 2006, it played like the ultimate endgame in a post-millennial reexamination of the action epic. For decades, the same old buddy/stunt dynamic was utilized to bring audiences to the edge of their seat. Neveldine and Taylor took the interactive element from the console experience, placed the viewer in the position of the players, and then turned everything up to 11. By adding this nu-world odor aspect, by supplanting carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem for seat of your pants pandemonium, the duo laid the groundwork for such au current favorites like Shoot ‘Em Up and Wanted. Sure, it’s all been sifted out of the Hong Kong craziness of the mid ‘90s, but John Woo couldn’t hold a candle to the fanboy frenzy created here.

Indeed, Neveldine and Taylor are the exact filmmakers a demographic raised on the VCR and pay cable need. They are all allusion and homage, original thoughts filtered through a film education based in Cinemax and the faceless features of a direct to video market. They aren’t new or novel, but instead represent the necessary evil that arrives when you give audiences unlimited access to a specific artform and then provide the technology to help them copy their obsessions. They are Tarantino taken to ridiculous referential heights, one step ahead of the homemade auteur while barking up the talent trees that keep directorial dipsticks like Brett Ratner and Jon Turteltaub fully employed. And yet there is an artistry to what they do, a David Lynchian like dream logic which turns F-bombs and bare breasts into esoteric expressions of filmic fascination.

Some of the success has to do with their choice of leading man. For all his toned tripwire sexuality, Jason Statham remains one of the few examples of bristle bearded beefcake who’s not afraid to go balls out in pursuit of a performance. He’s willing to mock his own machismo, undermine his cool cockney charm, and wallow in wantonness both physical and ephemeral. There’s a moment in the first film when he literally exposes his behind in order to escape a predicament, proving that he’s more than just a typical Hollywood hero. High Voltage ups the ante, giving gal pal costar Amy Smart a chance to match the human adrenal gland naked thrust for thrust as they have public sex at a horse track…right on the finish line in the middle of a race.

Certainly, snobs who believe that names like Godard and Chabrol are the only ones capable of taking cinema apart and putting it back together in ways that countermand tradition and formula will be pissed, and for all this glorified grandstanding, Crank and Crank: High Voltage are really nothing more than cinematic confections, motion picture Pixie sticks laced with enough PCP, Meth, and Crack to keep audiences from seeing their Wizard of Oz like man behind the curtain crassness. Yet within a framework where everything reeks of high concept creativity, where stars and situations are dreamt up before a writer ever sees a single paycheck, Neveldine and Taylor work in wild, wicked, and wholly mysterious ways.

While their only other collaboration - the stunted script for the incredibly dopey horror film Pathology - failed to fulfill the promise offered by Crank, and their newest effort (the surreal sci-fi showdown Citizen Game starring 300‘s Gerard Butler) still several months away, we are left contemplating the legacy leached out of two intertwined spectacles. Of course, High Voltage leaves the door open for a tre-quel, and knowing these inspired insaniacs, there’s probably an idea already brewing to turn Chev, Eve, and the rest of the Crank army into the Lord of the Rings of racially insensitive thrill rides. While the motion picture is indeed an artform, not all films are Van Goghs. Many can barely beat Warhol to the soup can punch. Crank and Crank: High Voltage are clearly the work of some crazed underground anarchists - and we can all thank God for such a needed shot in the arm. 

by Sarah Zupko

19 Apr 2009

Indie singer-songwriter M. Ward takes a crack at the Buddy Holly classic “Rave On” on his 2009 record Hold Time. Ward’s version is less rock and roll and more ethereal pop and is a totally original and unique take on a well-worn clasic tune. Mike Please directs the video using animation and puppets and She & Him collaborator Deschanel shows up on the background vocals.

April 17 Indio, CA @ Coachella
April 18 Tucson, AZ @ Rialto Theatre
April 19 Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre
April 20 Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater
April 22 Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
April 23 Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
April 24 Milwaukee, WIK @ Pabst Theater
April 25 Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
April 26 Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
April 27 Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix Theatre
April 28 Montreal, QC @ Le National
May 18 Visalia, CA @ Fox Theatre
May 19 Oakland, CA @ Fox Theatre
May 22 Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theater
May 23 George, WA @ Sasquatch Music Festival
July 23 Salt Lake City, UT @ Twilight Concert Series*
July 27 Athens, GA @40 Watt
July 28 Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
July 30 Washington, DC @ 930 Club
August 1 New York, NY @ Summerstage*
* = free

by Jason Gross

19 Apr 2009

There’s a great freelancer named Adam but there’s one problem—his name isn’t Adam and he can’t use his real name because he wants to talk to you honestly about his work. You’ve probably seen his work if you read nation-wide music publications in the States and England. Like other full-time freelancers, he has several bosses that he has to report to and keep happy. That also means that he has to juggle his work around, meet several deadlines, always be flexible, be on the ready to do rewrites as many times as it takes and then follow-up to make sure that he gets paid for his work as promised. That’s just his job, even with the reputation that he has.

Out of frustration, he sent me a list of his routine one day, just to show what he goes through, calling it “The Morning of a Freelancer”. I thought it would be instructive to post that here, not just so that other scribes can commiserate with this but also to give outsiders a peak into this ‘glamorous’ life.

1. Log on to bank account to see if check (for $50 less than amount agreed upon with editor) has cleared so that phone bill can be paid.

2. Discover health insurance company has cashed $300 check mailed nearly a month earlier.

3. Note negative balance, exacerbated by $200 overdraft fee on bank account, despite funds waiting to clear.

4. Pick up phone to call bank to complain about overdraft fee when funds are there anyway and, really, what the fuck is up with charging people for being broke?

5. Discover phone is turned off.

6. Wake up roommate, borrow phone.

7. Call bank. Have humanity broken by corporate-speak. Yell.

8. Get overdraft fee reversed by nice Indian woman, who also notes rest of check won’t clear until Friday.

9. Contact editors, find out status of $1,000+ worth of checks due, per their normal payment schedules, a month previous.

10. Get told by one editor that “to be frank, I’m never going to proactively tell you about it” in request for better communication in the future re: payment delay. Feel like demoralized, sub-human beggar for even asking. (Last communication with editor re: payment schedule, quoth editor: “everything is business as usual.”)

11. Dip into savings, wait for transfer to go through.

12. Get email about payment for published article from other publication, observe that it is about $400 less than last piece of same word count for same publication, published six months earlier. Or maybe it’s the exchange rate.

13. Remember the $650 made from selling crappy promo CDs the night before. Brief joy.

14. Bank account shows positive balance, have phone turned back on.

15. Return roommate’s phone.

16. Miss subway.

17. Miss commuter train.

18. Crank up compilation of Mexican tejano jams from the ‘20s. Repeat.

So, you still wanna be a freelancer?


//Mixed media

Players Lose Control in ‘Tales from the Borderlands’

// Moving Pixels

"This is an interactive story in which players don’t craft the characters, we just control them.

READ the article