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by Sachyn Mital

6 Feb 2009

A long line of people were waiting outside in the freezing January night while on stage at the Mercury Lounge, Brooklyn’s Chin Chin opened up for Brazil’s Curumin (pronounced “KOO-roo-mean”). If you got there late thinking that Chin Chin were serving as a warm-up band, though, you would have made a mistake, because by then the six-piece band already had the place on fire. Numerous people were dancing up close to the stage while everyone else gave way and were forced to groove shoulder to shoulder at the back of the room. Before finishing up, Chin Chin decreed music is “so much better when we do it together” and it was easy to understand why with the number of people moving to their sounds.

Quannum Projects, the record label of Luciano Nakata Albuquerque (aka Curumin), is primarily known for its roster of underground hip-hop artists, including Blackalicious and Lyrics Born as well as being an early home to DJ Shadow. But, as Chin Chin would agree, music needs to be shared. When Blackalicious discovered Curumin during a tour of Brazil in 2005, despite the language barriers, they must have loved his music a lot for they signed him to their label. And hip-hop culture was ever present on the stage at the Mercury Lounge as Money Mark, the keyboardist, producer and past Beastie Boys collaborator performed alongside Curumin and three other musicians as a special guest.

 

Branded as “samba-soul-hip-hop”, Curumin made sure to keep the audience dancing and applauding whatever the genre of song. From behind the drums, he sang songs from both of his albums, Achados e Perdidos and the more recent JapanPopShow, like “Samba Japa”, “Magrela Fever”, and “Compato” that conveyed delicious samba funk. A later song had a breakbeat club rhythm, while the show closer had an easy-going reggae vibe reminiscent of Sublime. Curumin described the next song as “beautiful” before turning the slow original Roy Ayer’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” into an extended jam.

Since the majority of singing was in Curumin’s native Portuguese, people could be overhead wishing they knew what he was saying as “the music is so good”. Through his set, Curumin encouraged everyone to wave their arms, gave a salute to New York and expressed his happiness in seeing so many people. He even asked the audience to give back in the form of an MC. And when one was welcomed up, he repeatedly asked people “give it up for Curumin” receiving a resounding sound of gratitude. Even though he would make a perfect outdoor summer show, Curumin turned the tiny Mercury Lounge into a steamy oasis during winter. People came together, not to seek respite in the form of shade or water, but to bask in the warmth and pleasure of the music.

by Bill Gibron

5 Feb 2009

It’s a week full of worthless efforts at the local Cineplex. Who in their right mind would actually want to see Steve Martin desecrate Peter Sellers legacy? Or wallow in the shallow silliness of a self-help book turned rancid RomCom? While the other mainstream movie this week is best considered Jumper Lite, there are a couple of other choices worth pondering. Henry Selick brings us a new animated classic, while Blair Witch‘s Daniel Myrick turns the War on Terror into something literal. These are the films in focus for 6, February - beginning with the aforementioned stop-motion masterwork:

Coraline [rating: 9]

In a genre packed with derivative visuals and too hip for homeroom pop culture jibes, Coraline is a welcome return to pure animation splendor.

The nostalgic effect of stop motion animation is potent. Indeed, the moment a member of an earlier generation sees the static, superlative work of such single frame artistry, visions of Ray Harryhausen, George Pal and his Puppetoons, and the dream factory forged by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass instantly come to mind. It’s all Mad Monster Parties and the adventures of Tubby the Tuba. As the format flourished during the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, the love for all things Clokey (Gumby), O’Brien (King Kong), and Danforth (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) grew. In the ‘80s, Will Vinton carried the magic mantle, while the ‘90s saw Nick Park and his Wallace and Gromit gain international approval. read full review…

Push [rating: 4]

Even with all its idiosyncratic elements, Push feels like something we’ve seen before. Unfortunately, said memory is of something far more fascinating and definitely more engaging. 

They say the most important element in a science fiction story is a strong, understandable mythology. Formulate a believable, working, and logistically logical universe where characters and creatures abide by the rules and regulations set before them and you’ve conquered a great deal of the potential problems. As a result, slip ups can be cured with ease and risks rewarded, just as long as the foundation is set and secure. In the new future shock thriller Push, we are introduced to an entirely new (if slightly redundant) race of specialized individuals, people with powers beyond those of mere mortals. Meeting them towards the middle of their real world arc, we gets bits and pieces of how Nazi experiments in psychic warfare led to an X-Men like mutant population capable of great things - and the secret society Hell-bent on controlling them. Regrettably, the aforementioned reference to a certain comic franchise isn’t the only bit of borrowing this film does. Indeed, the whole effort feels lifted from dozens of familiar - and in most cases, superior - offerings. read full review…

The Objective [rating: 7]

Still, it’s the shivers that count, and while Myrick may not make our spine tingle like he did back in the late ‘90s…The Objective is still an impressive piece of work

The genre film, by its very nature, is a bit of a cinematic chameleon. It can function as humor, social commentary, political diatribe, and in rare cases, sobering human tragedy. Coated in the usual celluloid garment of horror and/or science fiction, it takes talent and determination to traverse its pitfall-laden path. Ten years ago, Daniel Myrick made movie history of sorts by releasing his first person POV frightmare The Blair Witch Project. Along with collaborator Eduardo Sanchez, he created a night terror that functioned as a documentary, a pseudo-realistic look at fear as it happened, and a full blown web phenomenon. A critical and commercial ‘event’, the filmmaker retreated for a while, unsure of his next move. Now, almost a decade later, he’s returned with a fine film entitled The Objective. And once again, he has taken the standard scary movie and tweaked it with something different - a little speculative scope. read full review…

by Bill Gibron

5 Feb 2009

The genre film, by its very nature, is a bit of a cinematic chameleon. It can function as humor, social commentary, political diatribe, and in rare cases, sobering human tragedy. Coated in the usual celluloid garment of horror and/or science fiction, it takes talent and determination to traverse its pitfall-laden path. Ten years ago, Daniel Myrick made movie history of sorts by releasing his first person POV frightmare The Blair Witch Project. Along with collaborator Eduardo Sanchez, he created a night terror that functioned as a documentary, a pseudo-realistic look at fear as it happened, and a full blown web phenomenon. A critical and commercial ‘event’, the filmmaker retreated for a while, unsure of his next move. Now, almost a decade later, he’s returned with a fine film entitled The Objective. And once again, he has taken the standard scary movie and tweaked it with something different - a little speculative scope.

CIA agent Benjamin Keyes has been sent back to Afghanistan, a country he left ten years before, to track an unusual signature on a satellite image. It’s been one month since the horrible events of 9/11, and the US government wants to make sure that some rogue members of the Taliban aren’t hiding a loose nuke up in the desert mountains. Seeking a former source in a remote village, Keyes takes a highly specialized group of soldiers along on the mission. They include no nonsense Chief Warrant Officer Hamer, Sergeants Cole and Sadler, and Master Sergeant Tanner. They also bring on a local, Abdul, as their guide. Once out in the field, they find little relief from the ongoing battle. After an ambush leaves them injured and short on supplies, Hamer demands they return to base. But Keyes is unrelenting. He has a tip that what he is looking for is locked in Afghanistan’s notorious Hill of Bones, a sacred site that might also turn out to be this regiment’s final resting place.

The Objective is a classic suspense thriller. It plays with the audience, giving it only the information it needs to follow the occasionally confounding plotline. It provides simply drawn characters, crystal clear motivations, an environment that’s both alien and unfriendly in nature, and a finale which shines an intriguing new light on everything we’ve experienced before. Myrick, taking a noted turn toward a more mainstream motion picture dynamic here, delivers on the promise inherent in the set up. The narrative is mission oriented, and the intrinsic nature of such a storyline helps smooth over rough patches of pacing, scripting, and occasional directorial indulgences. Myrick makes some mistakes here and there, but we forgive the flaws, thanks in part to our desire to see the events come to a climax.

And it’s an interesting journey along the way. Working with an accomplished cast that really disappear into their roles, we find ourselves face to face with the hostile Afghan wasteland, and endless need for water and supplies, and a strange set of lights that seem to be following our military men. During these seemingly sedate establishing scenes, The Objective does something very sly. It establishes the conflicts and desperation that will come to define the latter part of the action. Even the minor military scenes, US armed forces fighting unseen enemies with rocket launchers and an unshakable resolve, add to the tension. Before long, Myrick has us shifting toward the edge of our seat, anticipation over what will come next filling our head with visions of death and dread.

That The Objective fails to fully deliver on said promise is one of its few weak points. Clearly, because of its micro-budget and aesthetic limitations (small cast, insular concept) Myrick cannot completely explore the ideas he’s working with. The whole CIA/UFO angle is underdeveloped, left to a series of sensationalized buzzwords. Similarly, we are dealing with a post-9/11 scenario with the war in Afghanistan only a few weeks old. Yet everything about the military operation screams “been there/done that.” Finally, the acting can be hit or miss. Jon Huerta and Matthew Anderson are very good as suspicious army men, while lead Jonas Ball earns more than a few missteps with his gravitas. Still, the script by Myrick, Mark A. Patton, and Wesley Clark Jr. (yes, the General’s son) is solid and even surprising at times.

Indeed, there’s another angle available, one that merits consideration especially in light of the actions being depicted. One could easily see The Objective as an indirect commentary on our cultural hubris and lack of understanding when it comes to our “enemy” in the Middle East. The US soldiers see diplomacy in a handful of chocolate bars, yet revert to stereotypical responses whenever their Islamic allies let them down. All engagement is “shoot first, never question ever” and once they are lost in unfriendly terrain, the camouflage comes off completely. Myrick may not have intended to make a statement about how America undermines its own efforts via a lack of consideration, sensitivity, and basic common sense. Outside of anything supernatural or beyond this world, The Objective seems intent on being critical of our nation’s inflated opinion of our own international import.

Still, it’s the shivers that count, and while Myrick may not make our spine tingle like he did back in the late ‘90s (though this critic personally loathes The Blair Witch Project), The Objective is still an impressive piece of work. It never tries to do too much and keeps within its carefully controlled elements until the last act histrionics take over. Even then, the final beat is so satisfying, so ambiguous and ambitious that it makes the whole experience seem that much more special and worthwhile. It’s hard staying relevant after onli-nation declares you and your so-called “classic” a one-hit wonder. Yet Daniel Myrick has actually made three other films since leaving the unfriendly confines of Burkittsville (The Strand, Believers, and Solstice). With The Objective as yet another example of his growth as a director, it’s clear his early success was not a fluke. This is one filmmaker who can spin the genre into any shape he wants, and come out triumphant.

by Jason Gross

5 Feb 2009

After Bruce Springsteen complained that Ticketmaster was reselling tix to his shows for inflated prices, the company issued an apology to the Boss and took off links on their website to resellers, which had been authorized by TM itself.  But if you look in the fine print of their apology, you’ll notice that it’s kinda limited.  According to a Billboard article, TM says “Specifically, we will not present an option to go to TicketsNow from Ticketmaster without the consent of the artist and the venue, both of whom work together to bring the joy of live entertainment to millions of fans.” 

What does it mean?  It’s still open season for TM to gouge fans if the artist in question doesn’t (publicly) complain about this practice.

And how does this work?  Let’s take an example of the Dead, which is essentially the long-standing core of the Grateful Dead minus the late Jerry Garcia.  They’re touring again, which is big news since they haven’t performed together too much since Garcia’s death.  Their management booked a show at Madison Square Garden for April 25th with tickets going on sale on January 24th in two price ranges: $54.50 and $99.50.  Not surprisingly, the show sold out in just over a half-hour. 

If you looked for tix at Ticketmaster after that, you were told that you weren’t necessarily out of luck- you just couldn’t buy them for the regular price.  Through two TM services, Tickets Now and TicketExchange, you could still get tickets.  The catch was that if you wanted to go to show now, the lower level seats were not $99 anymore.  They were dozens of these tickets now being sold legally for $500 to $1000.  Just to be clear, these resold tickets were being offered up only minutes after the show sold out.  (Craigslist already had listings for tickets to the show too but they were much more reasonably priced)

Here’s what they say about one of the services: “TicketsNow provides secure and convenient access to event tickets that are supplied by professional resellers and fans. Tickets are listed at market price, which is often above face value. All tickets sold through TicketsNow are 100% guaranteed. The artist and/or venue for this event may not be affiliated with TicketsNow.”

So do you really believe that all of these people just happened to suddenly decide that they couldn’t go to the show, moments after they happened to buy those tickets?  Or… do you think that they purposely bought them, knowing how sought-after those tix would be and that they could then resell them for a very large profit?  I would tend to think that the later happened.  I’d also hazard to guess that this also happens hundreds and thousands of times a day.

But remember… since this is done with Ticketmaster’s blessing, it’s all legal.  So why is that these scalper-level prices are legitimate?  States have laws on their books forbidding you to resell tickets for more than a certain (small) percentage above their original value but that doesn’t appear to apply to Ticketmaster.

If you go back to the TM site and look for tickets for the Dead show right now, you’ll find that at TicketExchange, the cheap seats (which were originally $54, minus all the added charges) are now going for $118-$188.  But that’s not bad compared to the lower level seats- before they were $99 and now they go for about $800-$900 and even up to $3,745.  If you go through Tickets Now (which again, is another TM company), the lower level seats will set you back over $1000.  So, they’re able to sell these tickets for 10 times the original amount, or more.

Now in fairness, TM doesn’t pocket all of that money.  Most of it does go to the scalper… I mean, reseller!  However, when they allow you to resell your ticket, they do dip into the sale and take a certain percentage for themselves and add that onto the sale price that you offer up the tickets for.  I tried to find this out myself but couldn’t come up with an answer- I might be wrong (not the first time!) but I seem to remember that the charge that they’d pocket for the resale was about 5-10%.  Not a bad deal considering that they already took the money for the original ticket plus added on the surcharges and fees and now get to stick yet another set of charges for helping to resell the ticket at an insanely inflated price.

But remember, it’s all legal.  At least until the Dead or other artists complain about this.  So, is your favorite band unwittingly part of this scheme?

What I want to know now is if TM merges with Live Nation as it’s rumored to do, how much higher are the ticket prices going to get when they have a monopoly over the business?  As bad as it is now, don’t be surprised if the merger makes things even worse when all of their competition goes out the window.

As a side note, I do have a ticket for that Dead show but I didn’t pay TicketsNow or TicketExchange for it.  I paid the regular price, plus all of the added on charges and ‘conveniences’ that Ticketmaster thought that I should cough up.  I guess I should consider myself lucky.

by Bill Gibron

5 Feb 2009

They say the most important element in a science fiction story is a strong, understandable mythology. Formulate a believable, working, and logistically logical universe where characters and creatures abide by the rules and regulations set before them and you’ve conquered a great deal of the potential problems. As a result, slip ups can be cured with ease and risks rewarded, just as long as the foundation is set and secure. In the new future shock thriller Push, we are introduced to an entirely new (if slightly redundant) race of specialized individuals, people with powers beyond those of mere mortals. Meeting them towards the middle of their real world arc, we gets bits and pieces of how Nazi experiments in psychic warfare led to an X-Men like mutant population capable of great things - and the secret society Hell-bent on controlling them. Regrettably, the aforementioned reference to a certain comic franchise isn’t the only bit of borrowing this film does. Indeed, the whole effort feels lifted from dozens of familiar - and in most cases, superior - offerings.

Nick Gant has been in hiding most of his life. As a young boy, he saw his father killed by a government agency called The Division. Seeking out individuals who are gifted psychically, the cabal hopes to capture and experiment on each and every one. Later, Nick hooks up with tween terror Cassie Holmes. She’s a ‘watcher’, someone able to see into the future, and she needs his assistance in finding “pusher” (someone able to control the minds of others) Kira Hudson who holds the secret for tearing down the Division. Of course, there’s a catch. By taking on this task, both Cassie and Nick will die. But if they fail to fulfill their mission, they run of the risk of destroying all others like them. With Division agent Henry Carver hot on their trail, and a complicated environment of fellow shifters, stitchers, bleeders, and wipers to navigate, it will take all the special skill that they possess to save everyone.

You’ve got to give Push credit for trying. It’s almost impossible to create a complex alternative reality where everyday humans hold exceptional superpowers, where government cabals plot to capture and control these individuals, and a ragtag group of internal rebels try to overthrow…wait. Isn’t this the primer for NBC’s on again/off again phenom Heroes? Or the structure for any number of post-modern graphic novels? Apparently, when challenged for something original, writer David Bourla absconded with any number of sci-fi comics clichés and then tried to turn them into something novel and original. Yet no matter how you categorize them - sniffers, stitchers, pushers, movers - we are still stuck with individuals as gimmicks. Unless you give the holders of such skills real psychological depth, all we can do is sit back and wait for the overloaded F/X light show.

Sadly, Push doesn’t even deliver said spectacle. Instead, this is a ploddingly paced, awkwardly ambitious film that seems lifted from the middle act of a better, more buoyant franchise. UK director Paul McGuigan wants to create something both personal and pyrotechnical, hoping that the many tiny moments between his actors will blossom and grow into a narrative of epic of otherworldly proportion. He even skimps on the action, leaving all the superpowers stuff until a midpoint confrontation between Grant and his Division enemies, and a last act throwdown on a Hong Kong high rise. Maybe he thought the sparing use of these often intriguing abilities would give them more impact. Perhaps the budget dictated their rare depiction. Whatever the case, this is a movie that needs more - more operatic dramatics, more life and death drive…heck, just more action in general.

Struggling to stay afloat inside McGuigan’s brooding, often pointless pretensions are some damn fine performances. Dakota Fanning could be a live action anime heroine what with her whisper thin figure, Hello Kitty fashion sense, and fragile delivery. Even in moments of predetermined import, she’s vulnerable and distressed. She’s matched well by Chris Evans as Grant. Though given little to do except play icon, there are times when he lets down the forced façade to seem very human indeed. While Camille Belle is still lost somewhere in 10,00 B.C. and Djimon Hounsou does menace as if on autopilot, supporting players like Maggie Siff (as an evil healer) Ming-Na, and Cliff Curtis add wonderful atmospheric accents. In fact, had Push totally ignored the histrionics inherent in the genre and went with something more intricate and intimate, it might have worked.

Instead, we get wannabe chest-thumping and lots of lag time in between. Fanning’s Cassie repeats herself endlessly, doddling in her sketch pad and harping on her impending death. There’s also way too much exposition, sequences where we are given the narrative thread and overriding situational specifics over and over again. Speed is important in efforts like this. Had Wanted slowed down to explain itself fully, or Shoot ‘Em Up stop to allow reconsideration, neither film would fly. Instead, they piled on the particulars and just kept going. Push needed this same kind of urgency. This material needs mania, something you envision being better handled with particular aplomb by someone like Ringo Lam, The Wachowski Brothers, or maybe even John Woo. It’s not that McGuigan is out of his league. He’s just not playing in the same ballpark.

Big ideas like the ones posited in Push necessitate a big vision to succeed - or at the very least, characters we can cheer for, care about, and get behind. Instead, what we experience is two hours of brooding among ambient Asian backdrops…and little else. The Hong Kong setting seems odd since the storyline does very little to accentuate the locale. Only a sequence with the Bleeders (individuals with voices that can literally kill) in a fish market makes sense. In addition, recent films with similar themes like Jumper and Babylon A.D. undermine any sense of originality or freshness here. Even with all its idiosyncratic elements, Push feels like something we’ve seen before. Unfortunately, said memory is of something far more fascinating and definitely more engaging. 

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