Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Toy Story 3

I went to see Toy Story 3 last weekend and it was (surprisingly) the most touching theatre experience I've had this year. I didn't think any movie could top the first scenes in Up for sheer devastating poignancy, but damn was I ever wrong. The last ten minutes of Toy Story 3 are an ongoing emotional sucker punch that will make you beg the movie to stop if only to save you the indignity of publicly weeping like an infant. What makes this experience unique and wonderful is that for all the choked-back tears Toy Story 3 just feels... right.

Toy Story 3 is about growing up. That's technically true of both the previous films in the series, but never so much as in this final entry. Andy, the owner of the featured toys, is ready to go off to college and needs to decide which of his possessions to bring, store, or throw away. This puts the toys in obvious jeopardy, especially given that they've been largely abandoned during Andy's adolescence. Some begin to devise means of escape to avoid becoming garbage while others steadfastly maintain that their role is to support Andy, whatever that means. The nostalgic bond between toys and their owners has always figured prominently into the Toy Story movies, and that trend continues here with both parties trying to decide whether to hold on to each other or move on. Of course the toys have an incredible adventure that provides the bulk of the excitement, and it's great, but the transition towards maturity is the real heart of the story. I won't spoil anything here, but trust that Toy Story 3 nails the perfect balance of painful relinquishment and knowing acceptance in a powerful coming-of-age tale.

While glorious overall, the movie is not without its flaws. The pace seems rushed, and at times it feels like the filmmakers tried to fit a bit too much into the story. New characters are underdeveloped and the major talents voicing them are all but wasted (Timothy Dalton and Kristin Schaal have tragically minuscule roles). But all such issues pale in comparison to the overall quality and power of the narrative. Toy Story 3 is a busy, exciting film that will leave you simultaneously fulfilled and wanting more, and its few problems are easily forgivable.

Despite my fears that the movie would prove unnecessary and overly-indulgent, Toy Story 3 is both the perfect close to a fantastic trilogy and also a great film in its own right. You don't have to see the preceding films to enjoy it, though doing so would certainly give some additional context. This movie is about the experience of growing up and letting go of the past, something we all experience in our lives, and should speak to every viewer on at least some level. Pixar has truly outdone themselves (once again) with Toy Story 3, and in my mind it tops all that came before it. Not to be missed at any age.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Cover of the upcoming Futurebirds LP, Hampton's Lullaby  

I know I'm on a bit of a music kick lately but bear with me, it's all awesome stuff and I have some geeky posts in the pipeline. My latest obsession is the "psychedelic country" band, Futurebirds, and I've had them on heavy rotation for the past week or so. They sound like an awesome cross between Yeasayer and Dr. Dog, particularly on tracks like "MJB" (available below) off their self-titled EP. The band's upcoming release, Hampton's Lullaby, is due on July 27 and I was lucky enough to give it a spin early.

Futurebirds present a really amazing conflux of divergent musical styles. They're not an indie or jam band by any stretch of the imagination but are clearly influenced by those genres. Most intriguingly they experiment with distinctly country sounds, recontextualizing them in ways that aren't exactly country/alt country but are definitely of that ilk. This is something very interesting and, for lack of a better word, psychedelic. Tracks like "Happy Animals" and "APO" really open up and let you get lost in them, someplace between a honky tonk and a lucid dream.

Not that the bands are at all similar but the whole effect reminds me of Radiohead in a lot of ways, especially in terms of how Futurebirds's songs often sound too big for their production. Each track on Hampton's Lullaby sounds like the CD format is barely able to contain the music for all its sheer epicness. I have a really hard time imagining these guys playing at a rock club, to me it seems like they'd have to play an outdoor venue for the setting to fit their sprawling songs. If they can get the effects to sound right then these guys must put on a hell of a live show, and I for one am excited to check em out if they ever make it to Canada.

Futurebirds is the best new band I've heard in a really long time. I'll be very surprised if they don't get huge attention and acclaim come the July release of Hampton's Lullaby. Definitely check em out, MP3s and relevant links below:

Johnny Utah
MJB (via hearya.com)
Stream or Digitally Download the Futurebirds EP

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dan Mangan and Shane Koyczan

Shane Koyczan (left) and Dan Mangan (with guitar)

I recently came upon a post at chromewaves.net that reminded me how awesome it is whenever Dan Mangan and Shane Koyczan perform together. I first heard Koyczan in the fall of '08 when a friend played me a recording of his poem "My Darling Sara," and I was immediately struck by his clever and poignant lyricism. A few months later Mangan's song "The Indie Queens Are Waiting" popped up as a track of the day on CBC Radio 3, and I quickly became a huge fan. I actually included his fantastic "Road Regrets" on my recent Max Rambles Mix Tape Vol. 1.

At some point in early '09 I stumbled across a live medley of Mangan's "Not What You Think It Is" and Koyczan's "Stop Signs." Both pieces are incredible in their own right, but together they form an unforgettable and unparalleled whole. Mangan's song perfectly accentuates Koyczan's poetry and combined they're positively transcendent, and the track continues to blow me away every time I listen to it. Now I've stumbled upon a second medley of Mangan's "Tragic Turn of Events" with Koyczan's tragic "Move Pen Move," and it's every bit as powerful as the first.

Below I'm including the two medleys as downloadable MP3s, as well as Mangan's "Road Regrets" and Koyczan's "My Darling Sara." These two artists are among the very best working in Canadian today, and you'd be a fool not to check them out.

Tragic Turn of Events / Move Pen Move (Via chromewaves)
Not What You Think It Is / Stop Signs (Live) (RapidShare, click Free User)

Dan Mangan - Road Regrets (via chromewaves)
Shane Koyczan - My Darling Sara (via House of Parlance)

LOL: ThinkGeek Served Cease and Desist for Fake Product

ThinkGeek, the popular online store for original geek clothing and paraphernalia, was recently served with a cease and desist letter by the National Pork Board. The claim states that the website infringed upon the NPB's trademark on the slogan, "The Other White Meat" (umm, gross). It's true that ThinkGeek used the phrase "the new white meat" in advertising for their product, Canned Unicorn Meat. However it's also true that the Unicorn meat is a fake product launched as an April Fools day prank, and thus protected as a parody.

I'll bet the lawyer(s) at the NPB are really embarrassed right now. I would be too if I outed myself as a humourless moron in such a dramatic fashion. To celebrate this memorable occurrence ThinkGeek is offering $10 off any purchase of $40 or more until June 30, just enter the code PORKBOARD at checkout.

It's days like this that I really love the internet.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

PSA: I Get To See Pavement Today

And they're gonna play these songs:

And I will be happy. And it will be a very happy (almost) birthday for me.

Today is a great day.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Who doesn't want to be debased every now and again?" - Watching Splice

I wrote previously that I was looking forward to seeing Vincenzo Natali's Splice, but had some significant apprehensions about the film. I really enjoyed Natali's Cube and I'm curious about his upcoming adaptation of William Gibson's Neuromancer, but the marketing for Splice made me concerned it would take a frustratingly conservative stance on scientific experimentation. Having seen the movie I'm happy to report that those fears were completely unfounded, Splice was not a terrible, anti-science propaganda piece.

Instead it was just an astoundingly stupid and uncomfortable mess of a horror film.

Spoilers ahead.

Splice is ostensibly a sci-fi film, but I'm hesitant to call it that since the scientific aspects of the plot peter out about a third of the way through. The story is about two hot-shot geneticists (Adrien Brody's Clive and Sarah Polley's Elsa) who use a mixture of human and animal DNA to create a new life form they name Dren. Throughout the initial stages of their experiment the relative morality of human cloning is discussed, or at least mentioned in passing. One could argue that Splice effectively represents multiple sides on the issue by having Clive and Elsa debate it amongst themselves and with an evil corporate big-wig. Honestly though, the science and politics just aren't a real focus beyond their immediate roles in the plot. The movie is more about parenthood, if anything, and once Dren is born the focus becomes Clive and Elsa's relationship with it rather than cloning. That and creeping the fuck out of the audience.

Splice pointedly eschews rhyme or reason in a sustained effort to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible. There are numerous bizarre plot points with flimsy justifications at best. For example, Clive lets Dren curiously watch as he and Elsa have terrible, awkward sex. Apparently he's attracted to the creature because it's made using Elsa's DNA, or something? There’s also nothing in the way of character development or consistency. Elsa actually does a complete 180 personality-wise, changing from a strong, independent woman to a possessive crazy-mommy cliché. All of this results in an amorphous narrative in which the filmmakers depict weird, horrible things just to make the audience squirm. Clive decides he doesn't want to murder Dren anymore and sleeps with it instead. Sequences like this are ridiculous and don't make much sense but are extremely uncomfortable to watch, and that seems to be their primary goal.

So much of what happens in Splice is infuriatingly stupid and illogical, but it might actually be funny if the movie didn't take itself so damn seriously most of the time. The atmosphere is generally dour and tense but every now and again there are sudden winks at the camera that underscore how ludicrous the plot actually is. For example, after Clive gets caught having sex with Dren there's a priceless deadpan shot of Elsa running away from her deranged boyfriend. Such moments are clearly meant to amuse, but Splice is so generally insane that these sequences aren't always immediately discernible from ones that are just inherently ridiculous. It becomes hard to tell whether you're laughing with Splice or at it. The movie feels indecisively split between being truly horrific and comically absurd, and the result is a disconcerting viewing experience that invites far too much eye rolling.

Speaking of things that are irritating, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Splice's convoluted and misogynistic gender politics. As I mentioned earlier, Elsa is introduced as a highly-intelligent, well-balanced person who is unapologetic in her resistance to conform to gender stereotypes. But as soon as she sees Dren she becomes an increasingly unhinged control-freak, and the switch is so sudden and all-encompassing that it completely undermines her initial characterization. Splice portrays the maternal instinct like it's an inevitable mental disorder that uniformly overrides personality and logic. No matter how brilliant and ambitious they might be, each and every woman is a baby-making time-bomb just waiting to go off.  

Additionally you may have noticed that I keep referring to Dren as an 'it' instead of identifying the creature's sex. This is because one of the film's major plot points is that cloned animals are apparently prone to sudden gender reversing rebirths (wow). While this premise opens the door for a progressive depiction of fluid gender subjectivity, Splice instead resorts to traditional differentiators in its polarized portrayal(s) of Dren. As a female the creature is seductively demure but vaguely threatening, and looks like it'll kill Clive praying-mantis style at the climax of their intercourse until Elsa interrupts. After its transformation into a male Dren becomes a predictably aggressive monster, killing everything in sight and raping Elsa. Yeesh. Splice's treatment of gender stands as its greatest failure, as the promising concept is wasted on cliché depictions of a male-female binary.

Splice is not a good movie. It's got an interesting concept and is at times amusing, but more often than not it's frustrating and uncomfortable to watch. If you insist on seeing it then don't go in expecting any sort of intelligent thought on gender or scientific advancement. This film is campy horror, and not even good campy horror at that. You're better off seeing Drag Me To Hell. Or Alien. Or Species. Or anything

For further evidence check out some great reviews over at The Daily Protagitron or Danny Isn't Here, Mrs. Torrence

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cool Stuff: Remake of Citizen Kane Trailer

Kane is perhaps the only citizen who can save the newspaper industry... From the internet...

(Via /Film)

Reid Jamieson

I was listening to The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio this past Sunday when I heard Reid Jamieson for the first time. He was playing a cover of Sting's "Fields of Gold" and it was such a haunting and beautiful rendition that I was startled into attentiveness. As soon as Stuart McLean explained who was playing I instantly looked up Jamieson's website, where I found a whole bunch of MP3s available for download. They're mostly covers, and below I'm including links to a few of my favourites.

Jamieson's a Canadian alt-country singer-songwriter, so it stands to reason that I'd like his stuff. His original stuff is just as powerful as his covers, particularly his fantastic song "Rail." He's playing at the Hillside Festival this summer, which I'm hoping to go to, and he's quickly become one of my most anticipated acts. Give him a listen and enjoy.

MP3s (via reidjamieson.com):

Rail (acoustic version)
Fields of Gold (Sting cover)
Rocky Spine (Great Lake Swimmers cover)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mary Gauthier

I was recently made aware of Mary Gauthier (pronounced Go-Shay), a folk singer-songwriter from Nashville, TN. She started writing music at the age of 35 and has since put out seven albums, garnering acclaim from The New York Times, Billboard, and others. Gauthier's latest release, The Foundling, is an autobiographical concept album about her quest to find her mother, who gave her up for adoption at birth. Gauthier did find her mother but was denied a meeting (harsh), and the album details her fractured identity and feelings of abandonment and whatnot.

Gauthier's songs are extremely revelatory and introspective, and that works both to her advantage and detriment. The Foundling as a whole describes a heart-breaking story that is told with incredible passion and set to some great music, and listening to it is like reading a novel or watching a movie. The tracks don't hold up quite as well on their own, however, as they sometimes sound fragmented and overly melodramatic when stripped of their context. But Gauthier's best songs work no matter how you listen to them, such as "Drag Queens and Limousines" or the carnivalesque "Sideshow."  I particularly enjoy the sweeping "Blood is Blood." You can check out all of these songs on her MySpace, or download "Sideshow" below.

MP3: Mary Gauthier - Sideshow 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Video Game

Top 10 Reasons This Game Looks Awesome:

1. It's Scott Pilgrim!
2. It's totally old-school
3. It looks exactly like the comics, only in motion and in colour
4. The amazing 8-bit music
5. It features a level on the TTC!
6. The in-game currency is actually Canadian! I see Toonies!
7. The developers are working the telltale Scott Pilgrim humour into the game mechanics (see the guitar battle sequence)
8. The awesome Akira reference in the fight with Todd
9. 4 player online co-op
10. The buzz for the game is really positive

11. Did I mention that it's Scott freakin' Pilgrim?!

My growing excitement for the explosion of the Scott Pilgrim franchise continues unabated. Add August 10 to the list of dates when I'll be doing something decidedly Pilgrim-related.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cool Stuff: Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company

There's a sandwich shop in Toronto called the Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company, named after Wilco's 2007 album Sky Blue Sky. Every sandwich on the menu is named after a Wilco song, and since hearing about this place I've spent a lot of time listening to Wilco songs and thinking about what each of them might taste like.

It's a pretty novel idea, and as soon as I heard about the place I knew that I needed to try the "One Wing" and/or the "Side With The Seeds." This gimmick puts me in the strange position of ranking my desire for sandwiches based on both their ingredients and also how much I enjoy songs that really have nothing to do with food. For example, a Pitchfork news post about the shop describes the "California Stars," which is unfortunately no longer featured. Unfortunate not because the sandwich sounds tasty, but because I love that song, and thus want to eat it. This seems to be some new and strange horizon for musical appreciation and I for one fully support it.

Last night a friend and I visited the cafe for the first time, and I can say that the sandwiches are awesome as well as cleverly named. On the proprietor's recommendation I decided against the "Side With The Seeds" and instead had the "Wishful Thinking." Not because I liked the second song more than the first (quite the contrary), but because I have more of a penchant for mushrooms than tomatoes. Seems this really is about the food first and foremost after all. Go figure. My friend had the "Via Chicago" and it was, in a word, scrumptious. In addition to the fantastic food the cafe featured an incredible atmosphere, with Wilco tour posters adorning the walls and tasteful music playing on the stereo. The staff were also incredibly friendly, offering the aforementioned helpful recommendations as well as good conversation about nature of running a sandwich shop. All in all it was a great visit, and I look forward to many more in the coming months.

If you are in the Toronto area and like food and/or Wilco then I strongly recommend you check out the Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company. Come for the novelty, stay for the amazing sandwiches. Just don't ask for Wilco The Sandwich.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vincenzo Natali Adapting Neuromancer

/Film reported the news a while back, but there's now official confirmation that Splice director Vincenzo Natali will direct a film adaptation of William Gibson's Neuromancer.

I have a serious affinity for Neuromancer, and to be honest the fact that Natali will be directing it accounts for like half of my excitement for Splice. I'm still excited to see Splice on its own merits (though with some significant apprehensions), but I'll be unusually suspicious of the directorial talents on display. If someone is going to make a film adaptation of Neuromancer they better be on their fucking game, and Natali still has everything to prove as far as I'm concerned.

A while back I asked whether or not a cultural product can be so influential as to render itself irrelevant for adaptation; I used Neuromancer as an example of a book that has not been adapted into a major film but has nevertheless made a serious impact on contemporary cinema by inspiring more popular movies, particularly The Matrix. In a recent interview with /Film's David Chen, Natali specifically addressed how his adaptation will negotiate the significant cultural weight of The Matrix in adapting Neuromancer. I'm including the relevant section of the interview here, but you should really check out /Film for the full piece, there's both video and text available and it's a great interview. Natali clearly has a lot of passion, time will tell whether or not he has the competence to match it.

On making Neuromancer in a post-Matrix world, he says:

“For me, it’s a story of redemption, if you want to get down to the core element of it. I think in terms of how you approach Neuromancer now, post-Matrix, post-all the other films that have poached from it, in the 21st century (because the book was written in 1984), I think you have to take those things and use them to your advantage, because what they give you, what The Matrix, for instance, gives you is the opportunity to make Neuromancer in a culture that is already aware of what The Matrix is. I mean, the very word “matrix” is in Neuromancer. It was borrowed by the Wachowski brothers for their film. I think that’s a good thing, because I don’t even know how someone would have been able to make that film 10 years ago or 15 years ago, because it’s so abstract. I don’t even know how people understood the book when it first came out. I think I read it in the late 1980s, but in 1984, how would people even understand it, because it was just so far ahead of the curve?

I think when you read it now, it still feels very relevant, maybe in some ways more relevant, because so much of what it predicted has come to pass. And therefore, my approach to it would be to be very realistic. I think The Matrix is a wonderful film, but it absolutely takes place in a comic book universe…everything about it, in the best possible way mind you, but really I think it’s a very heightened reality..."

Splice: Expectation and Apprehension

Splice opened in theatres last Friday and I'm going to see it later today. I first heard about the movie back in January when the /Film.com guys were covering the Sundance film festival. I was immediately intrigued since the movie got great reviews and was essentially billed as a contemporary re-envisioning of Frankenstein, one of my favourite novels. Since then I've been patiently waiting for Splice's release, but in the last few months the marketing push for the film has started to worry me:

The trailer above shows that Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley use human DNA to create a new life form that eventually gets out of control. All that is fine and dandy and sounds like it could make for a solid horror film, but I'm concerned about the angle the film seems to be taking on this type of experiment. The trailer openly discusses contemporary legislation and debate about the use of human DNA, and shows that the scientific protagonists are blazing a trail regardless of whether or not the powers that be allow it. Despite that setup Brody's character appears to be a mouthpiece for the conservative right who tries to kill the new creature and melodramatically calls it "a mistake." When things take a turn for the horrible the trailer seems to vindicate this perspective and broadcast the "moral" to the audience that "science is bad!"

I've mentioned recently that I'm getting really sick of primitivism and conservatism in my mainstream movies. Yes they're popcorn flicks but dammit I want to empathize with the characters and feel that my upper-middle class perspective is represented! I want my popular entertainment to promote a culture of liberalism and open-mindedness, not regressive conservative doctrine. Admittedly a contemporary Frankenstein isn't exactly the best site for progressive politics (modern Prometheus much?), but it's possible for movies to show experiments going horrifically awry without implying that it's intrinsically wrong to explore new scientific territory.

I don't know that Splice berates the use of cloning technologies or experimentation with human DNA, but judging by the trailers it certainly looks that way. I'm still going to see the film because it looks like an interesting cross between Alien and Species, but I'm going in with my guard up. I'll do a follow-up post saying whether or not Splice is more intelligent than it looks, but right now I'm not hopeful. Fingers crossed that I'm wrong.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Movies I Love: Road House

I was watching Point Break this past weekend when I came to a startling realization. I said to my friends, "This movie is great, but (with the exception of the scene where Patrick Swayze throws a dog at Keanu Reeves) it's no Road House." When my comment was met with nothing but blank stares it suddenly dawned on me that many of the people I care about most have not seen the1989 classic, Road House.

I consider this to be a tragedy of epic proportions. Road House is one of the best action movies of the late '80s, and everyone who appreciates that kind of cinema should see it and love it. I am dedicating this post to spreading the gospel of this incredible and hilarious movie, and trust me when I say that you are seriously missing out if you haven't experienced it for yourself.

Road House stars Patrick Swayze as Dalton, a professional bouncer who is hired to clean up a seedy roadside bar in small town Missouri. He ends up defending the locals from a corrupt businessman who rules the town with an iron fist and a private army of thugs. In the process Swazye beats the piss out of a ton of dudes and picks up the local doctor (Kelly Lynch) with the line, "Pain don't hurt." He also calls out to his bouncer-mentor (the amazing Sam Elliot) to help decimate the local bad guy population. Oh, and did I mention that the movie features Jeff Healey as the house act at the bar where Swayze works?

Road House is an outstanding and unique entity in the history of cinema. It's absurd like Point Break but tongue-in-cheek like Commando, and just as fantastic and action-packed as both those movies. You really owe it to yourself to see it if you have a sense of humour and/or a pulse. I too was skeptical when it was first thrust upon me but then I saw the light, and each person with whom I have shared the film has agreed: Road House is awesome.

If you need any further convincing to see it then I'll just add that the movie's tag-line is, "The dancing's over. Now it gets dirty." 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Bechdel Test

A recent post at /Film alerted me to the existence of the Bechdel Test, and I must say it really got me thinking. First described in Alison Bechdel's 1985 Dykes To Watch Out For comic strip (below), the test exposes a disturbing trend in mainstream cinema. The test asks three simple questions of any given movie:

1. Are there at least two female characters in the film?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. Do they talk about something other than men?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then the movie fails the test, and you can check out Bechdel Test.com for a surprising list of films that do and do not pass. It's disheartening to see that such a limited portrayal of women is so prevalent, and that so many good movies perpetuate it. Worse than that it's difficult to admit that the test is still so effective and relevant after 25 years.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Max Rambles Mixtape Vol. 1

I love playlists. They're great for road trips and bike rides, and a ton of fun to make. As High Fidelity taught us, there's a subtle artistry to creating the perfect melange of tunes and it requires that you listen to a lot good music. What's not to like? A friend and blogosphere compatriot recently posted an excellent mixtape and it made me think, "Why not do the same on my blog?"

So with that in mind I present to you the Max Rambles Mixtape Vol. 1, a collection of things I've been listening to lately and that seemed to fit together nicely. The track list is as follows:

Analogue - Tim Gilbertson
Devils & Dust - Bruce Springsteen
Wicked and Weird - Buck 65
Change of Time - Josh Ritter
The Dress Song - Jack Marks
Chasing Heather Crazy - Guided By Voices
Random Rules - Silver Jews
New Drink For The Old Drunk - Crooked Fingers
Far Away - José González
What Are You Willing To Lose? - Lucero
Small Definition - Superchunk
Shadow People - Dr. Dog
Toronto - Matty Powell
Road Regrets - Dan Mangan

Visit RapidShare to download the mix (click on the "free user" button under the speedometer on the right and wait about a minute then click on the download link). I don't promise that there will be more of this kind of thing, though it does seem probable. For more awesome tunes check out the aforementioned murder tapes or visit Beyond The Wall of Sleep (I particularly liked their Alt Country Revisited mix). 

Enjoy and lemme know what you think or if you have any recommendations!

Friday, June 4, 2010

moot TED Discussion

4chan founder moot's TED talk is now available online, and you should watch it. It's a fantastic history lesson for those who don't know about 4chan or the significant influence its had on the internet and popular culture. moot also gets a chance to discuss his vision and defend the anonymity that is written into the structure of 4chan. It's a really interesting talk and well worth watching if you're at all interested in technology and culture.

LOL: The Motherfucking Pterodactyl

I don't typically use the internet-speak term "lol," but this comic made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Like, a real guttural chuckle that rose up into and out of my throat and nearly shook me from my chair. I couldn't not share this hilarious Pterodactyl comic from TheOatMeal.com, a site I've recently become aware and a fan of. I strongly suggest you check it out, if only to discover the meaning of the ridiculous image above. Their semicolon use comic is worth a look too.