I may normally just assume this is an incontestable fact but I will state it nevertheless; 2010 was a wretched year for music. Whether it was the flashy suits in corporate mainstream on down to the underbelly of the underground, there was a significant drought of quality music. This is very worrisome as it’s a growing trend year to year. You can blame the economy but I blame motivation. A majority of this Top 10 list are great albums; though some would simply not make the cut without such an indisposed competition.
10. Hillstomp – Darker the Night
What better way to start than with such a unique album such as this. Shoved back in the desolate forests of Oregon; Hillstomp showcases an album with high adrenaline finger-plucking banjos, gritty country blues guitar sprawls and all with a wicked backwoods twang. The menacing bell tones of “Hammer Ring” begins this strange album with the redneck refrain “Banjo Song #1” followed closely behind. The album gets a true ‘giddy up’ when the greasy guitar slides of “Cardiac Arrest in D Minor” arrive. For local enthusiasts, this song will bring reminiscence to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and their high octane blues explosion. Hillstomp display their sense of humor, even if in a morbid way, with the murder inspired “Cold Dark Woods”. “Up Here” and “Old Plank Road” brings the browbeaten tone to a methodical pace, channeling the New York based band O’Death. While not all songs are solid, the band makes up deeply in the originality category. Almost nobody plays music like this, which makes it that harder to define. Hillbilly stoner rock? Psychobilly? Give a listen and you decide.
9. Street Sweeper Social Club – Ghetto Blaster EP
Yeah yeah, it’s an EP but believe me, it belongs on this list. Fronted by The Coup’s vocalist Boots Riley and Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist Tom Morello, SSSC is a misconstrued collaboration. Yes, it does sound eerily similar to RATM but you must calculate that Morello’s infamous guitar riffs and effects create the ambience of RATM and SSSC. That’s like saying Jack White sounds too much like White Stripes on a Raconteurs record. That is their sound! Boots Riley is no replacement for Zach de la Rocha and doesn’t try to be. “The New Fuck You” is as timidly revolutionary as SSSC gets. “Scars” shows Riley doesn’t take himself too seriously and can have fun with songs (unlike Zach) with lyrics like “The rubber on my sneakers used to flap when walkin’, It looked like two little muppets talkin’”. If that doesn’t win you over, check out the two re-imagined covers; M.I.A. “Paper Planes” and LL Cool J “Momma Said Knock You Out”.
8. Fireball Ministry – Fireball Ministry
With Fireball Ministry’s 2010 self titled release, it may be their most approachable record to date. Considering this band thrived on their underground status with only a few appearances on the mainstream (video games), this is kind of a big deal. It’s hard to compare this album with “Ou Est La Rock” and “The Second Great Awakening” that main-lined their core audience that craved their 70’s era acid rock. “Their Rock is Not Our Rock” was a hint of a feared underground betrayal but songs like “Thought It Out” and “Kick Back” on the new album take their sound even closer to the surface. That doesn’t mean the old faithful Fireball Ministry are subdued. The opener “Hard Lines” and “Followed by a Fall” changes very little from the sludgy guitar licks and furious percussions we have grown accustom. The standout track is “Butcher, Faker, Policy Maker” with its very poignant lyrics that creates a modern relatable atmosphere. Fireball Ministry may have a troubling trend to some on its recent records but its self titled release contains enough of their signature sound of Sabbath-soaked guitar styling’s and the piecing euphonic voice of lead singer James A. Rotta II to get them by this time.
7. Robert Plant – Band of Joy
Raising Sand, Robert Plant’s collaboration with country songstress Alison Krauss, had seemed to awaken this road torn soul. From Led Zeppelin sex god to down beaten bluegrass vocalist; that is a hell of a transition. As admired as Led Zeppelin is, it’s easy to misplace that this was over 30 years ago. “Angel Dance” is a fun and lighthearted song while the cover “You Can’t Buy Me Love” displays Plant’s halfhearted (or not) attempt to resurrect his signature vocals. Though songs like “Silver Rider” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” brings a solemn tone to a record that is overall tender and soothing to the ear. Plant doesn’t sing like he once did and I believe he realizes this. This transformation was maybe more out of necessity but it is still welcome.
6. Hollerado – Record in a Bag
After seeing Hollerado live and in person recently as a total fluke coincidence, I have come to the conclusion that their debut album Record in a Bag is a good representation of this bunch from Manotick, Ontario. It’s a fun, simple and down to earth record that will always leave you with a good mood. “Do the doot da doot doo” launches the record with its contagious guitar riffs and chorus that is the epiphany of this power pop album. “Fake Drugs” is a light hearted take on the desperation of ingesting prosthetic substitutes. “Americanarama” is a sarcastic view of America with dry Canadian humor that Hollerado definitely contains. This album sounds like it was recorded in a basement or bathroom; all the while you can hear cheers and random comments of friendly spectators at the end of certain tracks. In an era of over-produced albums, Hollerado was able to create an intimate and unpretentious record. Not bad, ay?
5. Spoon – Transference
Upon first listen, there’s nothing all that shocking here on Transference, Spoon’s seventh studio album. First thought is, “Hmm…sounds like another Spoon album.” Though that’s far from a bad thing! Spoon as a unit are consistent in their sound though that same consistency in quality makes every Spoon album dodge the pitfalls of redundancy. “Before Destruction” has the ragged acoustic guitars and kinetic beats of a snare with true pop gloss that only Spoon could display with its signature tight production values. Britt Daniel’s shuddering voice transcends on tracks “Written in Reverse” and “Nobody Gets Me but You.” The true breakthrough performance is the hypnotic bass playing of Rob Pope. On tracks “The Mystery Zone” and “Got Nuffin”, Pope sends us into an unsettling trance on his shifting rhythms that form the backdrop of these and many other songs. Just like Spoon, the beats are simple yet nimble. It seems with “Who Makes Your Money” and intertwined within multiple tracks with Transference, there seems to be more wobbly synth and other technological trickery in place of an ensemble of a classic collaboration of music instruments. Outside of production, there is little to distinguish this among other Spoon albums. A lot can be said for a band, even if in baby steps, attempting to mold itself away from its Pixie-pop roots. After more listens, I can’t help but feel that Transference is a calculated preparation in a different direction. This may be in the best interest of Spoon as their music is much more intriguing when it is much harder to fathom.
4. The Cocaine Wolves – Royal Feast
The Cocaine Wolves are a local Indianapolis treat for 3 years or more. I remember the first time I saw them at The Melody Inn, opening for Devil to Pay. They immediately thrashed into the face melting guitar solos of “Live Right, Live Tight”; followed closely by was their best song in my opinion, the whiskey laden riffs of “Snatching Death (From the Jaws of Life)”. I was blown away as they (literally) rocked the stage. I could see their beers on their Orange Amps bristling back and forth, spewing mounds and mounds of Bud Light into the cabinets. Afterwards, I ran up to the lead singer, known as “Mr. Steak”, and asked, “Do you have a CD?” He glared at me and giggled, “Um…not yet, man.” That was 3 years ago. I ran into them again coincidently at Zanies II a year and a half ago and asked the same question and got the same answer! I was dumbfounded that these guys never could AT LEAST put a tape recorder in the back of a room somewhere to have some form of merchandise. When I heard “Royal Feast”, I won’t go so far and say it was worth the wait but they sounded better in a studio setting, most notably with “Mr. Steak’s” vocals. For those who are already fans, the sarcastic fist pumping anthems are nothing new, but maybe the band knew something we didn’t by waiting this long. Somewhere “Judas Priest” and “Black Flag” are raising a glass.
3. The Quick and Easy Boys – Red Light Rabbit
I first heard of The Quick and Easy Boys thanks to Zaptown here when I was asked to do an interview/live review. This great band played a jubilant set on an unfortunately dismal night at The Melody Inn on the Westside of Indianapolis. I picked up Red Light Rabbit and found the album almost encompasses the hillbilly funk frenzy of their live shows. I say almost because not much could access with their live performance that night. Without rewriting what I already wrote on their music in my last article, this album is a great representation of The Quick and Easy Boys. It’s flamboyant, it’s fun and best of all; it’s still one of the top spinners in my car’s always sporadic CD player after all this time.
2. The Black Keys – Brothers
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys will be remembered for returning music back to the basics. Only The White Stripes could be in similar conversation in successfully recreating that vintage sound. Brothers is less of the personal relationship of Auerbach and Carney but more a revelation of their musical connection. The opener “Everlasting Light” has a classic feel with kick drum in full effect and Auerbach’s sly falsettos accompanying the chorus. Speaking of clever chorus, “Next Girl” achieves replay value with simple yet catchy lines such as “My next girl, will be nothing like my ex girl, made mistakes back then, won’t do it again.” I’m sure “Tighten Up” has graced most eardrums at this point with its introductory captivating whistles and sleek main guitar riff that will refuse to leave your brain for weeks. Also, a good video for this song (yes, they still make those) if you find the time to look it up. The Black Keys are masters of doing so much with so little. It’s amazing what a little creativity meshed within well written songs by individualistic musicians can do; even in this artificial modern era.
1. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
Yes, that’s right, ANOTHER Jack White side project. The man is severely talented but clinically bored to continually create these sporadic endeavors. On The Dead Weather’s debut album Horehound, White largely submitted his front man duties to Kills singer Alison Mosshart. What followed was an album that was far from timid but lacked a tenacity that is a staple for a White controlled concept. On Sea of Cowards, White and Mosshart is a two-headed snake vocally while exchanging yelps, mumbles, screeches, etc. “Blue Blood Blues” lets everyone know that White refuses to remain stagnate on this record with quips like, “Check your lips at the door, woman, Shake your hips like battleships.” “Die by the Drop” is a perfect example of the compromised collaboration of White and Mosshart with the psychedelic thumping bass and effect driven treble intense wails of guitar while each singer competes to garner your attention. White can write a catchy chorus with such craftsmanship but ultimately refuses with Sea of Cowards. The album is full of curious hooks but is void of obvious standards in chorus development. With clattering drums, drowning bass thuds and fuzzed organ blurts; the driving rhythm of The Dead Weather is in the bizarre distorted flails of sound. “No Horse” is arguably the best track with Mosshart and her raspy/afflicted voice creates an ingenious flow to each verse while White and company build a marching tension that only her high pitched bellows could cut. A valuable lesson was learned on Horehound that Sea of Cowards quickly lamented into production; Jack White should never take a back seat to a project as it will only suffer. The man ideally has a quirky musical mind as is but is allowed to dig deeper with such a supporting cast of the equally inherent The Dead Weather. You may ask, why is this your number one? Other than it’s simply a great album; It’s different, even if to a fault. Sea of Cowards challenged me as a listener without snobbish exclusion and made me question the true foundations of song structure. As predictable and mundane as 2010 was, this concept is borderline revolutionary.
Something I have recently learned since attending shows at Radio Radio; never make an appearance at the time they list on the bill. Unless you plan on starting off with a dozen discounted shots or tackling a few yummy Sun King brews; it’s easily an hour or more wait time.
So here I am waiting through a lag-ridden sound check, with no one to blame but myself. Canada’s Hollerado were staggering around the stage, looking lost and anxious. Even when they were finally mounted to their instruments, their blatant lack of confidence was distracting. Lead singer Menno Versteeg made a questionable plea to a mostly indifferent crowd, “We got a lot of space up here in the front, so come join us! Um…if you want…your call.” A few oblige this request but mostly is left with eye rolls.
This awkwardness completely dissipates when they thrash into the catchy yet sarcastic “Do The Doot Da Doot Do”. On immediate reaction, gave a Finger Eleven “Paralyzer” vibe only with a power pop presence. Bassist Dean Baxter supplied funky bass line after another on songs like “Americanarama” and “Riverside”. As if their repetitive choruses and hooks weren’t enough, Hollerado themselves were the true showcases of their set. Finally, the nerves are settled and the true personalities shined. As true Canadians, they joked about hockey coaches, Canada’s version of colorful language among other randomness. Some band’s in-between song banter can be provoking at times but these guys had the crowd entertained and giggling throughout. Hollerado, whether performing or simply being social, had a fun and infectious energy about them that couldn’t be ignored.
The crowd liked them enough to demand an encore. Their enthusiasm must have traveled backstage, as the lead guitarist (Geoff Bucknam) and drummer (Nick Shuminsky) for Free Energy joined them on stage for an impromptu jam session to close out the set.
Free Energy wasted little time after Hollerado before they broke into their breakthrough single, appropriately named “Free Energy”. It was initially hard to transition the flamboyant antics of Hollerado but this was replaced with a knowledge and fondness of the band’s more popular material. It took no time for the floor to be packed. With a band that has very recently rose to its fame, they had an overly relaxed ‘been there, done that’ stage presence with lead singer Paul Sprangers leading the charge. Free Energy was destined for radio with songs like “All I Know” that has floating hooks that conjure up memories.
They played a new song off an upcoming album that could easily be mistaken for a tame Andrew W.K. minus the terrible voice renditions of Andrew W.K. himself. I was conflicted on “Bang Pop”. Even live with Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar styling, the song seems campy and hard to take seriously. Only problem is, as much as I hated myself for it, I still found myself gleefully bobbing my head back and forth. Luckily, all four members of Hollerado jumped on stage to distract me from my internal struggle. A spark was lit under Free Energy as they fanatically jumped up and down with Hollerado throughout the song’s climax. I found it pleasingly ironic that a band called Free Energy was proactively borrowing energy from another band entirely.
It was a brisk set from Free Energy. Without Hollerado, I’m sure I would have left disappointed with just an album’s worth of material to assemble. I’m sure with future albums and more road experience, both Hollerado and Free Energy will only grow from these experiences. When those times come, I’m afraid more than likely the price of admission will change and they won’t be at the approachable Radio Radio. Let’s just hope that’s all that changes with these guys.
Portland Oregon is undoubtedly the quintessential breeding grounds of indie rock. Band after band it seems; develop in the murky ports of this liberal yet humble community. Little Beirut follows suit and is considered a standout in an over-abundance of bands in the dense area. Their music invoking the west coast winds by lifting you above the clouds, swaying back and forth to the melodies but is largely unobtrusive.
Little Beirut, named after George HW Bush’s sour description of Portland while being protested during a visit, are far from complicated but that is by design. As lead singer Hamilton Sims explains, “We are not advant garde, we’re not trying to weird you out.” Fear of Heaven begins with arguably the standout track within the distorted dreamscape of “Last Light”. With the hypnotic bass lines and Sims’ seductive voice, Little Beirut keeps you toe-tapping with melodies that will be feasting on your consciousness beyond the closure of the album. Songs like “Cosmic Waitress” and “Nadia” displays the core of Fear of Heaven. There is deep appreciation and affection for power pop, but Little Beirut walks a fine line of rationing a dose intermittingly without becoming too rich for the audience. Though don’t be confused by the overused term and varied spectrums of the word ‘pop’. It leaves more than enough mystery and craftsmanship to avoid radio’s predictable pop stranglehold.
Fear of Heaven becomes stagnant over time, which is a pitfall to be expected with each dreamy track after another. The ambience turns more soothing and timid at the expense of dreadfully losing any edge by the time “Crooked Crown” closes us out. Overall, Fear of Heaven is a pleasing listen considering the circumstances. It’s unadulterated yet far from jagged in almost every aspect of production; but somehow it escaped with the bewildering paradox of pop eloquence.
Listening to Ozomatli’s “Fire Away”, I couldn’t help but remember vacationing in Cartagena, Colombia. In the heart of the elegant old city centre, in the bar “Casa de Cerveza”; the band played furiously, beautiful women dancing as far as the eye could see, alcohol easily within grasp and flowing without hinder. It was summertime at its best and if Ozomatli was performing that night, the outcome would no doubt be the same.
That being said, you must remember the atmosphere involved. Here I am defrosting my windshield in the mornings to melt coated ice, staring at grey skies on a 40 degree day; predictably, I’m not feeling so festive.
Ozomatli has described their music as an embracement of the variety of culture in its home Los Angeles. With such a range, the closest term I would feel comfortable using is Latin Funk. Just like Los Angeles, “Fire Away” is an album in motion, nimble and unpredictable in terms of pace and style. “Are You Ready?” starts us off with its upbeat tempo and kinetic percussions. Even if a tad bit over the top yet jubilant, “45” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” follows closely by and continues these frat boy keg-stand anthems. “It’s Only Paper” and “Malagasy Shock” cultivate that rich 70’s era funk that is sprinkled in each danceable jam. The horn section is a pleasant welcome considering an admittedly noisy, nearly obnoxious, sound production on the album.
Before “Fire Away”, Ozomatli were well regarded as social commentators in L.A and the West Coast through their music and in the community. It is respectively quiet this time around instead focusing on their vibrant tone. This, ultimately, is a noble choice. With an album full of Spring Break party refrains, it would be regrettably forced and lost in transition beyond the faithful core.
“Fire Away” is a case of bad timing but excellent location. This album is undoubtedly reminiscent of summer. While L.A. is mostly sunny all year long, here in the Midwest in mid November, we aren’t feeling the same vibes. Not to discredit Ozomatli completely. I’m sure when June/July comes around and I have a few friends over and select beverages lying around; I could see “Fire Away” finding its way to the speakers.
“Red” is one big bitter ‘Dagnabbit!’ to a smug young generation with their fancy computers and nifty technology. The brilliant cast is nowhere near as old and ginger as they were portrayed in “Red” but consider it the AARP version of “The Expendables.” Though just like old people, the pace was tedious in spots, the humor was flat and the action was mostly nothing to be marveled. Maybe the wine theory is correct; as time went on with the charismatic cast taking over, “Red” leisurely nurtured into a moderately amusing film.
“Red” follows a prominent trend in Hollywood, as it is based off a graphic novel. The story begins oddly enough with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), labeled ‘retired and extremely dangerous’ Black Ops agent, continuously ripping up his checks for months; all for the chance to call and flirt with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). A cover up is green-lighted and Frank soon has his house raided by a multitude of hit men. Expertly, he disposes of the threat. Realizing his old crew and new love interest may be in danger, Frank hits the road.
The array of characters presented, the main crew is Frank, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren). As already mentioned, the cast is simply genius. Having a veteran troup rather than decaying one was an excellent decision of the casting director. When the movie begins with only Willis, the film seems deceivingly vacant. Even when Freeman enters, there seems to be something missing. By the time Malkovich appears as the drug laden, paranoid schizophrenic Marvin, the puzzle takes shape. Malkovich is far from a consciously deep character as he is admittedly familiar with portraying. Instead, he is a driven though loveable mad man. He never lets Marvin, even in his outlandish antics, go too far from the character’s core to make us indifferent to his theories. Helen Mirren was the cherry on top. She has such an confident presence and gave Victoria an elegant poise about her. Only Mirren with her charming attributes can make firing a machine gun look so classy and refined.
The true downfall of “Red” is the script and screenplay. Written by Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Whiteout”), they decide to dodge tackling the complexities of the graphic novel to keep the mood light and predictable. All the while, injecting the eye-rolling one-liners and watered down subtle action sequences. Followed very closely is the passive directing by Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”). Schwentke’s lack of familiarity with the direction of action was apparent on certain scenes. There seemed to be no coherent flow, jagged at best. Casting Director Lisa Zagoria literally saved this film from the trenches and should get full credit.
This was an actor’s showcase. Without their inspired performances on an otherwise uninspiring production, this would be an unbearable disaster. Even with its initial radiating faults, give “Red” some time, it gets better with age.
Mixed emotions may arise when hearing the genre term ‘Progressive Folk Rock’. It’s just a passive aggressive and politically correct excuse from labeling it what it truly is; ‘Glorified Hippie Music’. Sleepy Sun’s sophomore effort “Fever” encompasses the revolutionary music and inventive dreamers from that dazed generation of the 70’s. The true shame is Sleepy Sun never detached very far from the dated formula. They may want to embody the second coming of Jefferson Airplane but what they needed was the first coming of Sleepy Sun.
That is not to say the entire album was a complete bungle. Sleepy Sun have grown tremendously since their debut release “Embrace”. While the psychedelic and reverb treatment was beyond cavalier on “Embrace”, “Fever” kept the artificial aspects from dominating and displayed some true maturity in their musicianship. The explorative “Marina” starts with some bleeding guitars and breezy harmonica while vocalists Bret Constantino and Rachel Fannon segment the distortion with their complimentary yet distant voices. “Rigamaroo” continues with the spaced out vocals and balanced harmony with layered acoustic guitar to lead you on beginning of the trippy adventure. “Fever” started humble enough, it just seemed the California group lost that momentum with each dreamy track. Unfortunately, that momentum was never regained as your trek eventually went to a screeching halt.
In all honesty, this album might be appreciated more by those who achieve an ‘assist’ in these cosmic jams. For the rest of us, it will eventually make you more ready for a nap than a journey of the mind. Sleepy Sun is just like its California home; all sunshine but you will get choked up on the unbearable smoggy haze.
Rating 2 out of 5
On Dax Riggs’ second solo album, prepare for a record that will have you fooled until the last guitar strum. Whether it is Riggs himself or his erratic musical instincts, “Say Goodnight To The World” should be diagnosed with a Bi-Polar disorder. Construed within each song’s eccentric yet somber temperament, is an album’s worth of thick ghostly atmosphere. Imagine taking an aimless midnight drive on a desolate desert highway; with nothing but the dim glow of headlights to guide you.
Opening with the sludgy-blues of the title track and “I Hear Satan”, one cannot help but compare to The Black Keys with their signature soulful sensibilities. I’m sure Jeff Buckley is also a fair comparison that has been mentioned in his career. As with Buckley and The Black Keys, the song arrangements are simple in nature all while attaining a hollow vintage sound. This has been notably duplicated many, many times but rarely successfully.
Followed very closely are Riggs’ delicate wails on “Like Moonlight” and “You Were Born to Be My Gallows”, drizzled in lucid melodies, unveiling a longing soul. Think you got it all figured out right? Wrong. “Gravedirt On My Blue Suede Shoes”, “No One Will Be A Stranger” and “Let Me Be Your Cigarette” offers a catchy, dare I say, pop ambiance. With its heavy chord changes and progressive drum beats, it was very unexpected amongst the supporting cast. It provided the near perfect mixture and truly rescued the album from being excessively droning.
I commend Riggs for the calculated risk of tackling a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”. It was an interesting experiment, even if for novelty. More or less, this explains the entire album and Riggs’ willingness to think outside of box and ignore accepted trends of modern music. With its tight production encapsulating the gloss of true soul to shine bright all the while controlling the blurry dissonance; “Say Goodnight to the World” is a treat for those craving something different but strangely familiar.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Based on a graphic novel, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” appeared to flourish in the first 30 minutes with its open-ended conceptual material. Its flashy and kinetic presence, initially anyways, seems to gravitate you into this infectious nerdy universe. Part live action comic book, classic arcade video game and satire of pop culture; even if construed within its quirky sensibilities, you felt this venture would/could prevail. Then something happened; my self diagnosed A.D.D chose to ignore the virtual fluff and look for substance. The result was a plot that seemed conceitedly vacant and was mostly an uninspired effort. Though, you must remember this is coming from a 27 year old man. I’m sure your 15 year old teenager, off their Ritalin and infused with Mountain Dew will find this film…AWESOME!!!!!!
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the bass guitarist for the attention deprived band “SEX-BOB-OMB”. After a messy breakup, he begins dating a 17 year old girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). She eventually becomes obsessed with Scott and the band. Pilgrim is disinterested after he meets the (literally) girl of his dreams at a party. Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a disenchanted past and inherited Seven Evil Exes that Scott Pilgrim must now defeat if they are ever to pursue a relationship.
British film director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”) helmed this sporadic endeavor. Having never read the six volume graphic novel, it’s challenging to criticize this rendition from the source. Wright chose more to focus his attention on the eye rolling duels with retina throbbing intensity. I can only assume that more must have occurred in those volumes with some attainable substance. Wright was never dull in his direction but lost sight of reminding us why we should bother caring.
One example, just like the video game world that this film pays homage, every character has an extra life. Never do you feel a true altering threat in the cartoony fights and exaggerated/daft villains. Another would be the callous love affair between Scott and Ramona. You never witnessed a hint of unbridled passion that would conceivably dictate a reason to pursue these battles.
I believe with an engaging front man, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” may have salvaged some reminisce of a decent novelty film. The charm of Michael Cera has largely run its course. His signature subtle comedic timing is brilliant at times but his whiny indecision bridges on the edge of annoyance after a near two hours of runtime. The only film Cera tried to dodge the typecast bullet was “Youth in Revolt”, but even then, his screen time was shared 50/50 with his naïve mannerism and deadpan delivery. You never bought in that Cera was capable of being a challenge to the Seven Evil Exes. Even when he was, though nothing suggested on why, you just went along in compliance.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” made me feel old. Some would dare call it high octane and unrelenting on the visual aspect but I call it redundant and draining. By the time I reached my personal breaking point, I realized there were 4 Exes left. Ugh. If this was a true video game, I would have set my controller down and turned the system off. I know there were only a few levels left but…I’ve got my fill.
“Dinner for Schmucks” is everything most people would expect it to be but yet, it still has an endearing way to surprise you. While obviously appealing to its box office potential, “Dinner for Schmucks” still retains its comic edge, without the easy ploys and extreme gags that seems prevalent in modern comedies.
Paul Rudd plays Tim Conrad, with his now signature sarcastic straight-laced protagonist. Ambitious Tim Conrad seeks a new promotion within his company from a lowly Analyst of the private equity firm. When embraced with the opportunity, company president Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) suggests he attend a dinner with his associates. The dinner institutes the concept of a dark game; Who can bring the most gut wrenchingly bizarre, moronic person to entertain them? Whoever’s person wins, gets brownie points with Mr. Fender and could land Tim the promotion easily.
After meeting by pure coincidence, Tim meets Barry Speck, portrayed by Steve Carell, who I would suggest as being typecast if he didn’t readily execute the loveable idiot so well. After their awkward meeting and learning Barry’s unique yet disturbing hobby, Tim invites him to the dinner against his better judgment. This upsets Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) which mounts on their glaring problems. Though his intention are pure, Barry latches on to Tim in pure stalker fashion and forcefully insists on repairing the frayed relationship. I couldn’t help but flashback to a definite less creepy but just as systematically destructive Jim Carrey in “The Cable Guy”.
Jay Roach (“Austin Powers”/”Meet the Parents”) directs this novel premise from the 1998 original French film “Le Diner de Cons” (“The Dinner Game”). Roach does what he always does, assemble an intriguing cast and let your actors mold your material. Not through impromptu situations but rather through convincing your audience that nobody else could play the core of these characters more solidly.
Great comic pairings are rare. Yet, Rudd and Carell seem to clash their individual methods of comedic timing and create blundering chemistry. I knew exactly what to anticipate from each actor, as neither of these roles is a far stretch from either’s previous work. I was pleasantly impressed they could banter with each other and never lose the audience within some of the droning dialogue. The best comedians are scrutinized not on what he/she says but how he/she says it. This is where Rudd and Carell excel, in the subtle adaptation of molding their normally uninteresting characters into unbridled hilarity.
The film truly benefits from the elaborate casting of vast supporting roles of buffons. Everyone truly contributed from; Zack Galifianakis (“Hangover”), Ron Livingston (“Office Space”), Jeff Dunham (“Spark of Insanity”), etc. Apart from the main course, without these side items of laughter, I could see the audience growing tiresome of Barry’s antics and Tim’s ho-hum attitude toward his life downfall.
The climatic dinner party scene was beyond funny which displays director Jay Roach’s patience in methodically building up this comedic gem to the absolute breaking point. As “Dinner for Schmucks” occasionally stumbles over predictable plot pitfalls and bland source material, it’s largely obscured and compensated by great cast collaboration on all levels.
“What is the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.”
Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” reminds those who were possibly fretful of the director’s recent mainstream success with “The Dark Night” that yes, he is still quite clever. “Inception” has been a project near and dear to the director’s heart. During filming his breath through mind-bender “Memento”, Nolan pondered the concept of “Inception”. It took ten years for the script and especially the precise whirlwind screenplay to come together on paper. After knowing this, it makes you appreciate the creation of this vast dream scape that brings the director back to his cerebral foundation. Nolan’s reputation is intact as a visionary director as he continues on his crusade of fine cinema with his newest masterpiece.
Leo DiCaprio, never one to disappoint, plays a more straight forward role compared to his last effort “Shutter Island”. Far from a breakthrough achievement though he is still quite effective as Cobbs. I admit I am spoiled after viewing “Shutter Island” and his historic performance in the film, I couldn’t resist comparing DiCaprio’s work on the back to back films. Marion Cotillard, as Cobb’s wife Mal, also gave a commendable effort the few opportunities given to joust with DiCaprio. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy were disappointingly robotic in nature. I will give Levitt a free pass as this was in his character as the no frills, all business skilled tactician.
I fully expect The Academy Awards to be in Nolan and company’s future. Not only for consideration for Best Director but also for Best Screenplay and other notable sub-categories. All of those years of deliberation and editing this engaging story and its lucid screenplay will not (should not) be in vain. Christopher Nolan is working with his usual crew and that trust is displayed on screen. Whether using visual effects, stop motion or the exquisite set design, superficial or not, this is a group very familiar and comfortable with their breed of talent.
“Inception” is a triumph to watch and will be regarded as a progressive beginning to the new genre of the surreal thriller. Nolan will be regarded as one of the greatest storytellers of our time if he keeps riding this momentum. He absolutely gets giddy at the conclusion that his audience is challenged and doesn’t just passively sit in the theatre. There are few filmmakers taking such calculated risks with their career. “Inception” is one of those films that flourishes on repeated viewings to try to wrap your brain around the labyrinth that Nolan institutes. The ending. All I can say that is just when you think you have finally went through the entire maze emotionally intact, the true puzzle begins within.
“Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”