Friday, March 31, 2006

Float on the Steel Breeze

No matter what I do, I just can't get it out of my head.
No, not thoughts of illicit sex- I'm married and happy as a clam. No, the sights and sounds that are clamoring for space in my head are the crunchy, dulcet sounds of molten heavy metal. I don't know which of these events triggered it - reading Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City, getting hooked on Avenged Sevenfold and Lacuna Coil, or discovering the 4:56 version of Better( the Chinese Democracy demo) - but I am officially on 1989 time. And I couldn't be happier. I never thought listening to Tesla could make me so content, but I'm pleased (and somewhat embarrassed) by this unexpected development. Every time the power chords and drums kick in for "Be A Man", a huge grin spreads across my visage. Def Leppard's Adrenalize reveals new and complex shadings, Black Sabbath's first four records are criminally good- hell, even Winger sounds refreshing after a decade and a half on ice (OK, maybe not Winger). I'm kinda over the whole hip-hop thing- too much posturing and negativity for continuous listening- and grunge is a downer. I had forgotten just how much fun metal could be- probably due to the huge nostalgia rush it creates- and stand in awe at the melliflous wonder of the expertly played guitar solo.
Of course, metal has plenty of posturing as well- it's just that two decades later, it all seems so innocent. I doubt that in 2026 we'll look back at 50 Cent and see anything other than an extremely well marketed outlaw...but I could be wrong, since people wax rhapsodic over N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, and that's as old as Appetite for Destruction(Good God, is that really true?). I think this year is going to be better than average for hard rock, with the eagerly anticipated Tool record on May 2nd and Chinese Democracy later this summer ( I'll believe it when I see it). Although I already weighed in on the leaked Demos in an earlier post, I have to update my thoughts on the song called Better: it's ferocious. Not since Welcome to the Jungle has Axl's voice sounded so feral, like the archetypal wounded animal. At the 2:32 mark,the band launches into one of the hardest riffs ever, and the song takes off like a rocket, pure visceral adrenaline. Do whatever you need to do, but hear this song.
I'm going to end this post with ten absolutely essential metal masterpieces. Feel free to post yours in the comments..and remember to bang your head on the way out.

1.Volume 4-Black Sabbath
A glorious coke-induced nightmare.

2.Led Zeppelin-Physical Graffiti
Custard Pie+Sick Again+ In My Time of Dying= Genius

3.Metallica-And Justice for All
Before they got too commercial.

4.Megadeth-Rust in Peace
Shredathon maximus.

The title track is the single most vicious thing ever written about L.A.-and the most accurate.

6.Van Halen-Fair Warning
Diamond Dave and Eddie peak, and the world gasps.

7.Guns n Roses-Appetite for Destruction
Mr.Brownstone is a dead-on portrait of a junkie with a scalding solo by Slash.The rest of the album ain't bad, either.

8.Ac/Dc-Back in Black
Ooof. It's tough to pick just one record, but when pushed, I'll select this shockingly great record.

9.Tesla-Great Radio Controversy
Sacramento's best straight ahead metal band.

10.Motorhead-Rock and Roll
Lemmy may be the funniest person (and one of the smartest) in all of metal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Under the Radar

Here are some things that I have been enjoying lately that don't get a lot of press- basically, low profile gems:

Little Britain
Odd, absurdist series from England that works simultaneously as both goofy sketch comedy and devastating social critique of crumbling British Empire. Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the two stars, have created a dizzying array of familiar yet bizarre characters that both amuse and repulse in equal measure. Highly recommended, shows on BBC America Tuesdays @ 11:40 pm.

Reefer Madness - Eric Schlosser
From the author of "Fast Food Nation", this scathing investigation of pot, porn and immigrant workers shows the futility of America's drug wars, the random nature of the justice system, and the growing problem of prosecutorial power to devastating effect. Stunning.

The World Is Not A Cold Dead Place- Explosions in the Sky
Best known for the Friday Night Lights soundtrack, this Midland, Texas based instrumental post- rock group creates shimmering, emotionally charged music that recalls the best of Floyd and Radiohead, but without words. Put on the headphones and float away.

Red Eye
This better than average thriller is powered by two solid performances: Cillian Murphy( so weird as The Scarecrow in Batman Begins) and Julia-Roberts-in-waiting Rachel McAdams, who demonstrates her effortless ability to do almost anything, and do it well.

Add your picks to the comments...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St .Patricks Day

Ah, what a beautiful day to be Irish! Everyone decked out in green, corned beef and cabbage,the annual parade, people getting sick in the street, loud guys kicking the crap out of each other in bars...hmmm. Maybe I'll stay in and watch a movie instead. Here are some great Irish movies for tonight:

Waking Ned Devine
Love the old naked guy on the scooter.Great, heartwarming film.

In the Name of the Father
Daniel Day Lewis is a phenomenonal actor. Rent this and see why he is one of the all time greats.

State of Grace
Uneven film with incredible cast- Ed Harris, Gary Oldman Robin Wright and her soon to be hubby, Sean Penn- and ultracool St.Patricks Day shootout.

The Quiet Man
John Wayne classic shown every St.Paddy's day that...wait, I've never seen this film.Supposed to be real good.

A Circle of Friends
Irish chick flick with the kinda-hot-but-kinda-not Minnie Driver.

And if all those flicks are out, you can crank up these greats on yer boombox:

U2-Under the Blood Red Sky
Gloria rules this record, but it's all great.The band is the best thing to come from Dublin ever.Try not to shout "This is the Edge!' during the guitar solos. Can't be done.

Van Morrison-Astral Weeks
He's cranky, and, quite frankly, kind of a dick, but a tremendous talent.If you don't know this record, you are in for a major treat.

The Pogues-Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
Produced by Elvis Costello (real name:Declan Patrick McManus), this record is soooo Irish, it makes The Chieftains sound like polka music. Lead singer Shane McGowan is hammered through the entire album( big surprise there) and has the world's most hideous teeth. If you don't believe me, go to Google Images. I dare you.

As always, feel free to post your Irish faves in the comments.Now drink up!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

What is a guilty pleasure? Basically, it's anything mainstream that is either really cheesy and/or somewhat embarrassing and kinda uncool that, despite your better judgement, you really like or even (secretly) love. Here is a list of some of my favorites; feel free to post some of yours in the comments section.

1. Outback Steakhouse 2.99 Chopped Salad
Crunchy bacon, lettuce, bleu cheese, little vinaigrette on the side...surprisingly good.

2.Ice Age
The little creature with the acorn -the scrat- makes me laugh every time. Can't wait for the sequel this summer.

3. The O.C.
Thanks to my wife, I'm addicted. Peter Gallagher doesn't get enough credit for the job he does...he's the glue that holds that show together.

4.Math Rock
Rush, Tool, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer...if it has preposterous time signatures, I'm there.

5.Chewy Spree
The Mercedes of roll candy.My sweet tooth shows no sign of abating.

6.Avril Levigne-I'm With You
Yeah, it's sappy, but it's a great pop song with an excellent vocal by an underated performer.

7.Journey-Separate Ways
Steve Perry's schnozz and hideous wardrobe notwithstanding, this song and its accompanying video rule. I love when Perry crosses his wrists to symbolize the "chains that bind you."(See above)

8.The Surreal Life
The television equivalent of rubbernecking. The spectacle of people so desperately, nakedly in need of attention is oddly compelling.

That's it for now.Here are some of my wife's picks:
13 Going on 30
InTouch Weekly
Cheeseburger Happy Meal
Harry Potter anything
Chick Lit (Weisberger,Bushnell,Sykes,etc.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Real Story Behind The Crash Win

Crash won Best Picture at the Academy Awards last night. Most people probably think it was due to the film's impressive cast, well written screenplay and crisp direction, combined with its left- leaning theme of tolerance, long a Hollywood favorite. But they would be wrong. For Crash owes it's remarkable success to one thing, and one thing only: Actors' deep-seated love of free stuff.
When Lion's Gate Films sent out 120,000 free copies of the Crash DVD- one to every SAG member- it soothed every fragile actor's ego in ways the film company could never have imagined. Consistently snubbed by theater chains because of the sheer size of the union, SAG members have for years been denied all the cool perks afforded Academy, Directors Guild and Writer's Guild members -namely Academy screeners and complimentary admission for two to most showings of first run movies. But the Crash freebie opened every actors' eyes to a real possibility - that if Crash did in fact go on and win top honors at the SAG Awards, then next year, every other nominated film would be forced to follow suit and, consequently, give all of us long suffering wannabes free movies. How do I know this? Because literally every actor I asked in the three weeks before the SAG Awards listed that exact scenario as their rationale for voting-"If Crash wins, we'll get five films next year."
Well, to no SAG members' surprise, Crash won top honors at the SAG Awards, and in doing so, acquired some much needed momentum. Before the SAG Awards in late January, Brokeback Mountain was the prohibitive favorite, and Crash, released a good nine months earlier in April 2005, was a well received film that few people had seen. But after Crash blindsided Brokeback at the SAG Awards, everything changed. Suddenly, it seemed, there was a new kid in town, a gritty film that pulled no punches, addressed universal issues, and seemed like a viable alternative to "the gay cowboy movie,"which, secretly, a lot of actors were not thrilled with, for purely homophobic reasons. Add to this the sheer impact of 120,000 free copies in the hands of a grateful nation - many of them passed on to family and friends - and is it any wonder that in the month and change before the Oscars, the edgy ensemble drama was able to generate an incredible buzz? Crash should enjoy its win, but make no mistake-Lions Gate is responsible for one of the greatest marketing moves in movie history, one that without question netted them the Best Picture Oscar and, happily, the eternal gratitude of the working actor.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Back from Paradise

We have returned from Vieques like Nixon in '68 - tanned, rested and ready. The small island was incredibly beautiful, with wild horses roaming freely along the perfectly white talcum sands and crystal azure waters that line its flawless shores. I've been to many beaches in my life, but the ones in Vieques-particularly Red Beach- were simply perfect. The highlight of the trip was our sojourn to the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay- aptly named, I might add- at dusk to see the finest example of dinoflagellates (near- microscopic organisms that emit phosphorescent light when touched) in the known world. After wading into mucky, thoroughly revolting shallow waters (I don't know if there is such a word as gloosh, but that's what the bottom of the bay felt like), my wife Ling and I clambered into easily navigable kayaks under the moonless, star-encrusted sky and paddled into the darkness, along with thirty other intrepid and, yes, somewhat bumbling nature lovers. Once we reached the deepest part of the bay (nearly ten feet), we hitched our kayaks together in a long line and dove into the warm waters, which left long, glow-in-the-dark streaks with every paddle. You could lift your arms out of the water and watch tiny, blinking diamonds run down your arms by the dozens, so thick were the dinoflagellates. I've never tripped on acid before, but this experience seemed to be the closest thing to it without drugs. Simply incredible and highly(no pun intended) recommended. To learn about the bay, click here.