Saturday, January 23, 2010

Are you Jake Sully?

Just came back from the biggest movie of the year, maybe of the 21st Century, Avatar, and ultimately BIG DEAL. SO WHAT?

But am I kidding?
Or kidding myself?

With the exception of a few cornball script moments, this film was absolutely spectacular. A visual feast of colors, creatures, and ideals played to our packed theater and you know, it was the strangest thing; NO one talked, NO babies were around screaming, NO iphones were texted on. Even during the quietest moments of the picture, people were actually doing what the friendly neighborhood voice over asked us to do before the movie started. Silence your cellphones, no talking, take the whiner into the hall. The feature is a dazzling, larger than life epic, and YES, overwrought with message. This isn't the first time Hollywood has given us messages, and I can name a few but won't, but the clear message here is Environmentalism.

I don't have to mention the plot, YES, it has been compared with Dances with Wolves but I swear I also saw elements of A Bug's Life. Also in the message mix is a swirl of combo punches about indigenous people, endangered species, colonialism, industrialism, the list goes on but makes a coherent enough stew of meaning. (spoiler alert) There are clearly haunting, touching, moments in the film; like when our wheel-chaired marine first gets his avatar body and he RUNS like Forrest Gump across the fields of Pandora, the saddened scene of the Chief Scientist (Sigourney Weaver) not being able to BrendleFly with her avatar to save her life, the completely obvious (and gut wrenching) 9-11 moment when the Big Tree gets destroyed and topples like the Twin Towers, complete with aftermath of the horror stricken survivors you would swear were on the street of New York City that day. SERIOUSLY. It is just a movie that tugs at you with meaning and significance, just as it was intended.

I mean, think about it in relation to our planet. Al Gore aside, we ARE of nature, we are part of it, why are we so stubborn to do the right things to protect it?
Industrialism and Capitalism has really fucked us up faster than the Bible or any other religion. We are killing our earth. Yeah yeah, I KNOW, sucks right! (I always think of the Carlin bit on the Earth is fine, it's the people you are concerned about!) And the hypocrisy ain't helping either. Maybe if we all just helped a little, but more importantly, maybe the corporate dogheads we suck nectar from need to take a little more responsibility since they take the biggest piece of pie. Clean up, take what the scientists are telling us seriously. I digress because we all know what needs to get done in order to turn things around.

I can actually get behind the movie's message here, I completely and unequivocally AGREE with this movie's message, totally, great, YES WE CAN! All that...but

The question is will we?
The other question is, will this movie change anyone?
Are you Jake Skully?

Sure, the message is great, but can a movie from Hollywood change the way humans think enough to create action? I wrote a crappy little novel a few years ago that addressed this subject, but it involved people who could MAKE PEOPLE do things because they had these special powers. So they were going to DC to become lobbyists. One of the issues these characters were going to have to deal with in spreading the message of the "new way" was to infiltrate the media with information that would be pleasing to the masses. This was written before the internet exploded into a missive of splinter groups where you could get any information online to support your point of view, whether it was true or not.

Avatar will probably surpass all the movies in history at the box office, millions and millions will see it. Money money money money money money! Where will all this money go? Is there some kind of point share that will go to helping Haiti maybe? I mean Hollywood completely CARED about what was going on enough at the Golden Globes to talk about caring, I wonder if something could actually get DONE? I know, a lot of investors need to get their 5th house in the islands jones taken care of first, but then what?

I paid 20 bucks for my kid and I to go and get the funny 3D glasses and be enamored with the spectacle, I'll admit that, but is this movie's message sincere in the intent or is it merely pandering to my NOW concerns of the guilt and terror of a dead world future?

It just seems these days that the new industry is the Pander Industry. Whether it be the dreams of Obama giving us the Change we need (in a bumper sticker) to the conveniences of fresh food from a farmer's market, to the easy to operate my Digital Converter box for my rabbit ears on the television because we won't get cable, it seems we're still skipping along to the same old beat. Well, maybe not us on a LOCAL level, it seems we can do that (for whatever motivation we do it for, selfish or otherwise), but what we see in our day to day life is NOT what is happening with the powers that be. How's that health care coming? How's that off shore drilling coming along? How about that new nuclear power facility in your backyard? Oh sure, totally safe because we tell you it is, here, have another techno gizzy to purchase to get jizzy online with your buddies with.

Yeah yeah yeah, we are all guilty, it's just a question of your level of hypocrisy in this day and age, but when is something going to be done from the TOP DOWN? Hollywood is not the only target, let's take aim on the banks and the oil barons and the military industry too.

So okay, yes, this movie made me think, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to any and everyone. Spectacular, worthy of film discussion, although probably too heavy handed and transparent for film snobs, but a great afternoon. Will it change the world? It would be nice to think so, but I doubt it. After all, it is just a movie. And I am just a guy that likes to go to Mekong and drink a beer with my wife and friends. But as my enthusiastic kid and I were walking out of the theater, staying for the credits because damn, they needed to be recognized, I realized the greatest irony in watching this film: the 3d Glasses were not recyclable.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Best Music of 2009 - My picks of the Musical Litter

I do a little radio show on WRIR 97.3 called the Friday Breakfast Blend. It's every Friday 6-8am. Here are my picks of the 2009 Musical Litter. No runts, all healthy and worth your time!


Favorite Live Show:
Shonen Knife
@ the Plaza Bowl (w. Hot Lava, Jeff the Brotherhood and Hex Machine)

Wow! So yeah yeah yeah, Shonen Knife is classic punk from the 80s on; I was never really much into them besides a few albums. BUT, I do so love bands from Japan, plus also them being punk and classic, I felt the obligation, and was curious to see a band that has been around so long live. After seeing the great local acts Hot Lava & Hex Machine, as well as the fantastic two piece Jeff the Brotherhood, SK took the stage in modest and matching outfit fashion. So tiny and cute, worrying they would get crushed by the crowded of fun-lovingly drunk Richmonders and creepy dudes with cameras, and then DAMN! They took it and blew the crowd away. And let me tell you it was the most crowded I had ever seen the Plaza Bowl and kudos to Community Chest for bring this act to town. The Knife totally converted me that night. I was up front by guitarist Naoko Yamano with Jared (from HL) and some poot butt gal in mock Asian wig drunk as a skunk. She eventually lost her top in a crowd surf. Shonen Knife played their power chord songs, classic and new (they have been constantly going at it for over 25 years now!) and even brought out the old drummer (and sister to Naoko) Atsuko to do a classic Fruits & Vegetables. Here are a couple of the songs they played that night, Jared & I split the play list and to quote SN: Richmond is very ROCK!

Brighton Port Authority
I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat
(Southern Fried Records)

Norman Cook, who is better known as Fatboy Slim, creates a diverse album with a host of great and interesting singers, etc. This a terrific collaboration, and one of my favorites of 2009. Starting off with Iggy Pop covering The Monochrome Set’s “He’s Frank” with quirky and a luster that oozes irony and sentiment. Catchphrases of songs you may have heard before be it riff or otherwise really sets the pace of the album. Musical catchphrase redefined in the Fatboy way. You will hum and sing along to the Cd. It jumps the fence like a toad featuring Connan Mockasin is a true booty shaker and repetitive mantra. Or the touching emotional warmth of the song Seattle with Emmy the Great pouring out the lyrics of America in a memorable and quite beautiful way. And then the first song ever by the BPA makes it’s way on here, Toejam, featuring David Byrne (cussing!) and a rap by Dizzee Rascal, fun and funny. An album worthy of party background as well as car cruising.

Luminescent Orchestrii
Neptune’s Daughter
(Nine Mile Records)

Wow, talk about feeling the gypsy roots. Luminescent Orchestrii starts their Neptune’s Daughter like gypsies entering a new town with a traditional tune amped in folk punk style, Moldavanian. They are clearly ready to con you with their sexy dirty danceable music. They are like circus musicians tantalizing you with the sauce, the elixir of another, older, mystical world. With Romanian melodies infused with exuberance and hints of funk and jazz in there too. Kombucha Monster . You really can’t go wrong with this one, especially with one of the naughtiest songs you could every play on the air, Nasty Tasty. A true theme and perhaps a classic they will be mostly known for, at least in these parts! Luminescent Orchestrii has a great way of combining the vibe of traditional Gypsy music with modern elements, fervor and style, and one of the best of 2009.

and now......


Future of the Left
Travels with myself and Another

Loud? Yes, indeed. A lot of strained screams and “yeah”s? Certainly. Dismissible? Hell no! One of the best bands out of the UK with their follow-up to their debut “Curses”, is one of the most vignettes of character oriented albums I have ever heard. Plus it just plain kicks you in the pants. Aggressive, curt in tone and a real scathing of all things, complete with a kind of pirate drunken swagger that will make you want to join in. Right when you think the spiral of wall of sound will never stop, they go all booty shake on you. One of the great, albeit quick tunes that grab you right away is “Stand by your Manatee”, a creative romp of a tune, literate and funny. (play) You find a dead guy and his letter, yet the issue you have with it is the grammer? Funny, dark, poignant. Another example of high brown lyric writing meshing with all out loud rock is “The Hope that House Built”, a political social statement as despairing as you could be, but with a clever bit of humor a la Clash or something. Another song that can’t really be played on the air, but should be heard is “You need satan more than he needs you”, with lyrics like “Yeah sure Satan rules but that doesn’t mean I can’t be practical”. Funny, ironic, a kind of poke fun at part time evilarians, I suppose. Or how evil am I holding the diapers of my child at a walmart or something. Yin/Post-Yin, is an all out assault on the absurdities of men and should be in every home to humble and align human condition positions. This record is saying something, and you should listen.


The Molice
Doctor Ray
(Velour Voice)

Okay, so this was release in Japan at the end of last year, however, stateside had yet to see it till a few months ago. The first three songs on the album set the vibe, a hook in the lip and you will be reeled in. Take “Headphone”, gets kind of funky, definitely rocks, and a little bit of singalong-ability. This album is a quintessential pop album and must have for anyone. It is as much about the discovery of how great this band as it is about the music itself. The first one that got me into them I found their video for “Ms. Panic”, cool and sleek. Catchy tunes, immediately hooked into your eardrum. But then something else happens. Layers. Take the opening track, “White Vertigo”. Sure, you can bop your head around to the basic beat, then listen to the bass, the guitar on the backbeat, the male vocals that back Rinko and follow you to the end. Much like The Pixies redefined “pop” in the 90s in the US, The Molice have taken J-Pop back from its cloying, often annoying sugariness and made it into a rawer, more creative and interesting sound. Whether it be the seemingly sweet sound turned noisefest of Dear Change, or the straight ahead groove of Hole, there a lots of songs to love. Best pop-rock cd of the year.


Mahala Rai Banda
Ghetto Blasters
(Asphalt-Tango Records)

This is a band truly to behold. The band name means “Noble Band from the Ghetto” just to let you know. Clejani musician Aurel Ionita has gathered a group of players from the Gypsy villages and Bucharest ghettos and mashed an array of delectable styles in an cd worth leaving in the player for a long time. Whether it be Ionita mumbling along emphatically to the horn lines in “Nu Mai Beau” or the emotional groove of the rhythm section at the end of “Avante Me Fante”, there is never a dull moment with Ghetto Blasters. You get a real sense of the musical skill and frolicking int eh streets king of fun with this. The horn section is about as tight as you can get, one of the tightest I have heard from a Balkan style band, take “ Zuki Zuki “ or “Ding Deng Dong” as just two examples of it. One of the greatest things about this album is the sense that you are right *there* and with them, enthralled in their energy, drinking the wine with them; that comes across perfectly here. This cd is musical craftsmanship and jam ability from the Romanian ghettoes and Balkanized for your entertainment. Not likely to be beat. Ghetto Blasters is a sound and solid album though and through, pure enjoyment, pure Gypsy party with this and the best world cd of the year.


Color Kittens

Named from the Margaret Wise Brown childrens book, this band is anything but childish…well, okay maybe they don’t want to take out the Trash …. This band brings the garage blues punk flavor straight forward and makes the shoulders and head flail. They work hard as hell too, being show whores and you hafta love them for it. Need a band to play? Chances are, they’ll do it. And do it well! My band Splork played with them at Plaza Bowl last year, and while it wasn’t as packed a show as say…Shonen Knife, they played it out like it was a crowded house. And when we played, they were just as crazy for us as we were with them. Locals of the year, Color Kittens, meowing at a club near you, see them!