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It's Quiet... Perhaps Too Quiet

My apologies about being MIA. Without a steady flow of leaked records to fall back on, my go-to topic for regular updates has deserted me. Here’s a rundown of notable recent events, purchases, and developments.

1. Finding the double LP of Dirty Three’s Ocean Songs at Rrrecords in Lowell, MA. As much as I enjoy paying exorbitant prices for out-of-print vinyl on eBay, it’s a much bigger thrill finding a sealed copy in a physical record store for a reasonable price. I've given up on "finds" in Boston record stores, but Rrrecords seemed promising from my one visit.

2. Seeing a free screener of The Darjeeling Limited. I’m not sure how it ranks among Wes Anderson’s films at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it fares like The Life Aquatic; somewhat disappointing on first viewing, while growing steadily upon further consideration. I am a bit concerned about the difference between thematic consistency and treading water and where Anderson falls within that divide, but I think Darjeeling is different enough from his prior works (particularly in setting) to avoid being seen as a suspect. This all seems like faint praise, if praise at all, but I should reiterate that I did enjoy the film and will snap up the DVD whenever it hits shelves.

3. Buying the Folio Society edition of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman from eBay. My affections for first-edition hardcover copies of my favorite books simply won’t work with his novel, since I do not have a grand to drop, but this copy has some amazing illustrations and a much better cover design than the current Dalkey Archive paperback. As much as I like this copy, I’m glad that I didn't have to buy three more at full price within a month.

4. Seeing Bill Callahan at the Museum of Fine Arts. I may review this concert in full at a later date, but my pictures from the show are posted. If you have a chance to see him on this tour, definitely go.

5. Seeing The Narrator and Monotonix at Great Scott. The Narrator didn’t have quite as much energy as they did the last time I saw them (I have a feeling the previous night's show in Vermont was the one to attend), but "SurfJew," "All the Tired Horses," and "Breaking the Turtle" were all excellent. No "Son of Son of the Kiss of Death," but this acoustic performance makes up for it. I finally grabbed their debut seven-inch and "The Cavaliers" is a solid jam. Would you like to see some pictures of their performance? Sure, sure you would. As for Monotonix, they did not lack energy. The Israeli garage-rock band avoided the stage at all costs, opting to run around the whole of Great Scott, jumping on the bar with their highly mobile drum kit, leaping from table to table, and stretching their instrument cables to their limits. If that wasn’t enough, the singer also swung a garbage bag around and then put it on his head, drank beer out of his shoe, and seduced his guitar player. I can’t remember much about their music, but the spectacle is still fresh.

6. Hearing the Acorn’s Glory Hope Mountain. I admit to having a bit of a head start at this one since I share a fantasy hockey league with their bassist, but this Ottawa band deserves your full attention. I can’t think of any other indie folk records that have made an impression on me, but Glory Hope Mountain strikes the perfect balance between the personal and the timeless. The double vinyl is import-only at the moment, which makes it about $30 including shipping, but it’ll be hard to justify not picking up this album. They’ll tour Canada in the coming months, but a US tour should follow in early 2008.

7. Setting up the Juno documentary message board. Yeah, it is operational. I still need to apply an actual color scheme to it (and redesign the main site to match), but if you have any questions or comments about the project or just want to shoot the shit with Jon or me (since we’re the only two members at the moment), join up.

loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies

loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies documents the band’s reunion, starting slightly before the first shows and following the band until the end of the first round of touring. On the surface it seems like it should be a compelling, dramatic documentary, since Charles Thompson is getting a divorced and having a child with his new lady, Joey Santiago is having another kid that he can’t quite support with the Martinis and soundtrack work, Kim Deal is fresh out of rehab and brings Kelley Deal on tour with her, and David Lovering is a struggling magician with an ailing father. Yet these elements just underscore the reason for the reunion—$$$—with the life stories often intruding awkwardly on the film. Here’s a shot of Charles with his girlfriend’s son at the aquarium. Isn’t he a real human being? They’re all “real human beings” (a frequent term from the unilaterally gushing Amazon reviews), but their near steadfast lack of interpersonal conflict on the tour stifles most genuine conversations and conflicts. Kim’s in another bus. Joey will tell the camera about David’s growing valium problem, but won’t tell David. Charles only confronts David when it seems like his problems might derail the tour. Yes, they come off like real human beings to some extent, demystifying whatever enigmatic rock personas might have developed since the group first disbanded, but their actions are always tempered by the ultimate motive: keep the tour going, keep the shows selling out, keep making money.

The live footage is well-shot, but ultimately lacks something in comparison to the 1988 concert included on the self-titled DVD released in 2004. It’s certainly easy to get excited about seeing a band perform songs that you love and didn’t expect to see live—I enjoyed the reunion show I went to at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago—but Charles’ scream doesn’t have the same edge as before, Kim doesn’t seem quite as joyous, Joey relies more on pedals than ingenuity. If you’ve never seen any footage of them, it’ll probably be exciting, but check out the Pixies DVD first. That particular DVD also includes the documentary Gouge, which is essentially a big wet kiss from the bands they influenced, but does not include any shots of Charles Thompson with his shirt off. Choose accordingly.

Gracing My DVD Player...

I watched two recent films on Wednesday: Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s cultural satire, and Crank, a possible target of that satire. I’d heard widely different opinions about Idiocracy, ranging from those heralding its potential status as a mishandled masterpiece to cries over a monumental lack of laughs. I approached it with moderate expectations and felt rewarded, if not quite floored at this point. The nature of the film—that America in 2505 is populated by imbeciles—necessitates the repetition of many of the film’s gags. Whether it’ll age as well as Office Space or gain the same following is unclear, but it’s worth seeing. Related trivia I did not know until today: Maya Rudolph had P. T. Anderson’s baby.

When I first saw a commercial for Crank, I came up with the only conceivable pitch to studio executives: “Alright, check this one out. Let’s remake Speed, but have Jason Statham play the bus.” If nothing else, I had to see the film in order to test the accuracy of this claim. I’d hesitate to call it dead-on, since I think I had more fondness for the bus than for Statham’s character. Crank is effectively Grand Theft Auto the movie, minus the missions and set against a ticking clock. It’s absolutely bizarre when Statham’s character stumbles into ill-conceived character development midway through the film—he’s a jerk of a contract killer but awfully patient with his pothead girlfriend. It hardly compares to Domino in terms of horribly edited recent train wrecks, but I don’t think that the makers of Crank had any pretensions of greatness. It’s Speed III: The Dude. Don’t see it.

Juno Documentary Web Site

Please bookmark junodoc.com if you're at all interested in the project. If you have anything to contribute (footage, pictures, stories, etc.), e-mail jon at junodoc.com rather than any of my e-mail addresses.

Filming the Juno reunion

The trip to Seattle for the two Juno reunion shows for the KEXP Winter Benefit was absolutely exhausting, but I can confirm that those plans to record the shows blossomed into what might be called film-ish or documentary-esque. Three camera shoots of both nights? Check. Sixteen-track audio of both shows? Check. Hours of interview footage with band members past and present? Check. Immediately available product? Well, no, but...

We should have a website devoted to this project in the very near future, so if you're reading this and have footage, photos or posters of Juno you'd like to contribute, e-mail me (sebastian at newartillery.com) to get the ball rolling.

I'd like to thank Arlie Carstens, Gabe Carter, Jason Guyer, Greg Ferguson, and Jason Lajuenesse for the entire weekend.

A selection of my pictures can be seen here.

Status Check

The Juno reunion is in a week and a half. Plans are afoot to do a professional filming of this event, so if you live in Outer Mongolia and cannot make it, you may be able to catch it in a few months (years, decades, etc.).

I'm still planning on doing a year-end 2CD set, but this process has been slowed considerably by the impending doom of final papers, grading, flying to Seattle, etc., so those may have to wait until the proper perspective of 2007.

I saw Borat, The Prestige, The Fountain, and Casino Royale in theaters over the last month. Borat is ridiculously funny, but if you're already overwhelmed with catchphrases spawning from the film, it may be best to wait until that dies down. I knew I was in a race against time when someone was spouting out every line from the movie on my T ride to the theater. The Prestige (magician movie with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, not Edward Norton) exceeded my expectations. It suffers from a bit too much late recap of the plot, but on the whole succeeds in developing compelling themes and letting the viewer ruminate over them after the film ended. If it hadn't been for The Illusionist, I think the hype over this movie would be more about the means vs. the ends of obsession rather than, you know, magic. The Fountain was Aronofsky's attempt to incorporate the philosophical ruminations of Kubrick's 2001 into a movie lasting barely more than ninety minutes. As expected, it was a decidedly mixed bag. There are some beautiful shots that add to the movie, some beautiful shots that seem completely unnecessary, and some beautiful shots that you'll see over and over, but the cinematography wasn't my primary issue. The primary themes seemed somewhat transparent in retrospect, leaving me with little to chew on after the credits. If the more subtle aspects of the film (repetition of symbols, etc.) add layers to this theme (the primacy of death to the human condition), so be it, but subtlety is not Aronofsky's foremost strength as a filmmaker, so relegating the success of his film to the background elements seems self-defeating. It's a mess that I'm more than willing to sit through again, a mess that I'm glad was made, but a mess nevertheless.

Casino Royale (or Casino Roy as my ticket stub calls it) lived up to the hype as one of the best, if not the best James Bond film. It's obviously a different type of film than its predecessors in how the wink-wink, nudge-nudge style of the gadgets, sexual encounters, and action sequences is almost eliminated in favor of grit and story, but you can relive those elements on Spike TV whenever you like.

Madagascarred for Life!

It may lack the cultural cachet of Netflix, but I’ve been an on-and-off member of Blockbuster Online since last fall, and I can’t complain too much about their service or selection. (Granted, it’s not Rentertainment, but if I’ve learned anything from my time in Boston, it’s that I was completely spoiled by having Parasol Records and That’s Rentertainment in Champaign.) And though my current mix-up is the first major issue I’ve had, it’s more amusing than frustrating.

I received The Maltese Falcon late last week, opened it up a day later in anticipation of watching it, and then saw the colorful animals of Madagascar staring up at me as I pulled the DVD from its sleeve. If I’m frustrated with anything, it’s that Blockbuster didn’t send me a DVD I would ever watch, so I immediately put it back in the mail, told them that it was the wrong disc, and said I’d like to receive the film I wanted. A few days pass by (I received an additional movie in this time span) before I receive The Maltese Falcon again. It doesn’t take long for me to notice that the same sleeve typo is there (The The Maltese Falcon) and even less time for me to see those zany creatures smiling up at me from the disc. This time, understandably, I said that I would like this film removed from my queue.

Perhaps the reason why I’m more amused than frustrated by this switch is the possibility (beyond boring old human error) it suggests. Even if the studios are secretly conspiring to get everyone in America to see Madagascar, they certainly wouldn’t profit from such a ruse unless everyone runs out and purchases a new copy. Instead, it makes me think that this movie is somehow a cultural necessity like Schindler’s List, a necessary part of our national character. I could do a textual reading of the film in this capacity, but again, I have not and will not see it. Am I making a horrible error in avoiding it so thoroughly? I sure hope so!