Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Music/Movie Reviews

5: Beyonce
4: Kelly Rowland
3: LaToya Luckett
2: Michelle Williams
1: The two chicks they kicked out before they got really famous

MUSIC

Mos Def: The Ecstatic 4

Mos Def’s first album in 3 years and first good album in a decade is not a masterpiece but is absolutely a breath of fresh air in today’s music climate. The tracks are all short (some barely 2 min.) and the entire album is about 45 min. long, however what the project lacks in length it compensates for with intensity. The musical backdrops all have an organic feel and Mos sounds rejuvenated and as hungry as he did pre-“Black On Both Sides.” Standout tracks include the triumphant “Super Magic,” the intense “Life in Marvelous Times,” the Talib Kweli assisted “History” and the exuberant album closer “You Can’t Stop My Go.” While this pales in comparison to his earlier work on Rawkus (late 90’s) it is definitely good to know that Mos hasn’t hung up the mic for good in favor of acting.

Street Sweeper Social Club: Self Titled 3

On paper this looks like an unbeatable combination: Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, acclaimed solo albums, and a cameo in the movie “Made”) working with Boots Riley from Bay Area political Hip-Hop group The Coup. However, in reality the pairing is far from perfect and falls prey to many of the typical shortcomings of rap-rock collaborations. The songs all feature Morello proving he is the best guitarist of the last 20 years (sorry, Slash was hot in the 80’s and Metallica fell off after The Black Album) and Riley is a capable MC, however the songs often devolve into muddled chants and choruses with only a hint of the socio-political subtext displayed in Riley’s work with The Coup. This may be more of a function of following a typical rock song structure with much shorter verses than Hip-Hop songs, but it still feels like these two titans could have done more. That being said, this is by far the best “Workout CD” released in 2009 and should be played in gyms, weight rooms and iPods everywhere for the next several months.

Note: I have always been a fan of political music. Even if I don’t whole-heartedly agree with the opinions/ideas being presented, I am in awe of the songwriting talent necessary to speak about world affairs in the structure of as song (hell, I have a hard time articulating them on these blog posts). And while I have been a longtime fan of RATM I always thought it was a bit odd that they railed against corporate America while being signed to one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. I first realized the irony in this during the summer of 1997 when I saw them perform with Wu-Tang Clan at CONTINENTAL AIRLINES AREANA and purchased my tickets through TICKETMASTER on a VISA credit card. I went into the show a little salty about their position, however when I walked out a full five hours later I was so spend from the Hip-Hop and Rock abuse that I really didn’t care. Seriously, I if you missed Rage live, go see SSSC this summer on tour with NIN and Jane’s Addiction, it’s probably not the same, but it can’t be that bad.

Wale: Back To The Feature (Mixtape) 4

2009 freshmen class standout Wale releases his 3rd mixtape of the last 12 months featuring a ton of guest MC’s and production exclusively from the underrated 9th Wonder. This is by far one of the best mixtapes of the year, the beats are soulful, the guest appearances all add to the package and Wale is in full beast-mode on the mic. Definitely be on the lookout for his major label debut late this summer and for him to be jumping into the crowd and assaulting fans at a show near you (just playing, that kid had it coming and I don’t want to get swung on at his next show!).

MOVIES

Food Inc. 4

If you have read Eric Shlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, not much in the documentary will surprise you, however if you are unaware of how the food/agriculture business works in the United States you will walk out of the theatre appalled at your supermarket, your government and your diet. The film presents a lot of good information and serves as a good introduction into what is wrong with our food industry. However, because of the limitations of a theatrically released movie (about 90 min) and a desire to cover as many topics as possible (food poisoning outbreaks, fast food prices, immigrant workers, slaughterhouse conditions, organic food companies, etc) the film would have probably worked better as a mini-series in order to further explore each topic mentioned.

The filmmakers succeed in making a compelling documentary that will get people thinking and talking about issues in food today and close the movie with information on how to learn more and actually affect change in our agriculture system. Food Inc. may not provided the escapism of the typical summer blockbuster, but it may be the most important movie of the year.

Away We Go 3.5

Away We Go is an indie dramedy (that’s right, dramedy) about a young couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolf) about to have a baby and searching the US and Canada for a place to settle down. The movie features the same off-beat, awkward comedy of TV’s The Office, but gets decidedly more mixed results. The bits with stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan as a downtrodden dog-track patron in Phoenix and John Krisinsky trying to act angry are hilarious, the scenes with Maggie Gyllenhall as a hippie college professor and a Canadian mother of 4 dancing in a go-go bar are just uncomfortable to watch.

Also, for my money John Krasinski (aka Jim Halpert) may be the best actor of this generation. I have secretly held this belief since the “Casino Night” episode of The Office that ended season two. In Away We Go he asks his longtime girlfriend to marry him and she turns him down, which leads to the best display of disappointment I have seen since Pam told Jim she liked him as a friend. John Krasinski is to disappointment what Busta Rhymes is to excitement. If there is one thing I know it’s disappointment and this guy nails it.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen 2

It is widely acknowledged that the 1980’s cartoon series “Transformers” was nothing more than an extended commercial to sell toys to kids; if that’s the case then the live action movies are a showcase for new cars, racial stereotypes and childish humor. This is quite possibly the worst summer blockbuster since Water World (1995), the movie is so long and the plot is so basic that I took several naps in the theatre and still completely understood what was happening when I woke up. While the action sequences are compelling (the only reason for the 2 rating), the storyline, script and inability to portray characters without racial insensitivity is so glaringly bad, that the idea of watching this again turns my stomach.

The major problem with Transformers (and presumably “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” due later this summer) when compared to other comic book/cartoon movies is that it is not nearly as good as you remember it when you were a child. I really liked Transformers when I was 8, over 20 years later a truck turning into a robot and fighting other robots is not that cool. Transformers is largely a product of the 80’s, which means it was developed as vehicle to sell TOYS and stories/character development were an afterthought if they were ever even addressed. This stands in stark contrast to golden and silver age comic book characters that were developed to sell BOOKS, where story and characterization where much more important and toys did not become available until after they established a fan base through the books. The Super Heroes that have stood the test of time have become woven into the fabric of American culture and function as the mythology of the 20th century; franchises like Transformers are basically really long infomercials to entice kids to harass their parents to buy them a truck that turns into a robot. The fact that older characters like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, The X-Men and the Fantastic Four have decades of rich storytelling tradition to pull from makes their movies infinitely better than the summer blockbusters based on properties from the 80’s or later. This is why 20 years from now we will still be lining up to see movies based on Marvel and DC characters and not the Smurfs, Pok√©mon, Dragon Ball-Z or Bionicle.

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