Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Philly Low Down

Low rent, scabrous, wildly uneven, brazenly overindulgent, in-yer-face, ridiculous, and more often than not, downright laugh-out-loud hilarious, it’s somehow taken me until now, four seasons in, to discover the raw gem sit-com knock-off called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unarguably for certain tastes only, this barebones half hour depicts the antics of four slackers (three guys, one girl-Kaitlin Olsen-who is a sister to one of the three) and a highly recognizable curmudgeon/geezer (Danny DeVito) who run a bar that seems to do little-to-no business smack in the heart of a vibrantly dumpy Philly. Each of the buds is wholly self-involved and without fear or care about how their antics effect each other, essentially recreating Larry David’s Seinfeld Principle, yet scraping it down to unadulterated artifice and near idiocy. The main men –Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and creator Rob McElhenney, who all wear multiple hats as the dumb-as-a-rock principles, producers and writers—are truly mad (as in funny) men.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Existential Popcorn

The Dark Knight (2008, Warner, $29, 157 minutes) was probably the mainstream movie hit of the year, loved by fan boys, the intelligentsia, and the great unwashed alike. I can’t get over what a strange dose of populxe it is, centering around two fierce performances by Christian Bale (as a whispery and intensely coiled agent of good who seems to be operating with his nerve endings exposed) and Heath Ledger (a screechingly grandiose turn as a baddie who’s part walking nightmare and part unrestrained psyche), all of it wrapped in the most dystopian of on screen settings, mixed together with guttural violence and eye-popping effects, a huge, smoldering, broken-off piece of bleakness, popcorn fodder sprinkled with a heavy dose of null and the void. Obviously, that’s an ideal commercial and artistic mix for the America we live in.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

High Fidelity

In retrospect it’s more than obvious that there might not be but one big name musician more appropriate to host a talk-cum-performance show then the smashingly erudite Elvis Costello-smart guy, smart aleck, musical culture vulture, and a quick wit on top of it all. I mean Bono would probably foam at the mouth, The Boss more than likely act far too reticent, and potential talking heads like Bowie, Petty, or even Michael Stipe might not quite possess the proper dynamics that make up a host with a most. Costello’s new show, Spectacle (Sundance, Wednesdays, 9:00 PM) in which he intertwines interview and song-playing, snaps along at a breezy pace for a highly informative and entertaining hour, which has so far included one-on-ones with Elton John and Lou Reed, with upcoming shows devoted to Rufus Wainwright, Smokey Robinson and Bill Clinton, among others. It’s an inspired concept, ably delivered by the jack-of-all-trades Costello, the unusual host brimming with intelligence, talent, and a sincere predilection for listening to what others have to say. Let’s hope this has a decent run, as the Elvis-Plus possibilities are endlessly intriquing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When I'm Sixty-Four

There are definite perks to being an aging rock and roll fan, among them having friends in high places. Attended the Ray Davies show at Providence’s Lupo’s last night and pre-show utilized the valet parking and accepted a complimentary drink from a restaurateur friend. I also went to the show as a guest-lister out of the largesse of a promoter friend, but I declined a further invitation to watch from a rattle-your-jewelry special section because I knew it would be crammed and filled with tawkers and gabbers, and I’m just old and cranky enough to want to watch said show, not talk through it or participate in the various running commentaries and rainbow-infused reminiscences. Ray himself was in fine fettle and finer voice, and his set nicely modulated from an acoustic section (a bit heavy on the sing-a-longs and awfully tough to discern the between-song patter, but serving up solid versions of “Where Have the Good Times Gone”, “Apemen” and particularly “See My Friends”) to a band accompanied middle section that was skewered towards the Ray solo stuff (“Vietnam Cowboys”, “Working Man’s CafĂ©”, “The Tourist”) finished off with classy and often rocking interpretations of “You Really Got Me”, “Low Budget”, “Celluloid Heroes” and a truly bring-tears-to-yer-eyes transcendent “Shangri–La”. More great aspects of being an aging rock and roll fan? Among others, showtime sobriety and good ears and eyes for peripheral happenings.

Overheard at the Ray Davies Show at Lupo’s 12-10-08
All Dialogue Guaranteed Verbatim
(All bellowing in caps):


Came out to hear the Poet Laureate, Sir RayDay?


My sisters partied with these guys when they first came to America in ’77.

Should we applaud harder just for Ray’s forehead?

We are the Village People’s Preservation Society.


64 years old. 64 years old.

Not one goddamn song from Muswell Hillbillies.


That bass player’s prettier than the girl singer.


I hope they do “All the Young Dudes”.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gary Gilmore's Eyes

There was once a special category reserved among panting cineastes for the once-in-a-while TV movie that was deemed worthy-and The Executioner’s Song: Director’s Cut. (1982, Paramount, $20.00, 135 minutes) a made-for-TV adaptation of Norman Mailer’s book of the same name, scripted by the author himself, once had that heady mojo attached to it. (The movie managed to even earn a European theatrical release.) Tommy Lee Jones, emanating pure rock solid intensity, delivers in a major way in one of his early roles that help establish him, as Gary Gilmore the prison rat, drifter, punk, and condemned killer that Mailer frames as one of America’s lost souls. Director (and Mailer collaborator) Lawrence Schiller renders it all sparse and stripped down, with a Utah that looms as hardscrabble as Gilmore’s blank existence, an existential void walked through by man who’s nearly there. The exquisitely quirky Rosanna Arquette is nicely matched with the imposingly haunted Jones, both of them helping paint a memorably bleak picture. Forget the TV origins, this deserves to be seen again as a vividly American mood piece, not quite in the nether regions established by the likes of Terence Malick or Robert Altman, but undeniably evocative.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bloodless and Hot-Blooded

Stephanie Meyer’s popular books are oh-so-obvious explorations of teenage emotional and sexual awakenings and entanglements masquerading as modern day vampire/goth tales. Twilight, the first movie adapted from her works, is helmed by a near perfect interpreter, Catherine Hardwicke, the high priestess of hardcore emo teenarama flicks (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, The Nativity Story), and she directs this purple (and red) passion play with an over-the-top panache, camera constantly boring into her pretty subjects’ liquid eyes, chiseled features and porcelain skin with a heightened yet understated urgency. Sadly, the blank cast and the warmed-over plot drag down Hardwicke’s attempts at fashioning a swirling, volcanic mood piece. Worse, at times the movie approaches kitsch and becomes outright laughable. Don’t worry, bad reviews or any simple gauging of artistic merit won’t stop the teen swarm from crowding the theaters, this one is a surefire box office success despite the fact that there ain’t really no blood on the tracks.
True Blood ,Alan Ball’s HBO follow-up to his much praised Six Feet Under never attempted to stretch either boundaries or genre restrictions as HBO entrees are supposed to. Instead it put together a smashing cast, and a sassy mix of drollery, fantasy, and pure soap operatics and it wound up as a wildly appealing potboiler, dishing out both its reveals and its less-than-subtle vamps-as-outsiders parables with a spunky vibrancy. Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse is an inspired creation, just short of cartoonishness, with her over baked Southern accent and eye-twinkling combo of innocence and sexiness. Stephen Moyer is the appropriately smoldering main vampire and Sookie love interest (whose Civil war courtliness is yet another bit of underplayed humor), while Ryan Kwanten as Sookie’s bro nearly steals every episode as the wide-eyed himbo usually running around in his underwear, neatly balanced by Nelsen Ellis as the wry and worldly short order cook, Rutina Wesley as the constantly up-in-arms gal pal, Sam Trammel as the guy-with-the-secret club owner, and Alexander Skarsgard, as the wholly Nordic kingpin vamp, and old reliable William Sanderson as the seen-it-all Sheriff. He show’s setting, tiny Bon Temps, Louisiana, is an ideal backdrop for this likably twisted mainstream fantasy soap, a perfect meeting place for artificial blood drinking vampires, snub-nosed little southern smarty’s, mealy-mouthed Cajuns, beer-sopping good ol’ boys, shape-shifters, fake voodoo priestesses, and a big batch of gotta-have-‘em small town hypocrites, all of them bubbling around this neat dramedy of misfits.