|Poon – Get Some EP|
|Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)|
For me this summer has been all about the rocking! I don’t know if it’s playing in the band Poon or simply the fact that it’s been awhile since I’ve revisited some of my old rock albums, but it’s been awesome. Twice a week when I’m puling freight shifts at Petco I’ve been going through the same classic rock albums over and over again and I’m yet to tire of it. I usually rotate around; Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Cheap Trick at Budokan, a Kiss greatest hits album, Queen’s A Night at the Opera and of course the classic debut from Van Halen. The last one fits in nicely with this week’s honoring of 1978, so let’s “jump” in.
Van Halen is one of those stellar debuts that’s so good that almost everything following it is a slight disappointment. Sure 1984 is a great rock record, but these guys just opened with bang, a big bang. You look at the track listing and it’s just classic after classic, even the less memorable songs still have fantastic musicianship, led by virtuoso Eddie Van Halen. I’ve always thought that even if you don’t like Van Halen you have to respect the talents of Eddie. He is really one of those guys that just reinvented guitar playing (if that was even fathomable) I can’t even explain it’s just sheer madness yet so refined at the same time, pure rock ecstasy.
I’m always amazed by groups that can create such a full sound with just three instruments and a singer, but Van Halen takes it to new levels. You have three very talented musicians all behind a charismatic vocalist oozing with swagger… What’s not to like? It’s just a perfectly energetic album that never fails to pump me up, I can’t wait till my next freight night.
Favorite Tracks: “Ain’t Talkin’ bout Love”, “Jaimie’s Cryin'” “Runnin’ with the Devil”
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2|
The whole Harry Potter thing was pretty amazing. The books are one thing; a long-running fantasy series is not without precedent, although the success of the series probably was. But it’s the film series that truly seems amazing to me. A decade-spanning eight movie series that featured a cast that grew up with its fans. That’s a hell of a thing, and I can’t imagine it ever happening again. I’ve been visiting Hogwarts for the better part of my life now, and bidding goodbye to the franchise as I enter real adulthood is as fitting and bittersweet for me as it is for Harry, Ron and Hermione.
This is the eight movie in the series, you’re either going to see it or you’re not. Nothing is going to persuade anyone at this point. Indeed, not only is it movie eight, it’s also a part two, so the barrier to entry for newcomers is damn near insurmountable. This is a movie for the fans. The ones who read the books, learned the spells, got the tattoos. There are some parts of the movie that straight-up won’t even make sense to those that have just seen the films, since important plot points play off of minor details that were omitted from earlier movies. That’s what happens when a series has so many different directors. But the big scenes will work for anyone who has made the slightest effort to keep up, as this conclusion centers around epic battles and long-awaited revelations.
Picking up immediately where Part One left off, Harry, Ron and Hermione are still hunting down Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes. Things remain as bleak as ever, The Dark Lord now has the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand, and the Order of the Phoenix is weak and spread out. As Harry learns more about horcruxes, the more disturbed he gets, leading to some hopefully shocking revelations and epic battles. Notably, The Battle of Hogwarts, in which students and teachers stand united against Voldemort’s army, is one of the most awe-inspiring battles this side of The Lord of the Rings. And what makes it all work is that there is so much emotion behind these battles, I actually cared about what would happen, unlike a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Every shot of this incredible battle is brimming with familiar faces, some who we won’t ever see again.
Little is changed from the book and most of it is in the service of making the story work better in this format. Professor McGonagall’s role is a little different and a lot more bad ass because, why not? Maggie Smith earned (and nailed) it. Alan Rickman is perhaps a little too indulgent in his Snape-isms, but who cares? It’s the last time he gets to be that crazy son of a bitch. Daniel Radcliffe has grown into a real actor and provides the film with a strong star, along with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Everyone has their time to shine here, making Part Two one of the most satisfying movies of the year.
Harry Potter was an incredible series. Somewhere between the Star Wars and Up series. I can’t imagine anything else taking up its mantle, and I don’t really want anything to… At least not for a while. Let there be no doubt, this is the end of the series: they’ve filmed everything. In an era of unsatisfying remakes and prequels (see: all comic book movies not made by Marvel or Chris Nolan) it’s been a real ride seeing one of the most imaginative worlds in recent fiction come to life. The Harry Potter series has given me a lot, everything from jokes about characters resembling people I know to laughter at Amazon reviews about the flying broomstick vibrator. And now it’s done. It’s done well, to be sure, but it’s done.
|Captain America: The First Avenger|
With the final Avengers piece in place it’s only a matter of time before we’ll all be watching the most hyped superhero movie of all time. So last but not least we have ol’ red, white, and blue Captain America in a slick WWII era action flick. Originally created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Marvel icon Jack Kirby, it’s been a long wait for Cap to finally get a decent adaptation on the big screen. There were some serials, a few made for TV things, and even a bizarre 90s flick starring J.D. Salinger’s son… But now all of those can be forgotten because we a finally have an adaptation worthy of Uncle Sam’s favorite son.
Cap’s origin is as typical as any superhero origin. We have an ordinary man who receives extraordinary powers, in this case through a scientific experiment, and then becomes symbol of justice. Chris Evans stars as both the scrawny and brawny versions of super patriot Steve Rogers who simply wants to do his country proud. The early half of the film is stunning in how FX wizards have somehow managed to shrink and whittle down Evans to the shrimpy pre-op Rogers and even after this half there’s enough humor, and action to firmly hold my interest. Evans is pitch perfect as the brave yet naive title hero and is in good company with seasoned veterans like Tommy Lee Jones as stern military superior and Hugo Weaving as the film’s menacing antagonist Red Skull. The action doesn’t rely too heavily on CGI due to it’s setting in time, but even scenes heavy with effects are very well polished.
Back when they originally announced an Avengers movie I became a little worried that all the films leading up to it we be quickly dished out with little care but to make a buck. Now I’m glad to say that this was not the case and Marvel has truly delivered on a solid series of solo superhero flicks. Captain America like Thor is a well made action film with great stars, visuals, and humor and the strength to act as a standalone film. Really my only problem here is that this film is so firmly connected with the upcoming Avengers flick. I look forward to The Avengers but I’m pretty tired of it tagging along to the end of all these movies, can’t they just end without Samuel L. Jackson showing up? He’s cool I guess, but I’m here to see Cap, why must we cut into his time? This should be Cap’s moment in the sun yet they have to keep constantly reminding us of The Avengers. It’s not a big deal but it’s a little annoying, that flick better be damn good.
|Bon Iver – Bon Iver|
Prior to checking out Bon Iver’s self-titled album, I didn’t know a whole lot about this band besides that the first Bon Iver album was record by a bearded dude alone in a Wisconsin cabin, and that said bearded dude went on to appear on Kanye West’s last album. Well after giving Bon Iver a few listens, my interest in what is basically Justin Vernon’s solo project has deepened, though I’m not gonna say this album is profoundly unique or anything.
Bon Iver’s first album was a pretty spare sounding piece of melancholy folk, with Vernon’s high whisper of a voice and his unique use of harmonies being the most striking part of the production. On this self-titled second album, Vernon’s unique voice is still used to great effect and is what really gives the album its striking beauty. As far as the production, the songs have a much richer sound, as there’s occasional synths and horns that give the album a sound that sometimes suggests ’80s R&B. Still, Vernon doesn’t get too carried away with the album’s sonic richness. In the end this is a folk album, and there’s still a nice amount of intimacy to these songs despite the occasional foray into bolder and bigger sounds.
So basically I don’t have a whole lot to say this album other than that it’s very pretty. The songs aren’t exactly ones that jump out at you and leave you humming them for hours, but when it’s so easy to get rapped up in the beauty and the atmosphere of the songs, it doesn’t really matter. Also, much like The Antlers’ latest album, it’s a little too downbeat to be a good “summer album”, but once we begin the slow descent towards winter, Bon Iver should feel just right.
Favorite Tracks: “Perth”, “Hinnom, TX”, “Calgary”
|Wire – Pink Flag (1977)|
By 1977, the punk zeitgeist was reaching it’s peak as The Clash’s debut infiltrated the top 20 of the UK album charts, while The Sex Pistols’ debut went to number 1. Now I was considering talking about either of those albums for this week’s CAT, but I figured I’d go for something that went a little more under the radar when it was released in late 1977. Plus, it’s an album I’ve just been getting in to recently, which seems to always make writing about an album a little more fun.
It seems a little weird to me that Wire’s Pink Flag is considered to be the earliest example of post-punk, when the album came out before punk had really lost any noticeable steam, but I guess that just goes to show how fast trends in music are always changing. Wire’s aesthetic approach certainly owed much to the other punk bands of the time, as Pink Flag doesn’t feature much more than throbbing bass, pounding drums, and fuzz-drenched guitar, topped off with Colin Newman’s high-pitched shouts. However, unlike The Sex Pistols or The Clash, there’s less of an anti-establishment feel to the songs, as the lyrics tend to be on the obscure side, and often the songs feel like the band is just trying to release pent-up emotions rather than make any sort of ideological statement.
Another thing that probably gives Pink Flag such a potent feeling has to do with the lengths of the songs, which usually clock in under a minute and a half, making for a 35-minute album featuring 21 tracks. It adds to the immediacy of the songs, making them feel as if the intensity of the band members playing off each other is almost too intense to maintain for more than a minute or two. However there are a few slower songs, such as the lurching “Strange”, which R.E.M. would cover on their seminal 1987 album Document.
These slower songs also point the way to the more experimental electronic influences that would make their way in to Wire’s subsequent releases, which would earn the band a reputation as one of the more adventurous bands to come out of the punk rock movement. But on Pink Flag, it’s refreshing to hear these guys prior to their persistence on branching out artistically and just bashing out a bunch of guitar jams.
Favorite Tracks: “Lion Tamer”, “Mannequin”, “1 2 X U”
Straight from the whimsical heart of Norway I give you Scandinavia’s answer to Cloverfield with Trolljegeren aka “Troll Hunter.” Released into Norwegian theaters last October but just seeing the light of day in June here in the states, Troll Hunter (despite it’s terrible Syfy Channel sounding name.) is one of the most exciting films of the handheld camera era yet. The suspense is immense as we follow these gruesome behemoths and even learn a little bit about Norwegian folklore along the way.
The film follows a trio of student filmmakers trying to make a documentary about a supposed bear poacher in Western Norway. This “bear poacher” is one Hans, a mysteriously cold trailer-dwelling individual who enjoys his privacy. Gone almost every night into the secluded woods, the group follows Hans on one of his late night excursions only to discover that he isn’t poaching bears at all…. He’s hunting Trolls.
First of all I think anyone’s immediate gut reaction to this premise would be something around the lines of, “That sounds SO BAD.” Which is understandable, I mean how many cheesy monster movies have more or less the exact same setup? The difference is how this ridiculous concept is handled both technically and from a plotting standpoint. The acting is good, the story and mythology are highly engrossing, and the faux documentary approach makes it all feel shocking real. Not to mention that Troll Hunter is when it wants to be, pretty scary. Who would of thought a movie about trolls could of been scary?
The reason Troll Hunter is so effective is because it goes for realism. Sure there are three headed trolls being turned turned into stone by UV rays, but they are well photographed through brief glimpses and blend in well to their environment. The CGI isn’t amazing but it’s been well utilized, never being overused. They also interact very well with the cast, resulting in an exhilarating experience. Speaking of the cast, I have to tip my hat to Otto Jespersen who plays Hans the trollhunter. Hans maybe a quiet and sometimes stern character, but boy does he just embody a sheer amount of badassery, he’s great. Though what’s really interesting is that in reality Otto Jespersen is one of Norway’s most popular comedians. So how he ended up playing a dead serious trollhunter is beyond me. As much as I’d love to talk about more of the details I’m gonna leave it at here. If there’s anything else you’re curious about I highly recommend you check out Troll Hunter it’s a lot of fun.