Stream Police Ep. 12: The Fantastic Voyage

The crew of the SS. Stream Police dive into the 60s sci-fi classic The Fantastic Voyage. Jumping aboard this week is first mate Colin Wessman who shares his insights on things like miniaturization and how the inside of the human body looks like a lava lap. That and why more sci-fi movies should star Neil deGrasse Tyson on this episode of Stream Police.

Play

Tag Team, Back Again

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

There seems to be a recurring theme among the music of 2014 that’s left an impact on me — and it’s that of lifer’s still bringin’ it.  Whether it’s The New Pornographers celebrating their own collaboration on Brill Bruisers, Spoon being unmistakably Spoon on They Want My Soul, or Mark Kozelik basically turning his entire life into a definitive album with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, I’ve tended to gravitate towards (relative) old-timers still doing some of their best work.  This has also transfered over into some of the favorite live performances I saw this year (The Replacements, Bob Mould), and this idea has even carried over into my favorite (and I’ll just be honest, only) hip-hop album I’ve listened to this year with Run The Jewels’ sequel to the 2013 El-P and Killer Mike collaboration.

Make no mistake about it, Run The Jewels is by no means a contended victory lap for hip-hop elderstatesman El and Mike, but a reaffirmation of the bone-crushing brutality that was seen on the first Run The Jewels release.  There was a recent interview where El-P summed up that lyrically, him and Killer Mike are basically just trying to bait each other in to thinking of the funniest way to say “Fuck You” with their rhymes.  And I think that pretty perfectly describes the playful vulgarity that these guys do so well, since after all there is a song on here called “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”.  Which might already be one of my favorite song titles ever, not to mention the fact that the song is an ass-kicking barn-burner, even despite (or possibly because of) it’s liberal use of that dude from Rage Against The Machine.

But this also isn’t just another fast and furious collection of crunchy immediacy like the first Run The Jewels, as it it expands it’s scope a little bit and even runs a little deeper and more personal.  The song “Early” stands out in particular not just for El-P’s spacey production, but also for Killer Mike’s harrowing recount of a run-in with a police officer in front of his wife and kids, and the album often sees them similarly stepping back with something a little more restrained but just as passionate.  Also, I’ll admit the sex-crazed 2 Live Crew tribute “Love Again” isn’t really for me, though I do admire it’s gender role reversals.  But I suppose it’s just nice to hear an album that for the most part gets me excited about a genre I rarely pay attention to anymore.  Because if I’m being honest, I’m pretty comfortable with not caring much about hip-hop at this point, though I find it hard not to be affected by seeing two pro’s unleashing such an all-out attack on what is supposedly a young man’s game.

Favorite Tracks: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”, “Lie, Cheat, Steal”, “Early”

Preatures Of The Night

The Preatures – Blue Planet Eyes

I suppose there comes a time in every critic’s career when he starts to champion artists that deserve to get more recognition, and maybe I’ve reached that point in my career as an amateur critic with The Preatures.  I did after all write a lengthy piece about their stand-out single “Is This How You Feel?” back before it had even attached itself to a proper album.  Well, now I’m here to tell you that said album has been out for a while now and it’s really good, even if it hasn’t garnered a ton of attention for this Australian outfit over in the States.  However, I think this is mainly because Blue Planet Eyes hasn’t been physically released in the U.S., yet because it’s been released in Australia, it’s readily available on Spotify and iTunes.  And now that I’m looking on Amazon, it appears its getting a proper U.S. release on December 19, which seems like a pretty crappy time to release an album considering its proximity to the onslaught of top 10 lists and the fact that this is not a very wintery album.  But then again, this particular kind of music is always welcome, regardless of time or season.

In the piece I wrote about “How Do You Feel?” a while back, it appears I couldn’t help but compare The Preatures to Haim (who’s debut hadn’t even dropped yet), and I suppose it still feels appropriate to compare the two.  The Preatures, much like Haim, have what I would describe as a “pure pop” sound, which is very much indebted to the pristine sounds of ’70s AM pop (and in particular Fleetwood Mac), yet there’s still something distinctly modern about their quest to reconfigure the past in their own image.  The Preatures aren’t afraid to throw in a stray drum-machine or synth at the appropriate moment, while the interplay between guitar and keyboard has this richness that has just a little bit of darkness to it, but is always inviting enough to let you into The Preatures’ world of unending good times.

But really, this album just reminds me of how much I really like well-crafted pop music, even though it’s hard to find good pop music that isn’t pandering to 12-year-olds.  Because I’m always up for some hooks.  I mean who isn’t?  But seriously folks, I’m not gonna listen to that god damn Taylor Swift album and then write a lengthy piece about how I feel about her because quite honestly I do not have an opinion on her, because anyone over the age of 20 does not need to have an opinion on music that is so utterly disposable.  The Preatures on the other hand, have crafted a bunch of indelible hook-fests that are prime for munching on, and you don’t even have to feel like a dumb child for enjoying the shit out them.  Or at least, that’s how I feel.

Favorite Tracks: “Is This How You Feel?”, “Cruel”, “It Gets Better”

Settle It in Smash

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

It’s been a year of hotly anticipated games for me and any other early adopters out there. Titanfall, Infamous, Destiny, Bayonetta, Sunset Overdrive, and more all promised to help define the early part of this console generation and help folks like me justify owning these silly consoles in what looks to be the era of the PC. But no game, not even the new Dragon Age, has me as excited as the new Super Smash Bros.. For my friends and I, this series is just the best for party-time fun, and that new version looks like it might be the best yet.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will be out a week from now, less than two months from the release of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, a game that was delayed from the summer to early October. It is the series’ first mobile entry, the only one (aside from the first) that you can’t play with a GameCube controller, and the first one that was almost entirely a singleplayer experience for me. And if you somehow didn’t know, Smash is a lot more fun with friends.

Sure, there absolutely is online multiplayer, which I commend Nintendo for trying. It’s a smartly designed mode – I especially like that the separated this game’s equivalent of ranked and free play into the hardcore “For Glory” mode and the item and gimicky-friendly “For Fun” mode. But in my experience online play so terribly laggy I can’t even enjoy it. The modern Nintendo is starting to understand how important the Internet is to games, even delivering excellent support in the last Pokemon and Mario Kart titles, but Smash Bros. just does not seem up to snuff.

So you’re left with singleplayer. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS actually has a bunch of modes, but the goofy, fan-servicey Subspace Emissary is gone from this version. Instead there’s this weird rush mode where you and other players run around a wide open dungeon collecting powerups for a mystery challenge battle. I don’t like it. Also, there’s a straightforward six stage arcade mode, various gimmick challenge battles to beat, the homerun contest, and a new version of break the targets that’s pretty much Angry Birds. Nothing super exciting.

But! Those modes are redeemed somewhat by the addition of character customization. One of the new fighters in this game is your Mii character, and you can collect a bunch of fun accessories to dress them in. You can also collect various items that give stat boosts to any character, as well as alternate versions of their special moves, meaning you can customize your Bowser to be faster but weaker or Captain Falcon to have a stronger defense. I actually really don’t like this aspect of the game, but can easily imagine some people falling in love with it.

What I do love is the game’s massive roster, the character select screen completely fills the whole top screen and is rather daunting to look at. Most of your favorite characters are back, although I’m going to miss Snake quite a bit. There are also a bunch of newcomers, many of whom bring fun new play styles: Little Mac can put a serious hurt on, but has no hops, Duck Hunt Duo are master trolls, and the likes of Wii Fit Trainer, Pac Man and The Villager (from Animal Crossing) are surprisingly good and real funny.

And just having that knowledge makes Super Smash Bros. for 3DS feel like an OK purchase. If I think about the game as an extended, portable demo of the Wii U version, I’m actually pretty happy with it. It’s given me a chance to start figuring out exactly which characters I like to play and what to expect out of the bigger, better version. Controls are customizable, the game looks good enough and runs at a smooth 60fps, so it’s not like it’s a compromised experience except for the online. It’s solid. Is it something I would recommend most people buy once the other version’s out? Not unless you’re going to be around other people with 3DSs and copies of the game. These games are meant to be played with friends. That’s why it’s “Super Smash Bros.” not “Super Smash Man.”

The Birdman Cometh

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is expanding to a bunch of theaters this week and so it is definitely worth my time to try to put some key presses into trying to quantify the weird, engrossing experience that was my experience watching that movie.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who achieved great fame 20 years ago by playing the super hero Birdman – which is an obvious satire of Batman and in no way related to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. Since walking away from that franchise at its greatest popularity, Riggan has struggled to keep his career going and has hedged his bets on writing, directing, and starring in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Also he has magic powers and is haunted by the voice of Birdman.

This is Riggan’s last chance and he has to fight for it as he faces doubts and criticisms from his daughter (Emma Stone), his lawyer (Zach Galifianakis), his last-second replacement co-star (Edward Norton), the press, critics, and a skeptical public. Through all this the movie makes it clear that Riggan just wants to be considered an artist – that’s why he’s doing this play, that’s why he walked away from his blockbuster franchise, that’s why he wasn’t a better father, or person. Whether he really is an artist, whether he’s actually being true to himself or if it’s really all about ego… That’s up to you.

Which is the way things should be in a movie this intensely surreal. On top of Riggan’s supernatural abilities, the movie is shot and edited to feel like it’s almost one long, uninterrupted take and I could definitely feel it. Despite being mostly scenes of people arguing about acting and other theatrical logistics, the whole two hours were fairly tense just because of how aware I was of the number of plates they had to keep spinning between getting actors to their marks, making sure they perform well, and everything else behind the camera like sound, camera angles, and lighting. It’s really quite gripping.

Birdman is a complex film worthy of some serious conversation – I had a hard time just trying to wrestle my many thoughts about it into this brief review. It is an exciting showcase of the possibilities of modern filmmaking grounded by some terrific performances by Keaton and Norton and an earnest, if not particularly unique, take on the creative process. Almost like a Charlie Kaufman film, except one that’s happy to pay just as much attention to slapstick and dick jokes as it is its lofty themes.

Creepy Crawlers

Nightcrawler

It has taken me awhile to digest the greasy late night snack that is Nightcrawler. I didn’t think I’d have much to say considering the film is at its best when not a word is spoken. I’m talking about scenes where a nearly skeletal Jake Gyllenhaal is slinking through police tape and into crime scenes shooting footage of vicious acts all for his his distorted obsession. Nightcrawler is a razor sharp thriller from screenwriter/first time director Dan Gilroy, the brother of Tony “Michael Clayton” Gilroy who also penned all the Bourne films. Do these brothers have some sort of psychic bond when it comes to delivering blood pumping suspense? What are they drinking out there on the Gilroy family farm?

Continue reading