Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hollywood, please don’t make ‘Neuromancer’ into a movie

A wise man and one helluva writer.

A wise man and one helluva writer.

A friend of the family has a son who, at a younger age, was a huge fan of the Percy Jackson book series. So when the first movie hit theaters, he was one excited kid. Until he saw the movie. About 2/3 of the way through, he leaned over and said to his mom, “I don’t think the people who made this ever read the book.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I thought about this as I re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s a book that is almost aching for a big-screen adaptation. Gibson’s book is one part heist film, one part psychedelic punk anarchy and one part hacker manifesto. Neuromancer‘s action cuts quickly, giving it a very cinematic feel.

And Gibson’s prose is vividly descriptive without bogging down Neuromancer‘s action. Such as …

Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine. Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image fading down corridors of television sky. Voices. Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves, pain beyond anything to which the name of pain is given …

Or how about this?

Nothing. Gray void. No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace. The deck was gone. His fingers were … And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, fleeting impression of something rushing toward him, across leagues of black mirror. He tried to scream.

But would it work on the big screen? When I ask myself this, I keep returning to two films: 1995’s Hackers and The Matrix. Hacker‘s cyberspace scenes are ridiculous and cheesy, much like the entire film itself. Low-grade special effects, quick cuts to people typing, Fisher Stevens going apeshit as Angelina Jolie and a bunch of other young, B-list stars attempt to undo his all-knowing, all-commanding software. Yes, it was 1995, but Hackers and its backers lacked both vision and the budget necessary to make it work. When Gibson describes large walls of data and the viral assault on the Tessier-Ashpool mainframe, it’s both menacing and frightening. In the hands of the wrong director, it’s Hackers.

The Matrix, of course, is a classic, one that ripped its title from Neuromancer‘s very pages. And there are moments, such as when Case talks to the virtual Finn who represents the artificial intelligence known as Wintermute, that I can see Neuromancer done in the manner of Wachowski’s trilogy. Which seems odd: A movie based on a book that looks like another movie inspired by the book. Plus, knowing how too many moviegoers are brainless buttheads, most are going to think Neuromancer ripped off The Matrix. Much like the morons who think the Avett Brothers are just riding in the wake of Mumford & Sons, that happening would drive me out of my damn mind.

In the end, I’m not sure how any combination of writers and directors would do justice to Neuromancer on the big screen. I fear some sort of Michael Bay-Garrett Hedlund disaster that would probably barely break even and have the overall quality of a Spy Kids movie.

So ignore me, Hollywood. Forget I ever brought up Neuromancer. There is nothing to see here. Move along. Anyway, I’m sure Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King has something new for you to crap out, anyway. That would be better for all parties involved, especially since – in the end – a Neuromancer movie would probably be made by people who had never bothered to read the book.

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That’s My Jam #15: Beck double-shot Tuesday

(Read the That’s My Jam manifesto here.)

I seem to be one of the few Beck fans that finds his latest offering, Morning Phase, to be disappointing. There’s a lot of “Ooh, it’s Mutations II” kind of comments out there. Love Mutations. Love it. But I’m not sure why I needed a second one.

To me, Beck’s at his most interesting when I’m hearing something I’ve never heard before. When Loser hit, it was crazy. There was nothing – and still pretty much is nothing – that sounded like it. The acoustic guitar kick off, rolling quickly into a hip-hop beat. Beck’s slightly nasal, stream-of-consciousness lyrical madness. “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.” As a whole, Mellow Gold is really a heavier, guitar freak-out disc, Loser being the “soft” track. But all of it is unique, a treat for the ear.

Then Beck does it again with Odelay, an album that throws everything at the wall to see what sticks, then finds out that pretty much everything sticks. Devil’s Haircut might be one of the unlikeliest hits of all times, an easier-going Loser II that devolves into chaos, feedback and screaming. Not content to make the same thing twice, Beck pulls the rope-a-dope, lulling you with the familiar until he unleashes a sonic haymaker to blow your damn mind.

So you can have your middle-age, “the return of the singer-songwriter” Beck. I’ll take the Beck who looked at the music industry, laughed and then danced of the graves of genres he put to sleep.

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‘Purge’ payoff worth the journey

Such a bunch of good looking, smiling young folks. Why don't you come right in?

Such a bunch of good looking, smiling young folks. Why don’t you come right in?

Horror fans know the problem. So often quality, scary movies are ruined in the third act when it comes time for the carnage to mean something, resolve something. It’s frustrating to watch.

The Purge is surprising in that aspect. The second act is often stupid and repetitive, held together by menace and pacing. But the brilliant set-up and the third act save the film from becoming just another horror underachiever.

The scenario is this: It’s sometime in the near future, and America has changed. Crime and poverty are at all-time lows. The reason for the U.S.’s good fortunes? The Purge. One night a year, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., all crime is legal. Murder, rape, theft, arson. It’s all good. Let it out. Purge those inner demons so that the rest of the year you can be neat, perfect, shiny, productive.

James (Ethan Hawke) takes in big bank on Purge security, helping the rich make sure that they are protected when it counts. He’s a had a good year – top salesman – and, thanks to a new addition, he has the biggest house in the neighborhood to show off his success. He and his family lock themselves in for Purge night … until his son sees a homeless, African-American man running for his life and gives him sanctuary. The masked baddies who were attempting to kill the man show up and tell the family this: To Purge is our right. Give us the vermin who ran from us, and do it before our “tools” get here, or we will rip the house apart and get him and all of you ourselves.

A lot to like. An examination of the violent American psyche taken to new, disturbing heights. A look at class and race and what roles those play, both in personal interactions and on the macro scale. Writer/director James DeMonaco’s flick does a nice job of working these sorts of themes as the action unfolds.

The ending – which I won’t go greatly into, in an attempt to avoid spoilers – searches for humanity in a situation where little is apparent. It’s slightly anti-climactic, but that doesn’t hurt it. The openness, the uncertainty, the lack of explanation or resolution is wise and refreshing. It seems as if it will conclude as a call for hope, yet that hope seems incredibly distant and even futile.

But the journey from set-up to ending, that is where the issues lie in The Purge. The first sign of concern is a very brief cut-away shot of man sharpening his machete in his backyard. Not unusual middle-age Purge activity, except in this very ritzy neighborhood, this guy has built a permanent sander/grinder in the middle of his yard, like it’s a bird feeder or something. It just seems too tacky for the setting and completely out of place, forced in to make a point which had already been made by that point in the movie.

Then there’s James’s security system. It’s allegedly top of the line in what appears to be a new McMansion. So when the baddies are outside, and his wife (the wonderful Lena Headey) asks if they’re going to be OK, James admits that while it won’t be easy for the Purgers to get in, it’s possible. So there’s a mounting buildup as we what for the Purgers tools to arrive, wondering what sort of fire, explosions, damage and mayhem await. The tools: A redneck with a pickup and a winch. That’s right. They tie a chain to the bars on the windows and pull them off, no harder than peeling the plastic seal off a pudding cup. I’m expecting the Battle of Helm’s deep; instead I get Earnest battling the developers with a bunch of junior high kids and an unstable golf cart.

The action that ensues is the same thing, repeated. Person A enters dark room with only a flashlight, silence builds, Person B (and/or C, D, E) jumps out, fight happens. Over and over. And why is it dark? Because it seems to me if you have millions to build your dream home, you might actually have a couple of generators installed to keep the power going in case of an outage.

This is what ultimately hurts The Purge, the journey. Too many stupid things happen – the son’s health seems to be an issue at the start, but never comes up again; for some reason the family’s first thought isn’t to load up on the guns from their fancy cabinet; no safe room in the super-secure mansion; etc. – that show flawed reasoning and unnecessary action. For as smart as the concept and the themes of The Purge are, what’s happening on-screen plays out at a much lower IQ. It also moves too quickly. The siege outside and the family’s actions inside should drive this movie, but it’s rushed through to get the baddies inside the house for underwhelming fights.

If you’re a horror fan, I’d recommend The Purge as a worthy view. But for those who dislike horror for the gore for gore’s sake, lack of logic, etc., this isn’t going to change any minds.

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Favorite songs of 2014, so far

My favorite cuts from 2014 (check out my favorite albums here).

American Horror, Speedy Ortiz – I was first attracted to them because they sounded a bit like The Breeders. I’m now attracted to them because they don’t sound much like The Breeders. Growth is good.

Bad News, Sleeper Agent – “I just want to stay in love with you” is the bad news. The good news is that you’ll be singing along with this glammy, pop gem by the time you hit the last chorus.

Blue Moon, Beck – The best tune from one of Beck’s most milquetoast albums.

Brand New, Pharrell Williams feat. Justin Timberlake – A natural pairing. A funky track.

Can’t Be Broken, Twin Forks – A mellow, rootsy song.

Change My Ways, Tony Molina – Molina gets his Rivers Cuomo on during this brief, melodic punk cut.

Cut the Grass, Cheatahs – Let it all disintegrate, then bring it back together.

Different Days, The Men – I like 2012’s Open Your Heart better than the disc Tomorrow’s Hits is from. That said, The Men still craft solid rock tunes, and this is one of them.

Fall In Love, Phantogram – Phantogram reminds me some of Portishead, although a bit more accessible to the average listener.

Grandma Looks, Desert Noises – A fun, buzzy, high-energy rock tune.

High & Wild, Angel Olsen – This song sounds like it could have landed on Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See or The Velvet Underground & Nico.

I’m Only Joking, KONGOS – If I said throbbing bass and atmospheric vocals, you’re probably thinking of some sort of EDM. Instead, the KONGOS build a strong rock track around those elements.

Just Another Bullet, Young Fathers – Lyrically solid and interesting stylistically, this song is put over the top by the oft mesmerizing and occasionally bizarre production.

Legs, Chuck Inglish feat. Chromeo – My favorite song out of all of my favorite songs of 2014. It’s got a Pharrell-meets-early-1980s-Prince-and-the-Revolution vibe to it. Too cool for school.

Like a Mighty River, St. Paul & The Broken Bones – A strong, natural, easy soul track.

Little Monster, Royal Blood – Melodic voices and loud, distorted guitars don’t always work together. Royal Blood has no such issues.

My Resignation, Besserbitch – A scream-along, pop-punk sliver of defiant fun.

Nights on the Strand and We Get Out, Battleme – These rockers work the loud-quiet-loud formula with some serious mastery.

Now Hear In, Cloud NothingsHere and Nowhere Else would’ve made my first quarter fave albums list if it had been released a week earlier. I still get to sneak them in here.

People Don’t Get What They Deserve, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Sharon states the obvious in this track that harkens back to Motown Era socially conscious soul.

Red Water, Diamond Youth – A lost Foo Fighters track, with less personality and more interesting musicianship.

Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, Sun Kil Moon – A dark, brooding and creepy stream-of-consciousness acoustic track that might just make you shiver.

Take Away These Early Grave Blues, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Be loud, be bold, be listening to these guys. Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is an album to be cherished.

Tongues, Joywave feat. KOPPS – This is the direction I always thought/hoped the Killers would go: A bit more mix of the electronic and live instruments, a bit dancier but with a rock and roll base.

Uno, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Freddie and Madlib drop easy, smart rhymes over production that really elevates the collaboration.

Watch You Change, The Drowners – “There’s not a shoulder / cold enough for me / to give her.” Maybe my favorite lyric of the year to date.

Work Song, Hozier – Love conquers death in this slow burning acoustic track. The percussion really is a perfect touch, and fading to just that toward the end is the cherry on top.

Honorable mention: A Bird Is Not a Feather, Roseanne Cash; Blackland Farmer, Hard Working Americans; Digital Witness, St. Vincent; Gangsta, Schoolboy Q; Husdonsville, MI 1956, La Dispute; Interference Fits, Perfect Pussy; Likely To Use Something, The Belle Brigade; Lorena, Sleeper Agent; Make You Mine, Black Lips; Perfect Storm, The Strypes; Recess, Skrillex; Stayin’ Alive, Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang; Throw Your Hands Up, The So So Glos; Wool, Big Ups;

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Favorite albums of 2014 … so far

My favorites full-length recordings from the first quarter of 2014. Drumroll please …

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, Silver Mt. Zion – I’m sure a more sophisticated/pretentious reviewer would have some sort of post – “post-punk,” “post-rock,” etc. – to toss in here. Silver Mt. Zion rages in a unique way. The only touchstone I can offer is Sonic Youth, but it’s not a easy-to-connect relationship. Experience the wonderful noise for yourself.

Girl, Pharrell Williams – Pharrell is just so damn smooth. There’s not a soft track on here, although I don’t know that it has the type of blowout single (I’m not a Happy guy) that he’s often associated with.

Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Being a good person doesn’t mean you’ll get ahead. Being a bad person doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live a horrible life. Now if we could just get the idiots in Washington, D.C., to appreciate the logic.

Half the City, St. Paul & the Broken Bones – Blue-eyed soul of the first order. These guys know how to get down. I’m seeing them live in May, and I couldn’t be looking forward to it more.

Out of the Black EP, Royal Blood – Is it too early for the second coming of Queens of the Stone Age? Loud, feedbacky stoner rock. Prepare to bang your head.

Say Yes to Love, Perfect Pussy – Frontwoman Meredith Graves and her three xy chromosome bandmates have made an album that would make Beavis scream “Yes! Yes! Fire! Fire!” Lean, full-throttle, hardcore punk rock.

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