Monthly Archives: July 2015

‘Bunraku’ tries too hard to do too much, eventually accomplishing little

Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) is wonderfully evil and over-the-top, but nothing else in the movie lives up to his performance.

Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) is wonderfully evil and over-the-top, but nothing else in the movie lives up to his performance.

There’s one scene, I think, that sums up the frustrating final product that is Bunraku.

The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) walks into a bar. The Bartender (Woody Harrelson) stands ready to serve, and a group/gang of men in steam punk attire sit at tables. The steam punkers hassle the Drifter to the Bartender’s dismay, a fight ensues, and the Drifter takes care of business.

Why are the guys in the group dressed in steam punk attire? No reason. Why do they bother with the Drifter? Not much of a reason. Why is it necessary that any of this happen in a bar? So at some point there can be a lame joke about a really expensive drink. I think, I’m just guessing here.

Writer/director Guy Moshe creates a visually stimulating film, kind of a mish-mash of Dick Tracy and Sin City. Each set is unique and awash in color. The costumes – such as the odes to samurai culture and Prohibition-Era gangsters – create clear-cut boundaries between characters and groups of characters. Hartnett, Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore and Kevin McKidd – who really put on a show as Killer No. 2 – all give solid performances.

But the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Faith No More’s Mike Patton is the narrator, but his exposition lacks any importance, is too frequent and not that good. There are times Harrelson has a look on his face like “I can’t believe the paycheck I received to regurgitate this ridiculousness.” The story sort of lurches from scene to scene until the inevitable showdown sought by the two good guys, the Drifter and Yoshi. I’ll be honest, I no longer even remember why the Drifter was seeking revenge.

Some of that would have been served by having a clearer understanding of why everything needed to happen. That central question – What’s the point? – isn’t addressed well. Bunraku, with the right story and dialogue and mixed with Moshe’s visual style, could have been, at the very least, a cult classic.

Unfortunately, it just ends up feeling like an opportunity wasted.

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Five musings about Season 5 of ‘Game of Thrones’

In case you're wondering, this is what a moron looks like.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a moron looks like.

Die, Stannis, Die! I knew Stannis Baratheon was a pretender to the throne (‘Game of Thrones’ pays off, sometimes despite itself). Granted, I was hoping Davos would off both him and the Red Witch, but I’ll take an embarrassing, historic military loss instead of betrayal by his ally. Stannis was the face of religious zealotry, and like all such fools, was burned … unfortunately, not literally, like his poor, trusting daughter.

Cersei gets hers. Speaking of religious zealotry, how’d that little game you were running with the dirty priest work out for you, Cersei? Did Ms. Lannister learn nothing from her dad? You can’t empower those thirsting for power unless you have something to hold over them, or you will get fucked. Period. Interesting that Olenna Tyrell figured out immediately what the holy man was, while Cersei had to end up in the dungeon before she realized who she was messing with. I found this to be the most interesting storyline of the season and am interested to see where it leads. My suspicion is that, while Round One went to the holy man, Cersei will even up the balance sheet at some point.

Arya, the only Stark without a self-destructive streak and a tin ear when it comes to the politics of Westeros.

Arya, the only Stark without a self-destructive streak and a tin ear when it comes to the politics of Westeros.

Only one trustworthy Stark. Well, I’d hoped for more from Sansa (Long game starting to come together on ‘Game of Thrones’), as it seemed like at the end of Season 4 she was finally ready to be proactive. But she just went along with Baelish, not really thinking ahead, and that did not work out so well for her. When Theon Greyjoy is your knight in shining armor, you have seriously gone off the rails. Thankfully, Arya keeps getting smarter, the only Stark worth her weight in something other than cow dung. I continue to think, at some point, the north is going to rally behind her, but her time with “the man” could spin her in other directions.

John Snow nearly pulled off the impossible.

John Snow nearly pulled off the impossible.

Speaking of Stark-like behavior. John Snow, rest in peace (unless, as every headline on the Internet suggests, he is not dead, which would just be stupid). Snow’s problem was he tried two strategies that couldn’t work together. On the one hand, making Alliser Thorne his second-in-command was a stroke of brilliance. Single handedly, Snow brought his biggest enemy into the fold and honored his abilities, very publicly. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” On the other hand, Snow also tried to take a huge leap that was never, at least in the early stages, going to have broad support among the Crows. To pull off something as crazy as bringing years-long enemies such as the Wildings in as allies, you need a second-in-command that is completely loyal and is going to back your play. Snow took a huge risk that he knew probably wasn’t going to work and sabotaged himself in the process. It could have come together as he envisioned, but he didn’t quite have the chops to pull it off. Still, Snow, so far, has accomplished more than any other spawn of Ned Stark.

Daenerys’s dynasty. It was frustrating to watch Daenerys spin her wheels on the other side of the sea throughout Season 5. That said, the lessons she’s learned and the allies she now has position her better than anyone still living in Westeros to take the reins of the kingdom. The wild cards are the dragons … they could be very useful, even just as intimidating symbols. But how much control does Daenerys have of those flaming-breathing beasts? Guess we’ll find out …

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Favorite songs of 2015: The mid-point review

Anonymous, Desaparecidos – My favorite lyric of the year: “Freedom’s not free / Neither is apathy.” Payola is one of the better political albums I’ve heard in a few years.

Better Man, Leon Bridges – Cool, smooth, classic-sounding soul music.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – This disco funk track is addictive, the chorus easily embedded into your head so you’ll be singing it to yourself the rest of the day.

Chalk Snake, No Joy – No Joy turns up the distortion and pays little mind to traditional rock songwriting expectations. Chalk Snake twists and contorts, fading away in a trail of feedback.

Cherry Bomb, Tyler, the Creator – I have yet to be convinced of his ability as a lyricist, but Tyler’s ear for production is unlike anyone anywhere near the mainstream of hip-hop and few are as daring as he is willing to be.

Dirty Harry, Grace – The dragging tempo and the wavy synth sound that appears-disappears-reappears helps make it, but what really is the cherry on top is Grace’s ability to work over the top of the minimal musical backing.

Dreams, Beck – Aah. Now I feel better. Instead of dreary Beck making numbing, down-tempo tunes that don’t compare with similar offerings such as Mutations or Sea Change, we get Beck getting his groove on. The world is right again.

Gwan, The Suffers – Sounds like it could have been a Tina Turner B-side in 1972. The tempo is relentless, and Kim Franklin’s powerful voice drives the band.

Go Head, Awreeoh – I’ve been looking forward to the film Dope. This song, from the soundtrack, only heightens the anticipation.

Handsome, The Vaccines –  Cheeky, fun pop punk. The video captures the spirit of the track.

Hate Street Dialogue, The Avener feat. Rodriguez – The song has a real bounce to it, but the lyrics are much darker than the music backing it would imply.

Holy Ghost, A$AP Rocky feat. Joe Fox – Combination prayer and cry of rage, A$AP attacks the ignorance and corruption he sees everywhere, including those foul acts committed in the name of Jesus.

How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr. – A simple, gorgeous, heartfelt piano ballad.

I’m Callin’, Tennis – Smooth and low-key, I’m Callin’ works for the party or for the comedown after the party.

Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg – Kendrick drops knowledge about income inequality.

Johnny Delusional, FFS – I’ve never been big on Franz Ferdinand, but the child of the 1980’s hiding deep down inside me loves the new wavieness of this track.

Lawman, Girl Band – I love bands that aren’t afraid to make noise. Lawman is about as good as noise gets. That big, fat, fuzzy, drony bass sound holds it down while everything else swirls around it until the sound explodes all over the place.

Milkman, Bully – This song probably has as much in common with the catalogues of Sebadoh and L7 as it does anything in the modern rock scene.

Paper Girl, July Talk – The bluesy, raw sound of July Talk comes off even better live, as do the antics of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – There’s just no one quite like Ms. Barnett and her smart, goofy, melancholy, endearing, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

Rain or Shine, Young Fathers – I’ve fallen in the love with these guys the past few years. They’re most definitely not content to follow the hip-hop crowd. Rain or Shine is just one piece of evidence supporting that claim.

Strange Hellos, Torres – There’s a PJ Harvey-ness to this track that attracts me. I love how Strange Hellos builds and how the song draws its strength from Mackenzie Scott’s growling voice.

This World is Not My Home, Robert Earl Keen – Keen’s voice is perfect for this nugget of bluegrass gospel.

Trustful Hands, The Do – There are three or four tracks off Shake, Shook, Shaken that I could have chosen for this list. There’s just something warm, familiar about this track that gets me every time.

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – This track would work just as well in 1975 as it does in 2015. Bruno was the perfect choice to sing Uptown Funk, and the horns are spot on.

Honorable mentions: 15 Years, Houndmouth; Awake, Snoop Dogg; Baby Britain, Seth Avett & Jessica Lee Mayfield; Bleeder, Ceremony; Blud, SOAK; Blueberry Island, Julie Ruin; Bunker Buster, Viet Cong; City Boy Blues, Action Bronson; Damn Baby, Alpine; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; Feel Right, Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal; First Choice, Oddisee; Foreign Object, Mountain Goats; For You, Genevieve; Julie, 100 Watt Horse; Kokaine Karolina, Elle King; Man Up, Nikki Lane; Melt Me, Hanni El-Khatib; Only You (Live), Anderson East; Power Man, Camp Lo; Prince of Slackers, Turn to Crime; Railroad, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn; Roll Up, The Struts; Solid Gold, Turbowolf; Son of God, Will Butler; Too Much, The Steeldrivers; Vital Signs, Gang of Youths

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Favorite albums of 2015: The mid-point review

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – I get caught up in what Barnett does lyrically. The laid-back, stoner vibe musically makes a soft base for harder, more serious thematic moments.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – The most I’ve loved an electronic pop album since Postal Service’s Up.

Girlpool, Before the World Was Big – This album seemed a bit too … twee at first. I kept waiting for the point where Before the World Was Big would annoy me or wear me out, and it never happened. This smart, stripped down collection has sucked me in.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Wow. I’ve been a fan for awhile, but none of the Bastards’ previous releases prepared me for this. Less straightforward and a little more diverse than the rest of their catalogue. Wind Up Bird (above) has some terrific, acid-rock guitar work.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Kentucky’s finest polish their sound and drop an instantly lovable collection of country rock.

July Talk, July Talk – Last year’s EP was terrific. This year’s full-length is terrific-er. I think I’ve written this before, but it’s kind of like listening to Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave front the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in. Part of that may be because he’s the only mainstream rapper who has something more to say than just listing off what expensive swag he owns.

No Joy, More Faithful – Grimy, fuzzy, stoner punk that would have been just as comfortable in the 1990s as it is now.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – So, so glad to have them back.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooTo Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the support it’s received, both critically and from fans. White Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and – heresy! – might even be better than Kendrick Lamar’s latest.

Honorable mentions: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Alpine, Yuck; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Mark Ronson, Uptown Special; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Snoop Doog, BUSH; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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