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September 22, 2008

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

[photo by 12th St David. they're all pretty fuzzy, but that's what you would expect, right?]

Here's who I thought would be at the My Bloody Valentine show tonight: guys I dated in college who live in the tri-state area, provided they could find a babysitter on a Monday night.

Here's who was actually there: Many iterations of the guys that you may have known in the early 90's at your college radio station who smoked weed and listened to MBV, and also a number of people who looked exactly like the untenured professors in my English department. Brown corduroy jackets and everything. Almost none of these people were dancing, and several, I swear to God, were gazing at their shoes. Plus maybe 3 or 4 girls.

This show was a sold-out sausagefest, but then again, I was pretty disdainful toward MBV all through college (indiepop fan), only later realizing that those dope-smoking radio DJs were onto something. And there we all were, 15 years later, packed into Roseland and bobbing our crinkly heads.

I was a little worried the music might be a self-indulgent, feedback-heavy Jazz Odyssey freakout, the kind of unstructured guitar-band reverb drone that is the reason why I don't go to Sonic Youth shows. But actually, My Bloody Valentine was incredibly tight. They rocked. Each song was clearly delineated as an individual song, with those beautiful, catchy pop melodies floating through swampy layers of guitar sludge. As my concert companion said, the band was a whole lot tighter than the Dandy Warhols, who he had seen a week or so earlier. (The Dandy Warhols are like 12 or 13 years old now, not much younger than MBV, which is weird.)

It's hard for a short person to see very much at crowded shows like this one, but when I caught glimpses of the band, they were keeping themselves mostly obscured in a hazy, saturated murk of lights. Pink, Loveless-cover colored lights. Kevin Shields appears to be turning into Robert Smith.

A tight set of catchy songs like this reminded me that My Bloody Valentine, with all their multitracked guitars and loops and fuzzed-out vocals, is ultimately a really disciplined rock band with some great hooks. They kept the set to songs that ran only about as long as they did on the albums, with no interminable solos or repetitive wanderings. Until the very end.

At the end, they changed direction completely and went into a eardrum-liquidating monotonous droning distortion loop that sounded like an airplane taking off. For 20 minutes. Or maybe longer--that's when I left. "That was the loudest thing I have ever heard," said the concert companion. I had to get out of there, but I was glad they had separated that element of their show from the more mainstream-rock part, because I only really want to hear actual songs, and my ears hurt. Still, an amazing show.

Here's the Times review of their show on Sunday at All Tomorrow's Parties up in the Catskills, with a good, quick history of the band. Here's their video for "Soon" from 1990.

September 19, 2008

A new kind of Obama heckler

Hecklers at Obama rally

Obama may currently have the support of an impressive 84% of African-American voters, but what about those that he hasn't won over? Who are they?

A bunch of them showed up at today's rally in Miami to protest. CNN has a video of Obama's speech getting interrupted by lots of guys with homemade white signs saying things like "Blacks AGAINST Obama" and "Jesse Jackson Hates Obama For Federal Child Support Act" who started shouting stuff about the KKK.

The URL at the bottom of their signs points to the not quite developed site of Michael Warn, who wants you to "learn the truth about the current issues of the world politically and religiously."

It seems that Mr. Warn's main problem is not actually with Obama, but with women. Specifically, the 33% of black women who he claims are Lilith, "the devil", who are trying to lead black men into evil.

[Lilith is an ancient Jewish and Sumerian female demon mythological figure, who has come to be thought of as Adam's first wife in Jewish and Christian thinking, and later for the Victorians was a sort of femme fatale temptress, as evidenced by the sexy nude Pre-Raphaelite painting of her in the Wikipedia entry.]

Anyway, there are lots of wacky claims in Michael Warn's book, "Satan Revealed, Her Name Is Lilith, She is 33% Of the Black Women Of America", a title which pretty much explains the whole premise of the book right there. The book's cover also identifies Oprah as what he means by 33% of black women.

Some excerpts that he has up on his site:

WOMEN TOOK OVER IN AMERICA when America gave women the right to vote. How? Because they out number men 40 to 1, women have the voting power in numbers, the majority. There are two hundred and sixty million people in America. Black LILITH has a thirty million person block vote ... She takes her numbers and vote her men in who will do her will, and make the laws in her favor. One woman can say you said something sexually negative to her eight years ago and destroy you.

Dizzying logic, there.

I'm not sure how today's protest in Miami ties in with evil demon women, but it sounds like this guy's main problem with Obama is that he is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and that he and Evan Bayh co-sponsored a bill to enforce child support laws.

So I guess Michael Warn wants to fight that 30 million Black Lilith voting block by requiring pregnant women to have children they don't want, but not requiring fathers to help support them. Actually, maybe this guy does make sense: that sounds like a great way to keep women from taking over America. Especially with there being 40 times more of them and all.

September 18, 2008

The Joads, 70 years later

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

One of the books I read in high school English was The Grapes of Wrath, which we read for its social commentary on the Great Depression-era exploitation of desperate people and their struggle to maintain some dignity as they fight to survive. Mostly what I remember about that book is being grossed-out by the last scene in which Rosasharn breastfeeds a dying old man. That one scene probably prolonged millions of teenagers' feelings of confusion and revulsion over their adolescent bodily development for many months or years.

But one other scene I remember is where Pa Joad, the patriarch of the Joad family that we follow on their journey to find work out west, is confronted by a man who explains the harsh economic truth behind the myth of plentiful jobs in California that all the people in the migrant camp have been clinging to.

From the screenplay based on the book:

"How many of you all got them han'bills? Look at 'em! Same yella han'bill--800 pickers wanted. Awright, this man wants 800 men. So he prints up 5,000 a them han'bills an' maybe 20,000 people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' starts movin, wes' account a this han'bill. Two-three thousan' folks that's crazy with worry headin' out for 800 jobs! Does that make sense?"

Today, AP describes our current economic situation as "the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression". In another article, they describe modern-day Joad families setting up tent cities in western towns where people have come expecting to find jobs. Except that instead of looking for fruit picking jobs in California, they're looking for casino jobs in Reno:

A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer. Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a "tent city" — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

"I figured this would be a great place for a job," said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn't find one and ended up taking showers at the men's shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

The article also refers to growing tent cities in Santa Barbara, Fresno, Portland, Seattle, Chattanooga, San Diego, and Columbus.

September 16, 2008

The Coen Brothers' Ladies

Ladies of the Coen Brothers' movies

When I think of the most memorable actors and characters of the Coen Brothers' movies, I usually think of the men. There are guys they use again and again, like John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, and those genius one-offs like Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Lebowski, Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn't There, or Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. Spout made a really great list of 10 supporting Coen Brothers actors that often get overlooked, since it's often the supporting characters that give their movies their distinctive bizarre and unsettling style.

But what about the ladies? Just about all of their movies feature a bunch of male leads with only one main female character. In 4 movies now they've gone with their best gal Frances McDormand (Joel Coen's wife) and twice they've used Holly Hunter (in O Brother Where Art Thou? and Raising Arizona.)

Coen Brothers women mostly conform to a type: they're tough as nails (if they aren't at the beginning of the movie, they definitely are by the end), often inscrutable and distant, and their no-nonsense exterior either masks a soft and tender interior (like Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand as sweet but gutsy cops in Raising Arizona and Fargo) or amplifies a genuinely manipulative and selfish nature (Tilda Swinton in Burn After Reading or Frances McDormand in The Man Who Wasn't There.)

Others, like Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski, Marcia Gay Harden in Miller's Crossing, and Judy Davis in Barton Fink are also mysteriously sexy and remote, sometimes with a whiff of treachery. I can only think of one real casting misstep: Catherine Zeta-Jones in Intolerable Cruelty, which just didn't work.

One partial exception is Kelly Macdonald as the wife in No Country For Old Men--one of the few movies the Coen Brothers adapted from someone else's story. She has a small role, and lacks the grit of most Coen Brothers women, but in her final big showdown with soft-spoken psychopath Javier Bardem she shows an unshakable resolve and inner strength, and ends up kind of serving as the moral anchor of the whole movie [video].

Anyway, in their current movie Burn After Reading, there are actually two female leads, both of which are pretty ridiculous and insensitive people. Frances McDormand is a selfish but harmless woman who can't see anything beyond her own needs, though her chronic loneliness and moments of real joy in finding connections with other people makes her a bit sympathetic. Tilda Swinton, on the other hand, is an icy, cruel bitch on wheels, which makes the reveal of what her profession is towards the end of the movie the single funniest moment in the whole thing.

Burn After Reading has gotten a lot of lukewarm or negative reviews, largely from critics who compare it to the more serious variety of Coen Brothers movies like No Country. I loved No Country as much as anyone, but you've got to remember that at least half of their movies are goofy screwball comedies in which bumbling but lovable characters wildly chase after the things they desperately want, which they almost always fail to achieve. Three times in Burn After Reading different characters say "This isn't fun and games," by which I think the Coen Brothers are reassuring us that this IS all fun and games. In his review, one of the most positive ones I've seen, Roger Ebert notes that the plot doesn't matter at all--the strengths of the movie are the dialogue and the characters, both of which are as good as ever. It's inconsequential, but that doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.

Anyway, their next movie is called A Serious Man (that oughta make the No Country For Old Men-loving sourpusses happy.) It doesn't use any of their regular actors, and some of the cast have only worked in Minnesota theater--including leading lady Sari Lennick. I'm going out on a limb here and predicting that she plays a ballsy lady who doesn't take any crap. The movie also stars character actor Richard Kind and Broadway star Michael Stuhlbarg.

September 12, 2008

Election Analysis From Roger Ebert

Casablanca and Viva Zapata

Roger Ebert evaluates the candidates for president and vice president through the lens that matters most to him: What are their favorite movies?

Examining their Facebook pages, he comes up with the following responses:

John McCain: Viva Zapata!, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Some Like It Hot.

Barack Obama: Casablanca, Godfather I and II, Lawrence of Arabia, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Joe Biden: no response.

Sarah Palin: no response.

Well! Ebert is very disappointed by the VP candidates' failure to appreciate the importance of sharing their taste in movies with voters. He also believes that no campaign aides selected these movies for the candidates, but that they reflect the true views of the candidates themselves: "Something as important as choosing your favorite movie, you don't delegate that to underlings." He might be giving them too much credit on that, but let's hope he's right.

Obama's choices strike me as very safe and impersonal (come on, The Godfather?) but One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is pretty interesting. He clearly likes movies about one man standing up to an oppressive regime or bureaucracy.

McCain has some easy choices too, though I was glad to see he had the guts to include a comedy. But he blows it out of the water in a recent EW interview, which Ebert references, in which he more fully explains his Viva Zapata! choice. McCain's a bit of a film buff:

"Elia Kazan made three movies with Marlon Brando. One was A Streetcar Named Desire, one was On the Waterfront, and the third was Viva Zapata! Many people think Brando's performances in Streetcar and Waterfront were his best. I think Zapata! was his best. I'm in the minority about this. But go back and watch the scene of his wedding night, with [Brando] and Jean Peters - the actress who later married Howard Hughes, who made her give up acting - when she teaches him to read by taking out the Bible and reading it with him. That's a poignant scene."

But Ebert says that Bill Clinton has them both beat, based on an interview he did with him in 1999. It's a pretty incredible conversation: Clinton can really talk movies.

Today's Ebert column offers another look at Sarah Palin, who he calls The American Idol candidate. People like her because they think she's just like them, he says, which is exactly why Ebert doesn't like her: "I don't want a vice president who is darned near good enough. I want a vice president who is better, wiser, well-traveled, has met world leaders, who three months ago had an opinion on Iraq."

September 10, 2008

Sex, Drugs, Oil, and Toby Keith

Big Oil is sexy!

Poster by Finnigan Productions

Today's ethics scandal is all about the corrupt government agency that oversees our nation's oil and gas reserves. Great timing, right?

As Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech, "We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. We've got lots of both!" And, as it turns out, we've also gotten lots of bribes, sex, and drugs in return for for selling it to oil companies.

A Times covers a report from the Department of the Interior that busts the officials responsible for selling our country's gas and oil. Turns out our government is literally in bed with big oil. The report characterizes the department as "a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch."

A few of the best findings:

  • Bribery: oil companies gave government employees drinks, tickets to a Toby Keith concert, football and baseball games, and highly illicit paintball outings
  • Sex: two employees had "brief sexual relationships" with their oil industry reps
  • Defrauding taxpayers: the department let oil companies pay less than their contracted price for the oil they bought
  • And while this doesn't strictly count as government corruption, one guy who directed sales of our oil regularly bought cocaine from his secretary, who he also had sex with! Even though he was buying coke from her boyfriend, too. Nice.

Here's the official Royalty-in-Kind website, which is the department where most of the shenanigans went down. It's part of the larger Minerals Management Service, which brings in $10 billion in revenue a year (not counting all the weed they smoked with oil reps on their free ski trips.)

September 9, 2008

Fairuza Balk returns

Humboldt County, Fairuza Balk

Humboldt County is coming out in a couple of weeks, and looks like it should be good. People who saw it at SXSW have said pretty much what you could say based on watching the trailer: it looks like a less Zach Braffy Garden State but with a weirder/better cast, and seems to has a good soundtrack. Here's the official site.

About the cast: the main non-Zach Braff guy with an overbearing father who is successful on the surface but dead on the inside is played by a relative unknown--Jeremy Strong. He was in The Happening earlier this year, but hopefully no one saw him in it.

The mysterious, free-spirited girl is played by Fairuza Balk, who you probably remember from movies that came out many years ago, like The Craft and American History X. Her character's name is Bogart-- oh, haha, like "don't Fairuza Balk me".

Lately she hasn't been working much, but check this out--she appears to be turning into character actor Christine Baranski (who has been in a million movies including Cruel Intentions and Mamma Mia.) You can really see it in the Humboldt County trailer.

Christine Baranski and Fairuza Balk

Fairuza is also going to be in the Werner Herzog's inscrutable "don't call it a remake" version of Bad Lieutenant.

Humboldt County also features good old Peter Bogdanovich, who still shows up in stuff every so often. He's now directing a movie that looks interesting: The Broken Code, about scientist Rosalind Franklin whose x-rays were instrumental in Watson and Crick discovering the double helix structure of DNA.

September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin Folk Art!


Amy's Robot's favorite folk artist, Pan Handle Slim, has created a beautiful portrait of the Republican Veep candidate. The painting is on eBay now, if you're interested in bidding.

September 4, 2008

Lars Ulrich--A changed man

Lars Ulrich, sad and happy

2000: Lars Ulrich, Metallica's outspoken drummer, alerts Napster to 600,000 fans who had downloaded their music. Their accounts are canceled, and fans are outraged at the band for targeting them, as on the whole they are probably some of the most loyal music fans on the planet. Ulrich also testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on file-sharing, and asks them to stop services like Napster, "before this whole Internet thing runs amok." Newsweek calls him a "cyber narc".

While this was going on, Ulrich did an interview with Slashdot in which he defends his primary argument (file-sharing is stealing), but also admits that record companies blew it by not understanding the Internet's impact on the music industry soon enough.

This week: Copies of Metallica's not-yet-released album "Death Magnetic" are getting downloaded all over the place after a Paris record store started selling it.

Not only does Lars not flip out and threaten to sick the government on his fans, he actually sounds totally OK with it:

"If this thing leaks all over the world today or tomorrow, happy days. Happy days. Trust me. Ten days out and it hasn't quote-unquote fallen off the truck yet? Everybody's happy. It's 2008 and it's part of how it is these days, so it's fine. We're happy."

Wow. Maybe all that band therapy got him to let go of his "fiercely independent and controlling" nature, or maybe he's just rechanneled his rage back into his music, which fans and the New York Times are saying is the best thing they've done in many years.

September 2, 2008

RIP Don LaFontaine, movie trailer superstar

Don LaFontaine

Yesterday we lost the unbelievably popular voiceover artist Don LaFontaine, who died of complications related to a collapsed lung, ending a 40 year career that produced many thousands of trailers and ads.

Unfortunately, this means that your window of opportunity to get him to record your outgoing voicemail message has now closed. He says he got lots of requests from people to do their voicemail; in the short, funny interview below, he says if he had time, he would often do it.

"In a world where Adam Slutsky is not available..."

He sounded like a hardworking guy who was very proud of his gigantic body of work:

A few other things about LaFontaine, from his bio: he got his start as an audio engineer in NY, then started producing movie ads years before he recorded any voiceovers himself. He was also a big "Arrested Development" fan.

About September 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in September 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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