Birdman ***** (Out Of *****)

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0883.JPGA play within a play has long been one of my favorite devices in storytelling. If isn’t used often, and some directors have a hard time keeping things together, but when it’s done well it can add such a great layer to each character. Such is the case with Alejandro González Iñárittu’s new film Birdman. Michael Keaton delivers the performance of his career as a washed up actor trying to regain credibility by writing, directing, and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Joining Keaton in the film we get a brilliant Ed Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Zack Galifinakis, and Naomi Watts in her best role since I Heart Huckabees. Stone plays Keaton’s daughter, just out of rehab and trying to make the best of things. Norton, Watts, and Riseborough all portray actors in the play and somewhat caricatures of themselves as vain, petty, and arrogant but so fragile they could crack at any moment. Norton especially dazzles as the “stage” actor that thinks he’s better than everyone else-especially Keaton’s “movie” actor.

Iñárittu keeps his camera moving at all times, so much so that the whole film feels like one long tracking shot. It’s masterfully done, with Emmanuel Lubezki shooting fearlessly. The drum-heavy jazz soundtrack adds to the chaotic energy as we witness the toll this play is taking on Keaton.

His mind full of regret, jealousy, and booze, Keaton’s Riggan Thompson seems like he could go off at any second. This play has bankrupted him, his daughter hates him, and he’s reminded of his faded glory of his superhero Birdman years at every turn. He even has Birdman as the voice in his head, feeding him with delusions and false praise. His descent into madness is astounding to watch, and Keaton never misses a beat.

The trailers really don’t do this film justice at all. It’s a dark comedy for sure, but the depth of character isn’t something easily conveyed in 2 minutes. Iñárittu has thrown out his old formula familiar from films like Amores Perros and 21 Grams, focusing all his energy on one man. In doing so, he’s made his best film to date.

A Man Called War-The Eastern Seaboard Demo

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment

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A few days ago I heard a the debut release from Man Called War, a duo based out of Austin, TX. I was going back and forth trying to decide if I should write about it, as I tend to avoid most records so overtly religious. However, the songs work regardless of content, and I actually like them quite a bit. Rob Kelly and Maggie Foy have teamed up to create a quiet, meditative record not unlike the one put out by Band Of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey a couple years ago.

What really struck me is the building tension of the 7 minute “Gloucester, MA.” For the first five minutes of the song it’s a very soft, nondescript man-with-a-guitar type tune, and that’s fine. But then out of nowhere Kelly’s voice booms and it’s like you’re in the middle of Arcade Fire’s Funeral album. Kelly’s tone walks the line between nasally Jeff Mangum screams and the talk/sing of Conor Oberst through the verse and finds a perfect balance between the two. He also delivers a familiar voice in the words themselves-with these lines feeling like they could’ve been written for Letting Off The Happiness “And I keep asking myself, of all the people I’ve loved, how many have I already seen for the very last time? I guess I’ll learn to know, it’s ok to talk to ghosts,
cause they’re filling up the strange darkness on the outskirts of this strange town.”

I’ll be interested to see what they do next. Will they fill out these songs and release it as a non-demo EP or is this the jumping off point for a full-length? I suppose time will tell. For now, you can download The Eastern Seaboard Demo EP on their bandcamp page for free.

Ranking The Chicago International Film Festival

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

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I didn’t get to see every movie I wanted to at the 50th annual Chicago International Film Festival, but I did see a bunch of good ones. Work and travel kept me away from the mid-week screening of St. Vincent and also Birdman on Saturday night so I’ll be seeing it when it hits theaters nationwide like everyone else. Here are my rankings of what I saw as of last night’s closing ceremonies.

9. The Alley Cat
8. Two Days, One Night
7. Red Rose
6. The Last Five Years
5. Miss Julie
4. Timbuktu
3. Still
2. The Clouds Of Sils Maria
1. Force Majeure

Many thanks to everyone at the Fest for making this a great experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again next year!

Britpop Renaissance

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0789.PNGI can’t decide if it’s the new re-issues of early Oasis records or the bizarre desire for nostalgia that seems to pre-occupy anyone born between 1975 and 1990, but I’ve been really in to Britpop lately. So many good records blew up in a short time and then it all just faded away into the ether. I took a look back and made a little playlist of my favorites. Blur, Oasis, and Pulp get two spots, and a special shout out for fans of The Office.

1. Oasis-Live Forever
2. Pulp-Common People
3. Blur-Parklife
4. Elastica-Connection
5. James-Laid
6. Suede-Beautiful Ones
7. Oasis-Don’t Look Back In Anger
8. The Verve-Bittersweet Symphony
9. Black Grape-Kelly’s Heroes
10. Supergrass-G Song
11. Blur-Song 2
12. Manic Street Preachers-Everything Must Go
13. Pulp-Joyriders
14. Sleeper-Inbetweener
15. Ocean Colour Scene-Sway
16. Primal Scream-Jailbird
17. Cast-Fine Time
18. Stereophonics-Handbags & Gladrags
19. Travis-Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
20. The Boo Radleys-Wake Up Boo!

The Airborne Toxic Event-Adjacent: 2 New Songs By Bands Related To TATE

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Eddie Chacon 3

On their last big tour through the States The Airborne Toxic Event brought along American Authors. The supporting acts tune “Best Day Of My Life” has been spinning 50 times a day at radio stations across this nation ever since. On the current tour, TATE is being supported by In The Valley Below. The synth-pop quartet are far more interesting for your ears, and singers Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail have a solid chemistry. They recently put out a video for their song “Neverminders,” which you can see below.

For a list of dates that ITVB will be opening for TATE, click here.

The Bulls - photo by Josh Giroux

In further Airborne Toxic Event-adjacent news, multi-instrumentalist Anna Bullbrook has joined forces with Marc Sallis of The Duke Spirit to form The Bulls. The duo are releasing an EP later this year or next, but you can check out their first single now. It sounds a bit like early 90’s Mazzy Starr with a quiet fury bubbling beneath.

The Rural Alberta Advantage at Metro 10/14/2014

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0767.JPGThe Rural Alberta Advantage have a habit of touring with openers from their native land that folks in the States may not have heard. They introduced me to the music of The Wooden Sky and Dan Mangan, and last night they gave Toronto rockers July Talk a big stage to unleash their balls-to-the-wall set for some new ears. With so much adrenaline pumping I was ready for frontman Peter Dreimanis to keel over at any second. They blast through songs from their self-titled debut and generally just had some fun entertaining the crowd. I would rate this set slightly higher than when I saw them at TURF this summer, but both were high quality.

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The headliners took the stage a few minutes after ten and played for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Rather than focus on their newest record, Mended With Gold, they played a bunch of old stuff with some new ones thrown in here and there. I was surprised I actually liked the new songs better here than on the album. Especially the track “45/33,” which had kind of a 70’s hard rock vibe to it at Metro instead of the 90’s alternative sound I feel on Mended.

Paul Banwatt lived up to his reputation as one of the best drummers of his generation. Every song brought a violent attack on his kit and I can’t believe he doesn’t have to replace his gear every other week. Even when he’s away from the set he’s standing up pounding his sticks together so hard I thought they’d shatter and send pieces flying into the audience.

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RAA’s set was solid, but I feel like some of the energy they displayed in 2009-2010 has faded. Even my favorite songs “Don’t Haunt This Place” and “Drain The Blood” felt muddled and tossed off, as if years of playing these tunes at show after show have caused the band to resent them.

I will say Nils seemed more relaxed and talked to the audience quite a bit. His tale of renting a cabin in northern Ontario that he was sure he would be murdered in was pretty funny. Amy seemed nervous/excited every time she spoke, a bit like Mary Catherine Gallagher on Saturday Night Live.

Highlights of the show, for me, were a very pretty version of “North Star,” a great take on “Tornado ’87,” and Amy and Paul sharing percussion work on the sticks during “Rush Apart.”

The tour continues for 30 more dates, which you can find here. July Talk will continue to open for the US and UK shows so get there early.

K Flay at JBTV 10/13/2014

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0705.JPGWatching the ascent of K Flay has been pretty gratifying. I first spotted the rapper/producer in an opening slot for Passion Pit a few years ago. Sadly, while I’ve been happy to watch her career grow, I hadn’t seen her live again until today.

It was a quick six song set in the afternoon at JBTV Studios featuring tracks from her new record Life As A Dog. The album is her best yet, and seeing her perform today I could tell there’s been a lot of growth and gained confidence.

I really liked the sound with a live drummer. Last time I saw her she stood behind a laptop. Having the drummer allows her to be more involved in the performing aspect and connect with the audience. The drummer, Nicholas Suhr, is also pretty sick on the sticks.

Pick up a copy of Life As A Dog here.

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