Look at that Yaw Control

As someone who has stood by the Simpsons even in the recent years, when most agree that it's rubbish, there was never much doubt that I'd enjoy The Simpsons Movie, which opened this weekend. Pity my girlfriend, who had to endure standing in line with me on Friday night, listening to me drone on about the first episode I ever saw (that'll be 'Bart the General') and why I know the name of Kent Brockman's accountant (Myron). The show makes me very boring, in a totally fun way. Before I moved to the States, everything I knew about American history was from watching the show, and as such, it was a bad day when I found out that Whacking Day ain't real. Either way, I'd have been there at midnight if they were playing it at my local.

"Oh, please. That could be anyone's silo of pig crap"

Even with the inherent downsides of transferring a twenty minute show into a ninety minute movie (namely, ugh, character development), this didn't detract from the enjoyment. For the idiotic fans like me, there were little things to make us squee - like the sightings of Gabbo, Lurleen Lumpkin, Herman, and particularly Hollis Hurlbut, and if you stay through the credits, there's a nice little nod to the show's mythology, saying "FILMED ENTIRELY ON LOCATION IN SPRINGFIELD, ########" perpetuating the whole 'where is it set' question (Vermont?) Plus there's a jump over Springfield Gorge, and a mid-movie plot point that recalls the episode El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer. Some of the jokes don't work too well - I could do with less physical Homerdy - but the vast majority of them kill. There's a fantastic Green Day 'Titanic' tribute at the beginning. Nice dig at the Fox News Ticker at one point - despite the almost-lawsuit. Really nice dig at Alaska and big oil companies. A very funny cameo from an A-List movie star. Albert Brooks rocking the Hank Scorpio style super-baddie. I could go on.

"If you can find a greasier burger, you must be in Mexico!"

Some people will say that it wasn't worth twenty years' wait, and perhaps it wasn't. But I wasn't waiting for it a feature-length since day one, so I didn't heap expectations upon it. Like I said, I'm biased as a long-time defender of the show, but the big opening weekend and generally solid reviews make me feel vindicated about the film's success. It was probably the most I've laughed at the cinema all year. Recommended highly.

[download Hans Zimmer - The Simpsons Theme]

[buy the soundtrack (US)]

Your mom's a Horcrux

Like one out of every three humans on the planet, I bought and read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this past weekend. Outside the window, it was raining heavier than it has all year. Lights flickered. These phenomena may or may not be related to the fact that Cheney was President at the time, due to GW's operation. The climate suited the book's apocalypse-or-bust vibe. Also befitting the mood, during the course of my eight hour readathon, I got through a large chunk of the Constellation Records catalogue - all of Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada, Yanqui UXO, half of Levez Vos Skinny Fists, Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards, and the first few songs from You, You're A History in Rust. I don't know why enigmatic Canadian post-rock best befits images of elves and dragons and giants and whatever-the-fuck Aragog the giant spider is, but it does.

So much has been written about the book that I feel any opinion of mine would be redundant, so I'm not going to tell you what I thought of it. Ask me if you really want to know. But really, I wanted to tell you about a friend, Lara, who is engaging in that popular American summer pastime, being a camp counseller. She told the kids not to spoil the book for her, she told them many times. And then, one day, one of them came up to her and said "Have you finished yet? I can't believe that Ron ************ and Harry finally ************** and *********"

Of course, Lara had not finished the book yet.

So she shot the kid in the leg with an arrow.

Lara Calloway, though you don't have internet access where you are, Congratulations! You are the AYGH? HERO OF THE WEEK.

Do something useful

The Flaws are a comedy group based in Destin, Florida, and they're doing something worthwhile, which I encourage you to support if you can. In a week and a half's time, they're performing a 100 hour improvathon to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Their aim is to raise $75,000 it takes to build a Habitat house in New Orleans. It's a great cause, so if you can donate anything to their fund, it'd be much appreciated. The donation link is on the front page of their site. There's a promo video for their mega-show here, and if you need a laugh, here's an improvised song about Matt's encounter with a stupid Bank of America clerk.

Bulletin from Sports Desk

Some thoughts about tonight's LA Galaxy v. Chelsea match.

  • I want to like David Beckham, I really do. He seems like a nice enough guy, and besides, we'll always have this. But the boy makes it difficult for me. Firstly, it is not sweet to have your wife's and children's names on your boots to commemorate the game. It's kind of stupid. What's more, apparently at LA Galaxy his shirt number is 23 because "he loves Michael Jordan", which, too is monumentally stupid.
  • Next, I don't buy all this "I'm here to bring soccer to the masses" nonsense. Like Paris Hilton, this whole Beckham-moving-to-America thing is a lot of hype over something trivial. Seriously, if cameras weren't following him around all the time, nobody would give two shits. In fact, it's hard to imagine the masses giving even one shit in a few months.
  • There was a red carpet outside the stadium, and apparently "they had to build an extra annex for all the press from six continents".
  • There is no reason for me to hear that Jennifer Love-Hewitt is a fan of the sport, seemingly only now since Beckham has come. "It's more fun than any movie premiere I've ever been to!" she says, in one of at least eight uses of the word fun.
  • Likewise, I don't need to have the game coverage interrupted to hear what Drew Carey thinks (although he at least didn't seem too thrilled to be interrupted), nor about Gov. Schwarzenegger's childhood experiences playing football.
  • In the luxury box, Posh Spice was entertaining Eva Longoria and Katie Holmes, in a gathering of people of no-great achievement but press ubiquity. [Notable exception: 'Go' was good, but I saw it at Glastonbury, where everything is good] Two or three times, Posh was looking at someone else's phone.
  • Now for the coverage on ESPN... Thanks for the ninety minutes of pre-game coverage entirely focused on one man. Also, the Beckham cam.
  • I've griped about ESPN commentary before, but honestly... even when they're knowledgeable it's excruciating. Like the time Tommy Smyth gave a brief biog of the legend Ian Wright because Shaun Wright Philips was on the ball. Ugh.
  • There was a part in the second half where they were talking about Abel Xavier's hairstyle, and then a terrible, laboured "you know, Beckham's had a fair few hairstyles over the years" segue into a pre-prepared video montage of said styles. Guys, if you want the sport to be taken seriously, as you keep saying, maybe don't keep interrupting the game for hairstyle videos, yeah?
  • Also, references to Willis Reed don't really belong.
  • As for the match itself, who cares? Chelsea won 1-0, which is about fair. They brought big names but no real interest in the game, and though Galaxy weren't very good, they had Xavier at the back who was tremendous. Also, they have a player called Vagenas, which to me is funny.
  • I must say, after watching Chelsea's new signing Malouda, that he may as well saw his foot right off, since he's obviously completely adverse to using it. I'm glad we didn't sign him.
August 12th, and the return of the Premiership, can't come soon enough.

I think it will be beautiful

Now that it's finally out here in the U.S., I can write about Danny Boyle's Sunshine [website is really spoiler-heavy]. Though it pains me to go along with the majority of critical opinion about this, I'll just say it. Sunshine is a great film, visually and dramatically stellar and occasionally breathtaking, BUT the final twist and subsequent ending are so ridiculous that they almost devalue the whole thing. I love the look of the ship, the view of space, the unease amongst the crew, Boyle's camerawork really heightens the tension, and the way the sound gets more frenzied the closer we get to the sun. Chris Evans, unfortunately also the Human Torch, is great and focused and angry and especially powerful.

In particular there is one scene that is so edge-of-the-seat that I fell on my arse. You'll know the one I mean when you see it, otherwise ask me about it. Alex Garland writes a great high-concept story, as is his why, but it feels like he paints himself into a corner, because the ending is, as I say, so head-smackingly "What???" that I was almost angry with him. Go and see it because it's so pretty, but make sure your nails aren't too sharp - cos you'll be scratching the shit out of your head.

Be excellent to each other

Yesterday, my sister phoned me at about 6pm, and in tears she said "I'm at Grand Central Station, we just heard an explosion, and everyone's running around screaming... Nobody knows what's happening.. I love you".

The following fifteen minutes, as I frantically flicked through the news channels, plus Drudge, Fark, etc, looking for details, until finding out that it was a burst pipe and not terrorism, were the most frightening of my life. Amongst many other things, I kept thinking of that damn 1-18-08 teaser. She made it home just fine, a little shaken up. Apparently, she was right across the road from the blast. Y is for Yikes.

So here's a sappy reminder to tell the people you love that you love them. Keep your friends close, your enemies won't matter.

[download Hope of the States - Enemies/Friends]

An unfunny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond

I was really putting off watching I Think I Love My Wife. Don't get me wrong, though. Chris Rock is probably my favourite comedian out there. I just bought the 3-disc collection of The Chris Rock Show, and you should too. His stand up is always spot-on perceptive and hilarious. But put the man in the spotlight on the big screen and he capital-s Stinks. Seriously, I dig Pootie Tang and Dogma, where he's funny in the background, but if like me you sat through Down to Earth... It's bad news brown. Not a surprise that the critics kind of hated Think, which Chris also directs.

Unfortunately, it's not that good. The whole premise, about things getting dull after marriage, is brilliantly condensed into eight minutes' worth of material on 'Never Scared', but it doesn't stretch into an interesting hour and a half. There are some really funny moments, especially the recurring Michael Jackson discussion, but there are plenty of crap jokes. And it's really hard to feel sympathy for the Richard, the main character, when a) he's a big jerk and b) Rock doesn't play sincere all that well. There's never any real reason to care. Kerry Washington is crazy hot, but her character is really unlikeable and manipulative, so when Richard gets smitten, we're like "why?" Also, Steve Buscemi is in it. And there's a big singalong ending. Like Fox Mulder, I really wanted to believe, but 'I Think I Love My Wife' gave very little to love. But: Great Biz Markie scene!

Below there's a clip from his TV show that really is funny.

I wasn't born a killer

I heard about this song from frYars (man, that's annoying) from Rosie Swash's Singles Club column, and since I generally trust what she has to say, I gave it a listen. The song, 'The Ides' goes through many layers, with some rinky-dink pianos at the beginning, nice phasers, a voice that sounds like a young man pretending to be an old man, many lyrics that aren't too clear, a distinct DIY vibe, and it's not bad at all. City of origin? What do you think?

Keep an eye on the Myspage for tunes and missives.

[download frYars - The Ides]

Dancing with the Average Joes

  • Prince gave away his new record with a Sunday newspaper today. Jim over at GBMH bought it for you. [Gimme Back My Head]
  • I thought I liked 'All My Friends', but apparently it's not as much as this guy. [Slate]
  • Jetplane Landing have a fantastic new record out called Backlash Cop. Check out two tracks at Jamie's, then stream the whole thing at their label Smalltown America. I put it to you!
  • You can stream some performances from last week's T In The Park festival courtesy of the BBC. Check out Jamie T ripping through 'So Lonely Was the Ballad' in about nine seconds. [Channel T]
  • Ricky and Steve have some news about the final episode of Extras. Also, about swearing and wanking. Most assuredly not suitable for work. [YouTube]
  • The Observer compile a list of the ten greatest girl groups of all time. B*Witched are conspicuous by their absence. [OMM]
  • This trailer has been on TV quite a bit the last few days, leaving me saddened and wistful about the good old days. Hence the download below.
[download Outkast - Gasoline Dreams]

A degree in Enigmatology

I spent my Friday night by myself at home, with my laptop plugged into our telly, watching a documentary about crossword puzzles. Let's face it, you're jealous of my rock and roll lifestyle, aren't you. Fortunately, the film in question, Wordplay, isn't half bad.

The first half of the film highlights the appeal of the New York Times crossword puzzle, speaking to editor Will Shortz (the scene where he reads hate mail is hilarious) and constructor Merl Reagle about how they do what they do, and some of the people addicted to the puzzle. Amidst all the nerdlingers, there's also some famous fans, like Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls, New York Yankee Mike Mussina, and a surprisingly grating Jon Stewart. There's also a history of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, in Stamford CT, which Shortz started in the seventies. It's interesting to meet some of the past winners, and see them knock through a puzzle in four minutes. They acknowledge that it's an usual hobby, but it brings them together, and one interviewee, Ellen, says that once a boyfriend made fun of her for her hobby and she replied with "Well, what are you best in the country at?" Later you see the closeness the people have, meeting once a year in Stamford, and it's pretty sweet.

For the second half, we're at the 2005 competition, having met some of the favourites. There's Tyler, a redheaded frat dude; Jon, many-time previous winner and "the greatest puzzle player of our lifetime"; father-of-three Al; and Tripp, who's the least socially awkward, but his boyfriend looks like Wayne Rooney, so he loses points there.

I liked that 'Wordplay' balanced two sides of a documentary - speak to people who're united by a common but unusual hobby, see what draws them to it; and then go for some excitement as we race to see who'll take the crown, and we know that contests make for compelling documentary fodder. And, I was surprised to be so drawn into caring about who would win. As much as there can be at a crossword competition, there is a pretty awesome "twist" during the ultimate three-way showdown, which is kind of startling.

I'm not going to start doing the NYT crossword anytime soon, mostly because I don't know any long or clever words, but the documentary was engrossing, entertaining and more than a worthy substitute for going out drinking. Check out the trailer here, and DVD link below.

[buy DVD (US)]

Cornelius Fudge is an Ass

I really appreciate the way Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix takes the most bloated of the books and turns it into the leanest of the films, clocking in at a mere two hours and eighteen minutes. New screenwriter Michael Goldenberg did well in stripping the thing down to its essentials - the film wasn't nearly as cluttered as previous installments. I could sit here and whinge and say "I can't believe they left out x, y and z" but I'm not a dickhead. So instead, here's what I thought of what IS in the film.

Firstly, new cast members... Evanna Lynch was strong as Luna Lovegood. Also, Irish? Helena Bonham Carter plays a witch even more absurd than the one she played in Big Fish, and was presumably only told "You're a witch... and... GO". And Imelda Staunton was great as Umbridge, certainly to my mind her second funniest role.

The dream sequences looked great with all their flash cuts. Despite saying "I'm angry all the time", Harry was refreshingly un-emo and not annoying the whole time. The final act in the Ministry of Magic was very condensed compared to how I remember it from the book. The climactic showdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore was visually cool and all, but watching spells being cast doesn't really come across as dangerous so it was hard to get worked up over.

Overall, I'm glad that they took a book I didn't particularly like, and turn it into a film I did like. Plenty of backstory was shanghai'd but it doesn't weaken the movie. Also, Jason Isaacs has a lot to say, and he went to the same school as me. Woot!

[Lest we forget: Harry and the Potters, Live in Gainesville]

Who wants to be the last of anything?

I listened to the debut album from Soft Hearted Scientists a good three or four times today at work, and I still can't make my mind up. On the one hand, I'm really turned off by how their music is entirely suited for early mornings at Glastonbury after ten-too-many jazz cigarettes, singing lazily about waterfalls and mountains and the sun (and that's just the first song). It's very pastoral, gentle, spaced out and unassuming, and the lyrics smack of said drug-fuelled moments. On 'I'll Be Happy, I'll Be Sleeping' they muse about the dental problems of warlocks (this really happens), whilst there's a whole song about caterpillars (that'll be 'The Caterpillar Song'). The latter has quite a bitchin' guitar solo, which when combined with mellotron, sounds very druggy, too.

But I listened to it repeatedly, so the Cardiff band must be doing something right, right? Near the beginning they talk about "Love, loss and love" which is pretty much the album's theme, and they've got some really nice melodies in there. The song 'Siberia' makes an obvious but effective metaphor for dying love, while 'Drops In The Ocean' and 'Light Years to Nothing' are endearingly almost-philosophical. So despite my being cleaner than two whistles, I still dig them, regardless of the vibe.

Don't know much more about 'em, but have a look at their myspace for some more choons.

[download Soft Hearted Scientists - Light Years to Nothing]

Shut up and eat your garbage

It's not that I didn't like Ratatouille - I most certainly did - but I don't really know what to write about it. Pixar has never let me down, even Cars was dead good, and this promised to be much better. In many ways, Ratatouille (henceforth just "the film") is the anti-Cars. There are no big name celebrity voices, it's about a very exclusive interest, it's set in Paris, the title needs to spelt phonetically in all the advertising, and there is relatively little marketing appeal with its hero. (Having said that, you can buy Emile suits at the Disney Store and they're totally adorable).

Pixar don't go for pop-culture gags like Shrek etc, and so the films' appeal is longer lasting. Plus, the animation is always tremendous, and in this film it really looks incredible. The Patton handles lead character vocal duties well, although I could only think of his birth control bit off 'Werewolves and Lollipops'. The story wasn't as strong as some of the studio's other output, and it really lagged in the middle, but it's a minor gripe. Showing that there's still some life in the animated-animals-say-cute-things clusterfuck, the film is short of genius, but heads and shoulders above most other big name films this summer.

It's gonna be a magic night

'We Are The Champ' is the debut album from The Loungs, a terribly named band from St. Helens, which is close to Liverpool. It's a really nice summer listen - there are lots of sweet melodies, harmonies and other similarly old-fashioned charming things. I especially like 'Dig That Do' (about a haircut, of course), the ridiculously upbeat bar-room stormer 'Armageddon Outta Here', 'Get Along' which has a huge chorus, and 'I'm Gonna Take Your Girl', which starts off sounding like Gorkys and ends up sounding like a Mariachi explosion. Occasionally it gets a little too twee - no band should ever name a song 'Googly Moogly - but the Loungs have neatly captured early Beta Band's fondness of eclecticism and managed to make it not sound shit. Respect.

[download The Loungs - I'm Gonna Take Your Girl]

[buy (UK)]

We only play Lizzy covers

I've never really got into Irish rockers The Frames, but I've gotta tell you guys... The new film Once is the best I've seen all year. It's funny, romantic, musical, pretty, awkward, simple, poignant.. everything that 2007's new releases have been lacking. It's sweet, uncomplicated... I'm going to run out of adjectives soon. The songs swell, there is some really funny dialogue, everything comes off as unpretentious and natural. Though I don't like musicals at all (notable exception: Cannibal! The Musical), the musical interludes here never bothered me, they never got in the way of the story, and were suitably low key.

I really loved it, beginning to end, and any cinema money that doesn't go to Michael Bay is good by me. The lead guy, Glen Hansard, is the lead singer in the Frames, which is why I mentioned them earlier, and the soundtrack is well worth a pickup, and you can listen to one of their legendary live shows through NPR here.

There's an embedded video below. If you're reading the LiveJournal feed and it doesn't show up, click here to see it, cos it's ace.

Before time began, there was the cube

Today, on our respective days off, my sister went to the free New Pornographers/Midlake show in Brooklyn, and here in Florida, I watched Michael Bay's Transformers. Where's the justice?

Anyway, just so you know, I was never a fan of the cartoon when I was younger, I was more of a He-Man kid. In fact, trivia fans, 1987's 'Masters of the Universe' was the first film I ever saw in cinemas. If you believe my mum, when I saw live action Skeletor, I cried so loudly that I had to be taken outside.

Anyway, the point of that semi-embarrassing is, my only attachment to Transformers is the knowledge that Optimus Prime is Jewish. My friends seem to be really split down the middle about it, from a couple that loved it, to "That movie was so bad I peed blood afterwards." I wish I could feel as strongly about it as those folks - but here's the thing: I enjoyed watching it, only because making fun of it was so easy. I can't tell yet if that's praise or not. It's really melodramatic, noisy, silly, and long. The dialogue is terrible, everything is pompous and loud, and the plot doesn't hold together one bit. I mean, the action sequences are cool enough, I guess, but as I've said before, cool visuals no longer a movie make.

And yet, and yet... Shia LaBeouf is very watchable, everything is just so ludicrous, and, like I said, the dialogue is so bad, that it's a fun watch. It's one of those that you like being annoying and pointing out all the plot holes and bizarreness in. I took a sick pleasure in asking why the cube was called Allspice, and why eBay is such a prominent character, or why there's an ostrich at a car dealership, or why the role of supernerd is played by someone really pretty with an Australian accent, or what the fuck is Barton Fink is doing here, or why Optimus Prime wants the Cube thing put into his chest anyway.

So... this probably isn't a recommendation of 'Transformers'. But I sure didn't hate it. Perhaps the best I can say for it is: It's not nearly as shitty as some of this summer's shittiest blockbusters.

First impressions of Hey Venus!

My main concern about Super Furry Animals' eight album was that there'd be too many slow-but-pretty songs. The last three records have seen many, many such songs (off the top of my head: Fragile Happiness, Frequency, Atomik Lust, Bleed Forever, Ohio Heat, Presidential Suite, It's Not the End of the World?, Run! Christian! Run!, Hello Sunshine, Walk You Home, Alternate Route to Vulcan Street...) and precious few mental fast ones. Now, I don't dislike songs from that list, I really love a few of them, and their arrangements and such are often fantastic. And I also understand full well that bands evolve, and can't be playing dumb, fast songs with names like 'Focus Pocus' forever. They've just played slow-but-pretty a lot lately, and I was just jonesin' for some songs that sounded like they were recorded by crazy people again.

First things first, 'Hey Venus!' is a good fifteen minutes leaner than anything they've done in years, so things don't get boring, although they could've trimmed a minute of special effects off from 'Carbon Dating'. There are still a few slow-but-pretty songs, which are all alright - 'Suckers' is especially strong - but I'm most interested in the middle segment, beginning with 'Neo Consumer', which heralds to early SFA, reminded me of 'Chupacabras' and 'Bad Behaviour' which is no bad thing. I really think this song would've made a better lead single than 'Show Your Hand', which is very safe and pleasant enough, I suppose, but 'Neo Consumer' would have people saying "Whoa, this new record might be awesome".

'Into the Night' is a more straight-up rocker, from whence the album gets its title, and is more fuzzy than most things they've released in a while. Next there's 'Baby Ate My Eightball' which isn't as good as its title, but still is pretty weird. Then aforementioned 'Suckers', the token Bunf-led song 'Battersea Odyssey' which isn't much cop, and finally closer 'Let the Wolves Howl at the Moon', which is, you've guessed it, slow and pretty.

After three listens, this isn't really a big departure from the trend of the last few albums, but I'm heartened that they've remembered to include something old-school sounding. I'll be listening a lot more in the coming weeks, and I'm sure it'll become as much of a friend as all the others.

I'm not putting up any of the album tracks, but you could go here for three from Glastonbury, or here for a full live set from 2002.

The Sunday Four

  • Happy Canada Day! New songs from the New Pornographers and Stars have been all over the blogs lately, so get your free Canadian indie on here and here respectively. I really dig the NPs' song 'My Rights Versus Yours', even though the opening chord always makes me think of 'Slight Return' by the Bluetones.
  • If you thought this summer was bad for blockbusters, Slate Magazine lets us know what to expect next year. Hint: Lots of Apatow, Eddie Murphy as a spaceship, and Mike Myers as not-Austin-or-Shrek.
  • I'm watching the Diana concert from Wembley, and I still don't care much for Fergie. Status Quo, meanwhile, are still alive. Also, Dennis Hopper is MCing?
  • Finally, here's a classic Glasgow song for my friends in that city. Be safe, you bawbags.
[download The Delgados - No Danger]

Paint my dreams upon the wall

Here's the latest single from The Strange Death of Liberal England [myspace], a band from the south coast of England who make the big music. They like to crescendo, lots of grandeur, but with a singer who's borderline incomprehensible. The sacred words "arcade" and "fire" may come up as a reference point. 'Oh Solitude' is not quite as immense as previous one 'A Day, Another Day', but begins fast and doesn't let up. It's a really short song, and that's a pity because they're really good at building and building, but that's not to say you shouldn't dig this, or its cool animated video. TSDOLE haven't put out very much yet, but it's all been great so far so I've high hopes for them.

[download The Strange Death of Liberal England - Oh Solitude]

[Go to their site to buy their music]

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