Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why U.S. Critics Who Jumped All Over 'The Host' Are Slobbing the Wrong Nutsack

...because sometimes it's just a big-ass tadpole that got all high on embalming fluid and started eating people and shit...

A minor segment of American film fans have finally, in the past few years, been slobbering all over the nutsack of Asian cinema, in particular Hong Kong action flicks and Korean horror. It's a well-deserved hummer. From the action/horror one-two punch of Oldboy to the hilarious Kung Fu Hustle, Asian cinema often takes chances, particularly when it comes to horror (the gruesome climax of Audition comes to mind).

American directors have been suckling at the teat of Asian cinema for years now. The original director of Ringu - even though I'm sure he got his in royalties and what-not - had to be pissed to see The Ring blow up in the U.S. when his version was better, gorier and scarier. And in his [admittedly overdue and long-deserved] Oscar acceptance speech, I don't remember Marty Scorsese thanking the directors of Internal Affairs, which was just as good as The Departed but was missing an all-star American cast.

And while all the films above deserved the praise they received, all of the American critics jumping on the "Host" bandwagon are catching their ride a little too late.

I initially read a review of it as a short blurb in Rolling Stone's movie section, and Peter Travers said much the same as I did above, basically "See this version now before an American director co-opts it and ruins it" (which, incidentally, is happening as we speak). 

So I threw it on the Netflix list and it finally came this past weekend. And, uhh... not so much.

The plotline, on the surface, seems intriguing: an American military officer orders a subordinate to dump hundreds of gallons of formaldehyde down the drain and, consequently, into South Korea's Han River (this actually happened back in the day).

What didn't actually happen is a giant carnivorous tadpole doing a double-gainer out of the river to eat and kidnap people. But still, cool premise. American military carelessness creates a monster, very Godzilla, and it's one of the first monster movies in quite a while to make anti-American political commentary. Certainly the first since 9/11.

But the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. Granted, I should have watched it in the original Korean with English subtitles, but my fiancee hates that, and for this one I decided to let her have her way. Not that it made much of a difference. The monster is revealed way too early, a lot of the scenes that are supposed to be serious, I found myself laughing at, and by the time it was over I was just generally pretty bored.

Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of a concept a lot of Asian horror flicks utilize, "the violence of silence." You know, no music, very little ambient background noise, just something creepy on the screen and several seconds of quiet. Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes not, and I can see how it wouldn't translate quite as well to American audiences that are used to Kevin Smith's rapid-fire dialogue and slam-bang action movies. But the problem with The Host is that it's just not very good. You're not going to scare me with a giant carnivorous tadpole high on embalming fluid that kidnaps little Korean girls. And ESPECIALLY not with a U.S. military doctor played by the cross-eyed bug scientist from Silence of the Lambs.

No, sir. I laugh at that.

There are a few "gotcha" moments with the monster in The Host, and the story of the family at the film's center is touching at times, but the critic who put it on par with Jaws should be strung up by his testicles. He's licking the wrong Asian nutsack.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Shield' S07E13: 'Family Meeting' (series finale)

"Ronnie, I... I thought Corinne--I had no choice--"
"What about MY goddamned choice, Vic?!? We were gonna run! WE WERE GONNA RUN TOGETHER!"

Vic Mackey is rarely at a loss for words. Neither am I, for that matter, but I was pretty much sitting in awed silence following the series' finale. Last night brought our relationship with Mackey full circle. At the end of the series' first episode, he was a cold-blooded cop killer, a completely amoral man who was really just trying to cover his tracks.

At the same time, he was a horrifically-effective police pit bull, unleashed on the shittiest part of Los Angeles where he cracked racist jokes about the residents, but at the same time fought tooth and nail to protect them from [most of the] evil preying on their neighborhoods.

He was a corrupt cop that we thought had a heart of gold. We were wrong. This is what the Vic Mackey lifestyle gets you. When the chips were down, you could almost always count on Vic to look out for himself, and in the end, that's exactly what he did.

When he walked into the clubhouse and Ronnie was crying, I really started getting on edge. I started getting a feeling that Shane was going to off the whole family, particularly at the end of last week's episode, when Mara asked him to "Take me home." It seemed like a very "Tell-me-about-the-rabbits" moment. But when Ronnie and Vic were together for the final time, I thought someone just had to die.

For  longtime Shield fans, specifically those who have praised David Rees Snell for gradually adding more and more layers to his character, it just cuts to the bone to see Ronnie go down for, as Dutch put it, "the last three years." It's just so shockingly unfair, and you could see it in Ronnie's eyes. He just couldn't believe it. All that he'd laid on the line, and in the end, Vic sold him out, too.

That's almost worse than Shane offing Lem with a grenade. At least there was the outside chance that Lem was going to squeal, if not before going to jail, probably sometime afterward. Ronnie was a fucking rock, and this is his reward. If anyone was on the fence about Mackey being a soulless, rotten man, his final double-cross closed that book.

Even when his heart was in the right place, it wasn't. Much to my surprise, the series ended in much the way I have predicted, almost literally: Mackey all alone, his family gone, his team dead or in jail... gun in his hand and no one to kill. You could see it in his eyes, as he watched Barn cops respond to a call like a caged animal up in his ICE office.

At this point I would also like to point out how difficult it is, as an actor to A) summon tears on command, and even more so than that, to B) summon those tears and then choke them back at their very precipice. Michael Chiklis did it twice during the finale, and at the risk of buying into my own joke, it truly was acting genius. Chiklis made you care deeply about man who has

• Killed a police officer
• Covered up the near-death of another (Tavon)
• Performed armed robbery, not just of the Armenian mob, but also of an LAPD police van
• Beat a man nearly to death with a chain before shooting him in the head

That's hard to do. It's even more difficult, after caring for so long, to have his true inner evil come to light, as it did toward the end of the series. In its way, The Shield finale killed with even more quiet than The Wire's final bow. While Shane's kiss-off was brutal, it wasn't unexpected, and I was pretty sure Mackey would get away in the end, at least legally.

I think the final scene was appropriate, but not quite as true to how the best seasons of this show have ended. If I had been in charge of the final scene, I think I would have gone one of two ways, adding a little tiny bit at the end that starts the same in both scenarios:

Cut to a courtroom. It's Ronnie's trial. The prosecutor stands up and announces 'Prosecution calls Victor Samuel Mackey to the stand.'

OPTION A: Ronnie chokes back a mixture of sadness and anger as Mackey moseys up to the stand and places his hand on the Bible. "Everything started when we found out we had a rat on our Strike Team," he says. Cut to credits.


OPTION B: Ronnie chokes back that same mixture, but turns around and looks a little confused as no one comes through the door at the back of the courtroom. Agt. Olivia Murray, sitting in the court gallery, looks around, then back at Ronnie, who smiles for the first time since his arrest as his lawyer makes a motion for dismissal since the chief witness for the prosecution is nowhere to be found. Murray then fights back her own combination of fear and anger as she realizes the star witness against Gardocki isn't coming. Mackey has gone rogue. Ronnie will go free, and no one will ever see Mackey's bald dome again. A final shot shows Vic paying a coyote and getting into the same van he and Shane arranged to take Lem to Mexico.

I think both would have added an extra emotional punch at the finish, and still stayed true to all of the characters.

A few notes:
• The Dutch/Lloyd denouement was immensely unsatisfying... in fact, the Dutch storyline taken as a whole, over the course of the series, has not been nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped. I know it's hackneyed and been written about to death, but ever since he strangled that cat in S3, I've been waiting to see Dutch get nudged off the deep end. Even before that, he had a real yen to go after the Strike Team. And unlike Aceveda, he had the wherewithal to have perhaps pulled it off. He was deep into them during the money-train cover-up (can't think of what sidetracked him off the top of my head... cuddler rapist?). Not only did we not get any resolution with Lloyd, we don't even know if they found his mother's body! All we got was Claudette's "Get ready for your close-up," which could mean multiple things.
• The look on everyone's face when Vic walked back into the Barn a final time was pretty priceless. It was the same sort of look they all gave Antwon Mitchell at the end of S4... the look that says "Cop killer..."
• Ever since a blog commenter characterized Mackey's bull-in-a-china-shop act in S6 as "making me want to yell 'ACTING GENIUS!' a lá Jon Lovitz," it's harder for me to watch those stoic antihero shots of him without thinking of it and wanting to laugh in some small way. But I really would have liked to see more sparks between him and Claudette. She was SO pissed in the penultimate episode that I thought she would really let him have it. And even though she knew she was getting to him by arresting Ronnie, it can't make her feel good that Gardocki's the only bust out of this whole Strike Team shitstorm.

Potentially more to come...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On This, the Eve of the 'Shield' Series Finale...

"Good cop and bad cop went home for the day. I'm a different kind of cop..." - Vic Mackey

I'm actually pretty amazed that the final season has come this far without the death of any major characters prior to tomorrow's season finale. I thought for sure SOMEONE would have caught a few hot ones by now. Several characters ALMOST did, but no... so, without further ado, my predictions sure to go wrong for the Shield series finale (Tuesday, Nov. 25, 10 p.m., F/X):

• Mara's collarbone finally pierces a vital organ, and she kicks off. I've been waiting for this stupid bitch to die ever since she stole the Money Train cash, which if you think about it, set the whole chain of events into motion that led to Lem's death and Shane's complete turn to the Dark Side of the Force, ha ha. She's done nothing but cause trouble and drive a wedge further between Vic and Shane.
• Mara's death sends Shane into a full-bore tailspin. He goes after Mackey head-on, blaming him for costing them their cash and forcing him to rob the house where she got her shoulder fucked up. He gets caught and hauled in by Julian and Tina, on a routine patrol. (Actually, though, if that happens, he may actually blow his brains out)
• Wyms is faced with a horrible decision: the only way to get Vic is to either snitch to Beltran and let all those drugs loose in Farmington, or snitch to Gardocki about Vic turning on him; Ronnie would undoubtedly run from the feds and foul up Vic's deal. I can't see her getting to Beltran, but she might stay her righteous streak for the chance at a little karmic justice on Mackey's ass.
• Cassidy kidnaps her step-brother from Danny's house. This is never going to happen, but it would be hilarious.
• Corrine finally breaks down and tells Vic what's been going on; he realizes he fucked Ronnie ever worse than he thought, but he's not going to off his ex-wife. 
• WHO'S GONNA DIE?: Shane, one way or another, Mara, Corinne, Ronnie, and either Dutch, Lloyd or Lloyd's mom.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Open Letter to DJ Quik and Celly Cel

Best West Coast producer ever

Best gangsta rap record you never heard

If you are or ever have been a fan of West Coast classic gangsta rap, you need to hear Celly Cel's Killa Kali. It's not particularly for Celly's mostly throwaway Misogynist-By-Numbers aesthetic, where he's mainly smackin' hoes and getting his hair twisted up in Shirley locks; it's alright but never really that memorable (never really understood that, by the way... all of the macho posturing in the G-rap culture, and half of the dudes from Cali have their hair styled after a six-year-old redhead child star... kinda weird).

No, the reason is because it's probably the best G-rap record I own, and that's counting Doggystyle and the original Chronic. Okay, so it probably isn't better than Doggystyle, but it's got everything that makes that type of record great: heavy kicks and handclaps, high-end melodies, buzzing, thumping bass, full, squelchy synths and just a smorgasbord of great beats to smash in the ride.

His follow-up, The G Filez, was fucking horrible, which brings me to my next tangent:

DJ Quik hasn't released a new record in quite some time, and I suppose I can probably be thankful for that. His work on Snoop's latest disc with Teddy Riley was pretty banging, but when it comes to his solo albums, I can only listen to gawddamn AMG act like the Micro-Machine Man so many times while he tries to pretend he's not just DJ Quik's weed-carrier. So much of Quik's great, laidback G-funk has been wasted on his hangers-on that I sometimes forget he's my favorite West Coast producer.

So this is my plea. Quik, get together with Celly Cel and do a collab for your next solo joint. And leave AMG, Suga Free and the fucking DeBarge family out of it this time.

Review: '808s & Heartbreaks,' by Kanye West

"I got something new for you to see / 
And you just gon' keep on hating me..."

It’s easy for me to respect Kanye West’s ambition. As someone who’s into just about every single genre of music with the notable exception of what I can only qualify as “extra-twangy modern country,” and "raver-style techno," I can understand the impulse to branch out into other musical areas.

Unfortunately, far as I’m concerned, that ambition is almost completely wasted on 808s & Heartbreaks. In places where it has the potential to be interesting, the album seems to fall flat on its face, and the more-traditionally hip-hop moments are just sort of alright in terms of Kanye's past production quality.

Case in point: the opener, “Say You Will,” which starts with a tom-tom paired up alongside a few digital bleeps… and stays that way for the next 6:18. A driving piano melody provides the backbone for “Welcome to Heartbreak,” but the part that SHOULD be driving it, the BEAT, has had all the treble removed and is playing the background like a retarded wingman.

Modern rap fans will probably begin the hating here by attacking my well-documented fondness for classic boom-bap, mid-‘90s-era hip-hop, and by all means, hate away. But that’s not it. I understand the concept for the record, it’s right there in the title: a juxtaposition of the intricacies of modern relationships and the alienation of fame with the simplistic sounds of the 808, which defined another of hip-hop’s classic eras.

What I’m trying to say is that too many of the songs here seem overly, intentionally simplistic, like ‘Ye is trying to drive the metaphor home with a sledgehammer and, unfortunately, it makes for a lot of sluggish songs during the course of 808’s 52 minutes (relatively short for a Kanye album).

The worst part about all this is his album-long penchant for Auto-Tune. It just mystifies me, particularly given that he’s actually got a pretty good singing voice, unlike someone of Lil’ Wayne’s caliber, who can barely speak, let alone sing. I get why he wants to Auto-Tune the shit out of himself.

But on 808s, with its already-spare soundscapes, Kanye’s voice plays front and center, and all of the manipulation gives things a weird, plasticized feeling. That leaves mainly the lyrics, and it's hard to turn a clever, punchy phrase as an R&B robot. The songs cover his grief over a death in the family, as well as some fairly generic love/hate/make-ups-to-break-ups, which in turn throws the spotlight back on the production, that at times sounds almost like an unfinished version of a regular mid-tempo Kanye song. 

But even the Kanye West Mid-Tempo Jam has taken on a lot more character in the past. Not so much here.

I’m not totally down on it, though: “Heartless” works a bouncy flute loop and Kanye actually sings, sounding just fine; “Amazing” replaces Southern bounce with a heavy piano and organic percussion, providing a nice bedrock for Young Jeezy’s guest verse, and “Paranoid” is an modern uptempo take on ‘80s synth glam.

But the first single, “Love Lockdown,” largely misrepresents the depth of 808s & Heartbreaks. It’s a good example of what I think ‘Ye might have been shooting for on the whole album.

An R&B record with almost no harmony? Even T-Pain knows better than that. He uses Auto-Tune better, too, now that I think about it.

Ultimately, 808s & Heartbreaks sorta smacks of Kanye saying "Damn, I'm so great I can even make a hit R&B record." And I'm sure that it will be. But this time, it will be more about Kanye the Brand than Kanye the Producer that Made You Go "Yeah He's Arrogant But Damn!"

If you need any further proof that Kanye West is chock to the gills full of his own bullshit, listen to this New Zealand press conference and watch it come exploding out in fits of egomaniac verbal diarrhea (thanks to Pay Tray for finding this gem):

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Lost Art of the Great Hip-Hop Soundtrack

I almost didn't notice it until midway through the first season, but one of many reasons I like The Shield so much is that it creates drama with the acting; the music doesn't tell you when you should be tense. In fact, all of the music on that show comes as ambient noise: someone is playing a boombox or music is coming from a store.

Some of the great mid-'90s hip-hop-soundtrack-driven films did this in much the same way... or maybe what I remember is that these soundtracks actually had a lot of dudes on 'em that I wanted to listen to, as opposed to today, when Michael Bay just picks five of the Top Ten Billboard artists and has them do a track for his newest soulless, flatline action flick (full disclosure: Transformers was pretty fuckin' cool, and funny too).

Some of my favorites:

Clockers - This one gets the most props for having "Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers '95," featuring one of Primo's greatest beats as well as one of Jeru the Damaja's few unclunky verses (again, full disclosure: Wrath of the Math is still one of my favorite records), but it's got plenty of other gems: Mega Banton's "Bad Boy No Go a Jail" got me into dancehall, Rebelz of Authority's "Blast of the Iron" is horrorshow hip-hop, and there was a pretty sweet song by a group called the BrooklyNytes, who promptly disappeared completely into the ether of the universe.

Above the Rim - Again, best known for "Regulate," the original White-Boy Summertime Hip-Hop Jam ("Nuthin' But a G Thang" scores a close second), but it's also a who's-who of prime-era Death Row Records. I still maintain that "Big Pimpin'" is the greatest song of the G-Funk era... "Pour Out a Little Liquor" introduced me to Thug Life, which was largely a waste, but it's still a great summertime song... but the best parts to me are the unknowns: who is this deep-ass voice dude CPO Boss Hog rolling over "Jus So Ya No"? And who's this B-Rezell fellow, who drops one of the dirtier G-funk beats I've heard with "Blowed Away"? 

Of course it's got Lady of Rage singing about her afro puffs, but what I think really makes it stand out is Jewell's "It's Not Deep Enough," which not only cribs a sweet Black Moon sample from like, two years earlier, but also gives us this gem in the chorus of the song, which opens with Jewell letting someone know, "Hey you got money in your pocket 'cause you're an engineer; I'm tryin' to get paid so quit playin' back there," and is presumably about how she's not just a ho, but a ho that likes rough sex:

Oooh I, have a piece of pie
I'm so sweet, have a piece of meat
Meat's so tough, I'm beggin' for more
It's not deep enough

Sunset Park - Now, you're not going to sell me on the concept of Carla from Cheers coaching a Queens hoops squidder... not really ever. But fuckit, it's still a decent movie, particularly due to my mainest man Bizzy Bee. 

It's also the soundtrack that probably sold you on Ghostface Killah as the Wu-Tang's underappreciated gem with "Motherless Child." I can't remember if this came out before or after Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (I'm pretty sure it was after), but I just remember blasting "Motherless Child" and 2Pac's "High 'Til I Die" over and over again on my cassette copy. It's also got solid joints from Mobb Deep ("Right Back At You") and Junior M.A.F.I.A. ("We Don't Need It"), as well as the last good songs heard from Onyx ("Thangz Changed") and Tha Dogg Pound ("Just Doggin'").

New Jersey Drive, Vols. 1-2 - Oh, I see how it is... NOW you can get both volumes on one album... figures.

This is my favorite of the bunch, both the film and the soundtrack. So much so, in fact, that I went and shelled out the fourteen-fucking-ninety-five for Vol. 2, an EIGHT-TRACK EP. The only song that really blew up off this soundtrack is the Total song with Biggie, "Can't You See?" (any mid-'90s R&B collectors out there? Total had a decent solo debut on Bad Boy)

Doesn't matter, though:

• "Don't Shut Down on a Player" completely misrepresents how bad Ill Al Skratch was. I heard this track and went right to buy their album. What a mistake...
• Redman's "Where Am I?" is a chunk of demonic P-Funk before he started letting Erick Sermon produce a dozen tracks with the same gawddamn bassline for every album from Doc's Da Name 2000 on...
• Blak Panta's "Do What U Want" is another song that helped me get into dancehall - of course, this is the only Blak Panta song I was ever able to find. Why is it always like that with great dancehall? I was going to do The Show soundtrack on here, too, but it's a documentary, not strictly a movie... and there's that sweet Kali Ranks track on there, "Kill Dem All," with the heavy acoustic guitar loop. The only other Kali track I've ever found is some bootleg, no-high-end bullshit called "Da Jam." There's another dude, Major Mackrel, who's got a sick take on a classic riddim called "Bad Ras." But I can only find two other songs credited to him anywhere. I know they press a ton of vinyl singles in Jamaica, but man...
• I'll admit it, I was sleeping on Outkast until I heard "Benz or Beamer." Then again, ATLienz came out a year later, and I had that the day it came out, so maybe I was just snoozing. I've never really thought Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the landmark record a lot of other people do.
• "Thru the Window" is probably the last good Coolio song. Actually, this, "It Takes a Thief," "On My Way to Harlem" and the obligatory guilty-pleasure, "Fantastic Voyage" are the ONLY good Coolio songs. (honorable mention to "Ghetto Cartoon")

I can keep going... "Headz Ain't Ready" is classic Beatminerz, Funkmaster Flex manages to not shout the whole time during his track... even the West-Coast "All About My Fetti" is a decent track.

Soul in the Hole - Not strictly a movie, same as The Show, but it's got some great tracks. Big Pun made a splash with "U Ain't a Killa," the Mobb Deep track is some of the starkest shit Havoc and Prodigy have done, and "Against the Grain" fooled you into thinking that Sauce Money might actually be a good rapper. But you heard his solo... Primo tricked you with that shit.

Crazy-Ass Crooklyn Kids...

There's no real rhyme or reason for this... I was just watching it and got all nostalgic and shit... this is probably my favorite Primo beat of all time:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who need a beat?

Alright, so I figured out how to link to the beats I have posted up on Soundclick. I'm working on linking the MySpace player, because it's got the most recent beats up, including a remix I just did for my man Young Lyrix from upstate (not that upstate... upstate Delaware). 

Always looking for feedback, and if you're lookin' for a beat, they're on sale at Soundclick... although I'm working on a better method for that as well...

...In Which I Propose That Bush Would Have Been Better Off Going Into Somalia than Iraq...

You don't wanna go to Somalia... for real...

I was thinking about this already, but David Anderson's revisionist-history post outlining "Ten Great Things About the Bush Presidency" - including, but not limited to, "Bush won his war," as if insurgents aren't going to start crossing the Iraqi border the second the last C-130 lifts off from Baghdad, got me worked up enough to finally post it.

Traverse back with me, Marty-McFly-style, to 2003, and let's work from the premise that the "faulty intelligence" about weapons of mass destruction had been properly discarded. Here's a quick look at the countries of Iraq and Somalia:

Iraq: Saddam Hussein is a dick. This is indisputable. In fact, he's so MUCH of a dick, that even though he's an Arab, his Arab neighbors can't stand his Kurd-gassin' ass. The Persians next door in Iran hate him. Not as much as their government hates the U.S., but they ain't friends. The Taliban, on his back porch in Afghanistan, aren't about to launch rocket strikes into eastern Iraq, but they want nothing to with Saddam or his douchebag kids. He's contained within his own region. He doesn't dare attack an Arab neighbor for fear of reprisals from all sides (and the ONE thing the U.S. and Iran might be able to agree on), and his asshole is still a little chapped from the last time he tried to smack Kuwait around like Ike did Tina.

Somalia: You saw Black Hawk Down. Somalia is worse than that now. In 2003, they had been without a central government for about seven years. The country is essentially a few million of the world's most desperately-poor people, along with a handful of warlords who, post 9/11, are all trying to hit up al-Qaeda on their stolen satellite phones. With no government, nobody knows who is coming into the country, who's leaving, and what they're doing while they're hanging around. It's basically a wide-open country whose only semblance of order is comprised of warring factions who are all sympathetic to al-Qaeda in some way, or for the right price... oh yeah, and THEY HAVE FUCKING REAL-LIFE PIRATES IN SOMALIA. Dudes are out there in rickety skiffs with AK-47's doing some for-real Captain Barbosa shit, to the tune of more than a dozen ships over the past few years.

Now you tell me which of those seems like the place with a more pressing need for some sort of military action.

For the record, I'm all for moving the Iraq war back next door to Afghanistan. If Karzai isn't going to rein in the warlords up in the mountains and all near Tajikistan and shit, take care of business. We shouldn't have gone and kicked the door in at Saddam's in the first place.

Imagine how much more support Bush could have drummed up to go into Somalia. I'm sure he'd have gotten nothing but cooperation from neighboring countries, and the coastal cities whose ships are in constant danger of getting jacked by Capt. Jack Muhammad Farah Aidid Sparrow and his wily crew would surely have welcomed the help. You neutralize a potential base of operations for al-Qaeda, and try to establish a government in one of the poorest countries in the world. 

Sure seems like a noble mission to me. Not a lot of oil profit in it, I know... but there's still a country to build.

Joe Biden was in my front yard last week...

So you wouldn't really think that standing out in the freezing-ass rain trying to take pictures for the paper would be the place for one to experience a civic awakening.

But there I was, across the street from my apartment, taking pictures of the next Vice President of the United States, who I had voted for only two days before, and I really couldn't help but feel a little bit of that change all the pundits were yakking about.

Alright, so that's a little bit overly simple. There's probably a lot more initial disappointment coming, if you consider that change. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but the highest of hopes for Obama, Biden and whoever he decides for his Cabinet. But he's got his work cut out.

It was hard not to be proud of the country, though, regardless of whether you voted Obama or McCain. If both of my grandfathers were alive today, they would never believe we had a black president. I don't think my dad thought he would see it in his lifetime. It certainly sends out a signal about the America that I believe in.

The video below was shot about 200 feet from my front door, across the circle from my apartment. My mainest man, Big Joe Biden, was in town for Return Day to cheer up those of us who stuck it out in the nasty-ass wind and rain for chance to see the future VP:

And Now For the Whole Reason I Started This Blog... Some Obscure Music: Across the Pond & Down Under

Scott Burns, 'Day 1' / Skreintax, 'Scene Stealers' / Riko, 'The Truth, Vol. 1' / Temptastic, 'First Blood'

With a new Guy Ritchie movie out (RocknRolla, which no doubt is funny, violent and yet exactly like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), it seems only appropriate to peep a few obscure British (and even an Aussie!) hip-hop records.

Where fellow London native The Streets has been taking hip-hop in new and different directions with his most recent work, Skrein and Dr. Syntax (hence the collaborative name, Skreintax) go for a straightforward rap record, with pretty enjoyable results.

The title track opens things with a driving xylophone melody; pleading strings power “Express Train” and a low-buzzing synth gives a mean edge to “Mine for the Taking.”

And yeah, it’s a little weird hearing hip-hop rhymes with a “Norf Lundun” accent, but there’s no denying that both MCs can pen a verse; additionally, the production, courtesy of Nutty P, Kelakovski, Chemo, DJ Snips, Dag Nabbit, Tom Caruana and others, rarely misses.

Aside from the skittery faux-bounce drums of “Reach,” most of Scene Stealers works well by way of well-placed orchestral samples, rough-edged beats, a few jazzy flourishes and the Cockney cleverness of its two MCs.

Temptastic's First Blood is what the black gangsters in Guy Ritchie films would probably be bumping in the ride (not trying to be a racist dick... it's just to differentiate, since EVERYONE in Guy Ritchie films is a gangster. ... Cousin Avi and Doug the Head would NOT enjoy First Blood). Taking a page from fellow grime artist Dizzee Rascal, Temptastic brings a gangsta edge to both his lyrics and his beats, which mainly come courtesy of Shady Beats.

It’s not bad, but generic gangsterism is generic gangsterism, even in a Britxon Cockney accent. 

“Wots the Club,” however, is not only a hard-hitting track, but it also features an MC who goes by the name of Squiller the Gorilla, and how can you hate on that?

Australian rap? Why not? As a matter of fact, Scott Burns' Day 1 is a bouncy, refreshing shot of independent-minded hip-hop.

The opener, “Safety,” hums and bucks with a clavinet melody, “Still Time” is an up-tempo head-nodder that works a vocal swoon and a live horn section, and “Different Things” is a hilarious relationship song set to a track that would sound right at home with Nas or Snoop Dogg ripping it.

Burns’ lyrics are witty and confident, if not groundbreaking; but he can pen a good verse, and his Aussie accent makes for a unique rap record. 

Riko's The Truth Vol. 1 is a hit-and-miss half-dancehall/half-grime/hip-hop double-disc that could use a lot of trimming. It's notable mainly as a target of my hatred for nabbing one of the samples that originally got me thinking about beatmaking way back in the day. It's the one GREAT (up-to-now)-unused sample from the Rocky soundtrack, and on "Running You Down," Riko destroys it with ruff gangsta patois. Damn him for finding that sample, but I can't hate on the execution.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

'The Shield' S07E12: 'Possible Kill Screen' (The PENULTIMATE Series Episode)... like that word...

"After all they did..." - Capt. Claudette Wyms


Oooh, SHIT, I can't wait until the next time those two see one another. One of the blog commenters on TVSquad's 'Shield' site predicted that Wyms would have "a massive lupus breakdown (is that even possible?)" [I don't believe it is, no], and she nearly did, tryin' to fire the Dutchman and shit.

But after seven straight seasons of denying it, of pushing it to the back of his mind, of tacitly acknowledging it to Ronnie - shit, Ronnie... we'll get to him in a minute - escaping from Kavanaugh, Aceveda and everyone else, Mackey finally admitted his original sin aloud. Confessed his entire history of assorted ill shit ("How much memory does that thing have?"), and even with the immunity deal in place, he's STILL not off the hook yet. He's gotta come through on this whole Beltran deal, or the wheels fall off and he goes down for the whole rotten, corrupt enchilada (that's an enchilada with too much lettuce [which is ANY lettuce... cilantro and cebollas only, por favor] and a side of bullet-through-your-left cheek).

And while I hate to see it happen, my prediction that Mackey will be the last man standing is coming true. And although I hate him for it, it's a credit to the Shield writers that, faithful to his character, Mackey ultimately cares only for himself and his family. He's perfectly alright with throwing Ronnie under the bus if it means getting his ex-wife out from under a faked aiding-and-abetting charge. Dutch and Wyms finally figured out how to get at him: use his one halfway-valiant quality against him. He really never suspected Corrine was working with the cops, even when he saw plain as day that she was covered from all angles. Whenever Ronnie, Vic or both find out it was a sting, there goes any relationship they had if Ronnie gets arrested.

The more I think about it, the more I'd like to have seen the entire recitation of Memories Past: Strike-Team Style, because the disintegration of the team really began at the end of the series' first episode: Crowley's death slowly began to change Shane, as well as give him the impression that he and Mackey were the true core of the team, and tight as they were, Ronnie and Lem weren't equals --> The money-train heist and Lem's reluctance to go along started the divide between him and Shane --> When Lem burned the cash, that was it --> Shane's sabbatical from the team and his try at being Vic Jr. ended up dividing him and Mackey --> The culmination of season 5 was the final wedge between Shane and the rest of the team --> And now, the only thing I can envision for Vic and Ronnie is betrayal and separation.

I also really like the writers' decision to use Shane and Vic's spouses as the catalysts for their respective downfalls. I can't see Vic putting a bullet in his ex, but I also can't imagine he'll be happy if he finds out she was working with The Barn. And Mara is just fucking insane; she shot a woman in the back on sight, for God's sake. And now with her collarbone broken and no car, they're screwed. Shane's snorting coke and speed and just falling right off the rails, blowing snot all over the place and shit. I love it. 

My first instinct is that Ronnie is going to put a bullet in Vic for turning on him. OR, maybe he'll tell Beltran about the ICE setup and insulate himself from the whole thing (although they have Mackey's confession on tape; I have a bad feeling that Ronnie's gonna have to go on the run... if Vic has enough conscience to warn him and can do it without violating his immunity agreement).

I'll be sad to see it end. Shawn Ryan has really turned Vic from a compelling antihero into a cornered pit bull this season, but I can't help still rooting to see him make it out.

Great show.


A few random thoughts:
• Claudette is now faced with a horrible decision: her only chance to get Mackey is to undermine his ICE deal, which would mean tipping Beltran and potentially letting all those drugs loose in her district. She doesn't have the tactical experience to engineer a double-cross a lá Vic. And all that can only happen if she somehow finds out the particulars of the deal... and how to find Beltran... and when the deal's going down... and how to live with herself.
• Julien and Tina have been largely relegated to the sidelines this season, and boo to that. Tina's scene with Shane tonight was a great piece of acting. And Julien's been looking conflicted all season, but we've never been shown what it's about.

Every Time Robert Downey Jr. says 'retard,' a cognitively-disabled child fall down, go boom...

[This was originally posted when 'Tropic Thunder' first came out in theatres... since it's coming out on DVD today, I figure I'll toss it up again]

About 70 people showed up at an upstate theatre here in Delaware this past Wednesday (8/15/08) to protest against the use of the word 'retard' in the new Ben Stiller flick 'Tropic Thunder.' The protest stems from the following scene, in which Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.'s characters are discussing Stiller's role as 'Simple Jack,' a mentally-retarded character he played to try and win an Academy Award:

DOWNEY JR: Take Dustin Hoffman in 'Rain Man,' right? Look retarded, act retarded, NOT retarded. Countin' cards in Vegas? That ain't retarded. Tom Hanks? Sure, he might have been slow in 'Forrest Gump,' but he charmed the pants off Dick Nixon. You went full retard, man... NEVER go full retard. (other scenes show Stiller as Simple Jack)

That's not the word-for-word dialogue, there's a little more, (and sorry if you're offended), but the scene is f*cking hilarious.

Not to folks at the Special Olympics, though. Again, I'm not saying that to be a dick; Special Olympics officials led this protest, along with a couple of other groups that work with cognitively-disabled people (is that the right phrase? I really don't know. I don't want to say Down-Syndrome, 'cause I know there are more types than just that).

Now, this case in particular is part of a satire aimed at the lengths Hollywood actors will go to when they're trying to appear serious and high-minded. The movie's other example of this is Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian actor who has his skin pigment altered to play a black man in the movie being shot within 'Tropic Thunder.'

And it's worthy to note that, for all intents and purposes according to previous Academy Awards (which is what they're skewering in the first place), he's RIGHT: Hoffman and Hanks, along with Billy Bob Thornton, all won Academy Awards for their portrayals of high-functioning men with cognitive disabilities. In contrast, Sean Penn, who played a fully-retarded man in "I Am Sam," was shut out during awards season. 

"It is inexcusable for any film or part of popular culture to continue to perpetuate such a derogatory and insensitive word," said Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver. "In the case [of] 'Tropic Thunder' it is not about the studio or actors' malicious intent, but rather the film's malicious content. So we are actively calling on Hollywood to immediately cease the use of the demeaning use of the R-word in all forms of entertainment including film, television and music."

Here's the thing, though. Whether or not Tim Shriver and the Special Olympics folks want it to stop or not, people all over America still say the word 'retard.' Asking for a ban on the word is kind of like the New York City Council asking for a ban on the word "n*gger" (this actually happened): it's a nice gesture, but there's no enforcement component (it's not like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, where's there's physical evidence to support your having said it), so it's not going to actually change anything.

Shriver's position is essentially the same as asking for a formal ban on the n-word from cinema. 

Well, gangsta-themed movies aside, if that were actually enforced by the MPAA, you could forget about any kind of realistic portrayal of, say, a skinhead. There would be no 'American History X,' no 'Roots,' no 'Mississippi Burning,' no 'A Time to Kill.'

And can we please not forget that Carlos Mencia - the world's most UNfunny comedian - has been screaming "DE-DE-DEEEE!" on his dumbass show for three years now, completely making fun of retarded people, and I haven't heard too much protest over that.

People say 'retard.' There, I just said it. Shriver is acting like 'Tropic Thunder' advocates the mass extermination of the cognitively-disabled. Are you telling me you've NEVER seen a retarded person do something funny? 'Cause that would just be a lie. Shriver is acting like it's impossible to laugh and at the same time realize that it's only a joke, and that cognitive disability is a serious disorder.

I can. 

Then again, to paraphrase George Carlin, in reference to intelligence: "Just think about how stupid the AVERAGE person is, and then realize, HALF of them are stupider than THAT!"