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|New Found Glory Wraps Up Busy Year, Looks Ahead To Future
|2007 is a special year for New Found Glory — it marks their 10-year anniversary. Over that time span, the band has released six albums, a pair of EPs and performed hundreds of shows all over the world. More importantly, they have become a staple to the pop-punk genre by providing a shining example of how to keep it real in the music industry.|
The year was a prototypically busy one for the band, who embarked on a short stint with Fall Out Boy, took part in the summer phenomena known as Warped Tour for a third time, released a sequel to 2000’s movie-cover EP From The Screen To Your Stereo, and recently wrapped a co-headlining tour with Senses Fail.
What makes this so remarkable is that earlier in the year they parted ways with longtime home Geffen Records, granting them free agent status for the first time in their career. Despite lacking the support of a label, the band refused to slow down.
“Regardless of a label or not, we’re still able to tour, put out records and sell out shows — which is the important thing,” singer Jordan Pundik admitted to me over the phone. “We’ve always been a self-sufficient band, so we can work through anything.”
While their final record on Geffen, 2006’s Coming Home, failed to match the sales figures from their previous releases, Pundik remains more proud of it than any other.
“I think that that record came out when it was supposed to come out,” he explained. “Those songs came out for a reason… and it was a record that I think we needed to make to show that as a band we had progressed.”
That progression led the band, which also features guitarists Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein, bassist Ian Grushka and drummer Cyrus Bolooki, to capitalize on their label-less situation. As a result, they set to work on From The Screen To Your Stereo Part II, which was something fans had been hounding the band to release.
“We had always talked about doing it but we never could because we were stuck on Geffen… and they didn’t want us doing it,” Pundik pointed out. “What’s great about not being on a label right now [is that] we’re able to do what we want.”
In May the band holed up at Gilbert’s house in Texas to record the album. The writing process was a bit different from their usual routine, proving to be “a lot more laid back because the songs were pretty much done,” Pundik said. “All we had to do was make it our own style.”
This time around, they chose to cover everything from Go West’s “King Of Wishful Thinking” to The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” and again opted to put it out though Drive-Thru Records, who had released the first EP. In addition, the band called on several friends to help in the process, including Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Adam Lazzara (Taking Back Sunday) and Lisa Loeb.
“It was just bands and guys we’ve been friends with for a long time… who used to be fans and stuff and still are,” Pundik said. “It was really flattering because they wanted to be a part of it.”
Next on the band’s horizon will be a new six-song EP, which will be released through Boston hardcore/punk label Bridge Nine Records. In a displaying of their hardcore influences, it is set to feature cover songs of Shelter and Gorilla Biscuits and three original songs, which Pundik described as similar to the intro song on Catalyst. The EP, which the band recently finished recording, will see a limited release sometime early next year.
Then in January the band will be heading overseas for a one-month European tour alongside Paramore. Once they return home, Pundik said they will focus on writing and recording a new album, which they hope to have out next summer on their new label.
When asked about what direction the band will take, he admitted, “It’s hard to say. We like to keep our fans on their toes.” Nevertheless, he alluded the few riffs the band have been working on have sounded “almost like a pop-punk snap kick.”
Meanwhile, in a time when bands seem to go through members like spare tires or just break up altogether, what has allowed New Found Glory to last this long?
“There’s no better job than what we do, so we don’t let the little things bother us,” Pundik replied. “The love of writing music and playing for kids all around the world keeps us going… We’ll try and keep putting out good records for them.”
Here’s to the next 10 years. May they be as memorable as the first.
|Tags: New Found Glory, Jordan Pundik
|Movie Review - Juno
|If Quentin Tarantino had written “Little Miss Sunshine,” the result might have sounded a lot like “Juno.” Its stylized dialogue is sharp as a razor and constantly inventive — an amazing accomplishment from first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody. While a far cry from the way a normal person would talk, the words never cease to entertain.|
With a vaguely similar storyline as “Knocked Up,” the film follows the escapades of 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, whose name is not to be confused with the city in Alaska, as she sardonically asserts in one scene. Played with a blunt spunk by Ellen Page (“Hard Candy”), the performance is star-making.
Events escalate when Juno discovers she’s pregnant after a one-night stand with Paulie Bleeker. Bleeker — “Superbad’s” Michael Cera — is, as the name implies, a major nerd — albeit a charming one — and is clueless on how to handle the situation. After briefly considering an abortion, Juno decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption, finding the soon-to-be-parents in, of all places, the Penny Saver.
One of the best aspects of the film is Juno’s reaction to her surroundings, which is usually cynical and dripping in sarcasm. Whether it’s dealing with her parents, the hilarious J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, or those of her unborn child’s — a surprisingly good combination of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner — her strong-willed personality shines. Just like a cowboy with a holstered gun at the ready, she finds strength in staying prepared to dish out a smart quip at a moment’s notice. Even though, as she points out, these issues are beyond her young understanding, this determined resiliency allows her to plow through them.
Director Jason Reitman, who struck gold with last year’s hit indie film “Thank You For Smoking,” once again balances a chain of varied elements with remarkable adeptness. By incorporating such things as an animated credit sequence and an indie acoustic/pop soundtrack, along with impeccable comic timing, the quirky mood he creates proves just the right complement to Cody’s writing. While at times it might border on being a little too clever — especially when considering the young age of its cast — it never loses sight of the characters or what they're going through.
Remember the names Ellen Page, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody because “Juno” will likely catapult the three to household name status. The trio is nothing short of magnificent and, along with the perfectly eccentric cast, makes “Juno” the indie breakthrough of the year and 2007’s best comedy. See it before all of your friends start quoting it.
The Verdict: A- (90%)
|Tags: Juno, Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Movie, Review
|New Found Glory Interview - 11.15.07
|This is a phone interview I had the huge honor of conducting with New Found Glory singer Jordan Pundik.|
First off, I just want to thank for you taking the time to do this.
Yeah, no problem.
You guys were one of the first bands I started listening to back in the day that really got me into music, so this means a lot.
Thanks man. I appreciate that.
So you guys are co-headlining right now with Senses Fail. How’s that going so far?
It’s been going really good. It’s been a really fun tour. Probably one of the funner tours we’ve had in a while.
It seems like you guys are always constantly touring of some sort. What’s a typical day like for you out on the road?
A typical day I guess would be waking up at about… I like to try and wake up a little early. That way I kind of go exploring and stuff, you know? So for me, I’ll usually wake up around 11. Then I’ll kind of scope out the scene. See what’s going on. I’ll find like a coffee shop or something, which is not Starbucks… So if there’s a rad coffee shop or something, I like to go to that and just walk around and see if there’s anything cool. Then sound check at around three or four o’clock, and hang out by the venue and just wait for the show to start. Then get a couple glasses of wine, get me jazzed up, and then we play. So it’s mostly hanging out. It kind of gets boring and tedious most of the days, but I try and find stuff to do.
I heard about your little Warped Tour fiasco with getting pulled over. Have you had anything like that happen recently again?
No nothing, thank God. [Laughs] That shit sucked. You know what’s so sucky about it was that it was like they didn’t even — granted a couple guys had some stuff on the bus but nothing too crazy — and they totally blew it out of proportion. They brought the dogs in, brought us to the sheriff’s department, had our bus impounded and searched the whole bus. It was just a nightmare. The runner from the show in Indiana had to drive like an hour away to come pick us up in the runner van. We had to borrow equipment and stuff. Then seriously, in probably like 20 minutes it was on MTV News. So the whole thing was media bullcrap, so like the cops can get their names in some sort of thing. You know what I mean? They’re like, "Oh, band bust. Let’s try and milk it for whatever."
Now that you guys are a little bit older and some of you are even married, has it become harder to keep up the grueling pace?
As far as like…
As far as constant touring and stuff like that.
A little bit. I mean we still tour as much as we always have. Luckily now with iChat, cell phones, and visitation rights [Laughs] it helps out, you know?
The first From The Screen To Your Stereo came out back in 2000. Seven years later, what made you return for the sequel?
I guess the fans just saying, "When are you guys gonna put out a sequel? Are you guys ever gonna put out a sequel? You know the first one was so great. When are you gonna put out a sequel?" I think it was the fans asking us all the time. So I guess it was the demand for it. We had always talked about doing it but we never could because we were stuck on Geffen, and we weren’t allowed to do it. They didn’t want us doing it. So now what’s great about not being on a label right now, we’re able to do what we want. Drive-Thru said they would put it out, because they put out the first one, and I don’t know. That’s it.
Since it’s obviously all covers, what was the writing process like, and how did it differ from what you guys usually go through?
The writing process was a lot more laid back because the songs were pretty much done. All we had to do was make it our own style. We wanted to pick songs that could translate into the way that New Found Glory would write their own song. There were other songs that we tried to do that wouldn’t sound right and didn’t really work. I wanted to do "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, and just a few different things, but some songs just didn’t work or sound like we were going to sit down and write that song ourselves. It just didn’t sound right. So I don’t know, just a lot. The environment we were in was a little different. We were in Tyler, Texas, where Chad lives — our guitar player — in a little small studio in a little town. It was kind of cool. We went swimming in Chad’s house, and we all stayed at Chad’s house for most of it.
Did you guys produce it yourselves then?
Yeah, with the help of our friend Paul Miner.
I noticed there are quite a few guest appearances on the album as well. How did you go about selecting them and deciding which people would sing on which songs?
We would listen to the songs and be like that’d be a rad part for Adam [Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday] to sing on because I can totally picture his voice. Or like the Madonna song, it’d be really cool for Max [Bemis of Say Anything] to sing on because he’s a little bit crazy and the song’s called "Crazy For You." So his voice would fit perfect in that song. It was just bands and guys we’ve been friends with for a long time, and it’s guys that have — even though we’re close in age to a lot of these guys — they were fans of New Found Glory from a long time ago. They all have From The Screen To Your Stereo — the first one — and used to be fans and stuff and still are. It was really flattering because they wanted to be a part of it.
So are you happy with how Part II turned out in the end?
Yeah, I love it. I love the way it’s recorded and the song selection that we picked. I don’t know… I like it a lot. Better than the first one I think.
Now Coming Home is a little over a year old. I personally loved it and thought it was one of your best records, but it never really seemed to take off like your previous work did. Are you a little disappointed with how that all turned out?
No, I’m not at all. I think that that record came out when it was supposed to come out. We were at a point in our lives where… Those songs came out for a reason. So I’m not disappointed because it was a record that I think we needed to make to kind of show that as a band we’ve progressed. We can write songs that aren’t a sheen of vocals and like chugga-chugga the whole time. It’s funny because it’s an album that a lot of our old fans came back — got that record and kind of came back for — as opposed to like… I can’t explain it. It’s like the older fans that we have kind of disappeared for a while from going to shows and stuff, and it’s a lot of the younger kids now. When this album came out, you started seeing those older kids, those older fans, coming back to the shows as well.
It seemed like Geffen kind of dropped the ball with promoting it too. Are you disappointed with how the label handled it?
I guess to an extent. I mean any label you’re on, you’re going to have some sort of problem with. We were a little disappointed, but at the same time we’ve always been a self-sufficient band, so we can work through anything. For example, right now we just put out the cover songs CD on a one record thing with Drive-Thru. We’re not on a label. We don’t really have anything going on. I mean we’re talking to labels and stuff right now, but we’re playing all these shows and the majority of the tour has been sold out. So it’s like regardless of a label or not, we’re still able to tour, put out records and sell out shows — which is the important thing. And every record we’ve put out — Sticks And Stones, Catalyst, Coming Home — there’s always been a different freaking label president. So we’re always having to reintroduce our band to these people.
Are you guys leaning towards going back to an independent label or staying on a major?
I kind of still want to be on a major… It depends. We’re talking to independent labels. We’re talking to major labels. It really, to be honest, doesn’t matter to me. I just want a label that’s going to back our band 100%. There’s pros and cons to each thing. Some independent labels are sketchier than major labels. The good thing about having a major label is that instead of like 20 people working for your band, you have hundreds of people working for your band.
I also noticed over the last few records your voice has sounded stronger and more improved. Have you been doing anything differently?
Ummm… No. [Laughs] Just drinking wine. [Laughs] I don’t know. No, nothing really. I think just from touring for so long and being in a band for 10 years, I think that gives you a little more confidence.
Have you guys already started writing stuff for the new record?
Yeah, our guitar player Chad has been working on it. We have tons and tons of riffs and different parts, but there’s not really any kind of full songs yet. We work here and there a little bit during sound checks and stuff, but it’s not really like getting into it. At the end of January, we fly to England with Paramore and Bayside, and we’ll be in England and Europe for a month. Once we come back from that, that’s when we’re going to start writing and really focus on writing a new record.
Do you have any idea when it’s going to come out?
I have no idea. Hopefully by next year. You know, middle of next year.
It probably depends on the whole label thing as well.
Yeah, exactly. Well fuck, who knows? Maybe we’ll get someone to fund us for the recording and put it out ourselves. Who fucking knows?
Are you going to stick with the Coming Home kind of sound, or are you going to go back to the more upbeat stuff?
Well, it’s hard to say. We like to keep our fans on their toes. But I can tell you that the few riffs I’ve had are really kind of… I don’t know… It’s almost like a pop-punk snap kick or something. Just like the lead parts.... The little riffs here and there that I’ve been hearing.
I also read on absolutepunk last week that you guys are coming out with a new EP. What’s the deal with that?
Well, basically since we’re not on a label, we’re able to do whatever the hell we please. So there’s a record label called Bridge 9 Records. They’re a very influential hardcore, punk rock label from Boston. We’ve been talking to them about putting out a six song 7" and CD. The CD is going to have three original songs on it, kind of faster, punkier. Like the intro song on Catalyst — that kind of style. Then we’re going to have three cover songs of hardcore, like old 7" songs. Like Shelter, Gorilla Biscuits and probably one other song.
And when is that supposed to come out?
Well, we’re going to record it this next week, so hopefully pretty soon. And it’s only going to be sold at Newbury Comics, the Bridge 9 website, or you can get it from us when we’re on tour. It’s going to be like a limited kind of thing.
You guys have been together as a band for a decade now, right?
That’s pretty amazing. It seems like recently there’s been a lot of bands who have either been losing members or breaking up, yet you guys have managed to pretty much keep the same lineup throughout. What has allowed you to be so different?
I guess that we don’t take anything for granted. There’s no better job than what we do, so we don’t let the little things bother us — like if a show’s not sold out or if we don’t have the bus we wanted originally. We’re just very grateful for everything and we don’t expect things. I think that’s the problem with a lot of young new bands. They see all their favorite bands doing well for themselves and being successful. Then they start a band, they start getting popular and they want that same thing, but they go about it the wrong way. They think that because they have a million hits on MySpace that guarantees their shows to be sold out. Or they’re on Warped tour so they have to have a bus, but that’s not how it is. You have to do your grunt work, start from nothing and get to that point.
Going along with that, since you guys have been around for so long, you’ve become one of the veteran bands of the scene that a lot of up-and-comers look up to. How does that make you feel?
It’s definitely flattering. What’s funny is that a lot of the bands out now are the same age. [Laughs] So we’re still pretty young. We just got a head start because we started young. We started the band when I was like 17. So I don’t know… It’s just really cool.
After all these years, what keeps you guys going and inspires you to keep making music and progressing?
The love for playing music and creating something that kids can relate to. The love of writing music and playing for kids all around the world keeps us going. We’re always constantly thinking and always constantly observing. There’s a lot of things out in the world that are very influential on us as people, so we’ll always have something to sing about and something to talk about.
It also seems like you have a pretty dedicated fan base, and you guys really seem to appreciate that. I saw a video on youtube where people were throwing up signs, and you would sing "Happy Birthday" to them or whatever. Has that been a pretty big blessing as well?
Yeah. It’s always kind of funny when that happens because it’s kind of awkward. You can’t ignore someone who has a huge poster which says, "Sing ‘Happy Birthday’" or "Play this song." [Laughs] So it’s pretty funny. It keeps us on our toes for sure. Especially when it’s like, "Hey, play this song," which we haven’t played in like six years.
Out of everything you guys have recorded, what are you most proud of?
I would say Coming Home for sure. Since we went about writing it and the things that were going on at that time… I don’t know. It all seemed to make sense at the time.
It seemed like you guys addressed a little bit more issues than your typical love songs.
Yeah, for sure.
Okay, one last thing. If you could sum up New Found Glory in a single sentence, what would it be?
Ummm… Let’s see. In a single sentence, huh?
Yeah. Or like a phrase or whatever.
[Pause] Superheroes of hardcore let ‘em see you windmill when you’re on the dance floor. [Laughs] Superheroes of hardcore wanna see you spacedive onto the floor… I don’t know.
I could see that song making the new record.
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]
Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I always say this but I just want to give a shout out to all our fans everywhere for still sticking with us for this long, and thank them for still coming to the shows and seeing the same songs. We’ll try and keep putting out good records for them.
|Tags: New Found Glory, Jordan Pundik, Interview
|Movie Review - Enchanted
|Borrowing from several animated Disney classics, not to mention films such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Kate & Leopold,” “Enchanted” presents a premise where cartoon characters are transported to the harsh confinements of actual reality.|
Giselle (Amy Adams) — a chirpy mixture of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty — has a perfect life in her animated, music-filled world. That is, until she is banished from it by an evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) in order to prevent Giselle from marrying her son, Prince Edward (James Marsden). Now alone in New York City, Giselle must await her prince’s rescue while charming her way into the life of a divorce attorney (Patrick Dempsey).
Whether or not you buy the movie’s unique surroundings lies on the shoulders of the cast and its star Adams, who earned an Oscar nomination two years ago for the little-seen indie flick “Junebug.” Her performance straddles an over-the-top vigor — precisely what the role calls for — which is buoyant.
Whether encountering strangers or singing to animals, she emits a youthful innocence and exuberance in all that she does. Even when her good spirits are dampened during the story’s more serious latter half, it only serves as an opportunity for her humanity to shine through.
Meanwhile, Marsden (“Hairspray,” Cyclops from “X-Men”) hams it up as the oblivious Prince Charming. Spending most of the time clueless as to what is transpiring, he emotes a likeable earnestness, and it’s hard not to laugh along with his misfortunes. Following similar lines, veteran British actor Timothy Spall generates several laughs as a bumbling henchman and easily overshadows his boss Sarandon, who never quite registers an impact as the evil queen.
On the other side, Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”) serves as the story’s practical realist, choosing to see things in their down-to-earth condition. This outlook and his McDreamy charm make for a nice counterpoint to the silly behavior of those around him. The part is certainly no stretch for Dempsey or his Hugh Jackman comparisons, but he plays it well and seems to be having fun.
While the story tinkers with some inherent conventions in clever ways, it never fully mines their comedic gold. This could be a result of its Disney backing, whose hallowed cartoons it relies heavily upon, or the constrictions produced from aiming squarely at a young audience.
Whatever the case may be, director Kevin Lima (“Tarzan,” “102 Dalmatians”) sticks to simple laughs framed within a cutesy atmosphere. An increase in wit and tongue-in-cheek ingredients — areas where the first “Shrek” film excelled — would have been helpful in providing a greater depth.
Good family films are a rarity these days, and “Enchanted” proves to be a decent addition to the genre. While there’s no denying its appeal towards children — who are likely to appreciate it the most — the inspired acting is something anyone can enjoy.
The Verdict: B- (81%)
|Tags: Enchanted, Movie, Review
|Relient K Continues To Have Fun With New Christmas Album, Tour
|“When we were a band starting out in Ohio, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d go past high school,” Relient K guitarist Matt Hoopes admits to me over the phone. “Then we got a record deal right before we went to college… so we made our first record, and then we made a second record and then a third. And it kept going.”|
Six albums and almost a decade later, Relient K is still going strong and as busy as ever. The band, which features Hoopes, multitalented frontman Matt Thiessen, bassist John Warne and guitarist John Schneck, has seen their popularity steadily increase in recent years, resulting in three Gold selling albums. 2004’s Mmhmm, led by the hit single “Be My Escape,” sold over 800,000 copies, and their follow-up, Five Score And Seven Years Ago, debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 back in March.
As if that wasn’t enough, the band recently released a Christmas album, Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer, which features their take on 10 holiday classics as well as a handful of original material. Ten of the tracks originally saw a limited release in 2003, and both groups of songs reflect the band’s no rules attitude towards the process.
“On the first batch of songs, we mostly tried to keep it… really fast, loud and a little bit off for Christmas songs,” Hoopes explains.
Yet for the newer ones, they chose to incorporate a wider array of influences. Hoopes describes their interpretation of “Sleigh Ride” as having a “jazzy, ‘50s, dancy kind of feel to it,” while other songs “are rock but kind of crazy.”
Currently the band is promoting the album while nearing the end of a co-headlining tour with good friends Switchfoot. The tour, dubbed Appetite For Construction, is significant in that $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to Habitat For Humanity, an organization devoted to building simple, decent and affordable housing.
“I had never had a lot of contact with the organization… but the more we helped out, the more we respected it and thought it was something we wanted to get behind and promote,” Hoopes adds.
Despite their recent success, Relient K has not been without their share of hardships this year. During the summer their tour bus caught on fire, and many of their personal belongings were lost. Hoopes, who among other things lost his wallet, admits the events were “slightly frustrating,” yet credits the band’s positive outlook on life for carrying them through it.
“When you think about it in the grand scheme of things — no one was hurt and there was nothing lost that was irreplaceable — it was just an inconvenience at worst,” Hoopes says.
Then last month drummer Dave Douglas announced he would be leaving the band at the conclusion of the tour. However, this didn’t come as a complete surprise.
Hoopes, who along with Thiessen is the only remaining original member, confesses Douglas had been talking about doing his own project for a while, which he will pursue with his wife Rachel.
“We’ve just been able to talk him out of it until now,” Hoopes jokes.
For the moment, the goal is simply to try and enjoy their remaining time with Douglas, who joined the band in 2000. Hoopes acknowledges there are no hard feelings between any of the members, and “we all wish him the best and hope that he does well.”
Once the tour is finished, the band will begin the task of finding a replacement. Hoopes says they will be trying out a few friends first, and hopes one of them will work out.
“It’d be cool to bring someone on who we already know their character really well,” he admits.
Meanwhile after getting their start in the Christian music scene, Relient K remains hesitant to be placed in any sort of a box this might imply.
“Christian music, as you define it, is a little bit odd in the fact that it’s the only kind of music that’s defined by lyrical content rather than musical content,” Hoopes says. “When you say you’re a Christian band, it automatically puts connotations in people’s heads… and we try to avoid that connotation.”
While the band doesn’t shy away from their Christian roots, they would prefer to let the music itself do the talking.
“We write songs about our lives and the things we experience, and as Christians that’s definitely a part of our life experience,” Hoopes explains. “We’re not angry if someone calls us a Christian band, but we probably wouldn’t introduce ourselves as a Christian band.”
With the New Year quickly approaching, Relient K doesn’t have a set plan for the immediate future, which will likely include either additional touring or starting work on a new record. This reflects the band’s philosophy of taking things as they come and living life as it presents itself, which they’ve followed since day one.
“We’re honestly just thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had, and don’t expect there to be any more necessarily,” Hoopes says. “People seem to like [our music] for the most part, so we’re going to keep doing it as long as people keep coming to the shows.”
Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer and Five Score And Seven Years Ago are in stores now. For more information, visit www.relientk.com.
|Tags: Relient K, Matt Hoopes
|Relient K Interview - 11.14.07
|This is a phone interview I had the great opportunity to do with Relient K guitarist Matt Hoopes.|
So how’s the co-headlining tour with Switchfoot going?
It’s been going great. We’re really good friends with the guys, and it’s been awesome to hang out with them.
I heard part of the proceeds are going to Habitat For Humanity.
Yeah. We kind of decided to work with them after playing a show with Switchfoot earlier in the summer. I had never had a lot of contact with the organization — I had never volunteered or been friends with anyone that did — but the more we helped out the organization, the more we respected it and thought it was something we wanted to get behind and promote.
Now you guys just released a new Christmas album last month too, right?
Yeah, it actually just came out. It’s called Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer.
And isn’t it kind of an expansion on your first Christmas album?
Our first Christmas album was never technically released as a stand alone thing, and they were just going to release it as is. We were like, “It’s not quite good enough to release as an album,” so we did 6-7 new songs.
You guys covered some pretty classic Christmas songs on there. How were you able to put your own spin on them?
Honestly, we just took a no rules attitude. On the first batch of songs, we mostly tried to keep it to the pop-punk rock side of things. So every song we’d make really fast, loud and maybe a little bit off for a Christmas song. On the newer ones that we did, we just had no rules. We were like, “Well, whatever.” “Sleigh Ride,” for example, has like a jazzy, ‘50s, dancy kind of feel to it. Other songs are slower, while other songs are rock but kind of crazy. We had no rules really. Let’s just have fun with it.
I’ve noticed the band also has a pretty unique sense of humor and personalities. Were you always like that?
I like to think that all the guys in our band are pretty hilarious people, kind of all in their own way. I think we kind of have a brand of humor, and I think it comes out in different ways. Our first few records, we did a lot of really funny lyrics — kind of silly-ish songs. I think the humor tends to come out in different ways now as we get older. But we still don’t take ourselves seriously and just try to have a fun time on the road.
On a more serious note, you guys lost your tour bus to a fire over the summer. Did your optimistic attitudes help you get through that?
It is kind of a bummer to lose your computer and your clothes — it’s just a hassle to have to deal with. I lost my wallet and had to go get new credit cards and a new license. We’re on the road, so it’s hard to deal with all that stuff. But honestly when you think about it in the grand scheme of things — no one was hurt and there was nothing lost that was irreplaceable — it was just an inconvenience at worst. When we look back on it now, it seems kind of trivial, but at the time, it was slightly frustrating.
Five Score And Seven Years Ago was your fifth album, and it debuted at #6 on the Billboard charts back in March. Having grown up in Ohio, did you ever expect something like that would happen?
Oh, never. When we were a band starting out in Ohio, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d go past high school — we were all planning on going to college. Then we got a record deal right before we went to college, so we’re like let’s try it out and make a record. Hopefully try to tour for a year, have fun, and then we can get all up in alarms. So we made our first record, and then we made a second record and then a third, and it kept going. We felt like we were getting better as a band and still having fun making music that we thought was interesting. People seem to like it for the most part, so we’re going to keep doing it as long as people keep coming to the shows.
You also worked with big-time producer Howard Benson on the record. Are you happy with how everything turned out?
Yeah, it was a cool experience. We had only ever worked with Mark Townsend, who’s my father-in-law, who’s done all our records and is actually a great producer. Working with Howard, we realized a lot of stuff isn’t as different as you might think from what we were used to. It was a good experience, and it was cool to work with people on that caliber that have worked on huge records and stuff like that. So it was a good experience overall.
I noticed this record is a little bit poppier than the last one. Did Howard have something to do with that?
I think that’s just where we were at at the time. Howard’s main input was song structure. Making sure all the songs are palpable — you can understand where things are going — and there’s not as many crazy transitions, key changes and all that sort of business. I think it helped push us a little bit further in that direction, but honestly that’s where the problems were at. That’s how it would have turned out with whoever would have produced it.
You have already released two videos from the album. Are there any plans for another one?
Not right now. We have the Christmas record right now, so we’ll just wait and see where that goes into the new year — keep doing what we’re doing and see what happens. I don’t know if they’ll be another video or single off this record. It depends on whether we’ll go into the studio now or keep touring on this record.
The last song on the record is an 11-minute song entitled “Deathbed,” which not only features a wide array of instruments but also tells a very powerful story through the lyrics. What was the inspiration behind the song?
It kind of portrays this idea of what grace is — this idea of forgiveness and entering heaven that’s not something earned by doing everything right your whole life, as far as what we believe. It’s just an interesting way of portraying that in that it’s not like a preachy, sermony kind of thing. It’s more like this is real life, and a picture of how we believe it can happen. It’s not a transient, all encompassing thing for sure. As far as music, it kept going on and on, adding verses, ideas, instrumentation and whatnot. It was a fun song to do, and I think it’s the best song we’ve ever done as far as a group.
Jon from Switchfoot also sings on the song. Have you been performing it on the tour at all?
No. We actually had talked about that, but it just came down to performing an 11-minute song means that we can’t do 3-4 other songs. [Laughs] So we decided to be able to play more songs. Also, pulling off the instrumentation might be a little bit tricky. We thought it might be better served for when we’re doing a headlining tour on our own when we don’t have a time limit, and can fill the stage with random useless instruments and have people help us play it. But yeah, it does seem like it would work out well when we are on tour with Switchfoot. [Laughs] It just didn’t come together before the tour started.
Last month, Dave announced he would be leaving the band at the end of the tour. Did that come as a bit of a surprise?
Honestly, no. He’s been talking about doing his own project, and we’ve just been able to talk him out of it until now. [Laughs] We’re all on really good terms with him, and we’re all just trying to enjoy our last tour together and have a fun time hanging out with each other. Dave’s going to pursue his own musical project with his wife, and we all wish him the best with that and hope that he does well.
The band has also seen a couple of other members come and go throughout its existence. Has it been hard to readjust and keep on going?
Yeah, in a way. I still talk to Brain, our old bass player, and I definitely miss him. We’re still friends and we still hang out when I’m at home — it’s that sort of thing. In a way, it brings a new light to the band. We’re very careful to bring someone on who would be an uplifting person to be around, and someone that would bring the whole group up as a band. We brought someone on who was a really good friend and a solid person. I think in a way it’s just a growing process. It’s the same with the drummer. We’re hoping to try out friends first, and I really hope that one of them works out. It’d be cool to bring someone on who we already know their character really well.
You guys are frequently labeled as a Christian band, and it seems that you’re always having to answer that whole Christian music question. Does that ever grow old?
Honestly, no. I understand there is a Christian industry, Christian bookstores and people who are concerned with whether music is Christian or labeled Christian or not. I understand that, and I’m not angry about it. We choose not to label music in that way, and we’re people who don’t think it’s that important what the label is on the music. It’s more of a non issue to us than an issue of contempt — it’s not like we have anger towards it. We just explain that we write songs about our lives and things we experience, and as Christians that’s definitely a part of our life experience. It’s really whatever you want to call us. We’re not angry if someone calls us a Christian band, but we probably wouldn’t introduce ourselves as a Christian band. That’s my philosophy on the whole thing.
You kind of just want to let the music to speak for itself.
Yeah. I mean Christian music as you define it is a little bit odd in the fact that it’s the only kind of music that’s defined by lyrical content rather than musical content. I think when you bring that up to someone when you say you’re a Christian band, it automatically puts connotations in people’s heads — whether it’s good or bad and whether they’re a Christian or a non Christian. It puts a certain idea of what the music is, and we try to avoid that connotation.
Outside of yourselves and Switchfoot, lately it seems there’s been an influx of bands into the mainstream who are Christians but don’t fall under the Christian label. Have you witnessed any reason for this at all?
I don’t know. We feel like we have our philosophy, and I think that as Christians we believe that there are different Christians called to different things. Some are called to be pastors and teachers, some are called to be lawyers, doctors and park rangers. We feel like this is our place as far as Christianity goes, and we’re secure in that. I don’t really know if there’s a reason for a large group of bands feeling the same way or not, so I can’t really speak to that.
You guys are going to be celebrating your 10th anniversary next year, right?
Lets see… Yeah, I guess so. [Laughs] That’s kind of funny. I didn’t even think about that.
That’s a pretty phenomenal accomplishment in and of itself.
Yeah. We feel lucky to do this as long as we have. It’s almost funny because you think of the band starting in 2000 when our first record came out, but we had actually started at the end of ’98. It’s pretty crazy to think about where we were then and where we are now.
After having released all those records and having been around for that long, what do you think is the next step for the band?
Honestly, I don’t know. We’ve always just kind of taken life as it comes and taken the opportunities that are there. We’re honestly just thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had and don’t expect there to be any more necessarily. [Laughs] We have fun with what we’re given — have fun touring and making records. We don’t really have a set plan, like a project or goal or anything like that — just living life as it comes.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Just to say that we’re thankful for the fans that have appreciated our music, and thankful that we’ve been able to do what we’ve done so far. It’s a blessing to us personally.
|Tags: Relient K, Matt Hoopes, Five Score And Seven Years Ago, Interview
|Movie Review - No Country For Old Men
|After having dabbled with a romantic comedy (“Intolerable Cruelty”) and a troubled remake (“The Ladykillers”), acclaimed directors Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski”) return to a criminal tale reminiscent of those earlier in their career. Renewed with a vengeance, “No Country For Old Men” is some of the best work they’ve done yet.|
Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, the story is purposefully paced and unafraid to follow its characters for extended periods of time. At its center is common man Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong while out hunting. Among the carcasses, he discovers a case filled with $2 million in cold cash and decides to take the money and run. Wrong move.
The simple plan quickly backfires as Brolin (“Grindhouse,” “American Gangster”) spends the rest of the film evading the certain death assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) threatens to exact. Brolin, whose performance is driven by his rough demeanor instead of dialogue, is forced to rely on his resourcefulness merely to remain alive. On the other hand, Bardem steals the show with an Oscar worthy performance.
Bardem (“Before Night Falls,” “The Sea Inside”) is chillingly masterful in his role, making for one of the best villains in recent memory. His weapons of choice — a supercharged cattle stun gun and an oxygen tank — are brutal. He flips a coin over the impending fate of some of his victims, rarely breaking from his calm disposition. His character is also shrouded in mystery — we learn little about who he actually is — but a single look into his odious eyes is enough to freeze any man dead in his tracks.
In the meantime, local sheriff Ed Bell — a part tailored for Tommy Lee Jones — tries to put the pieces together and figure out what is causing the wake of corpses. In between dishing out nuggets of wisdom, he personifies the type of honest, old-fashioned lawman that has almost been extinguished. Now embittered by a world of constant violence, he is left questioning if he will ever wake up from this grueling nightmare.
Even though at first glance the story appears to be straightforward, there is much happening beneath the surface. Questions of mortality and the adverse effects of aging are contemplated and discussed. More importantly, it explores a world inundated by violence — not unlike our own — and wonders if there is any hope for change.
The stark nature of the story is made all the more harrowing by the talent behind the camera. Frequent Coen brothers’ cinematographer Roger Deakins encases the film in an arresting array of light, shadows and blood — beautiful and striking in their essence. The film also lacks the arrangement of a traditional musical score, and the first note of music isn’t heard until the end credits. This places the emphasis solely on the Coens’ stellar writing — which remains laced with their dark sense of humor — and the performances from the story’s participants.
While it first might appear fairly routine, “No Country For Old Men” is anything but. The Coens’ sure handed directing, combined with powerhouse turns from much of the cast, elevates it to the same heights their greatest achievements reached. This thrilling game of cat and mouse is not to be missed.
The Verdict: A- (90%)
|Tags: No Country For Old Men, Coen Brothers, Movie, Review
|Thrice Tackles The Elements On Ambitious Alchemy Index
|Fire. Air. Water. Earth. These four classical elements were identified by the Greek philosopher Plato, who believed them to be the basic building blocks of life. Now over 2,000 years later, they are the subjects of an ambitious four-disc undertaking from Thrice.|
At first glance, making a rock record centered on the elements doesn’t seem like a very natural or obvious venture.
"Originally it was Dustin, our singer’s, idea," guitarist Teppei Teranishi explains. "He kind of came up with it randomly, and when he brought it up to us, we thought it’d make a good record."
After expanding their sonic palette on 2005’s Vheissu, which branched out from their punk and metal influences, this step into the unknown required something of a leap of faith.
"At first we were a little apprehensive and weren’t sure if we could pull it off," Teranishi confesses. "If we did [do] it, we wanted to do it right."
The band, which also features Biola alumnus Dustin Kensrue on vocals/guitar, as well as brothers Eddie and Riley Breckenridge on bass and drums, initially sat down to talk about what each element would sound like, formulating a basic outline for the project.
Teranishi describes the process as locating "the kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever [until] we started to come up with ideas which felt like… okay, this could work for Water or this idea could work for Fire."
The band, which hails from nearby Irvine, opted to stay at home and produce the album themselves, which freed them up to work at a pace of their own choosing.
"We ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselves. Even the artwork, Dustin did," Teranishi says. "It was challenging, but it was a good experience."
However, the process wasn’t without a bit of strife. While in the midst of the recording sessions, they parted ways with Island Records — who had released their last two studio albums — citing "different visions for the band’s future."
The label was generous enough to let them keep their current recordings, and the band would go on to finish the record. Soon after, they signed with Santa Monica based Vagrant Records, a return to their independent roots.
With their epic endeavor now complete, the band chose to spread it out over two distinct phases.
"We felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces," Teranishi explains. "It’s 24 songs to give people all at once, and especially with something that’s pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, we thought it would be a little too much."
Fans finally received their first taste last month, when The Alchemy Index: Vols. 1 & 2 - Fire & Water hit stores. Teranishi describes Fire as "all heavy and guitar based" with traces of their older material, but it was the Water half which proved to be a big divergence.
Immersed in a collage of electronics, Water "uses a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem more underwater. A little more muted tone [with] electronic drums," Teranishi says.
The second half of The Alchemy Index, which is set for a spring release, further ventures into unexplored territory. For Earth, this meant adopting a stripped down approach, complete with an array of instruments such as acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar and even horns.
On the accompanying side, Air brings the concept full circle. Teranishi reveals it to encompass a stripped down quality, as well as electronics and traditional band aspects, and "everything just ties together with all the songs on there."
Aside from their musical pursuits, the band is also active in a number of charities and nonprofit organizations, including Invisible Children and To Write Love On Her Arms.
"It’s just something we want to do, and I think it’s a personal decision," Teranishi says, describing the band’s involvements. "I think the reason why we even mention more or less isn’t to tell people, ‘Hey, look what we’re doing.’ It’s more or less to just bring awareness to the causes we think are worth supporting."
Along with their charitable work, Thrice donates a portion from each one of their records to a different cause. Blood: Water Mission, an organization which seeks to promote clean water efforts in Africa, was picked for Fire & Water.
"Clean water is something that I think we all take for granted, especially being in a rich nation, but children and a lot of people in this world don’t have it," Teranishi explains. "It’s something that’s very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause [to be a part of]."
After creating the most expansive effort of their career, what does the future hold for Thrice?
"When we signed to Vagrant, we actually signed for only the two Alchemy Index releases, and then we’re free agents after that. So it’s literally up in the air for us," Teranishi admits. "We’re not really sure what we’re going to do. We’ll see… I guess the music industry is at an interesting point right now."
If The Alchemy Index is any indication, it most certainly is.
The Alchemy Index: Vols. 1 & 2 - Fire & Water is in stores now. For more information, visit www.thrice.net.
|Tags: Thrice, Alchemy Index, Teppei Teranishi
|Thrice Interview - 11.07.07
|This is a phone interview I had the great privilege of conducting with Thrice guitarist Teppei Teranishi. It’s part of an article I’m writing on the band for Biola’s newspaper, which should be coming out later this month.|
You guys just released the first half of your album a couple weeks ago, The Alchemy Index, and each disc is centered around one of the four natural elements. How did you guys arrive at that pretty abstract concept?
I guess originally it was Dustin, our singer’s, idea. He kind of came up with it just randomly, and when he brought it up to us a while ago, we just kind of thought it’d make a good record. At first, we were a little apprehensive, we just weren’t sure if we could pull it off... Just trying to figure out ways to do it. If we did it, we wanted to do it right. So we just kind of talked about it for a while.
At first, we actually decided to do it as almost like a Thrice side project… It still would have been a Thrice release. It wasn’t going to be like a traditional record, it was going to be a little more indie. Kind of experimental stuff… Less song based. And the more we wrote for it, the more we started to realize we were actually making some pretty cool stuff. I guess along the way we decided to make the record what it is.
How did you go about creating each disc’s unique sound, and was it hard to get the different styles to feel right?
Yeah, definitely. I guess we sat down first and discussed what we thought each element sounded like to us, and plotted out a basic outline. For Earth, mostly acoustic instruments... The kind of instruments and sounds which felt earthy to us, or airy or watery or whatever. Then we started to come up with ideas which felt like… Okay this idea feels like it could work for Water or this idea could work for Fire.
Then in the recording, we tried to record every element pretty different. With the Water stuff, we used a lot of reverb and subtle modulation to make it seem a little more underwater. A little more muted tone, electronic drums… Stuff like that. Fire obviously is all pretty heavy and guitar based.
Like I was saying with Earth and Air, which are coming out next year, Earth is all stripped… I guess just getting a lot of acoustic instruments, like acoustic piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, even horn. Air is kind of the most in the middle of all the elements. I think there’s some stuff on there a little stripped. There’s stuff on there that’s electronic. There’s stuff on there that’s traditional band, like guitar, bass, drums… I guess everything all just ties together with all the songs on there.
Just kind of a combination of all of them.
Yeah, that makes sense. [Laughs.]
You guys decided to produce this yourselves and were essentially just working at your own pace. How did this come about to affect the creative process?
I thought it was really cool. We pretty much ended up doing everything that had to do with this record ourselves… Even the artwork Dustin did. I think it just gives you kind of the ultimate creative control… You know what I mean? We were in control of everything about this record, and it was fun. It was nice. It was challenging, but it was a good experience.
You were the main producer right?
Yeah, I engineered the record and was in charge of basically recording it.
Did you find it difficult to handle both that producing aspect and the writing stuff?
Yeah, definitely. It’s hard because you have to have your head in two different places at the same time. While I’m worrying about writing stuff and doing songs, I’m also worried about how to record it, get it on tape and get it to sound good. It’s definitely challenging, but it’s also fun. I really enjoy recording, and it’s something I want to keep doing. So I definitely enjoyed it.
You produced Please Come Home (Dustin’s solo record) too right?
So this is something you can see yourself getting more into in the future?
Yeah, definitely. I like it a lot. It’s fun.
The Alchemy Index was originally the title for your guys’ website while you were writing the album. Was it always the plan for it to be the final title?
Yeah, pretty much. I think by the time we ended up making that journal page, we were pretty sure that was going to be the title. But it wasn’t 100% set in stone.
The whole project is split up over two releases. Was this your decision or the label’s?
It was our decision. I guess ironically we felt like the best way to let people grasp the whole breadth of the project was to split it up into two pieces. It’s 24 songs to give people all at once, especially something that’s pretty heavily conceptualized like this record, and we thought it would be a little too much. We wanted people to take their time with each record and really grasp each one, and we thought the best way to do that was to split it up in two releases.
One of the things I most admire about your band is how you support a number of charities and different causes. You donate a portion of the proceeds from each record to a different organization, and the one for Fire & Water is Blood: Water Mission. What are they all about, and what made you pick them?
They’re an organization that raises money to go to Africa to go build wells in communities. Clean water is something that I think we all take for granted, especially being in a rich nation, but children and a lot of people in this world don’t have it. It’s something that’s very important for health and survival, and we thought it was a pretty cool cause.
We like the way they do things. They go into communities and instead of just erecting a big building and kind of westernizing the society, they try to integrate themselves into the community… They help do sustainable wells that will be dug by the people and run by the people. They also collect clean blood for blood transfusions and whatnot.
Having been blessed with your musical success and the fan base and influence that comes along with that, do you feel somewhat responsible to get involved with things like this?
I don’t think it has to do with being in a band or anything like that. It’s just something that I think we’d be doing even if we weren’t in a band, or in some other type of public place. It’s just something we want to do, and I think it’s a personal decision… I think the reason why we even mention more or less isn’t to tell people, "Hey, look what we’re doing." It’s more or less to just bring awareness to the causes we think are worth supporting.
How’s the new tour going? Is the new stuff getting a good reaction?
Yeah, it’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun, and the shows have been cool. All the bands on the tour are super rad, and all the people on the tour are super rad. So we’re having a really good time.
After the tour’s finished, what’s next? Are you going to be doing a headlining tour any time soon?
We’re trying to figure that out. I think the rough plan is to release the next record sometime in the spring, and then do a headlining tour after we release the record.
The whole Radiohead thing from last month got a lot of people talking about the future of the music industry and the role of major labels. Now that you’re back on an indie, where do you think music is heading, and how do you see Thrice fitting into that spectrum?
I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. When we signed to Vagrant we actually signed for only the two Alchemy Index releases, and then we’re free agents after that. So it’s literally up in the air for us. We’re not really sure what we’re going to do. We’ll see… I guess the music industry is at an interesting point right now.
Can you see the band releasing something yourselves without a label?
Yeah, I think that’s definitely something that at least we’re considering in the future.
|Tags: Thrice, Teppei Teranishi, Alchemy Index, Interview
|Concert Review - Brand New w/ Thrice, mewithoutYou @ The Wiltern (11.3-11.4)
|With each of their respective discographies, Brand New and Thrice have constantly reinvented their sound and pushed musical boundaries, leading them to become two of the most respected bands in today’s music scene. Last weekend, they each brought their dynamic live show to the Wiltern for a three-night stand — the first two of which I saw — and, with help from indie rock guru mewithoutYou, put on arguably the best concert I’ve seen this year.|
MewithoutYou’s unique sound, which oftentimes consists of more speaking than singing from lead singer Aaron Weiss, translated remarkably in the live setting. Over the course of half an hour, the band’s high level of energy amid fine musicianship was clear from watching Weiss and his unpredictable behavior, which ranged from running wildly around the stage to playing an assortment of instruments, including tambourine, maracas, accordion and acoustic guitar. The songs, about half of which were from last year’s Brother, Sister, frequently blended into one another, feeling like a series of separate movements in an epic composition.
Orange County’s Thrice was simply flawless. Playing a shade under an hour, they showcased a nice mixture of old and new material, including five songs off of last month’s The Alchemy Index. The new songs sounded fantastic, from the blazing “Firebreather” and “Burn The Fleet” to the airy electronics of “Digital Sea” and “Open Water,” which was particularly impressive to see pulled off live.
Former Biola student Dustin Kensrue’s voice was spot on, and the entire band never missed a beat, revealing their exceptional skill as musicians. Fan favorites “Deadbolt,” “Stare At The Sun” and “The Artist In The Ambulance” were all precisely executed, with other standouts being “Silhouette,” “Red Sky” and “The Earth Will Shake.” The latter was the perfect song to end with, and its intense finale was a sight to see.
Closing it out was Brand New, who went for 90 minutes and were expectedly incredible. On the first night, they played everything from 2006’s album of the year, The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, and only three old songs — “The Shower Scene,” “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” and “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot.” For the second night, they played everything off of Devil minus “Welcome To Bangkok,” as well as “Tommy Gun,” “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades,” “Jaws Theme Swimming,” “Demo 1” and “Play Crack The Sky.”
Night two turned out to be a definite step up from night one, with the band sounding tighter over the improved set list. Highlights included “You Won’t Know” and “Limousine,” along with “Jesus Christ” and the moment when singer Jesse Lacey brought out his acoustic guitar for a solo performance of “Demo 1,” segueing into “Play Crack The Sky.”
Lacey was more talkative on the second night too, and his vocals were especially strong, from his delicate whispers to his raw screams. The select usage of two drum sets, which they employed on their last tour, was again carried over, and helped in the creation of a power-charged atmosphere. Guitarist Vinnie Accardi furthered this factor, providing solid backup vocals while tearing into certain songs with an untapped ferocity.
The band chose to encore with “Untitled,” an unusual decision but one which paid dividends. Accardi first came out and played a few riffs, looping them over one another, and then Lacey came out, adding a few more. This produced a cacophony of tones until eventually the rest of the band joined in, culminating in a raucous jam session. It was unlike anything I had seen before, and a potent display of their avant-garde nature.
Not only do I consider these three bands unbelievable live performers, I also rank them among the most innovative artists writing music today. They demonstrated both facets each night, even though Brand New didn’t quite match the power of their performance from earlier in the year. In the face of the vapid landscape known as mainstream music, mewithoutYou, Thrice and Brand New prove that if you venture below the surface, not everything is barren.
|Tags: Brand New, Thrice, mewithoutYou, Concert, Review
|Movie Review - Bee Movie
|Over the last few years, the animation genre has seen a downward spiral in the quality department. The current craze for computer animation has led to an over saturation in the marketplace, and the end results have suffered accordingly. While there have been some great accomplishments (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”), they have been few and far between, and even the mighty Pixar showed it wasn’t infallible with last year’s “Cars.” Sadly, “Bee Movie” does little to change this trend.|
The concept of talking insects is nothing new — it has been seen in numerous movies including “A Bug’s Life,” “Antz” and “The Ant Bully.” The plot of “Bee Movie” closely resembles its bug brethren, following Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) who has become disillusioned after learning his sole meaning in life is to make honey. Upon leaving the hive and its rigid structure, he befriends the human florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), discovering an exciting new world and a renewed purpose.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is — “Ratatouille” was built on a similar premise. However, where that film excelled — a combination of cute comedy with excellent voice performances and the tackling of sophisticated themes — “Bee Movie” proves no match for. It repeatedly is content to rely on the talents of Seinfeld in hopes that having him involved will miraculously elevate it, but Seinfeld can only do so much.
Seinfeld, who also serves as a producer and one of the writers, manages to integrate some of his trademark humor and wit throughout. This is his first major project since the end of his beloved sitcom, but the fact he selected this to be the one comes as a bit of a surprise. He seems restricted by having to appeal to kids, and it never materializes into the laugh track one would expect given Seinfeld’s track record.
The main reason for this is the story itself, which is so outlandish it’s hard to take the movie seriously. For example, there is a romantic subplot involving Barry and Vanessa — apparently trying to one up “Beauty And The Beast” — and if that wasn’t enough, Barry later sues the human race for stealing the bees’ honey. Whoever came up with these — Seinfeld or not — was clearly not thinking straight. In a movie that already suspends reality with talking bees, they stand above and beyond as nothing short of outrageous.
One of the greatest strengths of Dreamworks Animation (“Shrek,” “Madagascar”) is how they poke fun at our society and pop culture. This is one of the highlights here as well, and it’s fun to see the clever ways they relate the bee world to our own. The string of cameos is also entertaining, especially those by Sting and Ray Liotta. The animation itself, although short of what Pixar has recently created, is well done and showcases the studio’s technological growth in that area.
Another trait of Dreamworks is how it seems to put most of its emphasis on acquiring A-list vocal talent and less developing a compelling story. “Bee Movie” fails to challenge that theory — the voice deliveries are good but not great, and the story is often poorly executed. In the end, this prevents “Bee Movie” from flying above the second-rate nature its title suggests.
The Verdict: C+ (79%)
|Tags: Bee Movie, Jerry Seinfeld, Movie, Review
|Movie Review - Dan In Real Life
|It seems actor Steve Carell is sitting on top of the world these days. He’s proven himself formidable in a variety of roles, from leading man (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Evan Almighty”) to solid supporter (“Anchorman,” “Little Miss Sunshine”) to TV star (“The Office”). “Dan In Real Life” — his second movie this year — finds the former “Daily Show” correspondent bringing his trademark brand of humor to the romantic comedy genre.|
In the film Carell plays Dan Burns, a widowed father who works as a newspaper columnist dispensing relationship advice. On the way to attend a family get-together, he hits it off with a charming stranger named Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a local bookstore. As it so happens, she is already dating his brother (Dane Cook) and has been asked to join the family for the gathering. The two try to play everything off as normal by keeping their encounter a secret, which results in a wild week for the entire family.
Carell has been embraced by audiences as Hollywood’s latest everyman, and he furthers that designation here. Not only is he juggling the difficulty of raising three daughters, coping with the death of his wife, and worrying about a possible job promotion, he is simultaneously trying to win the affections of Marie. This provides him the opportunity to show off a portion of his dramatic side, allowing the assortment of embarrassing proceedings to naturally evolve. Through it all, Carell’s patented penchant for awkwardness and deadpan wit remain on display, which is sure to please his expanding fan base.
The rest of the cast spend their time supporting and playing off of Carell’s talents. Oscar winner Binoche (“The English Patient,” “Chocolat”) develops a good chemistry with Carell, making the premise at least somewhat plausible. Displaying a diluted amount of the free-spiritedness of the latter film, she makes for a nice contrast with the more down-to-reality Burns family. Even though I’ve never been a huge fan of her work, her character is easy to like and a distinctive part of the cast.
Cook, who has experienced a rough transition from stand-up comic to leading man, demonstrates he can actually act when given the chance. His role is one of the more serious ones he’s tackled and, by leaving most of the comedy to Carell and the others, frees him up to focus on the character. While it’s far from an Oscar worthy performance, it indicates he may have a career in acting after all.
While the film incorporates a higher dose of realistic drama than your average romantic comedy, it still exhibits many of its familiar traits. From the opening outset, it’s easy to predict how things will play out, and it never deviates from this expected outcome.
However, director Peter Hedges (“Pieces Of April”) has injected the right combination of heart and warmth so that we don’t mind retracing this familiar territory. His depiction of family and characters is easy to relate to and care for, despite whatever disagreements or peculiarities they might possess. In a time when America is being torn apart by dysfunctional households, it’s refreshing to see one portrayed that supports and looks out for one another.
In the midst of the family dynamics, the film is not without its fair share of laughs. While it is never overtly over-the-top like many recent comedies, Carell remains in his element the entire time, and the part proves to be another step in the right direction for creating an enduring career. Count this as another fine feather in Carell’s rapidly filling hat.
The Verdict: B (85%)
|Tags: Dan In Real Life, Steve Carell, Movie, Review
|Movie Review - 30 Days Of Night
|Vampires have been a staple in filmmaking almost since its very inception. First appearing in 1913’s “The Vampire,” they gained notoriety with 1922’s German classic “Nosferatu” and Bela Lugosi’s memorable turn in 1931’s “Dracula.” Fast forward 70 plus years and they continue to be a lucrative part of pop culture, as the recent “Blade” and “Underworld” films can attest. “30 Days Of Night” looks to capitalize on this popularity by offering its own spin on the vampire mythos.|
Based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles, it appears to have more in common with zombie films like “28 Days Later” or the “Dawn Of The Dead” remake than typical vampire fare. Here the vampires strike fast as lightening, inflicting with brutal and lethal precision. Despite their ferocity, they never come across as terribly menacing, and their leader — a hardly recognizable Danny Huston — speaks in a foreign tongue more weird than frightening.
The aesthetic look of the vampires also seems plain and unimaginative — far from the drastic change the previously listed films elicited. Ultimately, these vampires are rather uninteresting, and we learn very little about either their history or who they are. It might have been more effective if nothing was known about them at all, and focus was solely on the humans instead of this half-hearted attempt at both.
Director David Slade, who previously helmed the indie gem “Hard Candy,” is better off handling human characters. He sets things up efficiently, following the townspeople of Barrow, Ala., the northernmost settlement in the United States, as they prepare for a month without sunlight. In the meantime, sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) investigates a series of peculiar criminal activity — a burned pile of cell phones and the butchering of sled dogs — and his estranged spouse (Melissa George) misses the last flight out, leaving her stuck in Barrow.
Eben tracks the crimes to a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster), who appears out of his mind when he declares this is just a taste of what is to come. As it turns out, a host of vampires soon attack the unsuspecting town, quickly taking out the power plant before exterminating the civilians one by one.
Foster, who already delivered a breakout performance this year in last month’s “3:10 To Yuma,” steals the show once again. His mannerisms engender a wildness and unpredictability that make him both imposing and pathetic, made all the more bizarre when we discover it is part of his plan to get turned into a vampire. It’s a shame he’s given too little screen time to show off more of his talents.
Hartnett and George make for slightly above average horror leads. Of the two, Hartnett fares the best, playing the role of the heroic sheriff well but not as convincing when it comes to the darker aspects of the character. On the other hand, George is given a much more routine role and, though the relationship between the two is predictable from the outset, manages to avoid turning into a hapless heroine.
Perhaps the film’s strongest element is its setting, as the isolated and harsh climate suit the story perfectly. The film does a nice job of capturing the desolate atmosphere but is often reduced to watching the group of survivors scurry from house to house to avoid the vampires, which soon grows tiresome.
When the big showdown finally arrives after 30 days — though it never actually feels a whole month has expired — its small scale is a letdown, especially when the logic begins to border on the absurd. The concluding scene also plays cornier then I’m sure was intended, falling short of the touching moment the writers were obviously striving for.
In the overall vampire spectrum, “30 Days Of Night” lies somewhere in the middle. While it does look cool and features pretty good acting, when it comes to the actual vampires themselves, it disappoints. In the end, what could have been a shot in the arm to the genre turns out only to be a mild punch.
The Verdict: B- (81%)
|Tags: 30 Days Of Night, Movie, Review, Vampires
|Movie Review - Michael Clayton
|Lately superstar George Clooney has been conjuring up images from the age of Hollywood past. “Ocean’s Eleven” was an updated Rat Pack extravaganza, “Good Night, And Good Luck.” a throwback to the fifties and “The Good German” an homage to noir. His newest film, “Michael Clayton,” is a deliberate, character-driven thriller, the type of which has rarely been seen since the ‘70s.|
Michael Clayton (Clooney) is the “janitor” for a powerful New York law firm — charged with the task of cleaning up their dirty messes. The latest fiasco involves a class action suit that’s been dragging on for six years, with the massive settlement finally heading towards closure. However, the lead lawyer on the case, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), appears to have gone mad, having stripped down during a deposition while rambling incessantly. Clayton believes this to be an adverse reaction from not taking his meds until strange things begin to happen, signaling his colleague may have been onto something after all.
This is one of the most intelligently written films of the year — intricately complex where nothing is cut and dry. Tony Gilroy, who helped write the “Bourne” films, makes his directorial debut and takes full advantage of working from his own strong screenplay. He constructed a narrative that reveals itself gradually, allowing the complicated characters and interwoven plot to unwind at a natural pace. It takes awhile to let it soak in but because it relies on the strong cast and their personal dilemmas over cheap thrills or twists, the story never falls apart. Gilroy then brings everything together for a gripping and satisfying conclusion, in part by steering away from a neat or contrived resolution.
With the strong source material already in place, Clooney responds with the strongest outing of his career. Gone is his famed aura of suave and charm, replaced by a nuanced determination to simply stay afloat. Having been worn down by his grueling profession and the mounting pressure to stay out of debt, Clooney is left scrambling to survive amongst his cutthroat surroundings. As it progresses, this slowly begins to wake him up, forcing him to reevaluate what his ethical conscience has become. Clooney never loses sight of this inner struggle and, in the face of being pulled apart by business, money and family problems, keeps us invested and dialed in.
Clooney is not the only one with a brilliant performance — the supporting cast all nail their roles too. Wilkinson is haunting as a man on the brink of sanity, yet hinting at a morsel of truth below the surface. Tilda Swinton deserves accolades as Karen Crowder, the firm’s chief counsel, who is given the ultimatum of pushing the settlement through at any cost. Even though she serves as a villain in the piece, it is never purely black and white, and her behavior indicates she is battling with the same tough issues as Clayton. Sydney Pollack, perfectly cast as Clayton’s boss, provides the tough-as-nails personality one would expect from a man in his position, and is at his best alongside Clooney.
With one of the smartest scripts of the year and an equally impressive cast, “Michael Clayton” is sure to attract attention come awards season. Clooney is the one most likely to reap the benefits and could score his second acting nomination after winning two years ago for “Syriana.” However, Gilroy is not to be forgotten in the mix, having turned in the job of a seasoned veteran, and it’s largely because of him the film ranks among the year’s best.
The Verdict: B+ (88%)
|Tags: Michael Clayton, George Clooney, Movie, Review
|Movie Review - The Heartbreak Kid
|The Farrelly brothers (“Dumb And Dumber”) and Ben Stiller (“Meet The Parents”) have been involved in some of the most beloved comedies of the last fifteen years. Their first film together, 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary,” proved to be the pinnacle of their respective careers — at least in terms of quality. Nine years later, the trio has reunited for a remake of the 1972 film, “The Heartbreak Kid.”|
The story follows Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old bachelor who remains hesitant to make the commitment despite pressure from his father (Jerry Stiller) and best friend (Robert Corddry). One day he bumps into Lila (Malin Akerman) and they immediately hit it off, causing him to hastily conclude she must be the one. On their honeymoon, he quickly doubts the decision after he discovers his wife to be a completely different person. Matters are further complicated when he falls for the unknowing Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) at the hotel, leaving him torn between ending his short marriage or letting this new love get away.
Stiller brings his easygoing and likeable personality to the film but never strays from the familiar string of characters he has built his career upon. Despite providing a few funny moments — an improvement after the flat “Night At The Museum” — there is nothing remarkable to make this turn differentiate. At the forefront of this predicament is the character himself, who never fits any heroic archetype due to his questionable decision-making. Eddie is also not as innocent or well intentioned as some of Stiller’s past roles, and the story suffers from this lack of sentiment.
Opposite Stiller, Akerman and Monaghan are serviceable as the female leads. Akerman, who landed the role of Laurie Juspeczyk in the anticipated “Watchmen” adaptation, is charming enough in the beginning to make the set-up convincing. However, her transformation from normal to crazy fares much worse and the annoyance quickly wears thin. It’s the writing, not the acting, that is the main problem. In the end, she is unable to overcome its one-dimensionality or her appearance as a second-rate Cameron Diaz.
Monaghan isn’t given a chance to show off her acting skills as her character is also hampered by the poor writing. She displays a decent chemistry with Stiller and has learned how to play the part of the nice “girlfriend” effectively. Overall though, her character is just as shallow as everything else, with the deficiency on full display over the course of the film’s ridiculous final third.
The Farrelly brothers are well known for their over-the-top and at times raunchy humor, but one of the chief reasons their movies have worked is due to the heart and message they carry. This time around, those qualities are in short supply. There is no central character to root for — we can’t help but feel Eddie somewhat deserves what has happened to him because of his own foolishness. There also isn’t a significant theme included, and the most prevalent one — don’t rush into marriage — is discarded and played for laughs with the concluding scene.
The script, from a hodgepodge of five writers (seldom a good omen), never rises above the limitations of generic, mainstream comedy. A lot of the humor is of the physical, slapstick variety — a Farrelly Brothers staple — but falters as much as it succeeds. A prime example is the incident where Eddie is stung by a jellyfish and Lila subsequently pees on him to diminish the sting — a pointless bit neither funny nor memorable. For the rest of the film, the dialogue is rarely witty or clever, and it lacks any scene genuinely side-splitting.
“The Heartbreak Kid” fails to live up to its billing, succumbing to the trappings of a typical run-of-the-mill comedy. Most of that can be attributed to the uninspired and uncreative writing but, on the other hand, partial blame is reserved for the talent as well — the Farrelly brothers’ continuing struggle at the box office and Stiller’s struggle of finding a challenging role. Hopefully on their next collaboration, they will have learned from this mishap and will be able to strike comic gold once again.
The Verdict: C+ (78%)
|Tags: The Heartbreak Kid, Ben Stiller, Farrelly Brothers, Movie, Review