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Thrice Interview - 11.07.07
11/11/07 at 09:09 PM by Jonathan Bautts
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?

Yeah, yeah.

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
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Concert Review - Brand New w/ Thrice, mewithoutYou @ The Wiltern (11.3-11.4)
11/09/07 at 02:37 AM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - Bee Movie
11/08/07 at 01:48 AM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - Dan In Real Life
11/02/07 at 01:29 PM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - 30 Days Of Night
10/31/07 at 02:40 PM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - Michael Clayton
10/17/07 at 06:47 PM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - The Heartbreak Kid
10/15/07 at 05:09 PM by Jonathan Bautts
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
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Movie Review - In The Valley Of Elah
10/05/07 at 04:19 PM by Jonathan Bautts
At the 2006 Academy Awards, “Crash” pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Oscar history, slipping past heavyweight “Brokeback Mountain” to seize Best Picture. Now nearly two years later, writer/director Paul Haggis returns with his directorial follow-up. Instead of tackling the ugly realities of racism again, he turns his attention to a different but equally sensitive topic — the war in Iraq.

During his first weekend back from serving in Iraq, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) mysteriously disappears. When his parents (Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon) are alerted of this disquieting news, his father, Hank, a former military man, travels to the base to help track him down. Once he arrives, things begin to look increasingly discouraging, and the evidence piles up suggesting his son was murdered. With the help of a local police detective (Charlize Theron), Hank attempts to uncover the truth behind the shocking act, no matter how dark it might be.

The driving force behind the film is Tommy Lee Jones, who turns in one of the best-rounded performances of his storied career. While his character never strays too far from those he is well known for (“The Fugitive,” “Men In Black”), there is an element of brokenness to his demeanor which makes this one different. His grave facial expressions insinuate a sorrowful past, stemming from the loss of his elder son to overseas combat. This adds an additional dimension to his rough and tough persona, as well as casting his forthcoming violent outbursts in a new light.

Theron, while not given as much to work with as Jones, delivers as both a haggard cop and a single mother. She is limited to working almost solely on the investigation yet infuses a likeable personality into the part, keeping us involved.

The rest of the ensemble provides good performances, although some are never developed. James Franco as an army officer and Sarandon as Jones’ wife serve as little more than footnotes in Jones’ journey. The movie squanders a great opportunity to contrast the crisis from Sarandon’s viewpoint, a valued component that the similar-minded film “In The Bedroom” skillfully demonstrated.

With strong acting on display, the film’s main downfall lies in the writing department. Much of the run time follows the slow-trodden investigation, and the meticulous pacing is sure to garner complaints. When the big mystery is finally resolved at the end, it also lacks the level of fulfillment that “Crash” excelled at.

Haggis takes a subtler approach to develop his themes this time around, focusing on the characters and choosing to let things unfold in front of their eyes. He shows a growing maturity in that regard, and this more organic storytelling is certainly a step in the right direction. The message responds by being less heavy-handed than “Crash,” save for the last scene, but no one will leave the theater without knowing where Haggis stands on the issue.

On the other hand, the emotional response and insight which made “Crash” so powerful are largely absent here. While we feel for Jones’ character, we never get a chance to connect with any of the soldiers, failing to understand them below a surface level. This is ultimately were the movie fails.

Its arguments against war and the personal damage it causes centers on these soldiers’ responses. When this aspect fall shorts, the whole story crumbles as a result. It doesn’t help that similar themes have been explored in countless war stories — the superb “All Quiet On The Western Front” immediately springs to mind — making it all the more apparent when Haggis stumbles.

Coming off the major success of “Crash,” “In The Valley Of Elah” can only be considered a disappointment. First off, it never reaches the heights of the former or resonates as profound an emotional chord. It is also plagued by many of the same problems as the Haggis-penned “Flags Of Our Fathers,” stalling in its quest to portray war in a rarely-seen setting. Despite a brilliant effort on behalf of Jones and an ambitious attempt from Haggis, these missteps are difficult to ignore.

The Verdict: B- (82%)
Tags: In The Valley Of Elah, Movie, Review
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Concert Review - Cornerstone: Day Two (9.29.07)
10/03/07 at 09:16 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Cornerstone Festival started in Illinois in 1984 and has since become one of the largest and most acclaimed festivals in the country. In June, thousands of fans flocked to the annual five-day event, featuring performances by bands such as Anberlin, Copeland, Flyleaf, Pillar, Skillet, Switchfoot and Underoath. Borrowing a page from last year’s Bamboozle Left, Cornerstone decided it was finally time to make their hard-hitting presence felt in Orange County last weekend, Sept. 28-29.

Night one’s schedule included Emery, Thousand Foot Krutch and Demon Hunter, but the second night was the main attraction. The first highlight belonged to Orange County’s own Project 86, who turned in a vigorous set consisting of eleven songs. Led by the active charisma of singer Andrew Schwab, the veteran rock outfit skewed towards material off of this summer’s Rival Factions.

While they pulled it off handedly most of the time, as evidenced by scorching opener “The Forces Of Radio Have Dropped A Viper Into The Rhythm Section” and “Evil (A Chorus Of Resistance),” during others it was a more mixed affair (“Illuminate,” “Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer”). The band should have chosen to stick closer to their guns and pull more from their strong discography, as they did on “The Spy Hunter” and “My Will Be A Dead Man.” Closing with the only song of the night off of Drawing Black Lines – arguably their best album – “Stein’s Theme” proved they were merely saving the best for last. It all amounted to another solid outing from one of OC’s finest.

Anberlin was up next, putting on nothing short of a terrific performance. Kicking things off with “A Whisper & A Clamor” and “Never Take Friendship Personal,” the band’s set was equally full of both old and new material. Although “Readyfuels” was the only song from their debut record, the big surprise was that they played six off of their second. The noticeable standouts were the rocking “Paperthin Hymn” and “The Feel Good Drag,” but it was especially satisfying to see “Dance, Dance Christa Paffgen” live.

The band spent the rest of the time highlighting one of this year’s best releases, Cities. This included tracks “Hello Alone” and “Adelaide,” both of which were precisely executed, while the powerful duo of “Dismantle. Repair.” and “Godspeed” ended things in an emphatic manner.
Lead singer Stephen Christian did a pretty good job with the vocals, not quite up to his best but far from his worse, and impressed on a couple of high notes. He displayed a charming command of the stage as well, helping to compensate for the times when his frail voice was overshadowed by the guitars.

The Florida five-piece also maintained a high level of energy, led by rhythm guitarist Christian McAlhaney and bassist Deon Rexroat, with Nathan Young pounding away behind the drum kit. When all was said and done, Anberlin confirmed why they have become one of today’s brightest up-and-coming bands.

Metalcore act Underoath was given the task of closing out the festival, and the organizers couldn’t have selected anyone more fitting. The six-piece band, taking time out from their first headlining tour in over a year, brought their “A” game with a dominating 12-song set. They came onto the stage to the instrumental murmurs of “Salmarnir,” offering little more than a tease of what lay ahead, before exploding into the brutal one-two punch of “Returning Empty Handed” and “In Regards To Myself.”

Quick to follow were “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” and “You’re Ever So Inviting,” showcasing the dual vocals between screaming frontman Spencer Chamberlain and singer/drummer Aaron Gillespie. A portion of their quieter, more experimental nature was next demonstrated on the epic “To Whom It May Concern,” the closer off of last year’s phenomenal Define The Great Line.

“A Moment Suspended In Time” and “Young And Aspiring” kept things progressing at a high pace but were soon eclipsed by “Writing On The Walls” and “Everyone Looks So Good From Here,” which cranked the dial all the way up to eleven. Chamberlain then unexpectedly joined in on guitar for a stirring performance of “Casting Such A Thin Shadow” before the band closed with an oldie, “A Boy Brushed Red…Living In Black And White.”

Despite the festival’s constraints of production aspects and a limited set time, Underoath held nothing back and delivered an excellent show. Their seemingly limitless stamina, from the headbanging madness of keyboardist Chris Dudley to the controlled frenzy of guitarist Tim McTague to the vicious beatings generated by Gillespie, was living proof why they rank among the top live acts in today’s music scene.

In the end, Cornerstone California’s inaugural year turned out to be a fair success. While the lineup could have been stronger – it still has quite a ways to go to match its Illinois sibling – the headlining bands, especially the electrifying Underoath, proved they were up to the challenge. With some additional improvements and slight tinkering here and there, Cornerstone’s newest addition could be a force to reckon with for years to come.
Tags: Cornerstone, Underoath, Anberlin, Project 86, Concert, Review
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Movie Review - The Kingdom
09/29/07 at 02:48 PM by Jonathan Bautts
The conflicts in the Middle East and the threat of Islamic extremists are two of the most pressing issues facing our country today. This fall, Hollywood responded by rolling out one of its most politically minded lineups in recent years, with several films tackling these issues with stories uncomfortably close to today’s headlines. “The Kingdom” is one of the first of these to be released and, though it might not be as politically motivated as some of the others, it still manages to make an important statement about the times in which we live in.

The story begins in Saudi Arabia, where a terrorist attack inside an American housing complex leaves more than 100 people dead. Back in the states, Washington officials determine it is best to let the local government handle the case. Angered by this decision, FBI Special Agent Robert Fleury (Jamie Foxx) arranges an unauthorized covert operation, giving him and three other agents (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) five days in Saudi Arabia to investigate further. Upon arrival, they have a hard time accomplishing anything constructive, restricted by the local authorities who don’t want their assistance. Finally, with the help of a sympathetic colonel (Ashraf Barhoum), they slowly start to unravel the identities of those responsible.

Actor-turned-director Peter Berg (“The Rundown,” “Friday Night Lights,” Will Smith’s upcoming “Hancock”) has turned in another terrific effort at the helm. While more of a military thriller than a political piece, it is an involved look at a group of soldiers well out of their comfort zone, offering a glimpse into a part of the world many of us are unfamiliar with. Expanding further on the handheld tactics he employed in “Friday Night Lights,” while also trying to one-up the likes of Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”) and Michael Mann (“Heat,” “Collateral”), Berg is able to ground the film in a stark sense of reality. While the style can be a bit exhausting at times, it suits the tone of the picture capably.

The cast, while all turning in solid performances, never capitalizes on the potential their talents suggest. Foxx plays a resolute and serious leading man, yet despite his efforts, he never generates a strong sense of emotion necessary to carry a story of this magnitude. The dependable Cooper is a joy to watch, playing the group’s explosives expert, but the part easily could (and should) have been expanded. As a result, he never is allowed to sink his teeth into the character, as he did earlier this year to great effect with “Breach.”

Garner, in a tough girl mode reminiscent of her “Alias” days, doesn’t distinguish herself except during the action scenes, highlighted by an impressive fight with one of the terrorists. On the other hand, fellow TV alumnus Bateman (“Arrested Development”) proves he can do more than just comedy, showing off a surprising dramatic range, and Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”) is effective as a U.S. diplomat in his limited screen time. However, the most surprising performance belongs to Barhoum (“Paradise Now”), who is more than able to hold his own against his more famous colleagues.

The script, by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who also penned the forthcoming politically-charged “Lions For Lambs”), proves to be both a blessing and a hindrance. For the most part it is intelligently written and successful at creating an atmosphere of believability but at other times, it hinges on being too dense for its own good. Even though it never attempts the ambitiousness of something like “Syriana,” it can be a little confusing in places, especially when multiple characters are introduced in a matter of moments. The pacing also gets bogged down in the second act, slowing down considerably when the investigation gets underway. Meanwhile, the ending approaches a sense of being too convenient and neatly wrapped up, in a way violating the film’s core perception of realism it was trying to create.

While not as compelling as his masterful sports drama “Friday Night Lights,” Berg has still put together a worthwhile look into a team of a different sort faced with far graver dilemmas. Managing to be both exciting and absorbing, it nevertheless falters in its execution of story and characters, particularly in the middle section. It’s a shame because the film concludes with a scene so powerfully poignant, it casts the rest of the movie in an entirely different perspective—evidence of the high level of promise it failed to completely encompass.

The Verdict: B (86%)
Tags: The Kingdom, Movie, Review
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Concert Review - The Academy Is w/ AFS, TRS, Sherwood @ HOB Anaheim (9.21.07)
09/29/07 at 01:46 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Fresh off their opening stint for Fall Out Boy during this summer’s Honda Civic Tour, The Academy Is… is now in the midst of the first headlining tour in support of their second album, Santi. Boasting three very good opening bands, all of which were solid live, last Friday night’s stop of the Sleeping With Giants Tour at Anaheim’s House Of Blues is likely to be one of the best shows this fall.

Starting the night off was San Luis Obispo’s own Sherwood, who turned in a 30-minute set of seven delectable pop-rock songs. “Never Ready To Leave” got things going right off the bat, led by the dual vocal exchange of lead singer/bassist Nate Henry and singer/guitarist Dan Koch. For the rest of the time, they drew almost exclusively from their latest release A Different Light (the only old song was “Learn To Sing”), with highlights including “The Best In Me,” “Song In My Head,” and the stirring closer “For The Longest Time,” which showed off Henry’s vocal range. My only complaint was the similarity between this set list and those from their last two tours. It would have been nice to see them switch things up more or better yet receive an extended playing time. Nevertheless, it was another impressive display.

After Sherwood was The Rocket Summer, who stole the show with a 30-minute set simply bursting forth with energy. From the first song “Break It Out,” they had the whole place moving, and it never let up from there. Whether it was oldies “Around The Clock” and “Brat Pack” or new stuff like “Do You Feel” and “So Much Love,” it was all fantastically done, easily turning into the highlight of the evening. Lead singer Bryce Avary is one of the most energetic frontman I’ve seen, constantly moving around and giving his all while never missing a note in the process. Switching off from guitar to piano almost every other song, he showcased his extraordinary musical talents, even playing the drums during one transition. The only disappointment was once again how short the set was. The release of this summer’s Do You Feel and a live show that can’t be missed should ensure it won’t stay that way for much longer.

Armor For Sleep was given the difficult task of following up The Rocket Summer. While they weren’t able to match their effort, they still put together a solid nine-song, 40-minute outing. Kicking things off in high fashion was “The Truth About Heaven,” displaying a harder rock sound than the rest of bands on the bill. They went on to play several favorites off of their last release What To Do When You Are Dead, with obvious standouts being “Remember To Feel Real,” “Stay On The Ground” and “Car Underwater.” The New Jersey outfit also showcased a handful of new tunes off of next month’s Smile For Them, indicating a heavier direction on tracks such as “Williamsburg” and “Smile For The Camera.” Throughout the set, singer/guitarist Ben Jorgensen delivered consistent vocals, and the other band members sounded tight musically. Even though it was the weakest performance of the night, it was by no means a bad one, and proved why they have now achieved major label status.

Closing the night was The Academy Is…, who put on an entertaining show over the course of their 75-minute set. The Chicago quintet started things off in style with “Same Blood” before transitioning to older songs “Attention” and “Slow Down.” This proved to be a trademark of the night as the band split 18 songs evenly between their two albums. All of their best songs were included too, from the old (“The Phrase That Pays,” “Black Mamba,” “Down And Out,”) to the new (“We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands,” “Bulls In Brooklyn,” “Neighbors,” “Seed”). They closed with “Checkmarks,” one of their finest songs to date, before coming out to encore with the b-side “40 Steps” and an impassioned performance of “Almost Here,” which ended things perfectly.

Frontman William Beckett’s rock persona was also on full display the entire night, which was quite amusing. Whether strutting around on stage or posing atop the risers, he demonstrated a remarkable presence, and it seemed he was able to work the crowd into a frenzy with the simple twist of his hand. Despite the antics, he never came across as arrogant or ungrateful, and his vocals were spot on for almost every song. The rest of the band, while not nearly as fun to watch, performed well in his shadow.

It baffles me how The Academy Is… has not received more mainstream attention, especially considering how they are among Fall Out Boy’s inner circle and Beckett can actually sing and perform live (unlike Panic!’s Brendon Urie). With their set, they not only showed off the musical diversity of Santi but played almost everything off of their debut as well, which was more than enough to please both old and new fans alike. Coupled with three other great up-and-coming bands, including an amazing showing from The Rocket Summer, it turned out to be quite the night for music.
Tags: The Academy Is, Armor For Sleep, Rocket Summer, Sherwood, Concert, Review
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Movie Review - The Brave One
09/28/07 at 06:57 PM by Jonathan Bautts
In a flawed legal system amid an imperfect world, can true justice ever be attained? Can an individual, exacting justice in ways in which the system has failed, fulfill it? Or is no single person capable or even worthy of a responsibility of this magnitude, due to the inevitable reality of turning into that which he or she is trying to avenge?

These questions and more have been examined in countless films, and “The Brave One” is the latest to offer an opinion on the role of the vigilante. The film opens in a predictable and unremarkable way—the characters and the set-up are nothing new. However, after the story catalyst, it becomes a fascinating character study, setting off to explore deeper themes. What is particularly interesting is that it is from the perspective of a woman, not often seen in these types of male-driven stories.

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is enjoying life as the host of a successful radio show while preparing to marry the love of her life (Naveen Andrews). In the blink of an eye, a brutal mugging eradicates her world to shatters, putting her in a coma and leaving her fiancé dead. When she awakes, she is slowly transformed into someone unafraid to stand up and demand justice, by violent means if necessary. It isn’t long before her path crosses with a sympathetic detective (Terrence Howard) tracking the elusive “justice” killer, and he is soon forced to make the most difficult decision of his career.

Foster has always excelled at playing strong-willed characters and does a fine job with this one. She brings a haunted brokenness to Erica, who is desperately trying to pick up the pieces and find a reason to go on living, and it’s this depiction which makes up the backbone of the film. She also conveys believability for when Erica finds that purpose by handing out her own form of lethal judgment, discovering strength within herself she never thought attainable. Not many actresses could have pulled off this conflicting type of duality, but Foster does admirably in both areas.

Terrence Howard, while not on the same level as Foster, is solid nonetheless. Turning in his best work since his breakout year of 2005 (“Crash,” “Hustle & Flow”), he provides a determined, multi-layered performance, and the scenes between him and Foster are among the film’s highlights. He remains in top form on his own too, whether it is on the trail of the killings, wrestling with a failed marriage or dealing with a murderer he can’t put away due to the lack of evidence. Nicky Katt does a nice job as Howard’s partner, providing a few lines of comic relief that don’t feel out of place in the serious surroundings. Sadly, the same can’t be true of Naveen Andrews (Sayid from “Lost”), whose talents are sorely wasted here, amounting to little more than a cliché in his handful of scenes.

Director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game,” “Interview With The Vampire”) is successful in creating an atmosphere parallel to what Foster’s character is experiencing. The cinematography is cold and desaturated, emphasizing isolation and hopelessness. He also relies on a number of interesting shots from extreme angles, capturing Foster’s sense of paranoia in riveting fashion.

Sustained by another fantastic performance from Foster, “The Brave One” is a gripping look at a woman grappling with the dark recesses of her mind. In spite of its intriguing promise, it ultimately fails to deliver a message either well-thought out or profound. Let down by the writing and an unbelievable ending, which seem to contradict all that has come before it, the film squanders the opportunity to say anything meaningful. It really is too bad because for a second it looked like it was going to be something special.

The Verdict: B (85%)
Tags: The Brave One, Jodie Foster, Movie, Review
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Movie Review - Mr. Woodcock
09/14/07 at 09:27 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Mr. Woodcock is the type of teacher horror stories are told about—cruel and sadistic, he revels in the joy of inflicting humiliation upon others. As a physical education teacher at a middle school, he enjoys making fun of his unathletic students, sending anyone who rubs him the wrong way off on a voyage of lap running. John Farley happened to be one of those students.

Thirteen years after the horrors of Woodcock’s class, Farley (Sean William Scott) is a successful author of a best-selling book about how to let go of painful memories. When he learns he is going to receive a prestigious honor from his hometown, he returns to find one small surprise—his widowed mother (Susan Sarandon) is now dating his hated gym teacher (Billy Bob Thornton). Aghast by this turn of events, he takes it upon himself to break them up before it’s too late, and looks to his childhood friend Nedderman (Ethan Suplee) for assistance. Unfortunately for him, things turn out to be a lot more difficult than he anticipated.

The success or failure of a comedy can oftentimes be attributed to the actors, and this one is no different. Scott does a manageable job at carrying the film, creating a likeable persona and generating a certain amount of sympathy for his character’s situation. However, this is far from his best work here, and he simply doesn’t have many scene-stealing or memorable moments as in past films like “American Pie” or “The Rundown.”

The role of Mr. Woodcock is nothing new for Thornton (he’s recently played strikingly similar characters in “Bad News Bears” and “School For Scoundrels”), and he delivers exactly along those same expected lines. While this works here for the most part, it does start to get old after awhile, with Thornton failing to offer anything new this time around. It would be nice to see Thornton move away from these types of characters and onto something a little more stretching in his choice of upcoming projects. It also doesn’t help when they overplay his cantankerousness to the point of ridiculousness, losing with it any element of credibility the story might have had.

The supporting cast is slightly above average for a film of this nature, yet at the same time doesn’t distinguish itself either. Sarandon does a convincing job as Farley’s mom but doesn’t bring much depth to the part, and we never become entirely convinced she would fall for a guy like Woodcock in the first place. Suplee (“Mallrats,” “My Name Is Earl”), only given a handful of scenes to work with, offers a few chuckles but his comedic talents are largely wasted. Amy Poehler (“Mean Girls,” “Blades Of Glory”), who plays Farley’s book manager, isn’t bad but also isn’t very funny either, and her role doesn’t add much to the overall proceedings.

As far as the comedy aspect goes, there are a few genuinely funny scenes, though most of them were included in the trailer. Much of the humor is of the slapstick variety, which works well between Scott and Thornton but isn’t nearly as funny during the flashback sequences. The dialogue is also only so-so, with nothing sticking out as either glaringly poor or hilariously funny. Director Craig Gillespie has turned in a decent-looking film on his first try, and the only thing that sticks out as noticeably awkward is the score in a couple of scenes.

The movie offers nothing new or groundbreaking but isn’t the train wreck one would have predicted either, instead falling somewhere in the middle. While the laughs are only sporadic, the important thing is there still are some actually present, and the cast, while far from the best they are capable of, prove to be entertaining enough. “Mr. Woodcock” might not be good enough to pay $10 to see in a theater but on a night of particular boredom, it should suffice just fine as a rental.

The Verdict: C+ (78%)
Tags: Mr. Woodcock, Billy Bob Thornton, Movie, Review
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Concert Review - Incubus w/ The Bravery @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (9.7.07)
09/14/07 at 08:45 PM by Jonathan Bautts
For the better part of the past decade, Incubus has been one of the forefront bands in mainstream rock. Since 1999’s Make Yourself, they have gone on to sell over 7 million records, spawning several huge radio singles in the process. On tour in support of last year’s Light Grenades, their sixth album, they brought their powerful live show to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine last Friday.

Before the main event, The Bravery had the job of getting things started and, for the most part, the New York quintet performed well. The band began with the energetic duo of “Fearless” and “Believe,” kicking things off on a high note. However, the rest of their 11-song, 45-minute set wasn’t without its share of ups and downs.

Splitting their songs almost evenly between their self-titled debut and this year’s The Sun And The Moon, the band was at its best with the latter and failed to impress during the former. Outside of the opener and the hit “An Honest Mistake,” the older material tended to mesh together and skewer towards a generic styling of similar sounding bands. The newer material, such as “Time Won’t Let Me Go” and “Every Word Is A Knife In My Ear,” fared much better, showing an improved musicianship and songwriting ability while employing a fuller rock sound.

Performance-wise, guitarist Michael Zakarin threw in a couple nice solos, and lead singer Sam Endicott’s voice translated fairly well live, although he did struggle a bit on some of the higher notes. He also needs to learn to keep a guitar in his hands at all times because on the few songs without one, he flailed about with the mike stand in tow, demonstrating an awkward stage presence. Overall, the band’s show was solid if unspectacular, merely providing a glimpse at their future potential.

In front of a roaring, sold-out crowd, Incubus opened with the subdued “Quicksand” before blasting into the rocking trio of “A Kiss To Send Us Off,” “Nice To Know You” and “Anna Molly.” The remainder of the hour and forty-five minutes consisted of an eclectic 18-song set list, which should have come as no surprise to fans of the band.

While hits like “Stellar,” “Drive,” “Megalomaniac,” “Dig,” and their latest “Oil And Water” were scattered throughout, the band also went deep into their catalogue with songs “Nowhere Fast,” “Circles,” “Pistola,” “Here In My Room,” a b-side to Light Grenades entitled “Punch-Drunk,” a cover of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and even dusted off oldie “Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song).” Noticeably missing were classics “Pardon Me” and “Wish You Were Here,” as well as others like “Warning” and “Talk Shows On Mute,” but these omissions proved to be the set’s only disappointments.

The Calabasas five-piece is an undeniably gifted group of musicians, and that talent was on full display over the course of the night. Lead singer Brandon Boyd has arguably the purest voice in rock music today, and his vocals were pitch perfect the entire time. Guitarist Mike Einziger demonstrated his amazing creativity with several impressive solos, and the band wasn’t afraid to break out into some improvised jam sessions as well. This was no more apparent than during their striking rendition of “Sick Sad Little World,” which featured remarkable drum, bass, and guitar solos, one right after another.

With no pyrotechnics or fancy light show sharing the spotlight, Incubus let their music stand for itself. After being together for over 15 years, it is rare to see a band like this continually push themselves musically while at the same time maintaining a high level of quality. Therefore it was only fitting they chose to close with the Asian-tinged “Aqueous Transmission,” complete with Einziger playing the Japanese instrument pipa, going out in their own unique style. As Friday’s night performance indicated, this is a band clearly in their prime.
Tags: Incubus, The Bravery, Concert, Review
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Movie Review - Shoot 'Em Up
09/12/07 at 11:15 PM by Jonathan Bautts
“Shoot ‘Em Up” is essentially a movie about guns and killing people with them in interesting ways, and it deserves credit for never pretending to be anything more than that. Basically everything you need to know happens within the opening five minutes, as the premise is about as simple and clear-cut as it can get.

Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) happens to oversee a pregnant lady attacked by a group of assassins and comes to her rescue, going so far as to deliver the baby amid a torrent of gunfire. Smith, who later gets some help from a local prostitute (Monica Bellucci), then takes it upon himself to keep the baby safe from Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his platoon of goons, as the conspiracy involving the baby slowly begins to unravel.

How much one will like the movie hinges on whether or not they will be able to accept its hyperrealist setting. With several references to Looney Tunes, it oftentimes plays as a kind of action movie cartoon, complete with exaggerated acting and outrageous shootouts. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, it wisely keeps its sense of humor intact, unafraid to wear its ridiculousness on its sleeve.

Delivering on the promise of its title, the film is a wild rollercoaster with rarely a dull moment. Boasting several extensive gun battles that would make John Woo proud, the fight scenes are clearly the film’s apex. At times, it is quite impressive to see what director Michael Davis is able to come up with, utilizing a vast array of guns, car chases, and more uses for a carrot than thought possible. The only time it is overly cheesy to the point of distraction is during the skydiving sequence which, while still fun, is poorly constructed and too obviously fake.

The actors aren’t given a lot of material to work with yet make the most of what little they do have. Owen is once again in his wisecracking, tough guy mode and fits the part perfectly. Excelling in the action scenes and delivering snappy one-liners, he offers a hint at what his James Bond interpretation would have looked like.

As the villain, Giamatti holds nothing back in his over-the-top performance. The role seems to be a bit beneath what the talented actor has done recently (“Sideways,” “Cinderella Man”), but he seems to be enjoying himself here, so it rubs off on the audience. On the other hand, Bellucci is reduced to little more than a pretty faced babysitter for when Smith goes off to fight, and is given too limited a screen time to build anything worthwhile into her character.

Outside of the shootouts, the movie doesn’t have much going for it. The character development and exposition is kept to a minimum to emphasize what it’s clearly all about—the action. While this keeps it from getting needlessly sidetracked, it also means its depth perception is extremely constrained. Its sense of logic follows the same pattern, including the big reveal at the end.

The film’s main strength lies in its well staged and executed action scenes, along with another entertaining performance by Clive Owen, and anyone expecting something more than a no-holds-barred gunfight flick should probably look elsewhere. However, for those who are able to look past its one dimensionality, it will prove to be a wacky and fun-filled ride, albeit one which is easily forgotten.

The Verdict: B- (82%)
Tags: Shoot 'Em Up, Clive Owen, Movie, Review
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