Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top 6 Wes Anderson Movies

Writer and director Wes Anderson is only a year older than me and he's already created seven films. So maybe I haven't accomplished as much, but at least I've seen six of those seven movies.

I just watched Moonrise Kingdom. It's about a young "khaki scout" and a supposedly troubled girl who fall in love amidst their shared passion for adventure. Those adventures repeatedly take them away from their families, who are constantly trying to get them back. The movie only slightly drags during the ending chase scene, but is otherwise pretty flawless and very funny.

The girl's parents are lacking-in-passion lawyers (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). His scout master is Edward Norton and the policeman on the runaway case is Bruce Willis.

Needless to say, all these adults turn in hilarious and classic performances. The two kids (breakout stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are mesmerizing and every bit the oddballs that Max Fischer was in Anderson's finest film, Rushmore. Jason Schwartzman, who played Fischer, is also excellent as an oddball scout leader who has the power to unlawfully marry the two runaway lead characters in Moonrise Kingdom.

This movie receives ****1/2 out of ***** stars and places itself in a dead tie with The Royal Tenenbaums for the director's second-best movie.

1. Rushmore
2. Moonrise Kingdom (tie)
2. The Royal Tenenbaums (tie)
4. Bottle Rocket
5. The Darjeeling Limited
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

And I still need to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. It will truly need to be fantastic to break into those top four movies, some of the best ever.

Do you agree with this ranking?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Louisville, Kentucky Provides Perfect Blueprint to Become a Bicycle City

This article was originally published at Mobility Lab.

The 99.72 percent of commuters* in Louisville, Kentucky who don't travel by bicycle are really missing out.

That's what I learned when I recently visited the home of the Kentucky Derby and the state's largest city.

Everywhere I travel, I try to rent a bicycle and see the sites. And nearly every time, I wonder why most people continue to drive alone when at least some of them could much more easily and healthily travel these places on two wheels. I was staying with a friend who owns a bike but rarely uses it.

In fact, when I told him one of the highlights of my ride was posing with Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial in Waterfront Park, he said he didn't even know Louisville had a Lincoln Memorial! And indeed, I suppose there might not be much reason to know about the memorial unless you took a stroll or bikeride along the Ohio River.

But the miles of trail along the river are part of what helps make Louisville so bikeable, and so attractive. I rode from my friend's house – in the very walkable and vibrant area southeast of the downtown called Highlands – straight up Bardstown Road, through the beautifully wooded Cherokee Park - designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in Manhattan - to the riverside bike path. This was an easy and flat ride and, indeed, even along the retail-lined Bardstown Road, there were signs to share the road with bicyclists.

Riding between Cherokee Park and the river took me through a warehouse district that, while not all that pretty, afforded a completely easy and care-free ride. And, amazingly, took me right underneath the stressed-out hordes up above on the "Spaghetti Junction" tangle of crisscrossing interstates and highways.

I then rode west along the river into the heart of the downtown. There were bicyclist signs all along the way, so the city is definitely thinking of ways to encourage this win-win activity. There are great sites and things to do throughout the downtown that are made even greater by the ease of simply pulling right up to the front doors on a bike, including the Belle of Louisville, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and food trucks to choose from for my lunch (I had a tamale).

I headed south out of downtown through Old Louisville and through the University of Louisville campus. Then I wound back east to return to my friend's house.

* One comment I feel I should add to this is that Governing’s statistic about the 99.72 percent in Louisville who don’t bike commute seems a little off (and Governing, to its credit, admits as much in its own footnote to its very-cool graphic). I saw a lot of bicyclists on my ride through the city, and several people told me that they see quite a few people riding regularly to work.

Best New Albums: October 2012

This is a new monthly feature recently introduced. You can stream all the albums mentioned here for free at this Spotify link, which I keep updated.

Best Album of the Month
Nude Beach - II
This is a wholly unexpected treat from a band I had never heard of. It lands somewhere between Tom Petty and garage punk. I'll just assume that the title means this is Nude Beach's second release. I'd already be on the warpath for the first if I could stop hitting "repeat."

Best of the Rest
The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
This band served up my "album of the year" in 2010 and consistently releases the best folk-rock, by miles, that exists in the world these days. If you're a newbie to North Carolina's Avetts, start here, or, for that matter, start on any of their albums. A very close second to Nude Beach as album of the month.

Eux Autres - Sun is Sunk
From Portland, this brother-sister duo is like the part of Sleater-Kinney I would have always preferred. They are slightly abrasive and lo-fi like that band, but they are so much catchier and full of melody.

Allo Darlin' - Europe
This twee-pop group is just the second stringer we need when Belle and Sebastian takes a break from making records. Its self-titled 2010 debut is near perfect, and they've got a handful of great other singles and EPs. It's a great relief to me to have album #2 in hand now.

Cat Power - Sun
Unfortunately, I heard that Chan Marshall of Cat Power had another one of her famed onstage meltdowns last week at the 9:30 Club in DC. Fortunately, her new studio work is thoroughly listenable from the comfort of my own home. "Ruin" is already on my shortlist for best songs of 2012.

Young Fresh Fellows - Tiempo De Lujo
I'm accumulating quite a collection by these guys. Led by long-time R.E.M. guitarist Scott McCaughey, the Americana fluttering around on the band's 13th album goes into all kinds of directions. There's something for everyone, and also like an old friend you always love to hear from.

David Byrne and St. Vincent - Love This Giant
For some reason, I didn't think I would be into this. But I love Byrne and his Talking Heads. And I love St. Vincent (a much-less-annoying Regina Spektor or Tori Amos, with serious guitar licks). These songs are weird, but shockingly catchy and hummable.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Best High School Movies Ever

When you look at lists of the best movies about high-school, it kind of stinks that there just aren't many (or any) near the top that are recent.

Which is why The Perks of Being a Wallflower arrives as such a treat. Author and director Stephen Chbosky captures the insecurities and neuroses of teenage adolescence with clarity and emotion. No characters are ever interesting without a backstory (we all have one), and lead characters Charlie (Logan Lerman), Sam (Emma Watson), and Patrick (Ezra Miller) have stories both real and explained.

The only element keeping Perks from being a classic is that it's not as funny as it could be. There are several moments that are very funny for a line or two, and the fact that those bits work so well, it makes me think that Chbosky could have easily added more.

Nevertheless, the film is not really aiming to be Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, or American Pie. It's much more on the darker side, like Heathers, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Not a bad side to aspire to.

**** out of ***** stars

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Afghan Whigs at 9:30 Club Provides a Memorable 90s Flashback

I had quite a brush with the Afghan Whigs back in the early 90s when I had to hold the guitarist up during one song to keep him from falling off the tiny stage at Cicero's in St. Louis.

The Cincinnati kids have come a long way, as the band, now reformed, showed recently at the 9:30 Club in DC. When I first saw the Whigs, there were 20 people watching in a sweaty basement, but this  show saw a whole new generation packing the renowned club to the rafters and bellowing out many of the Whigs' classic tunes. For me, I was just thrilled that they actually played "Retarded" and "You, My Flower," two songs off my favorite album, their first, Up in It.

I could have taken a run-through of all Up in It's rowdy tunes, but the selection actually represented a pretty good mix from all their albums, which I would incidentally rank as:

1. Up in It
2. Congregation
3. Gentlemen
4. 1965
5. Black Love

With so much strong material, it is difficult to believe the band only has five albums, perhaps partly because leader Greg Dulli has so much other great material with projects like The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins. Even with the Whigs dormant since 1998, Dulli has been notably prolific.

And Dulli, ever the soulful performer pleased the crowd throughout with a journey into the pit, not to mention the band's forays into snippets of songs by Stevie Nicks, Prince, and The Doors.

What a pleasure it is to know the Afghan Whigs. This show was ****1/2 out of ***** stars.

The set list:
Crime Scene
I’m Her Slave
Uptown Again
What Jail Is Like
Fountain And Fairfax/Who Do You Love
When We Two Parted/Dead Body
Turn On The Water/The End
You, My Flower
See And Don’t See
Going to Town/Edge of Seventeen
Cite Soleil
Miles Iz Dead
Into the Floor

Summer’s Kiss
Sometimes It Snows In April
Faded/Purple Rain

Photos by Brad Searles and Richie Downs