Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Christopher Owens, Formerly of Girls, Mesmerizes a Sit-Down 9:30 Club

Many dozens of shows viewed at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. and this was a first for me. A sit-down concert.

So there Gordie, Dan, Rachel, and I were in the third row Sunday night where we got a thrilling display from Christopher Owens, formerly of Girls (a band I missed back in 2009 when they were very obscure).

I thought it might simply be an acoustic, one-man set. But no, all the pieces from his brilliant new solo album - saxophone, flute, two female backup singers, lead guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboard - were there. I also thought Owens (seated in the photo) would be the only stage presence capturing our attention. But he has recruited a fascinating and mesmerizing cast of characters.

And that's saying a lot. It's not easy to compete with Owens, a guy whose back story includes growing up in California's way-out Children of God cult (which apparently hired thousands of female escorts to recruit members into their sexually, shall we say, adventurous, family).

Further, Owens is a premiere musician. I've waited a long time to see him. (Girls' album Father, Son, Holy Ghost was ranked #1 in my top 70 list of 2011 and the band's self-titled debut was a way under-ranked #16 in my 2009 top 40.) The wait may have been wise, because I would be shocked if the solo album, called Lysandre, will be anywhere lower than my top three of 2013, but we'll see.

In short, his two-and-a-half Girls albums and now his solo one are almost entirely flawless. This was really, really apparent Sunday night because the first half of the show consisted of songs off his new album and had arguably much better lyrics and music than the second half of the show, which was made up of well-done soft-rock covers all largely regarded as classics in the rock 'n' roll cannon like "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, "Wild World" by Cat Stevens, "Lalena" by Donovan, and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" by Bob Dylan. It was almost as if Owens was trying to rub it into his idols' faces that he's better.

My only complaint is that he didn't play any of those great songs off his Girls albums. But that's a small complaint. Hopefully he'll release another solo record in the next year or so, and he can play his original material for a lot longer into the night next time. (Openers Melted Toys provided an enjoyable jolt of 80s wave with memorable guitar licks liberally scattered throughout.)

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Django Unchained is Tarantino's Second-Best Movie Ever

Django Unchained is a stunner. I never thought I would say that a Quentin Tarantino film is almost as good as his piece de resistance Pulp Fiction, but this one comes close.

Much like Pulp Fiction, this movie is not so much about the plot but rather about the dialogue that drives the masterful suspense and the scene after scene of purely tantalizing cinematography and episodic brilliance.

Chapter after chapter roll past and the viewer rarely wants the scene to end, but it always does, and Tarantino always leaves us wanting more. Even the most graphically violent scenes never overstay their welcome, which helps make them so enjoyable and some of them even downright hilarious (like when the southern lady gets swooped off her feet and out of the room by one of Django's righteous bullets).

Christoph Waltz, who was so captivating in Inglourious Basterds at "The Jew Hunter," is flat-out the actor of the year in this one. Forget Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln. It's pretty safe to say that Waltz is the top master at delivering Tarantino's also award-deserving scriptwriting lines.

Jamie Foxx as Django and Samuel L. Jackson as an influential house slave are also great. Leonardo DiCaprio could be better as the wack-job slave-plantation owner Calvin Candie, but that said, perhaps I have too high of expectations for the actor, who may not be capable of being quite as evil as he needs to be in this part. (He's still pretty darn evil though.)

This is my movie of the year, and the second-best Tarantino movie ever.

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Where Does Lincoln Fall Among Spielberg's Best Movies?

It's no stretch to admit that Lincoln is one of the best movies of 2012. And it focuses on one of the most important stories - the battle over the 13th Amendment - from all of American history.

But where Django Unchained, for example, is a relentlessly entertaining take on the battle over slavery, Lincoln feels more like something quite a bit drier, something produced for The History Channel. Something very serious, but a little less entertaining.

Daniel Day Lewis no doubt deserves the best actor award. Every word and story that comes out of his mouth as Honest Abe is mesmerizing.

Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are each perfect for their roles. But in just two-and-a-half hours, there is really not enough room for any of them to become knowable or deep characters. It's a shame, and it shows how Lincoln's story really is more suited for a TV miniseries (or series) than for the silver screen.

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

So where does it fall into the pantheon of Steven Spielberg movies?

Honorable Mention: The Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Color Purple, Men in Black, Amistad, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Flags of Our Fathers, True Grit, The Lovely Bones, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

15: Jurassic Park (1993)
14: Catch Me If You Can (2002)
13: Minority Report (2002)
12: Lincoln (2012)
11: Back to the Future (1985)
10: Cape Fear (1991)
09: The Blues Brothers (1980)
08: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
07: Austin Powers in Gold Member (2002)
06: Poltergeist (1982)
05: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
04: Shindler's List (1993)
03: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
01 (tie): E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
01 (tie): Jaws (1975)

What do you think? Is this the same order of your favorite Spielberg-related flicks?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Magazine Reads: Kate Moss May Not Be What You Think

I don't follow fashion closely. I've never thought much about Kate Moss before. She's always seemed to simply hang around and look all drugged out and anorexic with flamboyant rock stars.

Perhaps that why Vanity Fair's November 2012 cover story was such an eye-opener for me. The article is one the best of many magazine articles I read last year. It showed that Moss is actually not much of a druggie, is someone everyone wants to hang out with because she's so much fun, has boundless endurance and enthusiasm, has no qualms about taking nude photos (as this article's accompanying shoot can attest), doesn't suffer any fallout from taking said nude photos like most Playboy centerfolds do, and doesn't care much for fashion either. She simply lucked into it, has a natural talent for it, and keeps getting asked (decade after decade) to come back for more photo shoots.

The interviewer flies in very ritzy style all over the world with Moss. The piece reads a bit like a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode. And perhaps he, James Fox, makes her look way better than she really is, but he convincingly won me over to her.

I guess it speaks to my own style in that I go for the "unfashion" fashion model. Regardless, this is as good as magazine writing gets.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No Judd Apatow Fatigue with This is 40

At some point, Judd Apatow fatigue has GOT to set in. His list (see below) of producer, director, and writer credits arguably make him among the very top comedy minds ... not just of this era, but of all time.

The fatigue hasn't set in yet with This is 40 (and it's not likely to in 2013, with Anchorman 2 on the way and almost guaranteed to be a smash).

Picking up where they left off in 2007's Knocked Up, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters continue as the happily married couple with typical mid-life issues.

His production of Graham Parker's album isn't going so well and her clothes shop has its own struggles. There are moments when This is 40 could be funnier, and it's certainly a little too long, but this is highly watchable entertainment.

Rudd and Parker are both impossible not to love. (Parker, whose 1982 song "Temporary Beauty," unfortunately not included in the soundtrack, is one of my all-time favorites. It's an MTV classic that is better than anything Elvis Costello ever did.)

With a slew of cameos, the best ones are Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, AlbertBrooks, John Lithgow, and Jason Segel.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

(The following list of Apatow's movies doesn't even count TV shows he's been involved with such as Freaks and Geeks, The Ben Stiller Show, and Girls.)
1992Crossing the BridgeNoYesNoNo
1996Celtic PrideNoYesYesNo
The Cable GuyNoYesYesNo
2004Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyNoYesNoYes
Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost MovieNoYesNoYes
2005Kicking & ScreamingNoYesNoNo
The 40-Year-Old VirginYesYesYesNo
Fun with Dick and JaneNoYesYesNo
2006The TV SetNoYesNoNo
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky BobbyNoYesNoNo
2007Knocked UpYesYesYesNo
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox StoryNoYesYesNo
2008Drillbit TaylorNoYesNoNo
Forgetting Sarah MarshallNoYesNoNo
You Don't Mess with the ZohanNoNoYesNo
Step BrothersNoYesNoNo
Pineapple ExpressNoYesNoNo
2009Year OneNoYesNoNo
Funny PeopleYesYesYesNo
2010Get Him to the GreekNoYesNoNo
The Five-Year EngagementNoYesNoNo
This Is 40YesYesYesNo
2013Can a Song Save Your Life?[63]NoYesNoNo
Anchorman 2[64]NoYesNoNo