Monday, May 24, 2010

#83: I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You- Aretha Franklin

Listened to: CD

And here it is, ladies and gents. The album that brought the world Aretha. I can remember exactly where I bought this album. The Tower Records off of Sunrise Highway, along with Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, and we listened to both in John Luther’s basement the same day. It…it was a weird day.

The album kicks off with Aretha’s anthem. A song which kicked down the dors of female oppression, and is considered to be one of the most important pieces of art in the history of the women’s movement. It’s being written originally by a man (soul master Otis Redding) seems no to factor into the equation. And really, this IS Aretha’s song. Like how Jimi jacked Watchtower, Tina Turner took Proud Mary, and Johnny Cash claimed Hurt, Aretha took “Respect” and made it hers. “Respect” is a flawless single, it alone would be a masterpiece, but followed by Aretha’s unbeatable rendition of “Drown In My Own Tears” (Sorry, Ray Charles, but I prefer Ms. Franklin’s), it is only the most shining diamond in a pile of precious jewels.

The title track speaks to a feeling we’ve all had. Being in love with someone who’s just no damn good. The verse all feature Aretha berating the man for how bad he is, but in the chorus, she admits she’s “never loved a man the way that {she} love{s} {him}”. Just listen to the horn section blast while she wails it out at the end of this track. Aretha is a queen, and she can blast you away, or cradle you in her gentle tones, on a track like “Soul Serenade”. It’s less popular, more emotional tracks like these where the listener gets a real appreciation for Aretha’s voice, not her power. “Respect” and “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” may be tracks with more life, but this track has enough soul to match. So maybe she’s not howling, or getting pissed, or burning the air with the beat. Aretha carries this track the same way she does with the next two (“Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” and “Baby, Baby, Baby”). With the sheer beauty and range of her voice. There’s an emotion, soul to her voice that has never been matched by a female vocalist in the history of recorded music, in my opinion. There have been prettier voices, raspier voices, but for her genre, Aretha can not be dethroned. Aretha is to soul what Janis is for rock and Patti is to punk. Perfection.

It is unfortunate that for many of us (myself included), getting up to the track “Dr. Feel good (Love Is A Serious Business)” leads to us having the desire to listen to Motley Crue. I implore you to hold out at least until the album’s conclusion, or you’re gonna miss some great stuff, including this forgotten track. The organ, the piano, the saxophone, they all work as a perfect frame to Aretha’s emotive performance. Especially on tracks like this, that in other hands would have just been ok, you discover Aretha to be one of the master song interpreters, on the level of the King himself. The next track, “Good Times” is one that, for one of only two times on this album, I prefer a different cover version (in this case, The Rolling Stones). However, it is still a great performance of a Sam Cooke classic.

“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is one of the more sentimental of the album’s tracks, and one where Aretha’s voice seems most like it’s gliding, rather than attacking. If you ever want to show the range of one of music’s greatest women, look no further than this album. Go from something like the title track to this, and the skill, the mastery, and beauty and the brilliance are undeniable. “Save Me” brings the rock feel back to the album, with the best bass line of any song on this collection. The album closes on the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come”. While I prefer the Otis Redding cover, it’s undeniable that Aretha brings her own unique panash to the a song, and it’s a great way to close a brilliant album.

This album contains some of the greatest soul songs ever composed, and performed by one of the greatest and most influential soul singers to ever live (though not THE greatest. Sorry, Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Rock And Roll Singers list. Nobody’s buying it). It’s virtually flawless, and THE definitive Aretha album. This is a shining example of a gifted performer at her peak. For those who only see Aretha as the woman with the funny things on her head at various ceremonies, do yourself a favor and look this one up. A true classic.


Next up, one of the greatest, #6: What’s going On by Marvin Gaye.

Friday, May 21, 2010

#315: Surfer Rosa- The Pixies

Listened to: MP3

Ah, The Pixies first album. Who are The Pixies, you ask? Only one of the most influential bands of the late 80’s. Influenced who, you ask? Well, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and pretty much any alternative band thereafter. You don’t listen to “hipster” bands, you say? Ugh. Ok, are you a tool? Yes? Ok, then you know them as “that song at the end of “Fight Club”. Yeah, you liked that movie, right? ‘Cause it was cool how they hit each other, right? Ok, good. Now, the grown-ups are gonna discuss good music. Run along and get sterilized, now.

Surfer Rosa brought the world Black Francis’ song-writing, a blend of soft and loud, rock and pop, howling and whispering, kick-ass and…just kick-ass. The album opens on “Bone Machine”, and it’s a great feeling to just imagine what it was like putting the needle down on this record for the first time, before it was a classic. Hearing David Lovering’s pounding drums, Black Francis yelling and wailing, and hearing Kim Deal’s slightly off yet so perfect harmonies. Just listen to that almost cacophony that drops out for the calm “Your bone’s got a little machine”. This opened up a whole new world of song-writing, friends. Nothing would smell like teen anything were it not for songs like this. Track number 2, “Break My Body”, shows how perfectly Black could craft a simple pop song, and then decide to mask all that pop in distorted vocals and guitars, and do it so perfectly as to create something even better. This is rock and roll. This is violent, nasty, gritty, while still being indie, and unique, and breaking the molds just as it fills into them.

“Something Against You” is a frenetic free for all of guitar sounds. You have Sex Pistols punk meets Sublime upstrokes, while Francis’ vocals were recorded through a guitar amp, giving it that sick, growling, indecipherable sound. This, of course, was brilliant producer Steve Albini’s idea. You remember him from Rid Of Me, don’t you? “Broken Face” keeps the punk feel from the last track, but now goes for a bizarre, high pitched chorus, and the concern on the vocals is not so much to make notes as to make noise. Many bands try this and sound like shit, but The Pixies, under the guidance of Albini, make masterpieces.

“Gigantic” is the only song on the album not by Black Francis. It is written and sung by bassist Kim Deal, and due to this the song takes on a much more pop feel. Maybe it’s just because her vocals are cleaner than Francis’, but that doesn’t make the song any less great than any other on the album. The song repeats the same bass line, supposedly influenced by Lou Reed. It’s about a girl watching a black man have sex with another woman. You can guess why it’s called “Gigantic”. “River Euphrates” sounds very similar to the type of material that would appear on their next album, 1989’s Doolittle, but quite frankly, once you’ve heard this album a few times, “River Euphrates” is just 2:33 you kill before the next track, the most popular off of the album, and one of the tracks that even your most “mainstream” friends know by The Pixies.

Yes, let’s get this out of the way, “Where Is My Mind?” was at the end of Fight Club. Yes, they used in in an HBO commercial for The Dark Knight. But all that goes away when you hear “Stop!” Then you’re just engrossed in the song. Francis said he was inspired by a small fish chasing him in the Caribbean. I’m not sure how on led to the other, but thank god it did. The structure of the song, the chords, the melody, even the “ooos” in the background, everything on this song is great. Bizarre, creepy, indie, rock and roll, pop perfection. Every note the guitar plays strikes a sonic blow to your mind, and the jarring drop-out, with just the echoing “oo” at the end is terrific. Undoubtedly, one of the best songs on the 80’s (then again, I hate the 80’s). “Cactus”, a song I first heard on Bowie’s Heathen album, is another example of the mix of soft and loud vocals The Pixies are famous for. The verses of this song are hidden behind pounding bass, guitar and drums, and only when Kim Deal comes in do you even know there’s singing happening. At the mid-point, they spell out Pixies (Bowie spelled out David on his record), though that’s something you don’t even notice till your third or fourth listen. Well, now you’ll notice it. Sorry I ruined that for you.

Here’s one of my favorites on the album, “Tony’s Theme”. Just for the way the scream out “To-ny!” for the chorus. It just seems like it had to be so much fun to play. “Oh My Golly” is the track that gave the album it’s title, with the lyric “Besando chichando con surfer rosa.” Yes, they are speaking in Spanish and then shouting “Oh My Golly”. there is no way to explain the elements of this song and make it sound as awesome as it is. By all logic, it shouldn’t work, but it does. “Oh My Golly” has one of the best bass lines and best choruses of any song on this album, and is one of it’s true highlights, especially with that drum and bass interlude towards the end. At the end of “Oh My Golly”, you hear Black explaining something Kim said in the studio. Albini tacked it on thinking it would sound cool. He later regretted it, proving even gifted producers make mistakes.

(That still doesn’t excuse Phil Spector)

“Vamos” is one of the more erratic tracks on the album, but once again, when Kim’s back-ups come on, the song becomes infectiously catchy. Try not to bounce around to that bass line. I dare you. Again, this song shouldn’t work, but god damn it, it does. You never hear something like this on a studio album. Maybe live, when the guitarist is drunk and fucking around, but never on a studio album. You say that a lot while listening to Surfer Rosa, and that’s what makes it so unique.

“I’m Amazed” (which begins with Kim explaining how a teacher from her school got fired for being “into field hockey players”) and “Brick Is Red” go on to confirm the point I’ve been trying to make in this review, which is that The Pixies genius comes not from rebelling against or pandering to mainstream music, but fusing alternative styles of playing recording, and applying them to songs which at their core are pop.

Without a doubt, The Pixies are one of the most influential bands in recent memory, and if their sold out reunion shows prove anything, it’s that they may finally be getting their due. The band is unique, incredibly talented, and certainly worth a listen. Surfer Rosa is a genius album, and maybe some folks won’t dig it, but if I’ve turned at least one person on to these guys, I’ve done my job on this blog. So give Surfer Rosa a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it.


See you next for #83: I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You by Aretha Franklin. Yep, right after The Pixies. I love this gig.

P.S. Kim Deal is one of the most underrated women in rock. Just sayin’.

#69: Superfly- Curtis Mayfield

Listened to: MP3

Superfly (or Super Fly, depending on which way you want to write it). A social statement? Yes. One of the most popular film soundtracks of the 70’s? Yes. A revolutionary and influential soul album? Yes. A great record? You bet your sweet ass it is.

Opening on “Little Child Running Wild”, this album proves to be as alive and funk today as it was in it’s heyday, while still being a time-capsule to the type of blaxploitation films of the 70’s. Having never seen Super Fly, the soundtrack alone suggests the protagonist is either a cop, a detective or a pimp. Curtis Mayfield’s voice carries these tunes, as it’s soft without being too mellow. These songs all have a smooth, sexy funk vibe, the type of music that just doesn’t find it’s way into films anymore (besides Black Dynamite). Strung throughout all these tracks is an anti-drug message, and a very obvious ones, especially on tracks like “Little Child Running Wild” (“Gotta take the pain away”) and “Pusherman”. To go track by track would be an insult to the album, since all the tracks work together so well. They all keep that street-wise, funky groove. But let me just say the two tracks that I love off of this album are “Pusherman”, not only for it being the Taxman of drugs, and the title track, “Superfly”, one of the coolest, funkiest, greatest movie theme songs of all time. Yes, when this comes on my iPod on the tredmill, I do proceed to stop running and begin to strut.

This review isn’t brief for lack of things to say, but rather that great funk, like great jazz or great comedy, loses something when it is explained or dissected. Rock and pop, classical and rap, these can be picked apart for lyrics, or movements, but funk is a collective magic. It’s not guitars, or lyrics, or melodies that makes funk great. It’s a magical, natural synergy. And look no further than Super Fly for funk that works at it’s best. I absolutely recommend this album.


Up next is #315: Surfer Rosa by The Pixies.

Special: 20 Best Movie Soundtracks

In honor of today’s review of Superfly, I thought I’d put together a list of, in my opinion, the Top 20 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of all time. Now, this is different then my favorite soundtracks, I assure you. I tred to be as objective as possible with these. Disagree with my choices? Leave a comment, or message me, whatever works for you. I’m down for arguing my choices.

20. Boogie Nights

P.T. Anderson’s 1997 film about the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler, a John Holmes-esque 70’s porn star, is also a time capsule of the grandiose magic of the 70’s shifting into the saccharine horror that was the 80’s. The album features such 70’s feel-good, boogie-down treats as “Best Of My Love” by The Emotions (used in the famous 11-minute take from the beginning of the film), “Livin’ Thing” by The Electric Light Orchestra, and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, as well as “Sister Christian” from Night Ranger (from the great coke scene featuring that phenomenal Alfred Molina), and the touching “God Only Knows by The Beach Boys, as well as many other great 70’s dance tunes. Michael Penn and Patrick Warren’s eerie theme “The Big Top” finishes off this album, on the track listing, but the true gem of this album is afterward. A hidden track rests at the end of this soundtrack, and if you’re a fan of the film, trust me, it’s well worth the wait.

19. Lola Rennt

1999’s mind-bending German masterpiece, Lola Rennt (English title: Run, Lola Run) has fantastic visuals, a philosophical and trippy premise, and let’s not forget, a gorgeous lead actress. But it’s the soundtrack of this film that always stuck with me. German dance hall techno with a purpose. One can’t help but bounce to tracks like “Believe” Franka Potente or any of the instrumental tracks by Tykwer, Klimek and Heil. The industrial sexuality of “Somebody Has To Pay” Susie Van Der Meer is about as “mellow” as this high-octane album gets, and “Wish (Komm Zu Mir)” is so awesome, you don’t even mind that half of it is in German. Overall, the soundtrack to Lola Rennt is Kraftwerk on crack, and for that alone, I give it the highest thumbs-up I can. Definitely check out this forgotten Germa gem, but the film and soundtrack.

18. Across The Universe

From the opening track that we all remember from the trailer, Jim Sturgess lamenting “Is there anybody going to listen to my story, all about the girl who came to stay?”, I think everyone knew they were in for something special. Movies whose soundtracks feature Beatles covers tend to range from the mediocre (I Am Sam) to the horrendous (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). So when I heard about Julie Taymor attempting to make a film whose soundtrack was all Beatles covers, the image of George Burns and The BeeGees could not be purged from my mind. But the trailer for the film gave me and everyone else hope, and a musical hard-on. The film did not disappoint. This soundtrack is comprised of some of the best Beatles covers ever laid down on record, from the moving gospel-rendition of “Let It Be”, to the surreal Bono take on “I Am The Walrus”, to the gorgeous performance of “If I Fell”, the track that most truly discovers the heart in the song it tackles. Sure, the songs suffer without their cinematic accompaniment, but the soundtrack manages to still be awesome as a tribute album without it. Across The Universe is a revelation in how to cover songs, and should be a lesson to all those daring to do it in the future.

17. (500) Days Of Summer

This year, the awards season sinfully ignored tis brilliant Gen-Y Annie Hall for…plotless blue cat-monkeys and a Hallmark flick about football. But enough about that. Let’s focus on the positive. Like the best compilation soundtrack since Garden State, featuring the lilting, tragic vocals of Regina Spektor, the perky “Mushaboom” by Feist, some terrific Smith tracks (bringing the band to a whole new generation), and lest we forget the lovely She & Him, featuring one of the film’s two stars, Zooey Deschannel. Of course, for those who’ve seen the film, the staple track is Hall & Oates, and I’ll explain no more for those who haven’t seen it yet. Suffice to say, the soundtrack on this film is beautiful, unique, eclectic in the best way possible, and I suspect it will be for the younger generation what a certain Zach Braff helmed soundtrack is to most of us.

16. Hustle & Flow

Featuring the second rap song ever to win Best Original song at the Oscars, the Hustle & Flow soundtrack is a fantastic collection of unknown (at least to me) artists. From the opening jam “I’m A King” to “Pussy Niggas” (which actually uses gunfire as percussion), Hustle & Flow manages to make a rap music film soundtrack that succeeds not only as great mix of hip-hop gems, but that work well within the context of the film. The title track, by Djayz, could have come off being the most memorable from the soundtrack, since it’s composition is one of my favorites in rap music in general, but it’s impossible to ignore the soundtrack’s true highlight, the award winning Three 6 Mafia track “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”. Encapsulating the film’s theme (a street pimp trying to make it in the rap industry), the track features an infectiously catchy hook, some sick lyrical licks, and a beat that makes to turn the bass up to the top. Who can forget Three 6 Mafia’s insane performance on Oscar night? No one. And who can deny that Hustle & Flow is one of the best rap soundtracks? No one who isn’t a complete dumb ass.

15. Manhattan

Perhaps I’m biased, being that this is my #2 favorite film, and I’m a profuse Woody Allen fan, but you can’t deny what a great collection this soundtrack is. From the beginning of Manhattan, Issaac (Woody’s character) says he always sees Manhattan “in black and white, set to the music of George Gershwin”. and so begins a montage of Manhattan set to Gershwin’s masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue. The soundtrack consists entirely of instrumental Gershwin tunes, all performed by the New York Philharmonic. These are the best performances of these songs you’ll ever get on recording if you want my opinion (and if you don’t want my opinion, I wouldn’t suggest reading a web page entirely devoted to said opinions), and the music works in the film so well it becomes an integral character, at times, accentuating every moment perfectly. This is a terrific collection of the works of Gershwin, and even if I’d never seen the film, I’d certainly still listen to this record on a weekly basis. Highly worth looking into, even is you’re not nebbish-y enough to like Woody’s work.

14. Shaft

A grossly ignored soundtrack album on Rolling Stone’s list, Issaac Hayes award winning soundtrack to Shaft is the origin of rap music, and undoubtedly one of the best film soundtracks of all time. Here, instead of giving another long paragraph of praise, just watch, and try and tell em this isn’t one of the greatest soundtracks ever recorded.

13. Magnolia

Not since Elliott Smith in ‘98 was anyone so robbed of a Best Original Song Oscar. Aimee Mann’s soundtrack to P.T. Anderson’s 1999 Magnolia is one of the film’s best features, and it introduced the world to one of the best singer-songwriter music talents out there today. From the cover of “One” to the rocking “momentum”, Mann’s range is in full display on this album. The tear-jerking “Wise Up”, seen during the group sing-along scene, seems the hopeless parallel to the album’s highlight, the gorgeous plea of “Save Me”, the Oscar nominated track that should have been Mann’s victory song. The soundtrack also features two songs by Supertramp, “Dreams” by Gabrielle (a favorite of Quiz Kid Donnie Smith), and “Magnolia” Jon Brion’s score for the film. Though, this truly is Mann’s shining album, and god damn does she shine. I cannot recommend this record highly enough, in this ranks in the top 3 of my favorite film soundtracks of all time. However, I’m trying to be objective here, so let’s move on.

12. Top Gun

Let me make this clear: On a personal level, I dislike this movie and it’s soundtrack. 80’s anthems like Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s Oscar winner “Take My Breath Away” just ain’t my dig, man. However, for those whose dig it is, you can’t do better than this. This movie was as much about the music as it was about the planes, and you can’t find a better example of 80’s movie soundtrack than what you’re listening to right here. One cannot deny the significance of a soundtrack like Top Gun (no matter how much one tries. And believe me, one has tried. Very hard), and I’m sure many now in the air force have these songs in part to blame…I mean, thank.

11. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This Grammy winning soundtrack is a revelation. I massive seller, hugely popular soundtrack that features no hip, trendy songs, but instead revived interest in…bluegrass? Yes, the Coen Brother’s retelling of The Odyssey features great tracks like Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, Alison Krauss siren song “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby”, and of course the virtual theme song of the film “Man Of Constant Sorrow” by The Soggy Bottom Boys. The film is a hilarious, quirky, twisted take on Homer but the soundtrack is pure American folk and bluegrass mastery. The idea that the Coen brothers could produce a massively popular soundtrack made entirely of bluegrass tunes is unbelievable, but after one listen, the only unbelievable thing is that it didn’t make Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest albums.

10. That Thing You Do!

That Thing You Do! Is for 60’s pop music what O Brother, Where Art Thou is to Dustbowl folk. The soundtrack is the most important part of this film, the story of the one-hit wonder band appropriately name The Wonders (or The Oneders), and the songwriters (including producer and actor Tom Hanks, who penned “Lovin’ You Lots and Lots”) do the job tenfold, crafting a brilliant soundscape of the pre-psychedelic world of 60’s music. Everyone looks back on the 60’s now and thinks Woodstock, but this, from all reports, is really what the radios sounded like. And even more screwed out of an oscar than either Aimee Mann or Elliott Smith was the title track for this film, that is undoubtedly one of the best pop songs ever composed. This album is a more perfect time-capsule of “classic” pop-rock music from the 50’s and 60’s than most of the albums meant to be said time capsules on Rolling Stone’s 500 list, and none of the songs were even written back then. Great soundtrack, great film, and a truly brilliant title song.

9. Superfly

See my review of the album coming up next, #69.

8. Once

This, right here, is my favorite film soundtrack of all time, and it brought me so much joy when Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova accepted the Oscar for Falling Slowly in 2008. Hansard is one of my heroes, and I own this soundtrack in every form, including a record autographed by the two. So it pains me to put this only as number 8, but again, I’m trying to be objective. Even so, this is one of the greatest original soundtracks ever recorded, to one of the best films of the 00 decade, and it introduced Glen and Marketa to a wide audience. The film is a musical, and all the songs work in a believable fashion. From the opening powerhouse of Hansard’s “Say It To Me Now” (the man has one of the best yells in music) to the somber, tragic ballad of Marketa’s “The Hill”, the soundtrack to Once is a gorgeous collection of pain and suffering in the most beautiful of moments. Painful songs like “Leave”, “Lies”, “All The Way Down” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up” are rivaled by rare upbeat tunes like “Fallen From The Sky” and the playful “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” (it makes sense if you watch the film). Though it’s undeniable that the highlight of this soundtrack is the beautiful love song “Falling Slowly”. This is one of those songs every songwriter wishes they were good enough to write, and the scene in which it’s sung in the film is one of the most incredible and beautiful things I’ve seen thus far in my life. The soundtrack to this film is incredible, and the film itself is a grossly ignored masterpiece of simplicity. I cannot beg enough for every person who reads it to seek these piece out. Hansard and Irglova are geniuses of our time, and I mean that without hyperbole. Put on “Falling Slowly”, and I defy you to argue with me.

7. 8 Mile

Every decade has an artist who encapsulates the generation, and pens a song that will forever belong to that time. Like the 90’s had Nirvana and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, we who came of age in the 00’s will always have Eminem, and his anthemic film theme “Lose Yourself”. The first rap song to ever win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the triumphant track will always be remembered as a classic, and the film’s soundtrack is, in my opinion, the best rap soundtrack ever produced. Featuring 50 Cent, Nas, Rakim, Gang Starr, Xzibit and Jay-Z, this soundtrack is a who’s who of ‘00 hip-hop. Eminem’s “8 Mile” could have easily been the highlight of the album, but as is the case with most great film soundtracks, all the great tracks are over-shadowed by a true classic. In this case, no matter what great tracks got laid down (“Wanksta” by 50 Cent, “Battle” Gang Starr) “Lose Yourself” will always come out on top. Who can’t recite the chorus from memory, or remember that chilling piano intro. The image burned into our minds of Eminem warming up for the rap battle accompanied by that intro (from the music video, not the film) is a modern day Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull as he bounces in slo-mo around the ring. The lyrics, telling the story of the film, display Em’s poetic sensibility, and the track served is the official welcome part of rap into the mainstream, even more than Will Smith’s Grammy. This soundtrack proved two things to the world: 1) Rap was here to stay and 2) Eminem is one of the kings of the game.

6. The Harder They Come

Review to come. It was supposed to be up on May 4th. Paying catch up, folks. #119.

5. Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece, a veiled autobiography, would have been half the film it was were it not for the great collection of songs sprinkled without. From Zooey Descanter’s (yeah, she was in this) goodbye set to “America” by Simon & Garfunkel, to the bus-wide sing-along of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, the songs work as well in the film as they do on their own. Tracks like “I’ve Seen All good People: Your Move” by Yes, “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, and “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd are all classics in their own right. Crowe just crafted a soundtrack to say “Remember how awesome it was when music didn’t suck?” And, yes, it was awesome. Thank you, Cameron Crowe.

4. Garden State

Undeniably one of the best, most popular, and most influential film soundtracks of all time, Zach Braff’s first (and best) film is a modern classic, a tale of disillusionment and confusion whose soundtrack went on to win a Grammy, and the hearts of thousands of lost, confused “indie”, “hipster” high school kids. I’ve listened to this album so many times, I could list the tracks by memory, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It introduced us to The Shins, Iron & Wine, and Zero 7, and reminded us of greats like Simon & Garfunkel, Colin Hay, and Nick Drake. Braff’s portrait of dissatisfaction in disassociation works so well it feels as if the songs were written for the film. Every great soundtrack since has been called “the next Garden State soundtrack”, so if that doesn’t prove it’s merits, god knows what will. A true classic, as significant to our generation (if not necessarily every single person in it) as any other album of the past 10 years.

3. Star Wars: The Original Soundtrack Anthology

It is undeniable that John Williams’ Star Wars theme is the finest orchestral piece of the past 50 years. Classical music is not dead, my friends. Rather it finds itself in films like Nolan’s Batman trilogy, or in the best example possible, in John Williams’ oeuvre. The theme to Star Wars, as those yellow words roll into space, is one of the most copied, most beloved moments in cinema, and Williams’ scores are inseparable from any great moment in Lucas’ epic trilogy. It’s amazing, however, how well these tracks stand alone, as great orchestral compositions. Sure, one cannot help but think of the Millennium Falcon or Darth Vader when hearing these tracks, but it’s amazing that even without the Jedi, the blasters, or any visuals at all, Williams’ masterful score stands out as genius. I would go so far as to say that the opening overture is as grand, as gorgeous, and s brilliant a composition as any of the great master composers produced. Were John Williams alive in Mozart’s day, Salieri would have been double pissed. If you do not own this anthology of Williams score, it’s without a doubt worth the purchase. This right here is some of the greatest music composed this century.

2. The Graduate

Now, I may take some criticism for being biased (The Graduate is my favorite film) but it cannot be denied that The Graduate is the granddaddy of all film soundtracks. Nichols’ choice to score the film, not with orchestral or mood music, but instead with the songs of popular folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, turned out to be a revolutionary idea, sparking millions of copycats to this day. Every song works so intricately in the film, from the opening sequence cut to “The Sound Of Silence”, to the haunting “Scarborough Fair” sequence, and of course, the famous track “Mrs. Robinson”, written for the film, but not actually completed on time, so never included in it’s full form. I assure you, any film soundtrack you adore, and almost any of the soundtracks from 4-20, owe their life to this soundtrack. Aside from being some of the greatest music of the 60’s, it’s influence and significance alone should earn it’s place at #2. It could have been number 1, but the top slot is undeniable.

1. Saturday Night Fever

The highest selling soundtrack of all time is also the greatest, and THE album of the 70’s. My review of this album is still to come (#131), but let me just say that it is almost undeniable that this album IS what a movie soundtrack should be. Go check your parents record collection. 90% of you will find this there.

#405: Rid Of Me- PJ Harvey

Listened to: MP3

I believe in my last review I made it abundantly clear what admiration and adoration I have for Ms. Polly Jean Harvey. Rid Of Me is her second album, which was recorded by Steve Albini, who is responsible for the sound of such albums as The PixiesSurfer Rosa and Nirvana‘s In Utero. The album starts off with the title track, and is an example of the habit PJ has that I’m not so much a fan of, which is keeping that fantastically jarring, emotive voice hidden behind all the other instruments. Thankfully, the track picks up volume, if only for moments, on the midpoint of the song, on the “Don’t you don’t you wish you never never met her?”s. Lyrically, the song is dark, violent, erotic, just like PJ Harvey songs should be. What it’s about, beyond bondage and leg licking, well, I leave that up to interpretation. But god damn if it isn’t a great start. The second track, “Missed”, keeps the ethereal feel of the first track, and of the music that would come on To Bring You My Love, and PJ’s voice is easier to hear, thankfully, so you can more appreciate that lilting agony she carries in each lyric. Lines like “Show yourself to me/And I'd believe/I'd moan and I'd weep/Fall silent at your speak/I'd burst in/Full to the brim” are so serenely, painfully beautiful that you need only read them and feel the emotion wash over you. Matched with Harvey’s vocals, and you have a tremendous musical moment.

“Legs” has a bizarre guitar track and Harvey taking on an odd vocal tone, yet it all works in this thinly heavy track that, well, I really don’t know the meaning of. But listen to those wails. The power in this woman’s voice is astounding. “Rub It ‘Til It Bleeds” is lyrically, by far, one of Harvey’s creepiest songs. “I lie steady/Rest your head on me/I'll smooth it nicely/Rub it better 'till it bleeds” is song so sensually as to almost be sexy, were one not paying attention to the words being sung. The song switches from that smoky feel into heavy guitars and pounding drums, and if for nothing else but the sheer musical dynamics of this track, it’s worth a listen.
“Hook” moves into the story-telling type songs you find a lot on To Bring You My Love, this time the story of a woman in love, abandoned by her lover, an reduced to nothing. The medieval, tragic feel of the lyrics is contrasted by the buried vocals, the industrial feel of the production, and the sound of what seems like a trash can being pounded. Harvey is like the anti-Jim Morrison, in the sense that she composes fantastic lyrical poetry, but hides them in instrumentation and melody, rather than try to bring them to the forefront as Morrison often did. “Man-Size Sextet” is inexplicably sexy in it’s lyrical imagery musical composition, and is one of the best tracks on the album, without a doubt. I could describe it further, but I’d rather leave it vague and encourage you to seek it out yourself.

The next two tracks are the best on the album, without a doubt. Harvey’s interpretation of “Highway ‘61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan is refreshingly and blessedly unique, shattering the mold of Dylan covers being, well, anything like the original. Even if you don’t enjoy what she did with the song, you have to admire the originality. “50ft Queenie” is the first Harvey track I’ve ever heard (played on WFUV junior year, if I remember correctly) and so began my fascination with Miss Polly Jean. This is probably the most commercially accessible song from this album, which is why they released it as a single. This track fits in the Jane‘s Addiction, RHCP world of the 90’s music industry, but the song is made unique by Harvey’s voice, and her typically perplexing, violently sexual lyrics. For anyone looking to dip their toe into the water of PJ Harvey, this is a great track to start with.

The album continues with “Yuri-G”, “Dry”, “Me-Jane”, “Snake”, and “Ecstasy”, but if I haven’t convinced you to listen to this album yet, praising four more tracks won’t help (plus, I’m trying to give as good a review as possible while saving time to catch up on all of these reviews that are well over-due).

So, in conclusion, Rid Of Me is another great album by PJ Harvey that I recommend, however, I would choose To Bring You My Love or Stores From The City, Stories From The Sea over it. Just saying. It deserves a place on this list, and for those interested, I would say it’s worth a listen, but listen to just “50ft Queenie”, then the other two albums, first. Come to this later. You’ll appreciate it much more then.


See you next for #69: Superfly by Curtis Mayfield.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

#219: Loveless- My Bloody Valentine

Listened to: MP3

Loveless, the second album by My Bloody Valentine, kicks off with “Only Shallow”, a track that shows where The Smashing Pumpkins stole their style from. Heavy swirling guitars that would make Jonny Greenwood jealous, and buried vocals that just become another instrument, this is the kind of track Buffy would dance to at The Bronze. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a piece of history. You are witnessing the big bang of 90’s alternative rock.

The album continues with track after track of this kind of music, which quite frankly isn’t my favorite, but hey, it’s a classic album, and a staple of it’s genre. The songs all seem to blend together stylistically, quite frankly, and it would be a disservice to the record to sit and dissect it, and I don’t actually love it or hate it enough to go on for pages. It’s a great album of music I don’t particularly enjoy, if that makes sense. Some of the tracks, like “To Here Knows When” are over-blown and overly long. So I do encourage you to listen to it. Maybe you’ll never listen to it more than once, but if for nothing else but to see where Radiohead, Muse, The Smashing Pumpkins, and most other lilting voiced, swirling guitar bands got their sound from, Loveless should be given a listen.

So, on the 500 list in undoubtedly stays, despite my not terribly much enjoying it. It’s not my cup of tea, though I will admit certain tracks, like “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” were enjoyable. Maybe I’ll get Nick Young to come back and explain the album’s greatness better, but for now, let me say it’s worth listening to for the significance, if not so much the music.


See you next for #405: Rid Of Me by PJ Harvey.

#325: Slowhand- Eric Clapton

Listened to: CD

Let’s just say on the outset: Eric Clapton is the man. The. Man. The master is always in good form, and his stellar 1977 album Slowhand is no different. I already can say from the outset that I will beg you all to listen to this blues-rock masterpiece, but let’s praise it as a formality, shall we?

The album opens on “Cocaine”, one of Clapton’s most laid-back, yet heaviest tracks. “Cocaine” is originally a J.J. Cale song, but lord knows no one remembers that. All anyone remembers is Clapton’s chill vocals proclaiming “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, cocaine.” No one realizes it’s an anti-drug song, and that’s exactly how Clapton wanted it. Of course, just like any Clapton song, it’s not really about the meaning, or the lyrics, or the chorus, or the melody. It’s hearing that guitar tear up your stereo. You can’t help put air-guitar to every note bend during that solo. “Cocaine” remains to this day one of the best jam-songs Clapton ever recorded, and is followed up by one of the most beautiful love songs Eric Clapton has ever composed.

Written for Patti Boyd, the subject of “Layla” and George Harrison’s former wife, “Wonderful Tonight”, is one of the simplest, sweetest, and most tender love songs ever recorded. The lyrics read like a poem, the type that Keats or Shelley would read to a lover, and the guitar only highlights the gentle beauty in the sheer marvel and admiration Clapton feels for this woman. There are four love songs I look at and wish I’d written. This is one of them. Clapton follows up this sweet ballad with one of hi most country tinged tracks, the classic “Lay Down Sally”, that sounds more like a song by Bad Blake than Eric Clapton, but that’s just what makes him so incredible. The man was a member of the psychedelic Cream, the bluesy Derek and the Dominoes, Blind Faith, and yet here he is, writing love songs, hard rock, and southern blues, all in a row. And just listen to that guitar solo. If that isn’t a fine young Englishman returning to his blues roots, I don’t know what is.

The next track is the Clapton-classic (as in, classic only to Clapton fans) “Next Time You See Her”. This is one of those tracks that has such power live, even though it comes off kind of subdued on this album. And that is to the album’s advantage. After rip-roaring albums like Disreali Gears and Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, Clapton crafted an album of soft tock tunes, gentle blues where you can just sit in your chair with your guitar and play along. Sure, you’re not gonna be dancing in the aisle, but he doesn’t want you to. Just relax, mellow out and slow-jam with the master. (That’s right, get out your guitars. You’re never gonna get better without practice. What am I paying for all those lessons for?)

“We’re All The Way” is a Don Williams composition that Clapton turns into a relaxing camp-fire-esque song, with Eric gently singing us into the night. It’s a brief tribute to all the gnelte songs that came prior, before we bust into the 8 minute hard-rock track “The Core”. Here Clapton gets as heavy as ever, crafting a real guitar song, with guest vocals from Yvonne Elliman, of “I Don‘t Know How To Love Him” fame. Just listen to that riff, and tell me this song wasn’t crafted for ol’ Slowhand himself (yes, his nickname is Slowhand. That’s the album’s namesake). After a terrific sax solo, just listen to Clapton rip it up like his life depended on it. This is Doobie Brothers. This is Allman Brothers. This is Clapton doing what Clapton does best.

“May You Never” switches back to the soft jam, complete with soft-sung vocals and light organ inflections. Though less country-tinged than “Lay Down Sally”, you can still feel the country influence. Speaking of country music influencing Clapton’s songs, we move to “Mean Old Frisco”. This is a deep, pounding blues track, the type Buddy Guy or B.B. King would play. To hear this kind of music from a scrawny white English guy is mind-rattling, but lord knows, Clapton can keep up with the best of them. The soul in the man’s guitar playing comes out clear as day on this track, and shows once more why “Clapton Is God”.

The album ends on “Peaches & Diesel”, a gorgeous finale track that’s all guitar, acting as a sort of reminder of the content of the album, giving variations on the theme of “Wonderful Tonight”. It’s a terrific final track to one of the best albums Clapton has ever recorded.

I truly and deeply recommend this album. If you go on looking for heavy rock and roll, you’ll be let down, but if you want to put on a record with some of the best guitar playing of all time, and don’t mind it being gentle and smooth, then you can’t do better than this.


Next up is #219: Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.

#464: The Blueprint- Jay-Z

Listened to: MP3

Admit it, you missed me.

Anyway, let’s kick-off this continuation with Jay-Z’s finest moment, The Blueprint. With the decade ending, every magazine was quick to jump on this or Kanye West’s The College Dropout as the “Best Album Of The Decade”. Now, while I may not personally agree (American Idiot is, but we’ll just let that slide), let’s delve into Hova’s 2001 release and see why these guys made the choice they did.

The album launches in on “The Ruler’s Back”, with a 70’s funk-style beat, and Jay declaring his dominance, which he will assert for many songs and albums to come. Jay lays out his typical, rapid-fire lines, continually reusing the same words in the same rhythmic locations in order to emphasize the sound and meaning. Even if his lyrics aren’t the most eloquent, from track one Jay presents a poet’s sensibility of rhythm. The “Rocky”-esque trumpets that charge in during the chorus only reinforce the regal attitude Jay tries to convey. He displays himself as a larger than life character, a king, an emperor, and charging into track 2, the Doors sampling “Takeover”, Jay proves that while he may be a godfather, that still makes him a gangsta. Rather than try and make boisterous claims of dominance, Jay basically says “Yeah, Roc-a-fella’s got you beat. Just look at the facts”. This song, in essence, is a giant “fuck you” to rapper Nas, whom Jay had a rivalry with (you can read more on that here). However, Jay’s compositional sensibilities and the wide scope of his musical taste show themselves here. Last track was 70’s funk, now we’ve got The Door’s “Five to One” and moments of “Fame” by David Bowie, made dark and domineering. Plus, whether or not you care about the feud, hearing Jay say Nas has “one hot album every ten year average.” has to make you recoil and say “Ouch.”

“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” brings real a New York hip-hop sound to the album, sampling “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, though it sounds more like Snoop Dogg than the Jay I’m used to. Shouting out a Ebonics-riddled choral like “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A” seems so…simple. While the verses are full of great rhymes, the chorus just seems to easy. Moving into the soft, sensual beat of “Girls, Girls, Girls”, one if reminded of Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On, the way they use the sounds of people speaking, this time French women, as an instrument of sorts, to enhance the environment of the song. This is the most full sounding song thus far, full of various elements that show that Jay learned from Biggie and made better. The soft, slow nature of the song doesn’t inhibit his rhythm, and his lyrical agility is still sharp and impressive, but now it’s got a much more chill vibe. This is one of those “roll down the windows, it’s summer.” tracks.

The French speech returns over piano, to ease the transition into the hard beats into “Jigga The Nigga”, where Jay spits rhymes about, what else, how much better than you he is. If “Girls, Girls, Girls” is what you cruise to the beach to, “Jigga The Nigga” is the hard, heavy track that makes you wish your Subaru Outback had hydraulics. “U Don’t Know” keeps the heavy beat, but gets even more violent force behind it. Without all the heavy, over-produce backing, Jay-Z’s lyrics hit even harder, and you realize how much rhythmic finesse. Even when he’s talking about the typical rap subjects of money and violence, he seems to speak from a different vantage point. You have to respect that he’s no longer pretending to be “street-broke” like most of the other million-dollar rappers. Jay lives the high life, and he speaks from it. Jay-Z is the Hugh Hefner of rap. You admire him because he lives a lifestyle you want to live. Sharp dressed, wealthy, making records, clothes, and hitting the town like he owns it. Jay-Z is the modern-day American dream, and there’s an air of class to even his most crude rhymes.

“Hola’ Hovito” is Timbaland’s contribution to the album, before he was the hero of the Billboard charts that he is today. That bouncy beat, the computerized back-ups, the Danny Elfman-esque slightly creepy vibe, “Hola’ Hovito” is definitely unique, and causes even the most stiff people to bounce in their seats. Jay seems to understand the significance of the sound of a word more than the meaning, and manages to use “motherfuckers” several times to rhyme itself, but never once does it feel foolish or ignorant. The rap-less ending, however, really highlights what a great platform Timbaland crafted for Jay’s lines. If you ever want to understands why Timbaland is revered as he is, play this track. “Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)” begins with Jay saying how Biggie predicted the trials Jay himself now faces (“My nigga Big predicted this exactly/Mo’ money, mo’ problems-gotta move carfully”). Sampling “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” by Bobby Blue Bland gives the song that air of 70’s New York, the kind you saw in Midnight Cowboy, Fritz The Cat, and American Gangster. If on the Black Album, Jay tells us a bitch ain’t one of his 99 problems, here’s where he tells you what those 99 problems are. It should be noted, if it wasn’t obvious, that a certain Mr. West’s hand was in this track, as “Takeover”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and the next track, the gently triumphant “Never Change”. “Never Change” takes on a gentle beat that’s so richly soulful that even lines like “I’m still fucking with crime, ‘cause crime still pays” and “where your balls at” sound inspiring, until you think about the words themselves. But that’s a testament to Jay-Z, that his delivery of the lines are so musical you don’t even need to listen to the lyrics to enjoy the track. Typically, I hate rap listeners who ignore the meaning of the lyrics, but if you’re one of those, this track’s perfect for you.

The feel keeps on through “Song Cry”, but this time Jay really is speaking from a honest and emotional point. The song is about the dissolution of a relationship, and the recognition of his mistakes. It’s impressive to watch him step away from praising himself and talking big, and instead opening himself up and admitting that he’s a mortal who makes mistakes. “Shit, I gotta live with the fact that I done you wrong forever.” shows Jay-Z’s inner turmoil, while “I can’t see them coming down my eyes, so I gotta make this song cry” recalls to every man that inborn desire to hide all emotions so as to not appear weak. Undeniably one of his most honest, beautiful, and best tracks to date. “All I Need” seems to be Jay recovering his “street cred” after bearing his soul, calling out all the younger rappers trying to challenge his supremacy.
“Renegade” features Jay (most magazines’ choice for “Artist of the Decade”) rapping alongside the producer of the track, Eminem (the true “Artist of the Decade”). This song takes on a much darker, horror-film-vibe, as is typical of Eminem’s oeuvre. Jay, on this track, proves that he can keep up with Mr. Mathers (which is near impossible, just listen to “Forever”), with both of them talking about their typical themes, Jay about rising up from the streets to become wealthy, and Em about being an unintentional role-model to kids. This track is the darkest on the album, full of quiet, subdued rage, and it is here that you see these two prove why they are the kings of this new empire of rap.

The “final” track, that is, the final track listed on the album’s back is “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”, one of the many tributes Jay gives to his mother and family throughout his career. The track samples “Free at Last” by Al Green, and serves as a musical “thank you” note to everyone that raised him, while lamenting his father’s disappearance. This emotional track would have served as a good finale, but after a pause, the first hidden track “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)” jumps in, which starts with Jay speaking about his creative process, then charging in with one of the album’s more intimidating tracks, where Jay expels his virtues and skills, and flipping lines around with such acrobatic agility as to be almost unintelligible. Following that is a remix track 4 of “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)” which allegedly features guest vocals by the late Michael Jackson, though this has yet to be confirmed. Personally, I don’t believe it, but if it is him, I have a new-found respect for the man.

All in all, The Blueprint is a phenomenal rap album for the fact that it’s indescribably great. Read over this review, and almost nothing I say indicates why this album is as praised as it is, and that’s because it’s just the feel of the album, the sick rhymes and brilliant beats. It’s an undeniably enjoyable album, and the portrait of a truly gifted artist at his best, and it brought a little light to a New York ravaged with tragedy (it came out on 9/11). I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a good album for a long ass drive with the windows all the way down and the bass all the way up.

Next up (I’m gonna try and play catch-up as best I can) is #325: Slowhand by Eric Clapton.

Yeah, I missed you all too.


Friday, May 7, 2010

My Picks and Praises from the 2010 C.W. Post Film Festival

Disclaimer: For those about to read the following post, I implore you to go the previous post, which contains full reviews of (almost) every film shown that night, and read the multi-paragraph disclaimer therein. Let me reiterate, however, that these are my personal opinions, and in no way reflect any authoritative decisions, nor the opinions or views of C.W. Post, Long Island University, or any administration or faculty therein or associated with C.W. Post, Long Island University. These are not meant as personal attacks, but merely an attempt at opening a friendly dialogue, free from "through the teeth" critiques. Shakespeare once said "There's daggers in men's smiles", ergo I suggest we all stop forcing smiles, and tell each other what we really think, so without further ado, my picks and accolades:

Apology: Once again, my apologies to "Amongst The Mortals" for their exclusion from this.

6 Must-See Films from the festival:
1. Hansel and Gretel
2. Still Life
3. The Neighbor
4. DPA and OBI
5. Procession of Time
6. Pictures of You

6 You Can Skip:
1. Carousel
2. Harvest
3. Loaded
4. Collision
5. The Predator’s Prey
6. Loves Ugly Face

Bests of the night:


Best Sound: Kenny Melo; Still Life

Best Production Design: Jessica Wallin; Hansel and Gretel

Best Editing: Dan Rodenhesier; The Neighbor

Best Cinematography: Sean Costello; Hansel and Gretel

Best Adapted Screenplay: Emily Mayo & Michael Staffieri; Hansel and Gretel

Best Original Screenplay: Carrie Ferrante, Pictures Of You

Best Director: Michael Staffieri; Hansel and Gretel


Best Supporting Actor: {Tie} Konstantin Soukhovetski & Josef Urban; Hansel and Gretel

Best Supporting Actress: Ava Kelley; Hansel and Gretel

Best Actor: Adam Barnett; Still Life

Best Actress: Maria Arenlind; Hansel and Gretel

Best Ensemble Cast: Hansel and Gretel

Best Films (of each class):

Best Film (Documentary): DPA and OBI

Best Film (Intermediate): The Path To An Idea

Best Film (Sound or Editing): Mistaken Identity

Best Film (Advanced Filmmaking): Pictures Of You

Best Film (Production Lab): Hansel and Gretel

Best Film (Thesis): The Neighbor

Best Overall Film:

This will surprise no one.

Hansel and Gretel!

So there are my awards, accolades, praises and psshaws. Once again, I welcome any discussion on the subject. You can comment on this post, message me on Facebook, whatever keeps your boat floating.

Review of (Almost) Every Film From Last Night's C.W. Post Film Festival 2010

Disclaimer: I wrote these reviews for my own sake, and as there have been some interested parties, I have posted them here on my personal blog. Participants in the film festival are more than welcome to read these, but it should be warned across the board that I am not kind and complimentary in all my opinions. This is Read At Your Own Risk material, and are simply critiques of the film, and should in no way be perceived as personal attacks or insults at the individuals behind them.

It is my conviction that if we have any hope of breaking into an industry as competitive and vicious as the film industry, than we had ought to do our best to be as honest with each other as possible. It is unfair to any creative individual to coddle them and say "Good job" if that's not how we truly feel. Roger Ebert doesn't give out A's for effort, and we owe each other the same courtesy.

There is always a courage that comes with presenting something one has put their heart and soul into. Bearing one's creative products before a mass audience is an act which requires some level of bravery, and that bravery should be commended. However, that bravery stems from the fact that one bears their soul in the knowledge and awareness that their creative wok may be subject to ridicule and criticism. Take out the possibility of said ridicule or criticism, and you remove the bravery. And in removing criticism from a learning environment such as film school, you abolish any possibility of improvement. So it is with this sentiment in mind that I encourage those open to critiquing, no matter how harsh, to read on.

Apology: It should be noted that I unfortunately did not see “Amongst The Mortals”, as I suffered near heatstroke from my idiot decision to wear a tuxedo. My sincerest apologies to all involved in the film for it being excluded from this piece, and would love the opportunity to see the film. Also, I am aware I worked on some of these films, but I am approaching them from an objective perspective, I assure you.

Indie Scene (Documentary); 16 min.
Danny Famiglietti, Tyrone Holguin, Sandy Sonera Jr., Nick Allen

“A thought-provoking documentary on the independent music scene, this film examines three different groups: two rock bands, one who has found moderate success and one who has not, and a rap duo. While the film succeeds in providing an air of tragedy in the story of the struggling band, and an air of nostalgia in examining the “success” of Marcy’s Playground (“Sex And Candy”), the film flounders whenever it returns to the rap duo. This is a shame, as I personally would have been fascinated to see the different worlds of the underground rock and rap scenes.

Instead, we’re provided with snippets of two guys just…chilling, mostly. The film feels like a real documentary, interspersed with the filmmaker’s friends slipping themselves into the piece. Overall, Indie Scene is an interesting documentary, which is one third VH1: Behind The Music, one third Anvil: The Story of Anvil, and one third guys playing around. A well-put-together documentary that suffers only from a lack of understanding which of their subjects were worth the attention. Worth a watch if the subject interests you.”

The Predator’s Prey (Advanced); 7 min.
Nugent Cantelino, Mike Weinstein, Jess Frederickson, Robert LaRosa

“Having taken in The Predator’s Prey twice, I start to notice the positives. For example, conceptually, the piece is intriguing. A mentally handicapped man (played quite well by John Christopher Morton) falls into the web of a Chris Hanson-gone-mad. Tragically, the film derails past the concept. The film reveals the protagonist Steve’s disability so early on that The Predator’s Prey becomes The Predictable Plot. During it’s screening, the audience actually laughed at some of the more absurd lines. The tragedy of the film lies not in the plot, but certainly in the misplacement of blame the audience is sure to mentally commit. Michael Weinstein’s dialogue itself is not very laughable, and under better circumstances could have resulted in compelling drama. Unfortunately, the film was almost entirely horribly miscast. Overacting to such a degree as to make Japanese Kabuki seem reserved, glaring mistakes such as extras looking at the camera, an inexplicable choice of ending and odd shot choices make the film a clusterfuck of confusion.

This is not to say the film itself is poorly shot. Jess Fredrickson, the film’s cinematographer, has often experimented in unique shots. These kinds of experiments served well in Josh Paige’s intermediate film last year, but in The Predator’s Prey, they fall short. An attempt to film a P.O.V. of a computer screen may earn the admiration of Werner Herzog, but it clearly earned the ire of the audience. Frederickson’s more straight-forward shooting remains one of the film’s few highlights, however.

The Predator’s Prey was clearly far from a doomed film. It comes from a group of talented individuals, and had an intriguing concept. Yet, through a series of poor decisions, the film falters out the starting gate and fumbles all the way from start to finish.”

Serial Lover (Intermediate); 2 min.
Whitney Henry Inniss

“A cutesy short about a disloyal lover. In 2 minutes, Inniss manages to entertain, but in a fleeting manner, as is the trap of most “cute” short films.”

Carousel (Production Lab); 6 min.
Tom Kiernan, Jason Hess, Kenny Yu, Abe Bello, Sean Brogan, Len Domingo

“If Jess Fredrickson was the Capt. Sully who saved The Predator’s Prey from total crash and burn status, then the team behind Carousel were the flight crew on the Hindenberg. The film is a chaotic centrifuge of themes, lines, and events that are so non-linear as to be mind-boggling. There is little to no area in which this film even remotely succeeds. I would apologize to the team behind the film, but from what I hear, compared to their own opinions on the piece, my above statements read like praise.”

The Neighbor (Thesis); 12 min.
Dan Rodenhesier

“So maybe The Neighbor doesn’t tackle any drastically sweeping social issues. Maybe it doesn’t have any guns, any sex, and swearing or bloodshed of any kind. None of that matters, quite frankly, as The Neighbor succeeds in one area more than any other film, and that is in making the viewer simply feel good. This light-hearted film about two brothers fighting over the new girl next door shows that Dan Rodenhesier isn’t your typical film school idiot, aspiring to be just like {fill in hip, violent filmmaker}. Instead, he just wants to connect with the audience on a gut level. And he does so from joyous start to finish. The Neighbor is a great short film that can be viewed and enjoyed by everyone, young and old, and it is the humble hope of this reviewer that it is.”
Please Silence Your Cell Phone (Documentary); 6 min.
Jess Frederickson, Dani Teman
“In a festival with documentaries on the subjects of independent music and illegal street racing, the topic of texting doesn’t seem terribly important or worth caring about. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a film to make the case that the topic of texting is worth your attention, this flick sure as hell ain’t it. From the amateurish voice-overs to the asinine animations of bouncing cell-phones to the immensely awkward man-on-the-street style interviews, Please Silence Your Cell Phone seems to forget what it’s purpose is. Indeed, there’s no clear cut subject to the documentary beyond “Cell Phones: People Use Them”. The documentary’s ending is a poorly shot speech made directly into the camera telling you to turn off your cell phones, to not use texting as a replacement for humans interaction, etc. and it feels as if the filmmakers simply went “Aw, crap, that’s what this was supposed to be about? Crap, just tack a speech on at the end.” By the end of the film, you’re no more informed than you were before it started, and the only thing you’ve gained is a nostalgia for those old MTV PSA’s from the early 90’s where a black screen with a question written on it would cut to banal statements from people you couldn’t care less about.
I’ll not mention the several audience members so bored they were actually texting during the film, but rest assured the irony was not lost on me.”

Nocturne In C# Minor (Advanced); 9 min.
Jae Kim, Mike Natale, Nick Young, Kwesi Bynoe

“Michael Natale has repeatedly spoken of his admiration of Woody Allen. Well, he has come one step closer to become his idol, as both their first attempts at drama, Allen’s 1978 Interiors and last night’s Nocturne In C# Minor, were less than stellar. The film suffers from a similar flaw as The Predator’s Prey. Both had concepts which lost it’s magic. Though it wasn’t a series of mistakes that hurt Nocturne In C# Minor. Rather, you can almost feel that the film, through countless rewrites and re-imaginings, lost it’s soul. Nick Young tries to use certain angles and lighting to make up for the verbose characters, and Jae Kim can almost be seen trying to pull the project together with his bear hands. It’s clear Kim, Natale, and Young have a workable synergy, and there’s certainly potential in their work. They simply seem so focused on pleasing everyone that they lost sight of the emotional honesty. The piece seems tailor made to please some professor, or some single individual, and it suffers greatly from that. Perhaps this trio could craft something spectacular in the future. It’s clear a lot of work went into the film, and if they can put in an equal level of heartfelt, rather than reluctant, passion to match the hard work, then it’s very likely they’ll give us all something worth watching.”

Heart Of Darkness (Intermediate); 2 min.
Chris Suchy

“Quite frankly, no one is sure what happened in this film. A story was told, but why tell it? What was the point? Your guess is as good as mine in this bizarre two minute piece.”

Hansel and Gretel (Production Lab); 17 min.
Michael Staffieri, Emily Mayo, Jessica Wallin, Sean Costello, Patrick Mackey

“In a pre-Staffieri world, the name pairing “Hansel and Gretel” brought one a feeling of nostalgia, of childhood wonderment. However, for the past year at C.W. Post, that title has evoked such intimidation, envy, and anticipation that last night’s virtually packed screening room was a mass of seemingly choreographed bouncing knees as the night approached the “big moment”.
Every year, one film develops such a massive buzz as to become the unofficial main act of the end-of-the-year film festival. Last year, that film was Gia McKenna’s In The Name Of Cinema. This year, it was Hansel and Gretel, and that’s not the only distinction these two films share. Both also stand as strong reminders that with a truly gifted group of creative minds, lack of resources or budget are not shackles but merely hurdles, which, if properly overcome, can result in brilliant films.

From the moment the projector starts, you forget you’re at a college. I sincerely believe that you could place this film in any festival and it would be right at home. Mayo and Staffieri’s screenplay puts a fresh twist on the almost haggard Holocaust film, by focusing less on the time period, and more on the people. The flashback sequences between the protagonist and her husband are not driven by the circumstances but by the emotions, the inner workings of the characters themselves, a tricky thing for even Hollywood writers to achieve. There is not a line out of place, and at no point does the film drift into the dangerous turf of cliché or insincerely ‘heart-warming’. Instead, you get a film where Gretel’s knee getting bandaged has you as engaged as the gun shot. The story is so well crafted that handed to even the most novice team, the film could be good. Yet, the film’s exceptional nature has as much to do with what you see as what you hear.

Visually, the film is an absolute delight. Sean Costello’s cinematography is gorgeous, but not so much to take away from the film itself. At no point does it become the typical film school visual short, with all the bells and whistles and no substance. All the angles, the lighting, the entire optical language of the film works in tandem with the script to create multi-sensory storytelling. Of course, we cannot talk about the visuals of the film without acknowledging the exceptional production design of Jessica Wallin. Every frame of that film should stand as a testament to the blood, sweat, and tears that surely went into every detail of that film. From that hand-built set (built atop the garish blue room all film majors have burned into their memories), to the period-perfect costumes, to even the most miniscule detail (the windows, the shelving, the radio, everything completely historically accurate to my knowledge), that will to most go unnoticed, simply to create the ambiance. One can almost imagine, ten years from now, film students refusing to believe that there was ever a production designer who put so much effort into a class project. So, congratulations, Ms. Wallin, you’ve joined the rank of urban legend.

Of course, the film would be a pretty nothing without the truly gifted performances to match the lines. Michael Staffieri has outdone himself with the ensemble he’s assembled, and his directing pulls out such brilliant turns as Konstantin Soukhovetski as the vile S.S. officer, Josef Urban as the foolishly noble husband, and of course, the star of the entire evening, Maria Arenlind, who’s performance deserves a paragraph of praise all it’s own (All three of these actors sheer physical appearance, it should be noted, gave almost every viewer severe body image issues). Though the true testament to Staffieri’s skill is in the performances of the children. Simply look at the terror in Gretel’s face as she crouches under the table, hearing the news of her mother’s murder, and you’ll understand why I picked that little girl as the night’s Best Supporting Actress.

So Hansel and Gretel is on all accounts a success. Even it’s unfinished sound couldn’t rob it of it’s well deserved glory, as the house seemed to empty after seeing the film they came for. Much like In The Name Of Cinema‘s crew, the H&G team encourage us all to up our game by showing what can be done with passion and talent. Like them or not, you gotta admit, last night, they kicked our collective ass.”

Loves Ugly Face (Intermediate); 2 min.
Caitlin Montclaire

“Now, look, any film would have looked bad following Hansel and Gretel, but that’s no excuse for sloppy storytelling. Whoever scheduled these films together made a mistake, and made this silly stabbing story look worse by comparison alone. Sure, there’s nothing special about this film, and it’s another gore-nographic shlockfest like we get every year, but maybe I would have liked it more had I not just been blown away.”

Pictures of You (Advanced); 5 min.
Josh Paige, Jason Hess, Carrie Ferrante, Marc Riou, Nick Young, Dani Teman

“In and amongst all the Advanced Filmmaking projects trying to tackle huge social issues like war, addiction, child predators, and whatever the fuck the point of Loaded was (we’ll get to that later), it is a little film about a girl in a bad relationship that comes out on top. The only film to shoot in Post and not look ridiculous (excluding films that shot in the studio), the film is a sweet, endearing story that’s sure to make you go “Aw…” by the final hand holding shot. As per usual, Marc Riou’s cinematography perfectly accentuates the meaning behind the lines, and the film only suffers from weak male actors. With vibrant color and not an ounce of pretension, Pictures of You does what all the other Advanced films screened last night tried to do and failed. It made you feel something. So it’s not a dark, meditative masterpiece. It’s not trying to be, and that’s why it shines.”

DPA and OBI (Documentary); 13 min.
Thomas Piazza, Kenneth Melo, Brian DiLorenzo, Nick Young, Jay Manly

“By far the best documentary all night, this close examination of illegal street racing is as quality as it’s going to get from a Post documentary. It’s pulse pounding, it’s exciting, and it’s informative. Yeah, it does both entertain and inform. Sure, you find out the world of street racing isn’t as glamorous as The Fast & The Furious, but you realize it’s real, and these intrepid camera men immersed themselves into this world. As you watch the camera swing, you realize they really are being chased by police. These documentarians pull you into a story you don’t ever want to leave, and craft an enthralling piece that is without a doubt worth your attention.”

Still Life (Production Lab); 16 min.
Martha McCann, Rob Vogt, Justin Toulon, Courtney Taylor, Kenneth Melo, Len Domingo, Kwasi Asante Tanner

“In the course of viewing Still Life, I found myself feeling deeply sad for Rob Vogt, Martha McCann, and particularly lead actress Piper Blouin. All seem to understand the subtle decay that occurs within an individual in those moments of interpersonal collapse too well for it to be purely fictive. It’s quietly dazzling how gently and delicately Vogt’s script handles this fragile subject of an alcoholic parent. So many times, the subject has been tackled, and very rarely does it work without stumbling into the terrain of the melodrama. Vogt seems careful never to let any scene get cliché, and McCann successfully fought the temptation any of us would get to create the “big” scene.

Through a combination of Vogt’s cinematography and McCann’s directing, scenes set in the sweeping landscapes of Manhattan have the same uncomfortable claustrophobia as the seat-shifting-ly awkward train car scenes, all done to maximum effect to create an unsettling aura not only inside the world of the film but in the audience as well. Every head in the house is thinking “Something’s off here”, but no one can piece together quite what until the end.

Yes, it’s almost a mystery story for the first half of the film, trying to discern exactly why this girl harbors such disdain for her father. Not enough compliment can be given to the performance of Adam Barnett, who seems to have a natural understanding of what level of likeability is right for the scene. It’s rare in student films to see an actor dig so deeply into the role, but Barnett seems so perfectly desperate for his daughter’s smile that we in the audience want to grab ahold of her and tell her to lighten up. That whatever he did, it’s not that bad.

Then he starts to drink, and the filmmaker’s high-wire act begins. It would be so easy to at any moment slip into comic lush flick, or Lifetime movie awfulness. Instead, McCann guides each scene’s subtle serenity to the forefront, making everything believable. The almost tender moment where the daughter discusses the factors that determine good photography never gets tender, in the sense that it never evokes an emotion that wouldn’t be felt observing an actual father-daughter conversation.

In the same vein, anyone disappointed that the alleyway altercation didn’t have more shouting, more crying, more gusto, has clearly never been in that situation. Barnett’s delivery of his inebriatedly angry lines is so pitch perfect you can smell the booze off of his whiskers. Piper fights back tears, just enough to let us know there’s a pain inside, but a pain she’s used to. There’s no need for either to display their soul, nor for there to be any confrontation. No one ever shares their feelings, no one ever lets on what kind of cross they bear. In moments like when Piper leaves the train car as her father faintly sleeps in his seat, I cannot help but recall one of my favorite songs, Peter Allen’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, a song he wrote about how no one really speaks about the scars inside. McCann and Vogt use that idea, but traded in the song’s awful 80’s music for a heart-wrenchingly realistic portrait of the typical decay of the American family.”

Cold Feet (Class Unknown); 5 min.
Thomas Waters

“An odd little film about a guy running. The twist at the end is chuckle-worthy, but both Waters’ films of the night seem crafted more around locations than solid stories.”

The Path To An Idea (Intermediate); 3 min.
Adam Kampfer

“This little film had something intriguing about it. It wasn’t mind-blowing or guffawing funny, but I get a sense about whoever made this. Kampfer seems to have an ear for dialogue that reminds me of a clean Kevin Smith, back when Kevin Smith wrote real dialogue. I’d keep an eye open for this kid.”

Mother (Advanced); 5 min.
Alan Holloway, Chris DeMonte, Jeremiah Wenutu, Tyler Tremblay

“Mother, as a whole, is a basically bland film, as almost all this year’s Advanced films seem to be. It’s another watered down concept that seems intriguing, this time the idea being addiction to Robitussin. Rather than get a compelling story, we get a bland little short about a kid robbing a store. Again, the film seems crafted to please someone in particular, and suffers for it. Also, the shaky camera may or may not have been intentional, but it’s almost painful at times. The film suffers not from lack of quality, but from bland forgetability.”

Procession Of Time (Thesis); 16 min.
Courtney Taylor

“Procession Of Time is, in essence, an Americanization of the theme of the German film Lola Rennt, though a lot less…German. Utilizing computer animation, green screens, and a captivating non-linear storytelling style, Courtney Taylor crafts a very compelling tale about the idea of the infinite possibilities in the web of time, and how even the most minor actions can lead to major events (points go to Taylor for casting himself as one of the characters who commits one of those “minor events”). The only risk the film takes is that if you’re drawn in from the beginning, the climax is shocking. If you’re not, the climax, and indeed the entire film seems melodramatic. I am happy to report, though, that I was one of the many who was, in fact, drawn in from start to finish.”

Mistaken Identity (Class Unknown); 3 min.
Whitney Henry Inniss
“Another cutely comic film, this one with a little more staying power, though the ending sound clip takes it to an absurd place I’d have preferred it didn’t go.”

Aria (Thesis); 13 min.
Kenneth Melo
“In the beginning, Aria is an interesting, well shot film with characters that intrigue you. You start to feel just as if you’re watching a Quentin Tarantino film, and that’s exactly where this film suffers. From the female protagonist predatorily surveying a highway to close-ups of feet, this film is a perfect Tarantino homage. Tragically, that’s all it is. Once the abnormally large gun comes out, and the man manages to tie himself up in a manner from which he can’t escape (I’m confused as to the physics of that, personally), the film goes into a crazy place it shouldn’t have. I’m not trying to say Aria isn’t an enjoyable film. It very much is. It just lacks compositional originality, a thing I’m sure we’re all very guilty of from time to time. Look up Aria if you like Tarantino, and I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy yourself, up until they quite literally pull out the big gun. See, that’s the problem with guns in student films. A lot more people think they can do it tastefully than actually can.”
Collision (Summer Project); 11 min.
Robert LaRosa, Marc Riou
“The message of Collision is basically “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and that is the exact sentiment I felt when looking at all the good people in the audience viewing this film. This bizarre, revenge-fantasy/PSA against drunk driving starts out reasonable, if a little absurdly obscene with a conversation between two guys who seem to swear a ridiculously large amount. Then for some weird coincidence, one of the friends goes all deer-in-the-headlights in front of a drunk driver AS HE’S TALKING ABOUT DRUNK DRIVERS. What happens next is…well…
The film suffers most from writer/director Robert LaRosa casting himself as the lead, a decision that causes the film to become even more John Waters-esque twisted. LaRosa decides to take revenge on the man who killed his friend, using a baseball bat, which leads to him later driving a soccer mom minivan with a Taxi Driver-esque monologue.
The film is bizarre, absurd, melodramatic, and at it’s worst almost un-watch-able. LaRosa could benefit from doing like other film makers in his class, such as John Waters, Ralph Bakshi, Tim Burton, and even Federico Fellini, and that is embracing the bizarreness of his films, and cranking it up to 11. Then you’ll have a film I’ll enjoy. Until then, this foray into “serious” films just isn’t lighting my fire, dig?”

Loaded (Advanced); 6 min.
Jason Hess, Josh Paige, Marc Riou

“This film was chaotic, and just a waste of time. I cannot help but think of the line from Billy Madison (which provided more intellectual stimulation than Loaded) “Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it”.

This film took an actually quality actress and underused her in place of a guy saying fuck a lot (Do a shot every time he says it and you’ll be plastered a minute in) and shots of a muscular guy running with a gun in the completely obvious halls of Kahn, a building we’re all so familiar with that it becomes laughable. Loaded is the kind of movie we all made as kids with a camcorder and our friends when we were 14. Lots of guns and running and trying to look cool, and little to no plot. You could have maybe redeemed it a little by letting Ms. Ferrante utter a line or two rather than just cry taped up next to the typical “crazy guy” Why is he mad at said Senator? Who gives a crap, they have guns! Look how cool! Guns! Fuck! Guns! Running!

This film proved to actually be more insufferable than Collision. At least Collision tried to have a point. This film was just bland machismo. I realize there were probably people who thought it was “really good”. That not all movies need to make you think. Well, if films like this have more of a future than films like Still Life or Hansel and Gretel or Pictures Of You, then do me a favor and do to me what they did to Ms. Ferrante at the end of the film.

In it‘s defense, for what it is, it‘s well made. There are no glaring errors in the filming process. For those looking for virtually plot-less action, I would recommend it. I just don‘t know too many people looking for that.”

Change Of Heart (Thesis); 6 min.
Esley Tate

“I cannot begin to grasp what the point of this film was. Don’t have babies? Maybe I’m just being nitpicky. It wasn’t poorly shot or poorly acted. It was just…forgettable. And when you’re in a late night slot like this, you can’t afford to be forgettable. You either gotta be great or awful, which leads to our next one…”

Harvest (Class Unknown); 25 min.
Len Domingo, Daniel Famiglietti, Tom Kiernan

“Even the film maker himself didn’t seem to care about the film when he presented it. What we get is an overly long, ever cliché story of Death personified, this time falling in love with a woman. The use of the 1812 Overture, the flashbacks, the Frankenstein theme, the entire piece failed to entertain or inspire, and instead just left us waiting for the end, or maybe the sweet release that this “death“ refused to give.

See what I just did there? I kept things brief. There‘s an art to that. Not pointing fingers or anything.”

A Dog Day (Intermediate); 3 min.
Thomas Waters

"As I said before about these films, they seem more built around location than story, especially in this pointless story about a doggy down a well. Enjoyable? Yes. But mainly for it’s convenient locale.”

Apartment, NY (Class Unknown); 2 min.
Shimo Takuya

“It’s a real shame this film didn’t run. It looked interesting.”

So there end the reviews of the 2010 C.W. Post Underclassmen film festival. Once again, this was intended as healthy criticism, and was not meant to make anyone cry. I welcome all disagreements and commentary (beyond "You suck") and encourage a healthy dialogue, as that is the only way we are going to improve.

My awards and accolades for the festival are to come shortly.