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Archive | April, 2015

Movie Breakdown: Avengers: Age Of Ultron (Noah)

April 30, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I smoked some wacky tobacky (dictionary spelling) and sat down to watch the two-and-half-hour epic that is the first Avengers film, a film I remember loving in the theater. After 30 minutes of what felt like a pretty bad episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I fell into a hazy sleep, the high chance of Age of Ultron totally blowing, resting heavy on my mind.

The Reality:

When it comes to a film of this magnitude – in terms of star power, action sequences, general ideas – I don’t know if you need to beat around the bush to say how you feel about it. I loved this film. Unabashedly. I don’t know if it’s because Hollywood’s incessant need to batter my skull with famous people dodging explosions and beating up aliens has finally inured me to the overt flaws a film like this carries with it, or if The Avengers: Age of Ultron just pushed all of those geek buttons I’ve been quietly tending since my first pair of glasses got punched off my face, but this film WOWed me. Director Joss Whedon thrusts our erstwhile team of superheroes back into the fray when a sentient robo-device named Ultron (James Spader) decides that humanity, stupid stupid humanity, needs to be expunged. That’s all you really need to know. The Avengers fight a whole bunch of robots, have some touching character moments (domestic Hawkeye!) and in the end the Marvel machine has made another gazillion dollar film and continued the course of its astounding, unbelievable series of films. Do we even look at these films as individual items anymore? Or do we wait until the 20-film arc has come to a close and then watch it like a we’d read a graphic novel, each individual piece becoming a more intricate part of a larger whole? Whoever you choose to do so, Age of Ultron is a kick-in-the-pants a full-fledged nerd-film (the cool, rich kind of nerd) made by a full-fledged nerd (Mr. Whedon) to sate the expansive nerd-energy of a world slowly turning to nerds (nerds!). There are moments in this film – the reveal of The Vision, the bumper at the end, the first time Bruce Banner says “Wakanda” – that hit the nerd populace so perfectly, it’s almost unbelievable that we’ve reached this point where these things can happen on screen and it’s not entirely unbelievable. Sure, the film has problems – Ultron is all robo-chatter and not much conclusion, the sheer spectacle can be a little draining – but all-in-all this is the best big-screen blockbuster since … well, Jesus, I don’t even know. It’s a great film, the first truly fantastic summer movie we’ve had in years.

The Lesson:

Marvel Studio has developed what I like to call a “soft ending.” They blaze through their set-ups and their character development and their big reveals but the end of their films always feel a little diluted. It’s because Marvel Studio’s endings have to be not only the ending to an individual film, but the beginning of new threads as well as a bridge to whatever comes next. Take Ultron, he’s got kind of weak ending in this film, but it’s because he’s the mid-arc bad guy. We’re all waiting for Thanos and if he shows up and Ultron’s already done all the devastating, then who’s going to care about a 7-ton purple guy with Josh Brolin’s growl rumbling out of his mouth? Well, me, but I’m special. So, this film has a soft ending, but are you really going to care when Iron Man and Captain America are face-punching each other next summer? No.

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Movie Breakdown: Clouds Of Sils Maria

April 30, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Juliette Binoche stars in the rather dramatic looking Clouds of Sils Maria.

The Reality:

Every now and again I see something that I like but don’t actually get, like Clouds of Sils Maria.  The story itself isn’t hard to follow – an aging actress returns to the play that made her famous (but now in the role of the older woman, of course) and she isn’t exactly thrilled with her decision.  I just couldn’t quite figure out what director/writer Olivier Assayas wanted me to get out of all of it.  His film never goes where you think it might, one moment it’s about acting, then the next it switches to relationships, then it’s going after Hollywood, or there’s commentary on getting old, and so on.  As I mentioned though, it’s actually a good movie.  While it may be unfocused and dense, it features wonderful performances by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.  I found myself completely wrapped up in them whenever they were on the screen together, and I think it’s actually the two of them that make the film’s scattershot approach worth trying to piece together.  If you’re looking to avoid the flash of the blockbuster season, Clouds of Sils Maria is a solid place to start.

The Lesson:

What are you trying to say, Olivier?

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Quickdraw: Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires, Cayucas, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Abram Shook, Mates Of State

April 30, 2015

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Music!  Enjoy.

:Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires – Sweet Disorder!:  Every time I hit play on this Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires jam, the volume creeps up a level or two higher than it was for the previous listen.  I also get the urge to grab a beer.  The Sweet Disorder! 7″ is due out July 21 via Sub Pop.

:Cayucas – Moony Eyed Walrus:  This new track from Cayucas is one of the most buoyant pop tunes I’ve come across in … well, I don’t know.  I rarely consider how buoyant a song is.  Anyhow, I dig it.  Dancing At The Blue Lagoon is due out June 23 via Secretly Canadian.  See the band at the Parish on August 9.

:Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Trevor Forever:  Here’s a catchy slice of power pop from Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.  It makes me want to see the band live.  The High Country is due out June 2 via Polyvinyl.  Catch them at Holy Mountain on August 15.

:Abram Shook – Get Gone:  Leduc and I are so very ready to get our hands on Abram Shook’s sophomore effort.  The two singles released so far (that includes this song) have been total ear pleasers.  Landscape Dream is due out May 12 via Western Vinyl.  See him at the Mohawk on May 15.

:Mates of State – Staring Contest:  Mates of State’s recent show in Austin left me with such a big smile on my face.  It’s good to have them back.  The world is more tolerable when Kori and Jason are churning out charming tracks like this one.  The You’re Going To Make It EP is due out June 16 via Barsuk.

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Movie Breakdown: Avengers: Age Of Ultron

April 29, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Joss Whedon and the Avengers have re-assembled to take on a maniacal AI named Ultron.  The film looks like a superhero lover’s wet dream.

The Reality:

Once the credits hit the screen I strolled out and happily marked Avengers: Age of Ultron as “very good” on the press comment card that had been handed to me.  I mean, what other grade could I possibly give it?  Joss Whedon’s latest dip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe had just wowed me with its plethora of superheroes and villains, snappy dialogue and immense action sequences, and I was feeling great about it. However, once I got home and had some time to let the film bounce around in my head, I liked it less and less.  Yes, it certainly delivers the necessary flashiness to be 2015′s first revered blockbuster, but when you compare it to other MCU movies, I think it’s at best a B-.

I have a long list of things (mostly minor) that I didn’t quite care for in Age of Ultron, but for the sake of your time I’ll just break it down to three key items.

My first main issue is with Ultron, who isn’t quite the menacing, monologuing villain from the trailers and is instead Whedon in robot form making wisecracks and generally coming off as too goofy to ever make you think he’s a real threat for the Avengers.  When we all know Thanos is coming, shouldn’t the current villain be scary enough to make us dread his arrival?  I think so.

Secondly, the film is too big.  When it comes to blockbusters and comic book flicks, I know that people want to see the screen explode with craziness, but Age of Ultron is a bit much.  There are so many characters (for instance, my superhero count was at 11 by the end of the movie), subplots and items from previous films that need to be remembered that it’s almost at the point where Marvel’s future efforts may need to come with a guide.

Contrarily, the film isn’t big enough.  Once I had some time to really digest Age of Ultron, I couldn’t help but notice how much of it either felt abbreviated or just didn’t make a lot of sense.  Thor takes a weird trip to a cave, there’s not a lot to be known about Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, Baron Strucker is in it for about 30 seconds, and on and on.  Why not put out a healthy three-hour adventure (as opposed to two hours and 22 minutes)?  Audiences would have eaten it up just the same and a more well rounded film would have come out of it.

As I said, there are some other minor things, but those are the issues that really stuck out.  Regardless of it all though, you should still most definitely see Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend.  Just be sure to manage your expectations.

The Lesson:

Even a Marvel misstep can still make a billion dollars.  They’re unstoppable.

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Built By Snow (Jennifer)

April 29, 2015

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One of my personal highlights from SXSW 2015 was seeing Built By Snow reunite after a five-year break. The band describes their sound as “catchy keyboard indie pop rock with an explosion of velcro melodies and magnetic hooks that hit your brain like an Atari blasting out of a bazooka.”  Or you could just imagine what would happen if Weezer and Devo had a musical child that wrote the soundtrack for your favorite 80′s video games. The reunion party continues this Friday at Holy Mountain with Holiday, Growl, and Satalights. The show is all ages; $5 advance tix and $8 at the door.

Following the reunion party, you can also catch them this Saturday at the Pecan Street Festival (on the Red River Stage) in downtown Austin. This performance is free and family friendly. BBS will be playing a few new tunes along with old favorites like Underneath and Drag Away.  Their songs are super catchy and their shows are so much fun that you’ll want to clap and sing along.

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Refused

April 28, 2015

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I know this phrase has been super smashed into the ground over the last 24 hours, but I have to go with it because it just feels so damn good to type it out – Refused are fucking alive!  Hell yes.  I never expected them to do anything but play reunion shows, and now there’s an actual album coming!  How crazy is that?  Below is the first single.  It’s aggressive and (surprisingly?) doesn’t sound as though it’s coming 17 years after The Shape of Punk to Come.  Enjoy.

:Refused – Elektra:

Freedom is due out June 30 via Epitaph.

Bonus Video:

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Quickdraw: Thee Oh Sees, Sweet Spirit And Britt Daniel, Creepoid, Migrant Kids, Annabel

April 27, 2015

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Music!  Enjoy.

:Thee Oh Sees – Withered Hand:  Here’s the latest ripper from Thee Oh Sees.  At some point they’re going to stop putting out an album every year and then I’m going to be totally lost.  Mutilator Defeated At Last is due out May 18 via Castle Face.

:Sweet Spirit And Britt Daniel – Have Mercy:  Sweet Spirit are currently one of my favorite bands in Austin, and Britt Daniel is, well … Britt Daniel, so their pairing is an easy one for me love.  As for this track, I think it’s a melodic gem.  You’ll be able to grab the 7″ on Spoon’s upcoming tour dates.  See Sweet Spirit at Red 7 on May 10.

:Creepoid – Dried Out:  This new Creepoid single consumed a good chunk of my time this weekend.  It’s just hooky enough to be an earworm, and I (of course) love that it sounds lifted right out of the 90s.  Cemetery Highrise Slum is due out June 23 via Collect Records.  The band will play Levitation on May 9.

:Migrant Kids – Thread:  As I said on Lone Star State of Mind (my new radio show!) last night, Austin’s own Migrant Kids have never sounded more accessible than they do here.  The glossiness is a good fit for them.  Look out for more new music from the band as the year goes on.

:Annabel – Another Day, Another Vitamin:  I’m officially all about Annabel’s upcoming album.  They’re emo but not in an obnoxious way, and I think they have good vocals and a really well crafted sound.  Having It All is expected out in June via Tiny Engines.

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Hip Hop Hooray (Leah)

April 24, 2015

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Yesterday was Bavu Blakes Day in Austin, and it’s always exciting to see the city honor local musicians. In addition to the music Bavu has created, he’s made many contributions to the Austin hip-hop scene. All the way from his beginnings, through Hip Hop Hump Day, and his support of other musicians in Austin, to his recent releases, Bavu has been a champion of hip-hop and a measured, informed, and hard-working artist, community supporter and mentor. Bavu helped Weird City Fest with our kid’s emcee training program last year and it’s obvious to anyone that interacts with him that he cares about the youth in Austin and what they can get from hip-hop and what hip-hop can give back to them. I hope you’ll take some cues from Bavu’s support of our community and seize the opportunity to celebrate local artists today, many of whom are in the HHH mix this week and have been featured in previous mixes.

SONG OF THE MONTH:

:Bavu Blakes – Summer Saturday Songs:

APRIL MIX:

:Roots Manuva – Facety 2:11:
:Oddisee – Counter-Clockwise:
:Blu & Exile – Blue Collar Workers:
:Joey Bada$$ – Snakes feat. T-nah Apex:
:THEESatisfaction – Post Black Anyway:
:Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry:
:Greenhouse – The Movement:
:Secret Levels – Alright, OK:
:Abdominal & DJ Fase – Fast Food:
:Earl Sweatshirt – Grief:
:Charli Baltimore – Everybody Wanna:
:The Triggermen – 512:
:The Underachievers – New New York:

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Eternal Summers

April 23, 2015

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On Monday I had a long day at work followed by a press screening of the rather dense Clouds of Sils Maria, and afterwards I just didn’t feel as though I had the attention span to go see Eternal Summers play at Holy Mountain.  I should have gone anyways.  The songs they’ve recently put out – Gold and Stone is the new single, Together or Alone is the new video  – are fantastic slices of pop, and it would have been fun to hear them live.  Oh well.  I’ll just have to catch them next time.  Until then, I’m totally focused on their upcoming LP.  Enjoy.

:Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone:

Gold and Stone is due out June 2 via Kanine.

Bonus Video:

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Abram Shook (Jennifer)

April 23, 2015

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Abram Shook released one of my favorite albums from 2014 – Sun Marquee. After enjoying the lush, atmospheric songs on that LP, I’ve been looking forward to hearing what he would do next.

As a songwriter, he offers a soulful, eclectic range of sounds that delight and seduce the senses. On songs like Understood, he combines bubbling funk and disco grooves accented with dreamy, falsetto vocals that are an indulgent treat you want to dive into all over again.

Abram’s new full length, Landscape Dream, will be released on May 12 via Western Vinyl. Come celebrate the album’s release with a performance on Friday, May 15 at The Mohawk with special guests Cross Record and The Deer. It’s a highly recommended local music triple threat worthy of kicking off your weekend.

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American Wrestlers (Noah)

April 22, 2015

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American Wrestlers are the kind of band (or one-man set-up) that had me asking John Laird “Is this too emo?” The outfit, a one-man bedroom project from Scotsman Gary McLure, blends McLure’s aching vocals with a wash of a fuzz, pianos, strings, and a general crescendoing sound in a way that played by the wrong person could be self-important, whiny dreck. McLure, luckily for all of us, is not that person. Instead, American Wrestlers’ music treads the line between overly-sweet emo crap, and a sonic profile that while opening up space for the listener to pine and wonder and over-emote, pulls back before going too far. This is music that you might play post-breakup, when you can’t see because you’re crying and the thought of stepping out of the darkness of your room is just too much, but it’s also bigger, more inclusive, a melange of instruments (new and old) that open the door to whatever mood might be leaning on your chest.

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Movie Breakdown: The Water Diviner

April 22, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with a film about a man searching for his dead (or possibly alive) sons.

The Reality:

Remember that scene in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers where Aragorn, in an attempt to locate Merry and Pippin, crawls around on the ground and is able to visually recreate exactly what happened before the duo disappeared into Fangorn Forest?  Well, Russell Crowe does some of that in The Water Diviner, and it’s sort of laughable.  The film also features a wonderfully cheesy mix of gentle piano music, slow motion and soft transitions throughout every single one of its many dramatic moments, and those too are often chuckle-worthy.  In other words, Crowe’s directorial debut is a heavy handed film that is difficult to fully take seriously.  However, I didn’t hate it.  Despite the movie being too glossy and bland, Crowe does do a nice job of delivering a heartfelt story that moves well and doesn’t drag.  He also turns in a good performance as Joshua, a man who has lost everything and is desperately seeking closure.

If you’re a big fan of Crowe or you would just like to see something wholesome, you could do worse than The Water Diviner.

The Lesson:

Keep at it, Crowe.

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And So I Watch You From Afar

April 21, 2015

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For the life of me I can’t figure out why I haven’t ever paid any attention to And So I Watch You From Afar.  All morning I’ve been sitting at my desk and listening to older tracks from them, and there’s a lot to like.  Talk about completely missing the bus on a band.  Yikes.  Anyhow, their latest single is a mathy, anthemic rock effort that should make your Tuesday slightly better.  Enjoy.

:And So I Watch You From Afar – Redesigned a Million Times:

Heirs is due out May 5 via Sargent House.

Bonus Video:

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Quickdraw: Radioactivity, Underground Railroad To Candyland, Expert Alterations, Damaged Bug, Mr. Gnome

April 20, 2015

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Music!  Enjoy.

:Radioactivity – Silent:  I very recently saw Radioactivity play (they opened for Ex Hex) and during their set I was wondering when they might put out a sophomore effort.  Now I know.  This first track is a good one.  Silent Kill is due out June 30 via Dirtnap Records.

:Underground Railroad To Candyland – Th Ppl R Hm:  The name Underground Railroad To Candyland kind of weirds me out, but that’s not keeping me from liking this jangly, lo-fi pop gem.  The People Are Home is due out May 26 via Recess Records.

:Expert Alterations – A Bell:  Slumberland Records have gone and snatched up Expert Alterations and will be re-releasing the cassette that the band put out themselves last year.  I really like the deadpan vocal style here.  The self titled EP is due out June 1 .

:Damaged Bug – Jet In Jungle:  Because John Dwyer is John Dwyer, he’s already put together full length follow-ups for the albums that Thee Oh Sees and Damaged Bug released last year.  The guy is a machine.  Also, this track is oddly infectious.  Cold Hot Plumbs is due out June 1 via Castle Face.

:Mr. Gnome – Sleepwalker:  Mr. Gnome have long been a band with a fairly moody sound, but this is poppy and rather whimsical.  I can’t seem to stop humming it, so I’m going to call the move a good one for them.  The Monster’s Heart 7″ is due out May 12 via El Marko Records.  See them at Stubb’s on May 6.

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Movie Breakdown: Ex Machina (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I can sit here and write out every reason why this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year, but I won’t. I’ll just say, this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year.

The Reality:

It’s been a strong few years for genre films. We’ve seen audiences start to embrace (re-embrace) the idea that science-fiction and big budget blockbusters don’t have to be two-hour orgies of explosions and muscles (though hey, in the right hands, we’re all okay with that as well). We’ve seen horror films slowly start to come back from the perilous edge of shit they tiptoed on for so long. Hell, we’ve seen comic books and their celluloid kin reach new heights of both popularity and creative savvy. It’s a fucking good time to be a genre nerd. And still, every once in a while you get a film that regardless of the sea of quality it’s floating in, manages to transcend the concept of genre, and help to rewrite the book on what interesting, science-fiction can be. Ex Machina is that film. Written and directed by superstar genre writer (and novelist to boot) Alex Garland, Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson, quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), a programmer for a Google like company that wins an office raffle to join the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs in a truly fantastic asshole performance) for a week at his estate. Upon arrival (the entire film takes place in the confines of Nathan’s ultra-modern, underground home) Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an advance bit of AI that he needs to test in terms of how convincing it is. What follows is a wildly entertaining, if not somber, discourse on the evolution of artificial intelligence and what it means to create sentient life. Through Caleb’s blossoming relationship with Ava, and his tenuous interactions with Nathan, Garland is able to explore the concept of what humanity is, and how we impart it to the rest of the world. It’s the mark of a talented director to be able to express big, mind-boggling concepts (for me at least, I’m a Film Major) through the interactions of 3-4 people, and Garland does just that, extrapolating these impressive concepts by beautifully executed pairings of his tiny cast of characters. Each interaction plays off the one that comes before it, until the final act of the film, where everything that’s come to bear, well, really comes to bear. This is a benchmark for modern sci-fi, a film that every thing else should aspire to. You can call me hyperbolic all you want, this is a modern fucking classic.

The Lesson:

It was Danny Boyle who was making the end of Alex Garland’s scripts feel like off-kilter, fairly shitty action movies. Silly Boyle.

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