COMMUNITY

NBC, Thursday, 8/7 PM

By R. David

Published December 8, 2011

SAVE THIS SHOW Alert!

Call it “Arrested Development Syndrome”:  Every year or two there is some great, original show that for whatever reason (poor network scheduling/promotion, audiences too lazy or dumb to grasp the nuanced humor) gets cancelled while uber drek that appeals to the lowest common denominator (Keeping Up With The Kardashians, for instance) somehow not only gets a pass, but continues to capture the national media spotlight.

Like the dearly-departed Arrested Development, Community is admittedly an odd duck and therefore a tough sell to mass mainstream audiences.  The show prides itself on its “meta” humor and in-jokes that are often too inside to allow for new viewers or appeal to anyone who doesn’t have a fairly large knowledge (or memory) of classic film and TV, as well as more recent pop culture staples.  It probably also doesn’t help that the show clearly never set out to make any friends, as it shifts jarringly from abrasive humor, scathing satire, referential parody and  sentimental whimsy.  And there is no laugh track to tell viewers what is funny and many of the best lines are thrown off in such a fashion that anyone who is not paying close attention will miss many of the best, most clever moments.

Yes, the show requires some attention to dialog and detail.  But it is never a challenge or ‘work’ to keep up with Community; and viewers who make the necessary investment will reap significant rewards (also as with AD these rewards include one of televisions great ensemble casts).

The show goes on a winter hiatus after tonight’s exceptional holiday-themed outing (a Glee parody that embodies all that is great – and apparently wrong where gaining viewers is concerned – about this extremely clever – perhaps too clever – series) with its future in doubt thanks to low ratings.  If Community returns in the spring, please people, start watching so we don’t get another Happy Endings, Whitney, or some other generic, predictable, witless, and lazy POS to take its place.

The Black Keys – El Camino (2011)

By R. David

Published December 6, 2011

I spend a lot of time complaining about the sorry state of rock and roll these days. It’s not that there aren’t great rock bands out there, its just that radio and the music industry have become so fragmented and so afflicted with an ADD mentality that no good, old fashioned rock and roll seems to stick (if it gets any airtime/attention in the first place).

So I should embrace a band like The Black Keys. Essentially a two-man garage band making straightforward guitar and drum driven rock and blues, The Black Keys have garnered a following too large to continue to dismiss simply as “cult” (thanks in large part to last year’s Grammy winning breakthrough “Brothers”).

But it has been easier for me to respect them for providing R&R-starved types with something they crave (talented, no-gimmick traditional rockers who write their own songs and play their own interments), than fully embrace them. For one thing, like a lot of bands who have been quietly paying their dues and growing their fan base under the radar, TBK have a core fan base that tends to elevate even their most pedestrian work to classic status and turn their noses up at newbs who are inclined to jump on the bandwagon since becoming commercially successful. Not TBK’s fault per se, but it makes evaluating them objectively, especially in circles that have already deemed them to be some sort of Second Coming, a futile effort. But let’s be real here, Black Keys die-hards: As catchy and/or brilliantly arranged and conceived as some of their songs can be, TBK seem to refuse not only to break any new musical ground (which is fine; a great genre band is still a great band), but to venture outside of the comfort zone of the sound they have created.

And that is the main – and perhaps only – issue I have with TBK. Many of their songs are completely indecipherable from one another. Their latest album, “El Camino” is proof positive that these guys have settled comfortably into a sound and style that works (for their fan base anyway, which only continues to grow) and they aren’t going to risk messing with a winning formula by venturing too far outside of their comfort zone. That seems odd though considering terms like “imaginative,” “experimental”, “fusion” and “crossover” are constantly being used to describe their music.

Musically, The Black Keys are essentially a funkier version of The White Stripes. They have a similar stripped-down, dirty, rough around the edges, unfinished, meant-and-potatoes, rock-jam sound. But where The Stripes would rather burn the house down with thunderous drum beats and wailing guitars, The Keys inject some R&B flavor and technological manipulation to their song’s productions. Its all very listenable – interesting even – but it also quickly becomes a very rote, similar listening experience that all but fades into the background. And great background music is not something most bands aspire to be.

Musically “El Camino” basically picks up right where “Brothers” left off.  And why not? Again, if it ain’t broke, these guys aren’t gonna fix it. And though I say that somewhat condescendingly, I honestly don’t blame them, nor would I expect any less from most bands. And I like a lot of “Brothers” and still revisit those songs frequently. The problem with “Brothers” – and its the same with “El Camino” – is there are only a handful of standout tracks. Sure, it all sounds fine as a whole. I could listen to either disc all the way through at any given moment and be perfectly content. But with the exception of a few tracks on both, the music literally dissolves into itself. The album is like a stew and the songs are individual ingredients that have become so boiled together that you can no longer tell them apart individually.

“El Camino” has received some good notices for beefing up the guitars, but personally I find “Brothers” to be not only more “rockin'” but also the more interesting listen. “El Camino”, while not without the requisite moments, feels like it has been comprised of a lot of leftovers from the “Brothers” sessions: similar sounding tunes that didn’t make the cut the first time around. “Lonely Boy”, “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Run Right Back” are fun and infectious rockers that rank with the better stuff on “Brothers”. “Little Black Submarines” is positively Zeppelinesque with its sensitively sung, musically minimalist first half that erupts into a wailing guitar crescendo. Less interesting is song like “Money Maker”, an obvious guitar rocker with lots of studio trickery that The Keys seem to churn out in their sleep at this point. “Sister” is a good example of The Key’s ability to inject a bit of funky vibe into their songs, but like “Money Maker” the song is simply too much part of the band’s formula to leave an impression. It’s at about this point that “El Camino” basically runs out of steam. The rest makes for a perfectly enjoyable listen, but the band has already played their best hands. The rest is just similar sounding music that does nothing to force the listener to sit up and take notice.

In fairness, it’s clear The Black Keys are all about musicianship. They aren’t shooting for profundity or breaking any new ground lyrically. They simply like to play and create. That passion and joy comes across plenty. But while technically proficient, they lack any sort of firery excitement.

The Black Keys have all the right musical chops, but they need to figure out how to take what they do to the next level. Their music is good enough to make me wish it were better.  B-

Key Tracks:  Lonely Boy, Gold On the Ceiling, Little Black Submarines.

“WHERE’S WALDO” FILM ON THE HORRIZON. HOLLYWOOD IS OFFICIALLY LAUGHING IN OUR FUCKING FACES!

Yup, that's right. This thing a movie.

 

By R. David

No further explanation beyond that headline should be necessary as to why news that a “Where’s Waldo” script has been completed has landed in our FU Hollywood page.  The announcement of a Lego movie a few weeks ago seemed to reach a new low in how far studios will go to rape and pillage anything – anything! – they make money off of from the public’s nostalgia for or simple name recognition of.  I can accept that there are times where I may go overboard in my Hollywood bashing, letting every little remake set me off on a rant about protecting my beloved childhood properties that only I and a handful of other nutjobs care about.  But if news that there is about to be a film version of a book about a guy who hides out in mass crowds of people does not make you want to take a pilgrimage to L.A., burn down the Hollywood sign and piss on its ashes in protest, you have no soul.  In fact, doing any less will set a dangerous president.  We throw around phrases like, “Man, people will pay for anything.”  The studio that produces a fucking “Where’s Waldo” movie literally thinks/hopes/knows we will pay for anything.  So, who’s got the torches and pitchforks?  I’m driving.

HUGO

Ben Kingsley, Sacha Barron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jude Law
Directed by Martin Scorsese
2011, PG, 127 min.

By R. David

Published November 23, 2011

“Hugo”, Martin Scorsese’s lush and elegant love letter to cinema, is constantly pulsating with the clicks and ticks and buzzing of clocks and other machines turning their gears.  You can feel Scorsese’s gears turning as well, as the film has the master filmmaker firing on all cylinders, crafting an ode to all the things movies began as and can be.  We live in a cynical age of film-making, where audiences have seen such advances in film technology that they have become hard to impress.  But there was a time when the very concept of a moving picture was considered strange, exciting, and even frightening.  For directors it was a chance to see their dreams realized and share them with others.  It was an art, not a business.  “Hugo” is less a film about movie making than about making dreams come true.  It turns out the cinema just happens to be the perfect metaphor.

Using his love (and vast knowledge) of early cinema, and Brian Selznick’s illustrated book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” for inspiration, Scorsese spins a quasi-biographical yarn exploring the later days of Georges Milies, the silent film pioneer who’s films, like 1902’s “A Trip To the Moon,” amazed audiences with the possibilities of movies.  Scorsese intersects Milies’ story with the fictitious life of young Hugo (Asa Butterfield), the orphan son of a watchmaker who stumbles upon Milies (Ben Kingsley) working at a toy shop in a Paris train station in the 1930s.  Hugo lives in the walls and clock towers of the train station, constantly on the run from a Clouseauesque station inspector (Sacha Barron Cohen), stealing the mechanical bits and pieces from the various station shops he needs to finish repairing the automaton he and his father were attempting to curate together before his death.  Milies catches Hugo stealing from him and forces him to work at the toy store in order to repay his debt.  When the precocious Hugo, a movie fan, discovers that Milies is the director of over 500 films (including “Moon”, which Hugo’s dad had a particular fondness for) but has been living in obscurity since his last film in 1913, he is determined to figure out why.  So is Milies’ niece (Chloe Grace Moretz) who can’t understand why her uncle won’t allow her to go to movies, and craves an adventures like the ones she has only read about.

The performances in “Hugo” are universally terrific.  Kingsley impassioned and sympathetic as Milies and young Asa Butterfield constantly hits just the right notes as Hugo.  He is a smart enough actor, even at such a young age, to know that you can often convey the appropriate emotion with simply the right look or facial tick, without resorting to obvious or overblown dramatics.  It’s an extremely impressive performance, and – as the heart and soul of the film – the one the film ultimately lives or dies by.  Good thing the kid was clearly more than up for the challenge.

If there are any failings in “Hugo” they are of the minor sort.  The film is pretty leisurely paced for the first 45 minutes.  I appreciated the time it took to set up its story and the detailed world Scorsese has created, but younger audiences might grow restless.  Scorsese also hits quite a few predictable beats as the action plays out.  Most perplexing though is the fact that the film never really hits on the emotional level it feels like it should.  We feel for Hugo and Milies, care about them and root for them, but their plight feels strangely understated.  Don’t get me wrong, I far prefer a film with the confidence of taking a muted approach to its dramatic scenes VS the swelling music and melodramatic emotional breakdowns that often feel like prerequisites to films with Oscar aspirations.  But there is something a little too conventional – dare I say, “bland” – about scenes that should pack an emotional punch.  Still, we are never less than invested in these characters.

“Hugo” is a beautiful film to behold.  The attention to detail is staggering.  Scorsese’s vision of 1930s Paris looks like something out of a snow globe and the train station where most of the film takes place is gorgeous; a sprawling landscape with a shimmering golden sheen.  The lights and gears of the clock towers are almost hypnotic with their fluid movements and crisply clicking and humming sounds.  “Hugo” is an all-around lovingly crafted film, and that includes the 3-D.  This is one of the best uses of the technology to date.

It might seem ironic that a film with so much love and respect for cinema at its purest, most artistic level be presented in 3-D, but one imagines a pioneer like Milies would approve.  After all, he wanted to make dreams a reality.  To do so he would painstakingly find ways to transport audiences as far out of reality and into the worlds he created as possible and with whatever tools he had at his disposal.  If he were alive and working with the technological resources we have today, who knows what he might come up with.  It’s to Scorsese’s vast credit that one imagines it might look something like “Hugo”.

3 and a half stars out of 4.