Southland Tales

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After having watched Southland Tales on DVD over the weekend, I wonder if “career-suicide” ever crossed Director Richard Kelly’s mind during the making of this film. It’s truly hard to believe this is the same filmmaker that created Donnie Darko , a favorite of mine. Southland Tales is a glorious trainwreck of a movie. Kelly went off the deep end on this one. But as with all trainwrecks, you can’t help but watch. the movie revolves around a present-day “alternate/bizarro” United States after a nuclear bomb attack in 2005 and is suffering from the tight grip of conservative republicans but in danger of a revolt by a growing movement headed by a liberal group. Kelly takes on a lot of issues in the story including alternative fuel sources, the Iraq war, homeland security, terrorists, drugs, porn and the 4th dimension.

The whole thing is intriguing but unfortunately marred by his choice of making this a sci-fi comedy and casting B and C-listers including Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore and Seann William Scott. another head scratcher is his choice of including saturday night live has-beens like Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Cheri Oteri and Janeane Garofalo!! But wait, he doesn’t stop there. Kevin Smith and Justin Timberlake are also in the film as well. gaw. Was it Kelly’s intention to make this film so “campy”? maybe “fluid karma” is actually REAL and perhaps Kelly himself used the drug during the production of this movie. THAT would actually explain a lot. especially for the fact that the story from http://www.jasminelive.biz doesn’t make a lick of sense toward the end there.

Kelly could have redeemed himself at the conclusion of the movie by providing some really cool explanations and wrapping up loose ends but he doesn’t and we’re all left with rather large plot holes and unanswered questions. but having said all that, I have to admire Richard Kelly for taking a big risk like this to bring forth such a beautiful mess for all to see, pick apart and complain about. and since the guy gave us Donnie Darko, I’ll forgive him this time. Hopefully Kelly will be able to recover with his next project. … that’s if a major studio would still be willing to back him on his next project…

Bryan Adams - 11

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Bryan Adams is back! He’s gone back to the year 1991, that is! With his new album simply titled 11 you’d swear it’s 1991 all over again! the songs recorded for the new release are what you’d expect from an album with such a plain and unimaginative title. the first thing that strikes you as you start listening to the album is how the songs sound like something straight out of Adams’ 1990s output. these could pass for rejects off of his 1991 album, Waking up the Neighbours .

Well, it seems that it was exactly Adams’ intention, seeing that he brought back mega-producer Mutt Lange (producer of Waking up the Neighbours ) and collaborator Jim Vallance to help him out on a couple of tracks. and yes, one could say it’s great that he can sound like he did back in his prime but ultimately the lack of quality in the songwriting department is what brings this Jasmin live project to a screeching halt. after a couple listens you soon realize how vapid and banal the lyrics are. of course, Adams has never been known for thought provoking lyrics but you’d expect some sort of progression or growth from a singer/songwriter with 30+ years experience. you know, I really don’t want to hear an almost 50 year old man singing stuff like: can’t live without it, no, don’t take it away, I need to breath you in like oxygen (Oxygen), or If loving you is wrong then babe, wrong is right, I ain’t losin’ the fight (I Ain’t Losing the Fight). there’s gotta be more interesting things to sing about, you know what I mean?

thankfully there are a couple of tracks that aren’t as cringe-worthy (Tonight We Have the Stars, Mysterious Ways and Walk On By), but not enough to bring me back to this album for another listen. it’s interesting to note that the U.S. release date for the new album has been delayed a couple months. it seems like a bad business move especially when the album has been release everywhere else in the world. but I guess it has something to do with the recently announced exclusive deal with Wal-Mart. expect the new album at your local Wal-Mart on May 13th.

Random thoughts on DWTS

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Here are just some random nothings about last night’s Dancing with the Stars

- did anyone catch the Jonas Brothers on DWTS last night? holy crap. can someone explain to me why these little folks are so popular right now? they absolutely CAN NOT sing! man, my ears are still hurting from watching their live jasmin performance last night. it was painful. see for yourself: last night’s skin crawling version of A-Ha’s Take on Me. God. so. lame. and here’s the second song of the night - When You Look Me in the Eyes. ouch. why didn’t Disney just use the infamous “Autotune” on the boys’ vocals like they do on all those other teenie-bopper groups? oh sorry, apparently Miley Cyrus got dibs on the Autotune for her own shows.

- can someone just stop Adam Corolla from talking? please. he’s absolutely annoying. now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he needs to leave the show because THAT would mean no screen time for Julianne Hough. and not being able to watch Julianne Hough do her thing in those lovely outfits would be an absolute tragedy.

- did anyone notice the contrast between Kristi Yamaguchi’s pasty white skin last week and her nicely tanned body this week? obviously she has succumbed to the ubiquitous (at least on the show) spray-on tan. fortunately, she looks a lot better with the tan. let’s just see if Priscilla Presley gives in to the spray-on tan next week! but can they do anything for her botoxed face?

- I laughed so hard when, for the second week in a row, Samantha Harris put the microphone to Marlee Matlin’s face even though Marlee was signing with her hands. I so dislike Samantha Harris.

- as for the ones that got the boot - tennis champ Monica Seles was a given since her personality didn’t really translate that well on camera. she had that “Celine Dion”-vibe that just wasn’t happenin’. but it was a bit surprising to see Penn Jillette go. I was so sure Steve Guttenberg was going to be the first to hit the road.

Fan supported albums

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As record companies continue to crumble in the age of the internet, artists are having to seek out alternative business models to help fund their recordings. Record companies essentially exist only for the mass market hits. nowadays, major labels aren’t willing to invest the time and money on Jasminlive artists that sell below 500,000 copies. artists that have small but loyal followings are basically out of luck in terms of major label support. That’s where the patronage business model comes into play. the patronage model (sponsorship of artists) has indeed been around for ages, dating back to the Renaissance days, but it has come back into the public consciousness due to the reduced importance of record companies and the needs of today’s musicians and songwriters.

Singer/songwriter Jill Sobule recently made some headlines surrounding the way she’s raising money for her next album. using the internet and her faithful fanbase, she plans to raise the $75,000 that she needs in order to release her next album. the money will be used to fund the recording of her new songs as well as pay for manufacturing, distributing and promoting her new CD. So far this method of raising funds has been pretty effective. as of 06Mar08, Sobule’s nearly at the $60,000 mark. Interestingly enough, the producer of her 1990 debut album Things Here Are Different , Todd Rundgren did something similar a number of years ago. Rundgren created Patronet to help fund his album One Long Year that was released back in 2000. Also back in 1990, Rundgren recorded his album Second Wind in front of his fans who helped fund the project by paying to watch the recording sessions from http://www.streamate.mobi. For singer/songwriters that have strong fanbases but not large enough to interest major labels, the patronage model seems to be a viable option.

She & Him

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I’m not exactly sure what the allure is for hollywood actors to try to crossover into the music biz but the streets of Tinseltown are lined with garbage bins full of failed attempts by the likes of Bruce Willis, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Leonard Nimoy and Eddie Murphy. but even with the grim track record of her predecessors, actress Zooey Deschanel is bound and determined to make her own mark with her new album titled Volume One . wisely, Deschanel brought in some help to record her songs by way of producer/musician M. Ward.

With this project being such a collaborative effort, Deschanel and Ward decided to forego the marketability of her own name stamped on the album cover and went with naming the duo as She & Him. interestingly, the spotlight still weighs heavily on Deschanel with her vocals (as well as her compositions) being the central focus on the album. Ward does come forward singing a duet with Deschanel on “You Really Got a Hold On Me” but otherwise he remains in the background. the resulting album recalls the retro-60’s from the rough and loose sounding band to the quirky girl-group sound on songs like “Sweet Darlin’” and “I Was Made for You”. overall Deschanel sounds a bit too cute for my tastes and the material (all penned by Deschanel except for the Smokey Robinson cover, a Beatles cover and the traditional “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”), a tad too amateurish and superficial. now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the record.

I like Zooey as an actress and her foray into singing/songwriting got me intrigued but as the saying goes - “don’t quit your day job”. the material isn’t vocally demanding but it’s obvious that Deschanel has a limited vocal range. on songs that require the higher reaches of her range like “Sentimental Heart” and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”, there are some unpleasant moments for sensitive ears. when she sticks to her lower register as in the songs “Change is Hard” and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today”, things get more listenable. so for all you Zooey Deschanel fans out there, Volume One is a must. for the rest of you that are simply intrigued by the collaboration between Deschanel and M. Ward, beware - your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Stardust

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Why didn’t anyone inform me of how good the movie Stardust is? I overlooked it a while back, dismissing it as some sort of Lord of the Rings/Chronicles of Narnia rip-off. But the movie holds it own. in fact, I’ll place it near The Princess Bride in terms of classic fairy tale films. director Matthew Vaughn did a wonderful job in bringing to life a small 19th century village in England that just so happens to be situated next to a portal to a magical world called Stormhold. the story centers around Young Tristan who crosses over “the wall” in order to retrieve a fallen star for his love, Victoria. Tristan soon finds out that the fallen star is actually a beautiful girl named Yvaine who is being sought after by a witch and the son of the King of Stormhold. Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Charlie Cox are all featured in the film. the film is a true joy to watch with a great story line and some well timed bits of humor sprinkled throughout. the movie isn’t perfect however and left me with a couple lingering questions -

1) why doesn’t Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) have an English accent like everyone else in the movie? is this simply a De Niro thing or is there some backstory to the character’s american accent?

2) also, Michelle Pfeiffer’s accent comes and goes at random places. but she does a fantastic job otherwise.

3) why doesn’t Una (Tristan’s mother) look any older than she did back when she met Tristan’s father at the very beginning of the story?

4) even though Ian McKellen’s voice over explains that Tristan will live forever because he has Yvaine’s heart, why does he end up looking like an old man (in the deleted scene on the DVD) while Yvaine looks the same at the end of the story? shouldn’t Tristan not age as well?

5) I love Ricky Gervais but will he ever be able to act like someone other than Ricky Gervais? seemed like his role was tailor made just for him. or maybe the director simply just worked around Gervais’ limitations?

Phoenix by Asia

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It’s a bit of a shame that Asia had only a limited amount of time to spend on creating their latest album Phoenix . What could have been a spectacular comeback for this 80’s supergroup unfortunately turned out a tad half-baked. After the unexpected downtime due to John Wetton’s heart surgery in 2007, the group found themselves with some extra time on hand before guitarist extraordinaire Steve Howe had to return to his other meal ticket, Yes. So, Asia had to work fast in order to fit the whole process of recording, releasing and marketing a new album before giving Howe over to Yes in July 2008. but they managed to do just that plus squeeze in a worldwide tour to support the new album.

It’s truly remarkable that they were able to put the album together so quickly but the results are a bit scattershot with moments of brilliance mixed in with utter crap. the album closer - An Extraordinary Life is a prime example. The verses are done perfectly with a nice minor key chord progression and some interesting lyrics. But when the song hits the chorus, they modulate to a major key and lose the momentum built by the verses. It could have been a great song but the chorus is totally weak and filled with bland cliches that sound to me like a coffee commercial: Go seize the day, wake up and say This is an extraordinary life, enjoy today, come what may, This is an extraordinary life. and that’s how it is throughout the album - shining moments marred by awful ones. some shining moments include a great drum solo at the end of a great instrumental section in the track Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya, the two Howe penned tracks (Over and Over, Wish I’d Known All Along) and a great cover of a song originally done by Globus (Orchard of Mines). what we’re left with are bland ballads (Nothing’s Forever, I Will Remember You) and others that just needed more time to develop like the song I mentioned earlier - An Extraordinary Life. another mis-step is when the band inserts knowing-nods to the past such as starting off Never Again with power chords (a la Heat of the Moment), or cloning the opening to Don’t Cry in Shadow of a Doubt.

ultimately making references to their past serves no purpose except to make the listener go grab Asia’s previous albums. when they’re not trying so hard to sound like the 80’s version of the band, the songs are less “gimmicky” and sound more natural like in Parallel Worlds and Wish I’d Known All Along. you know, I totally understand the need to strike when the iron is hot and keeping the momentum going right after the successful reunion tour in 2006. but I just feel that the album could have turned out a whole lot better if they spent more time on the material.