30 June 2008

Je tombe du ciel.

This weekend, through the power of Netflix, I was able to finally see Angel-A, a film by Luc Besson, director of Leon: The Professional (my favorite Gary Oldman movie) and The Fifth Element. It came out last year, but sort of slipped below the surface, as most foreign films are wont to do in the US market.

Shot entirely in black and white, on location in Paris, the movie is about André (played capably by Jamel Debouze, who you may remember as Lucien in Amélie), a down-on-his-luck (almost) good-for-nothing. After facing the fact that he owes immense sums of money to gansters and lowlifes all around Paris, he decides to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Seine. While standing on the edge, he looks over to see a beautiful, statuesque woman (Rie Rasmussen as Angela), about to end it all on the same bridge. He saves her, and in return, she follows him around Paris, helping him pay back his debts and right his wrongs through more bizarre and surreal methods.

The film is almost thematically divided in two lopsided parts - the former is relatively funny and almost light-hearted considering the circumstances; the latter - more dark and dramatic (revelations abound!) The whole film is beautiful - deep, inky blacks and luminous pearl whites in the city for which black and white photography was practically invented. From a photographic stand-point, it's downright sexy.

While "classically" shot and lacking in hand-to-hand combat, this is unmistakably a Luc Besson film; there are surreal (some would say sci-fi) themes, some obvious one-liners and a beautiful but lethal and scantily clad female lead. Besson's films have a tendency to follow a smart, strong woman who acts as the pillar of a male/female dichotomy, until she ultimately needs the support of the man... while better than 99% of the portrayals of women on film, some may argue he's falling into a thematic rut.

While Angel-A isn't perfect, it's engaging and bold, and who doesn't like a little dose of simultaneously languid and rapid Parisian French every now and then? Check out the trailer for yourself.

28 June 2008

I don't know darlin', but I'm here with you - and we're coming to the chorus now!

Last night was a night I've been looking forward to ever since I was at a laundromat/web café in Valencia, buying my tickets under the impatient gaze of blinking ticker noting my rapidly decreasing surfing time. Yes - last night was the Josh Ritter/Boston Pops show.

I wasn't able to find a home for the second ticket I had, but saw some Wheaties I knew at the show and chatted with them before and after. And seeing as how I would have dropped twice as much for the seat I had, I'm trying not to look at it as a waste. My seat was fantastic - on the floor, only two rows behind the big dogs who dropped $80 on their seats. And the concert was phenomenal. This is the third time I've seen Josh and the guys perform since last October (what can I say - they keep playing shows here and I keep showing up), and this was definitely the grandest performance.

He opened with a haunting and intimate version of "Idaho" (appropriate for a haunting and intimate song), followed by what might be my favorite, "Best for the Best." Upon hearing the first opening chords, my eyes welled up with tears and I cursed myself for wearing mascara. Beautiful renditions of already near-perfect songs. The rest was a bit of a fantastic blur, but they played (among other songs) "Temptation of Adam," "Girl in the War," "Thin Blue Flame," Right Moves," and "Rumors" - where everyone promptly (and appropriately) exploded at the line my orchestra is gigantic - this thing could sink the Titanic. They also performed "Wildfires," one of the most simple and powerful songs off of The Historical Conquests, and one of my favorite JR songs to date. Such a thrill to see that done live.

Late in the show, Robert Pinsky did a reading, and even though I work in the same building as the man, it was the first time I'd ever seen him. He certainly added his own enjoyable dramatic flair to the show.

And while the Pops looked like they had a little too much starch in their shirts, it was obvious the guys were having a blast, and nothing's better than a bunch of joyful and skilled performers. While closing with "Empty Hearts," a song with a very singable chorus, Josh said, "if you ever wanted to sing at Symphony Hall, now's your chance." And yeah - I sang along - that is to say, I threw my hair back and I sang along (name that song!) You could tell the audience was comprised almost entirely of people who were familiar with the music, and the enthusiasm was palpable. It was an amazing monster of a show and I spent the train ride home with a smile on my face. Always a joy, that Josh Ritter. Always a joy.

25 June 2008

Oh, oh my God... whatever... etcetera...

This song kept me from completely writing off Easy Tiger, Ryan Adams' second least amazing album. (The first least-amazing being the "snap out of it!" worthy-of-a-slap Follow The Lights EP.) And this particular live and electric version of this song makes me love it even more... especially when he screws up and yells, "stab me in the eye with the Empire State Building!" For that moment, he is the Ryan we know and love... in a highly dysfunctional sort of way.

For no other reason than music for music's sake, here's Mr. David Ryan Adams...

19 June 2008

Anatomy of a Mix: Amplify!

A little bit of techno, a smidgen of hip-hop and lots and lots of guitars. Here are some tracks that ask - simply by being - to be turned up.

Wolf Parade - Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts | Now we'll say it's in God's hands / But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, does he?

This song was selected by Josh Radnor (who plays Ted on "How I Met Your Mother") for his "iTunes Celebrity Playlist," with the following description: "This song makes me want to drink eight pints of beer and punch someone in the face. In a good way." I could be down for that - though not on the receiving end of the punch, thanks.

Then I'd give this particular Josh R. a high five cause he's got pretty rockin' musical taste. We'd then pass out (well, I know I would after eight pints), slumped in adjacent corners while Spencer Krug howled and "la la la la la la'd" his way through this sloppy, loud, and amazing song from Apologies to Queen Mary. Upon gaining consciousness, I'd then ask him about the status of the Ninja Report.

The National - Mistaken For Strangers | Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts / So you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves

This song, from The National's latest release while not especially loud, grumpy, or overtly "angsty," deserves to be played loud... in the headphones of your soul. The lead singer's voice is something to write home about - cool, clear, and controlled without being contrived - it feels like it would echo perfectly out over the streets of New York City at 2am. The rapid guitar and immaculate drums just give this song more to love.

Beck - E-Pro | See me comin' to town with my soul / Straight down out of the world with my fingers / Holding onto the devil I know / All my troubles'll hang on your trigger

My version of this is not DRM free, so you'll just have to be satisfied with the youtube video (which is a total trip, by the way), and then hopefully pick up this amazingly funky and loud track for yourself. This song vaguely reminds me of "Minus" from Odelay.

To sum up my feelings about this track, if there was an army of zombie ninjas to fight Shaun of the Dead-style, I think I'd choose this song for my heroic, irreverent anthem.

Danger Mouse - Encore | Who you goin' find doper than him with no pen / Just draw off inspiration / Soon you goin' see you can't replace him / With cheap imitations for these generations

Take the best band of all time and (arguably), the best rapper alive (according to Ryan Adams, Jay-Z should be the first artist to play on the moon), put them in the hands of a DJ genius, and this is what you've got.

Danger Mouse (one half of Gnarls Barkley) took Jay-Z's a capella Black Album, magically mashed it with the Beatles' White Album. This particular track takes Jay-Z's "Encore" (obviously) and pairs it with "Glass Onion" and "Savoy Truffle." The raw, looped guitar placed alongside Jay-Z's über-masculine vocals and lyrics makes for a track that deserves going up to eleven.

The Pixies - Where Is My Mind | With your feet in the air / And your head on the ground / Try this trick and spin it

This track from Boston-based band, The Pixies, was done way back in 1988 - but it's held up remarkably well over time. The general renewed interest in it undoubtedly has to do with its use at the end of the deranged, all-too-often misunderstood, and entirely awesome movie, Fight Club. In terms of titles, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better song to fit the theme of the movie.

The nearly-dissonant guitar and vocals of this song have a tendency to enter your ears and clang around inside for a while, so don't be surprised if you happen to find yourself echoing the ending "ooooooh ooooo"s to yourself while washing dishes.

Deep Dish - Flashdance [Radio Mix] | He didn't mean to catch my eye / Well he's lucky he just walked on by / If he ever met a girl like me / Are you kidding? / Well I'd tell him that I'd rather die

Deep Dish, the Iranian-American DJ duo, came to the US way back when and started making music - and what music they make! Songs by these guys have a tendency to slip themselves onto multiple playlists during my summers with their good vibes and sweet sound.

But this guitar-driven house track (is it house? I get all the electronic sub-genres confused), is motivational for those of us with two X chromosomes. With firm but super-feminine vocals from fellow-Iranian Anousheh Khalili, both the song and video are something of a metaphorical kick to the groin...

That is to say, this one is for the laaaadies...

16 June 2008

Monstrous Media Mosaic

Eryn: i want you to make one of these
Eryn: even though they're kind of cheesy

What can I say? I'm a sucker for my twin and collages - that's two for two, my friend. Below are the formal directions... Va bene?

- Type your answer to the following questions into Flickr Search
- Choose an image you like best from the first page of options
- Copy and paste the URL for each into the Mosaic Maker


1. What is your first name?
Alec. The story behind that varies with each telling from my parents, so... yeah.
2. What is your favorite food?
Authentic Italian (twin!)
3. What high school did you go to?
East Providence High School (Go Townies... oy.)
4. What is your favorite color?
It varies, but blue is a safe bet.
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
Let's just say if Jake Gyllenhaal ever wants my number, all he's got to do is ask...
6. Favorite drink?
Anything with whiskey...?
7. Dream vacation?
New Zealand, though from what I hear, I may never want to leave.
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
A writer. Who gets paid.
10. What do you love most in life?
Family and friends are the obvious choice (because it's true.) But I'll say Music.
11. One word to describe you.
12. Your Flickr name.
Little Hooligan

1. Alec Soth notes, iii, 2. ✿✿✿✿✿✿ OLD italian COINS ✿✿✿✿✿✿✿✿✿✿, 3. Weaver Library East Providence, Rhode Island, 4. Sun and Signs, 5. jake-gyllenhaal-premiere-magazine08.jpg, 6. Whiskey, 7. The Remains Of A Giant Under A Hawkes Bay Sky, New Zealand, 8. Untitled, 9. one would., 10. Bokeh Melody, 11. Pull, pull, push, push: who to believe?, 12. Little Hooligan 2

"I thought there was too much cymbal... but I always think there's too much cymbal."

I texted my friend Emily on Sunday morning and she replied "it sounds like you spent the weekend like a 20-something should." That sounds about right.

Saturday, I met up with One Eye, Erin, and Erich with the specific goal of seeing The Fall, the beautiful epic film that was years in the making and took even longer to get distribution. It's only playing in two theaters in Boston, but I've been dying to see it since catching the trailer a couple of months back.

The movie is about a little girl in a 1920's era Los Angeles hospital who becomes friends with an injured (and suicidal) stunt man. He tells her a story that eventually blurs the line between reality and fantasy as the film progresses. Lee Pace does a great job as Roy, the stunt man, and Catinca Untaru is bizarrely good as the little girl, Alexandria. There are a surprising number of laughs and a heart-wrenching scene (I cried whenever Lee Pace cried.) At times, the film reaches too far and becomes disjointed, but it never falls completely apart and remains completely entrancing. The director, Tarsem Singh, was the man behind the video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" (arguably one of the best songs and videos of the 90's), and I would say that his skill set has sharpened over the years.

In short, if you're into aesthetics and it's playing at a theater near you (or even not-so-near), I heartily recommend The Fall.

After the movie, we went back to Erin and Erich's, and hung out with their friend John. After One Eye took off, we had a mini cook-out, some beer, some mojitos, and eventually ended up at a nearby bar. The house band was - kid you not - a group of 12-year-olds with a 20-something on drums. They looked like brothers and I've got to say, they weren't awful. We went back to the apartment, had some smores and I went to bed. After an evening of imbibing, gravity takes a hardy toll.

In the morning, we hit up brunch (of course) and I tucked and rolled out of Erin's car at a nearby red line stop. I had time to kill before my train, so I zipped over to Diesel cafe for an Accelerator to-go (luckily the weather was cool enough for a hot latte), and then headed home. My plan for Father's Day was going to be a homemade meal of his choice from a menu of my creation, but because of my longer-than-anticipated weekend in Boston, I didn't have the chance to actually make said meal. We went out to dinner, instead, which simply means that next week I shall unleash culinary magic... or mediocrity.

I do, however, have quite the bone to pick with the MBTA (the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.) Boston has the oldest subway in the country, so obviously, there's maintenance to be done... but everywhere I need to go, construction abounds. And not just any construction, but massive re-haul construction - on the commuter, red and green lines (i.e. every line I happen to use.) NO BUENO. It's like The Big Dig: Part Deux. Maybe if they didn't spread out their resources quite so much they could manage to actually complete something in less than ten years.

But I am young. I shall persevere among the jackhammers and orange cones and shake my fist at any overly-sassy teamsters... though not too much, or I'll end up in a bag at the bottom of the Charles.

05 June 2008

Hobo stew... a little of this, a little of that, and a shoe.

There are a few things I want to blather about, and I love lists... ergo, I give you a list of random stuff that I find interesting.

To be forehead-slappingly obvious, Obama got the Democratic nomination, and Clinton has (gracefully/finally) stepped aside. Things are starting to come together, people... as long as the more extremely bitter of Hillary's supporters don't go to the dark side. I don't care who you are - four more years of similar ideology is not what this country needs. I overheard more than my fair share of anti-American sentiment abroad, and it's going to take a long time to undo that damage. Let's start now, shall we? Not to beat the old drum of "CHANGE," but I'm thinking this Obama fella might be able to get us back on track.

Art & Literature
After two solid years of sitting on my bookshelf, I've finally started de Kooning: An American Master. So far, it's fantastic. De Kooning has always been one of my favorite artists and he was really one of the last romantic, striking, artistic figures in American art. He was flawed and complex; he's compared to (and sometimes is in the shadow of) Pollock, as they were both Abstract Expressionists, but de Kooning had less bravado and was less brash than Pollock. Pollock ran the risk of drowning in his own machismo, but de Kooning was always in flux and found any sort of "definite" to be incredibly claustrophobic. He was a man of contradictions - both in his art and his life, making him a pretty awful boyfriend and husband, but a phenomenal artist.

The book also touches on influences of other artists in de Kooning's life, including the tremendously tragic artist, Arshile Gorky. The picture of life during de Kooning's time is so exciting. Poor artists running around New York City, doing things you'd think poor artists would be doing... and more. The book covers a good range of material, but manages to stay focused on de Kooning and the big picture at the same time.

Chuck Palahniuk's 2001 novel Choke, about a sex addict and con artist who works at a colonial-era theme park to support his dementia-afflicted mother, has been made into a film. It features Anjelica Huston and Sam Rockwell in the leads - both very appropriate choices. I hope this isn't like most other Sam Rockwell movies, where he does a great job... but is stuck in a lame, horrible, very bad movie. The trailer for Choke is here. Judging from that alone, it seems to stick very closely to the book - the stripper scene included. Palahniuk translates well to film - it's a shame they refused to make Survivor, my favorite of his books into a film. That had real potential.

I don't really have much music news, except that Calexico has announced they're releasing a new album, Carried To Dust, on September 9th. Apparently, the band's been whittled down to just Joey Burns and John Convertino for this record... whether that's a permanent change, I'm not sure. I wonder if they'll tour as a whole...

Moving on, Jack Drag, the husband of the husband/wife duo, The Submarines, has done a remix of Josh Ritter's "Rumors." You can catch it at My Old Kentucky Blog. It's pretty good - very different from the original, but still sort of stays within that sort of whacked out Historical Conquests vibe. Peaks my interest in those crazy Submarine kids.

04 June 2008

Barcelona: I fell in like with you.

I just realized that I hadn't yet posted about the Barcelona leg of the Eurotrip with Rach. Whoops. Alright, let's brush off the cobwebs.

What I remember most distinctly about Barcelona was that it was completely overwhelming - in size, culture, noise, population - they simply have MORE of everything (including an insane amount of French.) Valencia, though the third largest city in Spain, was considerably less... jarring. While only a four hour train ride away, the provincial dialect was completely different, thus throwing another wrench in the already-shaky works of my Spanish. I missed the Valencian lisp... dearly. Where's Joaquin?

But we were there to learn... nay - to live! Our hostel was a super scene little place, two blocks back from Las Ramblas, one of the main drags of Barcelona. The staff was friendly and the place was clean. The downsides? Really noisy and in need of at least one more shower. More than once I was in line in the hallway with bed-head and a pre-caffe con leche frown.

We went generally exploring the first and second day we were there. We took in the Gothic church and the district of the same name. One of the highlights of the entire trip was seeing the man, pictured above, playing panpipes outside of the church. What he playing you ask? How about Frank Sinatra's "My Way," backed up by a stereo playing the little midi version of the same song. When Rachel and I took the elevator up to the roof, we could hear those pipes of Pan as we ascended. Glorious!

We made the pilgrimage to the Picasso Museum. It was interesting in terms of scope - most of what they had was not the "best known" Picasso, but rather, a lot of his early work and a considerable number of prints and drawings. His early drawings were... phenomenal. When you find yourself saying "wooow!" at the scribbled study of a goat, you know the man was good - not to say that everything he touched turned to gold - but you have to admit, he was arguably the best artist of the 20th century.


We also took in all the Gaudi we could handle. We spent a full day and a half with him, actually - bouncing from site to site. We first hit Sagrada Família, which was nothing short of mind-numbingly awesome. As Kenny Rogers once said, "I saw so much, I broke my mind." It's not even complete and it's one of the most beautiful man made structures I've ever seen. I must go back to see it completed... sometime after 2026.

Next, we swung by Casa Batlló, a private home in the theme of a man-eating dragon. It was, devastatingly, closed for no apparent reason. Luckily for us, Gaudi is everywhere and we walked a mere two blocks up and found another private residence-turned-museum in Casa Milà. The most interesting places were the attic - a winding series of brick archways - and the roof - a series of stairways, towers, and arches... tremendous. The interior was gorgeous as well. Gaudi took a Frank Lloyd Wright approach to most of his projects, in that he designed everything, down to the chairs and door knockers. Fantastico.

The next day, we hoofed it out to Park Güell, and I think of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You...
Chastity: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed... but can you ever just be whelmed?
Bianca: I think you can in Europe.

I was whelmed. Rachel was whelmed. The park is pretty amazing. It's gigantic, with multiple sections with different visual themes... but it was so incredibly overrun with people that I wanted to scream. The last part we visited was the long mosaic tile bench, which winds around the terrace above the main gate... we couldn't see any of it because it was covered by the asses of a thousand fatties. I expected people, but not what seemed like an organized mob sent to piss us off. Rachel and I both left feeling rather letdown, and sought comfort in our cervezas. Perhaps we should have been less naive, but it was, to put it gently, anti-climactic.

The last full day was spent mostly at a beach in Sitges, a tourist town about an hour south of Barcelona. When the water touched our feet, Rachel screamed. It was cold. Cold even for this jaded New Englander. The temperature of the Atlantic off the coast of Maine in early June. COLD! We took a picnic lunch of bread and fruit, which we ate almost immediately. Rachel said, "oh man, I'm not going in." I cocked my head and looked at her because she already knew the answer. We, of course, went in. How do you not swim in the Mediterranean? Sure, our lips literally turned blue (well, violet), but damn it - we went in. And it was good.

One of the scariest/"we can laugh about it now!" moments took place on the last night. Rachel and I decided to take a different route back to our hostel, which was between a Russian a Middle Eastern neighborhood. We head down this street, somewhat populated with people... we soon realize, however, that they're all men. We start getting that fight-or-flight feeling... but then we see a woman hanging out and think "phew!" Turns out that it's a hooker... of course. Meanwhile, the guys are watching, sort of following Rach and I in small clumps. I think to myself, "if street-smart Rach gets freaked out, then I'll freak out, but until then..." As if on cue, Rachel grabs my arm - HARD. Crimeny. We dive off that street to a slightly less freaky street with some drunk clubbers, and start talking...
Rachel: Did you see that?
Alec: You mean the freaking "Thriller" video that was following us?
Rachel: No - the street filled with hookers!
Alec: I saw the one hooker...
Rachel: No - there were more! I looked down one of the alleys and it was FILLED with hookers! AHHH! We're gonna DIE!

As we were walking back towards Las Ramblas to get back to our hostel the non-hooker filled way, we saw a couple of cop cars filled with attractive and extremely bored policemen going to scatter the wolves of Barcelona and the hookers paid to love them. We needed to shower and go to bed. ASAP.

To end on a positive note, earlier that night, Rachel and I went out for dinner and a cute little French family sat next to us. It was a youngish couple with two little boys - a redhead around five or so, and a little blond cherub around two. The two-year-old takes one look at me and was, apparently, smitten. He spent the whole evening smiling at me, hiding his face, then smiling again and trying to edge closer to me on the bench, getting upset only when his mom pulled him back. The mom was thoroughly embarrassed and frustrated, the younger brother thought it was hilarious, and the dad was trying not to smile. When the little one tried to sneak over to our table, I told the mom something in French along the lines of "no worries." She gave me a meek grin and they left shortly thereafter. I would have nabbed him if I thought I could make it through customs with one extra towheaded French toddler than I'd left the country with. He was too cute. I don't know why two-year-olds think I'm awesome, but they do.

Anyway, to sum up this series of random events, I enjoyed Barcelona, but not as much as I thought I would. I didn't fall in love with it - as I had expected. If I had the chance to go back, I guess I would, but not without some reservation (as in "couldn't I go to Seville, instead?") But I'd be willing to see what else it had to offer. And catch up with Gaudi.

The trip home started off frantically, and ended quite easily. Rach and I got to the Barcelona airport in plenty of time, but were told that we had to check our bags - something we'd manage to avoid. No bueno. The flight from Barcelona to Dublin was running late and, on top of that, took longer than expected. We knew we were going to miss the connecting flight and our bags. We touch down in Dublin and us and two guys going to Boston were ushered upstairs, thrown into a van, zoomed through customs, and dropped off at the gate. We ran onto the plane and were greeted by, what else but a pleasant Irish woman who said, "oh, no needtah run garls! The plane inn't going tah leave withoutchu!" I wanted to hug her and stay in that glorious country until they found me and gave me the boot back to its little snot-nosed brother of Boston. We were the last people on the plane and plopped into our seats - which had individual screens and a list of shows and movies to choose from... even an episode of "Father Ted." I was overjoyed. The flight was without incident and when we arrived, we were unnecessarily sassed by a fake-cranky Boston cop (home!)... and both our bags were there! Rachel declared it a St. Patrick's day miracle, in spite of it being about two months late. My parents were only ten minutes late picking us up. It is a miracle!

Back home, Rach and I ate our weight in chips and fruit, crashed and had brunch with my fam the next day at Julian's. At the Providence airport, we parted ways as we always do - without much pomp and circumstance - because we know we'll see each other again.

The end.