Posted tagged ‘new york city’

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – Musical Review

March 18, 2011

Turn Off the Show.

Remember the Spider-Man movies? There were three of them? They all starred doe-eyed Tobey Maguire as he saved doe-eyed Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and thwarted doe-eyed enemies? Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger had a song with Saliva’s Josey Scott called “Hero” in them that topped the VH1 video charts? Well, evidentially there were people for whom the big-screen adaptation of the comic book hero was too dark for, so to satiate the general public when everyone’s favorite wall-crawler debuted on Broadway last fall, his first order was to TURN OFF THE DARK. Joining him in this adventure are his amazing friends bloodsucking parasites director Julie Taymor (The Lion King) and U2’s Bono and The Edge (that rock song from Batman Forever). But with a $65 Million Dollar investment at stake, could this new musical really be the worst thing to hit Broadway since rappers with CD-Rs?

Well, true believers, let me set the tone by explaining exactly when and how I had my dark turned off. My Dad (with whom I had seen all three Spider-Man films as well as, after a chance sighting, met Spider-Man creator Stan Lee with) and I were set to see a matinee screening literally one hour after the announcement of director Julie Taymor being fired. The critically-maligned show was going to go under a dramatic overhaul and we were going to be one of the last to see it in its originally abhorred state. Granted, the show has been in “previews” (performances that are open to the public to purchase tickets for that aren’t “official” screenings, basically the theatrical equivalent of the “do-over” option in Four Square) since last November and had undergone a few cuts already. Having friends who were in the Musical’s test audiences before the version I witnessed, I can say that I was fortunately spared both the calypso/reggae numbers and the original final scene where a civilian runs on stage, drops to his knees and yells “SPIDER-MAN!” before the curtain falls and everybody bows.* But before I tell you what I did see** I would like to reiterate PopularOpinions’ policy of not caring how faithful a work of art is to its original medium. An entertaining show is an entertaining show, so anything from Amazing Fantasy #15 onward did not affect my judgment.

First: the good. Act I is the Spider-Man origin story we all know and love. Peter Parker is a nerd who gets bit by a spider and I’m not going to continue this sentence as if you didn’t know the rest. But we don’t begin with Peter, but with the origin of spiders themselves in Greek mythology. Yes, the show is narrated by four huge comic nerds who want to write the best Spider-Man comic ever, so in a brainstorming session the female amongst them proposes beginning with the Greek myth of Arachne who Athena turned into the first spider. This would be lame had the actual opening number not visually been so breathtaking. The show looks incredible and the Cirque de Soliel-style visuals and overhead fight scenes are like nothing you’ll ever see in a Broadway theater. I can’t praise enough how endlessly enrapturing the visuals are. Along with that, you have a strong cast who really believes in what they’re doing and truly excel with performing things the medium of theater was never intended to do. My Father and I sat at the end of the first half (SPOILER ALERT: Spider-Man triumphs over the Green Goblin and saves the day) somewhat puzzled why the show was getting as absolutely decimated as it was.

HEY THERE! THERE GOES THE SPIDER-MAN!

Then we saw the second act.

Wow. You know how the first half was all origin story? Well, round two is nothing but Taymor and is it ever a confusing mess. Even as someone who just finished reading Ulysses, I found the convoluted hodgepodge of scenes to be exceedingly difficult to follow. We begin with the four nerds introducing the Sinister Six, a group consisting of five beloved Spider-Man villains and Taymor’s own creation ‘The Swiss Miss’ who is something of a female robot that the female nerd proudly boasts she “just made up.” Spidey defeats them and begins having dreams of Arachne, the Greek Spider-Woman-Thing from Act I, calling to him. He can’t decide if he wants to be with this woman-spider we’re to understand only exists in his dream or Mary-Jane and ultimately decides he doesn’t want to be Spider-Man anymore. He casts his costume away, causing Arachne to somehow brings herself into our world*** and has “illusions” of the Sinister Six and the Green Goblin bringing the ruckus until her face off with Peter Parker whose heart is too human to be her Spider so she frees the kidnapped Mary-Jane and everybody bows. Our four nerd narrators disappear halfway through this act and their quest to make the perfect issue isn’t given a proper payoff or even a blowoff. Oh, and did I mention that I can’t name you a single song? The music is completely forgettable as every song seems to blend together, save one number where**** Arachne thinks the only reason Parker wants to be with Mary-Jane is because she has two legs and wears shoes, leading us to a song-and-dance number about how great shoes are in the middle of a Spider-Man musical! The songs only get worse when you imagine a smug Bono having breakthrough after breakthrough, thinking he’s writing songs about Spider-Man and women’s shoes that are so good that America’s going to forgive the debt in Africa. Imagine my half-surprise when it came out that this number was Taymor’s favorite and after months of the show’s producers begging her to remove it, she gave them the ultimatum that if it was cut she would leave the production.

But seriously, outside the plot and the music, it’s great. I can’t stress enough how truly awe-inspiring the visuals are. The fact that I got to physically see Spider-Man swinging from balcony to balcony and actually get on top of a Goblin-Glider riding Green Goblin’s back as they duke it out blows my mind. The choreography is great and the performances are enough to keep things entertaining and make you really wish Act II made some semblance of sense. They’re expecting a gigantic overhaul to the show during it’s upcoming three-week closing, and when it returns it’s a safe bet you’re going to get a much better show. As for how it is now, seeing Spider-Man actually swinging all over the place is more than worth the rush.

We give Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark a Three Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Not a joke.

**As opposed to what I Deadsy, which is “The Key to Gramercy Park.”

***At this point the musical really makes absolutely no sense so you’re going to have to take my word on what I saw on a stage in front of me.

****Again, this is not a joke. This really happened. Somebody thought this was a good idea.

Classic Chaz: My Favorite ODB Moments

November 15, 2010

But I have a little problem with you...

Just stumbled upon this Ol Dirty Bastard piece I wrote five years ago randomly. With the sixth anniversary of his passing this past weekend, it seemed a coincidence worth sharing. Can’t remember where this appeared or what it was for, but here it is.

“Hut one….Hut Two….Hut Three….HUT!

Ol’ Dirty Bastard Live and Uncut!”

That was the battlecry that introduced a generation to the Wu-Tang Clan’s most charismatic and unorthadox member Russel Jones, best known as the MC with “no father to his style,” OL’ DIRTY BASTARD. From his first appearance on wax (“All in Together Now” with Prince Rakeem (Rza) and The Genius (Gza)) to stealing the show on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut Enter the 36 Chambers to his one-of-a-kind solo albums Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version and N*gga Please he was one of the most recognizable figures in hiphop. Despite numerous legal problems and drug addictions, nothing really seemed able to slow the man down. That is, until a year ago today when this statement from his Mother was released:

“This evening, I received a phone call that is every mother’s worst dream. My son, Russell Jones, passed away. To the public, he was known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but to me, he was known as Rusty, the kindest, most generous soul on earth. I appreciate all the support and prayers that I have received. Russell was more than a rapper, he was a loving father, brother, uncle, and most of all, son.”

God Made Dirt

When memorializing ODB, it’s a challenge to pick exactly where to start. If you weren’t present to experience the trials and tribulations of Russel Jones while he was alive, I can imagine such a character would seem like an urban legend or folk tail. Somewhere between Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and GG Allin is the scope that best describes Dirty’s exploits on-and-off stage. So, with chronology being the only order to the following, some of my favorite ODB memories:

1) In 1995, following the successful release of Return to the 36 Chambers: the Dirty Version MTV asked to do a news special on the future Dirt McGirk and follow him around for the day. With an album still in the Billboard top-10, Dirty took his nine kids and MTV with him to the welfare office to pick up his food stamps. When MTV asked if this was morally appropriate, Dirty replied “Who would be dumb enough to turn down free money?” AWESOME!

2) If ODB was in the house, you could be certain something unexpected was going to happen. He was like Anna Nicole Smith, only replace huge t*ts, uncontrolled sexuality, and the ability to always appear coked out with a dirty chic clothing style, uncontrolled everything and the ability to always entertain even while he’s trying to piss you off. This was never more apparent than the 1998 Grammy Awards. The Wu had been inexplicably snubbed for Best Rap Performance by Duo or Group to Puff Daddy and the Family. So, during Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech for “Sunny Came Home,” (and you have no idea how big the smile on my face just got from remembering this) ODB stormed the stage, grabbed the mic, declared he spent way too much money on clothes to lose tonight, and while Puffy is ‘good,’ Wu Tang is not only ‘The Best,’ but ‘for the children!’ ODB was then escorted offstage. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get any better, the next night America as a whole collectivly got to hear Dan Rather say “Ol’ Dirty Bastard.”

3) 1998 seemed like the year the Refugee Camp would take over the music industry. Wyclef’s solo was mandatory for any party, John Forte had “Flash the Message (Ninety-Nine)” getting us both nostalgic and educated to wear three condoms out in Brazil at the same time, Lauryn Hill had locked herself in the studio by herself prepping the world for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Pras hadn’t horribly dissappointed anyone yet. This was in that hazy April-Mayish period that all runs together in a haze when you’re in grade school so I’m not exactly sure on when this occured, but the event was unforgetable. Wycelf, Pras, future girl to have sex with Game: Mya, and ODB were all in the TRL-precursor “MTV Live” studio and taking call-in questions from all over America. With Wyclef being the most outspoken member, he was answering most of the questions as to how “conscious” his clique were, and how much they are trying to give back to the community. Then, and teenage single-mother from Brooklyn (is-in-the-house) called in. She said her question was specifically for Dirty. Half-asleep, Dirty perked up and stared directly into the camera while the girl spoke. She said she could see what Wyclef and Pras were doing for the community, but wanted to know what ODB’s plans were in regard to reaching out to the community. Without missing a beat, as soon as the girl finished speaking Dirty replied “Nothin’.” A five second shocked awkward silence. Then, the whole audience (And then world) erupted in laughter. That September, at the 1998 Video Music Awards, when asked who her favorite member of the Wu Tang Clan was, Madonna said “Ol’ Dirty Bastard.”

4) In 1999, Dirty was invited in the studio to record a remix with LL Cool J. Impatient with waiting for Mr. Cool James, Dirty had to go to the bathroom and took a piss on one of Jack the Ripper’s gold records. LL kicked him out. I laughed.

5) 2003, The Dirty One (then known as both Big Baby Jesus and Dirt McGirk) was released from prison and ready to reclaim his title as the clown prince of rap. And while that Dame Dash cash could get him in the studio, and parade him around with the-the-the-R.O.C., Dirty couldn’t land any solo shows at any major venues or club that would be at his stature before he hit prison/rehab. A message on his website said that if anyone at all wanted to contact him to play a show to get in touch with his manager, who he left their email and phone number. As a result, ODB got offered several shows in the New York underground, opening for various punk, ska, and techno outfits. ODB played everyone. While in most other cases of an artist of Dirty’s caliber being forced to play such shows, eye-witness accounts describe those shows to be among Dirty’s best, having a fire they hadn’t seen since the mid-90’s Wu-Peak. Following his set, Dirty went right into the crowd and reportedly had a great time getting wild and supporting the other acts on the bill.

There’s so many other great Dirty stories, and they fall on the spectrum between signing his solo contract with Elektra and inviting an A&R for Elektra to witness a woman perform fellatio on him and declare “THIS IS HOW I GET MY D*CK SUCKED: ELEKTRA STYLE!” and getting a dozen of onlookers of a 1998 car accidnet to overturn a Ford Mustang and rescue a four-year-old girl who he visited for several weeks until the media got wind of it. He’s a puzzling figure who had a heart of gold and, in his own bizarre, twisted, and dirty way, always meant well.

One year removed from his death, his music still bangs as hard as it ever did. While numerous specials made shortly before his death (VH1’s “Inside Out,” among others) made Dirty look like an exploited disenchanted figure, and the handful of leaked scrapped songs from his sessions completing the record A Son Unique show a certain spark lost from the man who once “had more anger, call me Dr. Stranger,” stories from friends said he was happy and enjoyed life up until his last days when he collasped in the Wu-Tang West 34th St. studio after sneaking a pound cocaine and Tramadol into the states by swallowing it in double-bagged Ziploc plastic bags.

Still, despite his tragic ending that took him from us far too early, Russell Jones’ contributions to hiphop (And award show security) will never be forgotten. We miss you Dirty. You’ve been an inspiration for everyone to be themselves and still pull women, get record deals, get mainstream airplay, and piss on LL Cool J’s plaques. Respect.

“God Made Dirt, Dirt’ll Bust Ya Ass.”

R.I.P. Russell Jones AKA Ol’ Dirty Bastard AKA Big Baby Jesus AKA Dirt McGirk

11/15/68 – 11/13/04

A Tribute to SinSin

October 12, 2010

...where everybody knows your name.

Not unlike the closing of FatBeats, this piece is going to divert from the norm of how we typically do things around here. SinSin is a nightclub in New York City that has a very special place in my heart, and its closing is due to unfortunate circumstances that aren’t for standard economic reasons, but rather something else that I don’t want to cloud this tribute with. Buy me a drink in person some time and I’ll gladly fill you in. Until then, this is my tribute to SinSin.

As I write this, it’s Monday October 11th at 7:34 PM. I’m in-between interviewing possible subletters to take over for a roommate who isn’t able to finish out a lease we renewed for our apartment. Along with the fatigue that comes from playing tour guide, my mind is a bubbling septic tank of stress. Thoughts currently flying through my frontal lobe like a sitcom food fight include preparing a curriculum for my next year of teaching, getting these next few reviews done before my editor chews me out, prepping the proper promotion for my new album, getting to the post office to mail a birthday card for my Grandma, missing someone in another country, assembling questions for a rapper I have to interview on Wednesday about an album he’s so concerned with leaking that I’m unable to hear a single song off it or even see a tracklist, delivering something fresh and worthwhile for a pilot for a children’s show I’ve just got backing for, getting the timing just right so I can buy a new shower curtain from K-Mart and still catch Jesse Abraham’s performance at his record release, pinpointing the dates to fly home for Thanksgiving, calls I have to make, calls I have to return, figuring out what I’m still doing in New York, trying to remember if I have Advil or not and if I really, on all the worst possible nights, just heard the beginning of a thunderous downpour. In a few short hours, I’ll be covering all of these topics and more at a spot on 2nd Ave and 5th Street known as SinSin.

SinSin/Leopard Lounge as rarely seen during the day.

Yes, SinSin. For the past nine years it’s been the host of Freestyle Mondays, a Hip-Hop Open Mic where a live band performs classic rap instrumentals as MCs/Rappers and singers freestyle (as in spontaneously think of and recite) about anything and everything. It’s the last connection to a bygone-era of Washington Square cyphers and tape-trading where rappers would get together and rap for no other reason than that they loved to rap. While it was a great place to make a name for yourself, make friends or network, the main allure always has been the chance to rap or listen to rappers. The nature of Freestyle Mondays and its revolving door of regulars and visitors made each Monday night a completely different show and ridiculously addicting. The band was always excellent, the rappers ranged from brilliant to magnificently bad, and a good time was always had.

Co-hosts Mariella and iLLspokiNN

I know for a fact that if it wasn’t for SinSin, 90% of you wouldn’t know who I am or be reading this right now. I moved to New York for the 2004-2005 school year and while I always knew it was around and revered, I never tried to get in as it was notoriously 21+ with no exceptions. It wasn’t until early sophomore year when I was matched against iLLspokiNN, a rapper I grew up watching bootlegs of his battle performances but never met, at a battle at NYU. After having my mic cut off two bars in after making an suicide joke (NYU had the nation’s highest college suicide rate at the time) and getting boo’ed by the audience, iLL whooped me but still saw something in me and extended an invitation to come and rap at SinSin sometime. I accepted, but never made my way out there until the Monday before Thanksgiving that year when I was supposed to meet-up with BrokeMC of MINDSpray who was going to bring me the gloves I left at the MINDSpray open mic the previous week. I needed the gloves because a recent breakup had killed my plans of being with my then-girlfriend’s family for Thanksgiving and, stuck by myself in New York, I was going to go to the Macy’s Parade. As the fates had it, the bouncer wouldn’t let me in because it “sounded like a lie” so I waited outside for an hour hoping to catch Broke. Just as the downpour picked up, iLLspokiNN arrived and asked me why I wasn’t inside. I told him it was an age issue, so he told the bouncer I was cool and then made me promise I wouldn’t buy a drink from the bar until I turned 21. I agreed, stepped into that red lit room, heard Mariella singing and felt my whole world shift.

I’ve always been something of a loner and, although I’ve always had good friends and hangouts, seldom felt like I really belonged anywhere. SinSin was the first time I felt that comfortable that quickly somewhere. Here were a group of people who loved the same thing I love enough to just get together and do it once a week for no money just because they love to. I was hooked. I started going every week and it wasn’t until about five weeks in that I got my first real crowd reaction, and to finally get that was an incredible feeling. Monday night quickly became the highlight of my week. I arranged my classes at NYU to have Tuesday off just so I could arrive there at 11:00 PM and rap until 3:30. Because of the NYU TA-strike at the time my classes were not in the actual campus buildings but all over the city, and whenever I passed SinSin, I felt like Clark Kent with a heartbeating beneath-that-red-S-beneath-that-business-suit just a little bit prouder. I soon became tied publicly with SinSin as my tremendously talented former roommate Donald A.C. Conley shot a documentary loosely about me, but really focusing on SinSin and its importance in the New York Hip-Hop scene –

Thanks to iLLspokiNN spotting me six bucks, I made my Freestyle Mondays Off-the-Head Gameshow Battle debut in March, 2006 on the night Kirby Puckett died. The battle is a 16-MC Tournament where a wheel is spun and whatever topic it lands on is what the MCs duke it out over. I won that night, and the $5.00 cover and open bar gave me the perfect incentive to begin inviting my college friends to my performances. Once YouTube arrived, my battles started being posted and word about me began to spread. By the end of my sophomore year I began getting coverage, offers to perform, and recognized through all five boroughs and beyond. I spent the next two years purposefully living in an NYU dorm four blocks away just to ensure I could maintain maximum performance consistency week-in and week-out.

But more than just a safe and fun environment to be seen and share what I love with the people in my life (including once when I was surprised by my entire intermediate creative writing class, including my professor, showing up to one of my battles in October 2007), SinSin became the definitive venue for my time in New York. An oasis, soapbox and sanctuary, it’s where I got to weekly stand in front of two dozen friends and 20-100 strangers and vent about math class, student loans, relationships, moving, being under-21, being over-21, being homesick and whatever random pop culture reference(s) popped into my head. I learned how to play to a crowd and still hide obscure nods while rhyming that would result in at least one person walking up to me afterward with their mind blown that they heard someone say “Swift the Fox” at a rap show. Outside of my own performances, I have so many important memories tied to there. From where I took countless visiting friends in the city, to landing my first ever paid writing job by proposing a story on it , to knowing if I wanted to really date a girl by testing her reaction to it, to my first mention in my Minnesota hometown newspaper the Star Tribune via a story on New York Hip-Hop , I can’t imagine how radically different the last five years of my life would have been without it. It’s the first place I went after I cut off my hair, the first place I performed after my grandma and best friend died, the first place where I had my midnight album release party, the first place I resurfaced after getting my nose broken and countless other important firsts I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Coole High, Hired Gun and Rabbi Darkside having a good time at SinSin

While Freestyle Mondays WILL CONTINUE AT A DIFFERENT LOCATION IN NEW YORK CITY, it’s still hard to say goodbye to that second home. People make a place special, but once that place is special it’s special forever. As truly devastated as I am about this turn of events, I feel tremendously fortunate that I was able to have SinSin as a part of my life. No one place has influenced me or shaped me as a person over the past ten years as SinSin has, and while the next three Mondays are going to be a difficult goodbye, they’re still going to be Freestyle Mondays and that means they’re still going to filled with rapping, a lot of fun, and memories that I’ll never forget.

MY EVOLUTION AT SINSIN: A YEAR-BY-YEAR LOOK AT MY HEIGHTENED RAPPING ABILITY AND SHORTENED HAIR

September 2006

March 2007

April 2008

October 2008

March 2009

December 2009

Jimmy’s No. 43’s Evening of Bacon, Chocolate, Cheese and Beer – Food Review

May 26, 2010

Photo courtesy NYMag, used without permission.

I’ve been in living in New York City, New York for almost six years now. During this time not only have I aged chronologically, but I’ve developed the types of tastes for things one has after trying a whole bunch of them. Since my 21st birthday in 2007, my favorite bar in the city and corresponding whole world has been Jimmy’s No. 43. Located on 7th street between 2nd and 3rd Ave in the island of Manhattan, Jimmy’s offers the city’s best beer selection in generous goblets at affordable prices. It’s always been the first place I suggest people check out when they come to the city, and it’s become the first place they mention on every return visit. When people tell me that they aren’t a “beer person,” I assert that they just haven’t had what’s commonly referred to as “good beer” and thus haven’t found the right one. Jimmy’s is where your proper beer type can be found. With such a history of being the best at what they do, imagine my delight when I was offered a chance to take part in their Bacon, Chocolate, Cheese and Beer Festival. Finally, I was going to have the same discerning taste from Jimmy’s beer selecting the best from the other three food groups. As you can imagine, this was all kinds of awesome.

Along with boasting beers brought by Brian Ewing of Twelve Percent Imports and Chocolates by Rhonda Kave of Roni-Sue’s, the evening was co-hosted by some of the foremost experts on these four building blocks of life. Handling the beer, chocolate and cheese side of things were NYCDAT members and world-reknown beer experts Mary Izett and Chris Cuzme. Both have judged countless beer competitions around the world and really know how to simultaneously entertain and educate even with the distraction of flavor perfection in front of us. Also hosting was meat mastermind and star of the Mr. Cutlets Show Josh Ozersky. Ridiculously charismatic, his bacon communication skills made each course especially galvanizing to the point where the vegetarian who accompanied me dropped her years-long meatless streak in the name (and taste) of the bacon excellence. Mr. Ozersky is the David Koresh of Cold Cuts and in one night made me feel like I had a BA in Baconology*.

The Four Elements of Awesome

Beginning the night was an explanation of what makes beer, bacon, chocolate and cheese great. Seeing as most of us would merely answer that question with “they’re awesome,” the hosts laid the basics out to understand what to look for and appreciate exactly what makes them so “awesome,” which was awesome. We started with the basic, familiar non-threatening Oscar Mayer Hearty Thick Cut. The Talib Kweli of bacons, it acted as a great control to test the variable bacons (variabacons?) over the course of the evening. Chasing it with the Detroit’s delightful Atwater Maibock beer (ABV 7%) it cleansed our pallets and set them up for more increasingly-perfect perfections. I know that may read like grammatically incorrect hyperbole, but this was a night of sampling the best examples of the best things in the world. It was the Met, the MoMa, the Guggenheim and Wrestlemania all rolled into one, converted to food form, and spread over the course of one enchanted evening.

Having been in New York for so many years (the majority of which I was a vegetarian) it was a nice surprise to revisit Iowa’s Vande Rose Farms Applewood Smoked Bacon. A midwest staple, the news of them recently going national should ring an alarm for anyone even remotely interested in waking up to a delectable “edible animal**.” This arrived with the first cheese of the night, France’s Saint-Andre Triple Cream and the Toria Tripel (8.5%). Each course was matched together exquisitely with beer, bacon, chocolate and cheese the complimented each other flawlessly. I awoke that morning not expecting to learn that traditionally the best bacon comes from a pig’s jowls, but after having Burgers’ Smokehouse Country Pork Jowl Bacon with Farmhouse Cheddar and Jevel Pilsener, I’m not only agreeing to agree but full blown testifying.

My favorite pairing of the night was Benton’s Smoky Country Hams Hickory Bacon (Tennessee) with Roni-Sue Chocolates’ Portly Fig Truffle and Hopfenstark LouLou Porter. The richness in all three was an amazing cornucopia to savor. After six wonderful combinations, the night came to a close and between the hosts, the atmosphere and the wonderful edibles, Jimmy’s has continued its standard of greatness through three more mediums. While I always recommend the intelligent unpretentious atmosphere (where else in New York can you affordably get the finest beers and enjoy them surrounded by wonderfully mediocre crayon drawings of elks while listening to Outkast’s ATLiens?) to everyone I can, this evening of Bacon, Chocolate, Cheese and Beer was truly something special. They announced plans to make this a monthly event, and I’d HIGHLY suggest you do what you can to be there.

We give Jimmy’s No. 43’s Evening of Bacon, Chocolate, Cheese and Beer a Five Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Something I would have majored in had I gone to NYU’s Galletin School of Individualized Study. Alas, the closest Tisch had was Cinema Studies.

**Josh’s words that I had to reuse. FUN FACT: This is what’s known as a “quote!”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – One Year Later

April 30, 2010

Genesis 18:20

During his 1817 visit to Florence, Italy, French author Henri-Marie Beyel fell victim to a psychosomatic illness now known as Stendahl Syndrome. Characterized by fainting, catatonia and intense hallucinations triggered by being overwhelmed by art, it is believed to be the result of a literal sensory overload. With the majority of the outbreaks happening in Florence where works are particularly lush and plentiful, one could make the argument their art having such an impact the highest compliment an artist could receive. But what about when a work of art causes an overtly negative reaction that pushes its viewers to the absolute limit causing a passionate outburst of violent anger? So was the opening night screening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or as actor Steven Trolinger put it, “the worst thing that has ever happened.”

It’s hard to believe one year has passed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, henceforth referred to as The Events of 5/1. Before we continue, I’d like to point out that I absolutely do not care in the slightest about a film’s faithfulness to its source material. While my familiarity with the Marvel Universe is above-average, I can recognize that comics and film are both different mediums and can divorce the merits of one when evaluating the other. My loathing for this film isn’t because I feel some nostalgic loyalty, but rather because it is an absolute abomination on every imaginable level.

Leviticus 18:25.

For every hyperbolic critique people tend to lob at a movie, this was perhaps the first time that all of them were true. Most glaringly, there was no plot. No story. At all. Some of you reading this now may remember thinking the “movie” was “OK,” “wasn’t that bad” or that you even “liked it.” Well riddle me this, what was the “movie” about? I challenge you, in once sentence, to describe The Events of 5/1. The whole 82 minute running time is an attention-deficit fueled* experiment in human endurance. Don’t get it twisted, I love a good summer blockbuster shiny-go-boomy movie as much as the next real American, but if I’m going to turn my brain off I don’t need it pried from my skull.

“Director” Gavin Hood is the “film’s” cinematic angel of death. His inept handling of The Events of 5/1 seems to almost be intentional. Either that, or he has perhaps never seen a motion picture before and doesn’t understand how they work. Evidence for this is seen in an overhead shot of a character looking to the sky and screming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” happening no less than FOUR (4) times in the film. Even what would be the film’s highlight, the opening scene of Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, some truly inspired casting) smart-mouthing a room full of soon dead bad guys, becomes inverted into one of the film’s greatest flaws as we don’t see the character for another seventy minutes until he returns with his mouth sown shut and everything endearing about the character removed.

Psalms 7:14

But the silver lining in the F-5 funnel cloud that was The Events of 5/1 was seeing it opening night in New York City and, for the first time, seeing an entire audience turn on a “film.” Even with the bootleg leaking over a month prior** the entire theater was sold out and packed into Union Square like chickens in a slaughterhouse. The first five minutes seemed fine, heroic action was cheered and one-liners were repeated with the word “bitch” added to the end, all-in-all a typical opening night Manhattan screening. But then, the first “NOOOOOOOO” happen and the audience stared in dumbfounded silence. Were we not in on some joke? Ten minutes later, serious revelations were met with laughter, moments of heartbreak were heckled and action sequences were met with outright groans. Yes, it was that bad and this summer movie “opening weekend” audience knew it. It got so bad that when the credits rolled, the audience (and I swear to gosh this happened) rose to their feet and BOO’ed the movie while pelting the screen with garbage. There was no smattering of applause as rows of disenchanted moviegoers cleared the theater row-by-row with heads hung like a Catholic funeral. When it came time for the bonus scene at the end of the credits, I optimistically yelled from the balcony “HANG ON EVERYBODY, THIS IS GOING TO REDEEM EVERYTHING!” not anticipating that us remaining moviegoers were to be subjected to the absolute worst most hackneyed written moment of dialogue in the history of cinema. The audience boo’ed again, and we all went out separate ways in order to drink to forget.

1 Kings 21:20

With it still having an impressive weekend and Fox hoping to make a sequel and several spinoffs, some are clamoring for a reboot of the franchise. I disagree as, living in a world where X-Men Origins: Wolverine was made and released, I think we need a reboot of humanity as a whole. It’s important that we never forget the Events of 5/1 or else we are doomed to repeat them. Just as the Bush Administration will be defined by 9/11, Obama’s legacy will be that of letting The Events of 5/1 happen under his watch. I attempted to find a copy of the film to listen to the director’s commentary, hoping there would be some explanation for letting such an atrocity take place, but it’s been stripped from all the copies at rental outlets and only made available through the deluxe $34.99 Blu-Ray edition of the film and I flat-out refuse to contribute any more to their evil empire.

We Give X-Men Origins: Wolverine aka The Events of 5/1 a Zero Out of Five

Until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Realistically speaking, if there was a fuel for the film it would be some mixture of Surge, Red Bull and the liquid at the bottom of the ham in your Lunchables.

**A bootleg which, in all honesty, is a superior cut if only for using the scores of The Dark Knight and Transformers in place of Harry Gregson-Williams’ series of noises.

R.I.P. Keith “Guru” Elam 1966-2010

April 21, 2010

RIP

On April 19th 2010 Keith Elam, better known as rapper “Guru,” lost his largely unreported battle with cancer. After a month in coma, the Boston-born MC left planet Earth and said “Suave.” There’s been an unfortunate amount of controversy surrounding his death, namely his manager enforcing a strict list of who was allowed to see him that did not include his family and a “goodbye letter” that seems uncharacteristically petty and possibly a forgery, which has added a troubling coda to one of the genre’s most prolific legacies. In the interest of a proper sendoff, I’d like to focus instead on the music that made the man great.

NOTE: Not the Actual Cover

Guru is known to most as one-half of seminal Hip-Hop duo Gang Starr. Along with DJ Premier, the two signed to Wild Pitch in the late-80s, releasing their first album No More Mr. Nice Guy.. While it spawned two successful singles in “Positivity” and “Words I Manifest,” the group was still defining their sound, a vision they realized on 1991’s Step in the Arena. Widely considered their official debut, Arena became the template for the often imitated rap-jazz hybrid sound of the early 90s. Back by Premier’s layered orchestrations, Guru showcased an intentionally monotone flow and simplified writing style that wasn’t a dumbing down, but rather an enforced minimalism that make the presentation of his Nation of the Gods and Earth beliefs and socio-political concerns more subtle and effective than most of his genre’s peers. This album also began one of rap’s strongest four album streaks that included 1992’s Daily Operation, 1994’s Hard to Earn and 1998’s Moment of Truth. Longevity is rare in Hip-Hop, but the two achieved it through not only changing with the times but making the times change with them.

One of my personal favorites is their song “Ex Girl to Next Girl.” Released in 1992, it’s a rare look at relationships-after-relationships that remains mature without sounding particularly soft-batch. Guru’s performance on the song is nothing short of perfection, playing up the realistic ups-and-down of both sides without overindulging in bravado or “emo” tendencies that typically ruins others’ similar attempts. The flow shows an earnest reflection, giving the song a conversational sound that conveys a recognizable familiarity to the listener. This everyman’s Superman persona heard here would remain one of Guru’s most recognizable traits throughout his career.

Another one of his most memorable performances came in the form of 1994’s Nice and Smooth collaboration “Dwyck.” One of those verses that everyone in Hip-Hop seems to have memorized, the stream-of-conscious lyrics that effortlessly change subject with every bar gives the performance an almost puzzling unpredictability while inadvertently celebrating how diverse Guru’s subject matter is. Most first-and-foremost remember the “Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is / I get more stunts and props than Bruce Willis” couplet, but remember it’s immediately preceded by a gun reference and followed by name dropping Langston Hughes. Not too many could get away with covering such a wide-range of topics in four bars, but somehow Guru made it work.

Apart from Gang Starr, Guru found success with his Jazzmatazz collection. Along with being one of rap’s few successful concept-albums, it achieved the even rarer-feat of reaching out to rappers from other countries and even other languages and still being successful. Not only a smash in the states, the international flavor of the first Jazzmatazz lead to the album becoming circulated worldwide. To this day I hear stories of people coming back from visiting everywhere from Israel to Argentina and hearing “Yeah, I was having brunch at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant when suddenly someone threw on Jazzmatazz and everybody, knowing what it was, just started vibing out.” Why does one man have such an appeal? Maybe it’s the storytelling, maybe it’s mostly the voice. Either way, it’s an unfortunate loss for Hip-Hop as one seminal catalog comes to an end and a shining talent slides into the sunset.

For further reading, please check out the homie Timlaska’s analysis of Gang Starr’s Step in the Arena and Hard to Earn.

Mr. Beatz “Spit Therapy” – Album Review

March 30, 2010

"Yes, you've seen me." Mr. Beatz

Few faces are as ubiquitous in the New York underground Hip-Hop scene as Mr. Beatz. Having been seen everywhere from the dead prez “(Bigger Than) Hip Hop” and Homeboy Sandman “Lightning Bolt” videos to being the special guest DJ for all of your five-borough favorites, it’s rare to even open your window without seeing Mr. Beatz somewhere out there supporting Hip-Hop. Whether it be DJing, MCing, or just about any other aspect of the Hip-Hop culture, chances are you’ve seen Beatz do it. Finally, after a decade of being a dependable staple, he’s ready to unleash his debut album Spit Therapy.

Not one to let any of his talents go to waste, Beatz handles the bulk of the album’s rhymes, beats and scratches. Such a rare trait is exactly why the record sounds as cohesive as it does. Being such a Hip-Hop renaissance man has given him a unique ear, finely tuned to know exactly how he wants the album to sound. The strengths of this tremendous advantage extends beyond his own work in to the album’s contributions of others. Like the best Hollywood directors, Beatz knows what outside production fits the soundscape and who would sound the best over it. East Coast favorites such as Homeboy Sandman (“The Cypher”), M-Tri, Niles Davis and Stronghold’s Poison Pen (“Underground’s Finest”) and Solomon Jazz (the album’s title track) all give some of their best guest performances, complimenting the record perfectly.

But Beatz’s solified persona is why the album works. While I’m typically of the belief that a changing man is more interesting than a changed man, the combination of his knowledge-of-self and honesty gives Spit Therapy the strongest portrayal of a New York artist this year. Sounding like something that would feel right at home if released on Fondle ‘Em Records, the dedication here shows a man who attempts to pull out all the stops in order to make the best rap album of 1997 in 2010. With exclusively sample-based production and non-singing repetition-based hooks, he makes it easy to guess what makes up his iPod playlists. Even his vocal performances, while they bear the same vocal inflections as his freestyles that give the album a certain energy and unpredictability, the attention to syllables shows someone who must have racked his brain for hours on end to max out every possible rhyme possibility.

See him live! I'll be there too! Could you pick me up a Diet Pepsi on the way for me? Thanks!

However, it’s these moments of overthinking things where the record comes up short. While many of the East Coast underground singles of the late-90s that most influenced this record had their flaws come from the aspects that didn’t age well, Spit Therapy suffers from the same troubles, only now the wounds are fresh. While it was a nice almost-nostalgic feeling of hearing someone non-ironically using the word “lyrically” as an adverb again, by the end of the album its presence is just a little too much. The same goes for Beatz’s own intros and outros on the songs. While the conversational tone he strikes with his collaborators like The Avid Record Collector (“Plain and Simple”) and Skammadix (“Blues Brothers”) replicates the fun he had making the song in the listening, there are a handful of moments where his post-song rants become him beating the listener over the head with the concept. With an album that defines so clearly who Beatz as a person is, it’s just unnecessary for him to tell us who he isn’t.

Who he is goes beyond the album’s aesthetics and goes as far to break the fourth wall at moments and show, in his words, “not even Mr. Beatz right now, but Randy Wing.” “Above Water” deals with the very real oft-overlooked aspects of maintaining a real life while your nights are spent rapping, “Throw it All Away” chronicles every rappers’ moments of self doubt and the unexpected closer “Pictures and Memories” deals with the dimensions of mourning one goes through at a lost loved one’s wake. These songs elevate the record as Spit Therapy’s primary focus of braggadocios battle rap and boom-bap purity follows a formula that wouldn’t normally lend itself to such intimacy and vulnerability. What results is a very balanced MPC Manifesto of an MC who knows exactly what he wants to do and almost does it perfectly. The album that any number of 90s battle rappers should have released a decade ago, Spit Therapy stands alone as underground rap’s renaissance, requiem and regeneration.

We give Spit Therapy a Three Out of Five.

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!