Snow Patrol – Final Straw

I think the first Scottish pop bands I really fell for were The Wedding Present and Teenage Fanclub. That was almost fifteen years ago, I still love them, but with the semi-recent emergence of Belle and Sebastian and the Scots pop scene that has gathered around it (Reindeer Section, Arab Strap, etc.), a legitimate scene has emerged. I stumbled upon Snow Patrol a few years ago, listened to the album a bunch of times and then just kind of filed it away.

But, like the Super Furry Animals whose first few records were passably average, it was “Rings Around the World” the band’s fifth full length that finally matched talent with potential. The “Final Straw” is that record for Snow Patrol, carried largely on the silky vocals of Gary Lightbody, the band alternates between old school dreamy shoegazing rock and an almost Sebadoh kind of melodic punk. Unlike many bands to have recently made records that fall into this syrupy folky-pop niche, Snow Patrol can rock, and do occasionally.

But this record is very good, the songs all have great memorable hooks, and in a different world would even stand a chance on commercial radio. But as luck would have it the band will likely remain slightly hidden gems for the time being. They never bother to lapse into commercial accessibility the way they easily could, a la David Gray, but at some point I’m sure they trip themselves up and make that record that the world will love. I hope they do.

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Raising Victor Vargas – Dir. Peter Sollett

Directed by: Peter Sollett
Starring: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz

The fact that I lived in the East Village in the early 90’s, a time before $25 Sea Bass on Avenue C, and $1M apartments sprinkled throughout Alphabet City, makes watching this perfect little indie even more enjoyable than it might have been had the neighborhood been less familiar. Shot on a miniscule budget, and using real neighborhood kids as actors, “Raising Victor Vargas” is less “movie” than it is “slice of real life captured on film.” Growing up in a city is very often a less than carefree experience for children, and watching Victor whittling away the summer in the steamy New York heat, with no spending money and only a tiny apartment filled with an unstable family is really an interesting juxtaposition to the unreality of sitcoms like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” where New York offers this kind of warm and generous world to kill time and enjoy life.

Focused largely on the teenage Victor and his brother and sister, orphaned kids being raised by their grandmother in a cramped welfare apartment, the story is largely about Victor’s pursuit the seemingly aloof Judy. Where the film could easily slide into sentimental crud, director Sollett keeps the film at bay, largely eavesdropping on the characters as they go about there lives day by day just hoping to get along. But this has everything to do with the compelling performances from everyone in the cast. Sure they are just playing themselves, but this is not nearly as easy as it looks to block out the camera and pretend to be yourself.

Although the family drama that underscores Victor’s story acts as a powerful backdrop for the examination of the life of children in this part of the world, this is a very different city than that of most NYC films: no mafia, gangs, rich uptown yuppies, or drug dealers – just regular people trying to get by in a very difficult. Ultimately “Victor Vargas” is a hidden gem, as is the neighborhood where it takes place, filled with the colors and smells of the people who live there, managing to find a way to make the seasons pass gracefully.

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Wonderland – Directed by: James Cox

Directed by: James Cox
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Tim Blake Nelson, Lisa Kudrow

Of the many kinds of films that filmmakers set out to create, the art of constructing one that is genuinely “cool” is a not so easy task. Tarrantino figured it out, as did Jim Jarmusch , Gus Vant Zant, and Todd Haynes, along with relative newcomers Doug Limon, P.T. Anderson, and Darren Aronofsky. But to make the modern hipster classic you need everything to work – music, wardrobe, cast, editing, cinematography and subject. Another piece of cultural flotsam that has finally become nearly mainstream cool is porn, or at least porn celebrities: Ron Jeremy, Jenna Jamison, and who could forget John C. Holmes – the king of cool among other things.

In James Cox gritty and largely solid but barely seen film “Wonderland” he conquers both the cool of the time (1981) by chronicling the demise of the great Johnny Wadd as he reaches the nadir implicated in the brutal Wonderland killings. The film is awash in the sex, drugs, murder, in and around the seedy LA underground. Kilmer puts up another spot-on performance as a tweaked-out coke fiend looking to set up one last score.

There are quite a few holes in “Wonderland,” but you have to give credit to the ambiguous look at Holmes himself as both a washed up junkie with nothing left to offer, and also as a living legend with two women still very much in love with him. The film is filled with violence, as most drug films are, but also with a kind of weird and frantic sense of humor. Edited and time-warped from the splintered perspective of a basehead the film starts and stops in an oddly natural way with soundtrack that edges it nicely along. Somewhere between “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Boogie Nights” the film finds a kind of whacked out center, dusted with cameo’s by everyone from Tim Blake Nelson and Lisa Kudrow to Eric Bogosian and Jeneane Garofalo. It’d be hard to not enjoy this film, but then again not everyone is able to grasp onto a little slice of cool.

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Super Size Me – Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Starring: Morgan Spurlock

I was sitting on the couch watching some tv this past sunday with my girlfriend and we felt like watching a movie, a solid Sunday afternoon plan right? So we decided to give Time Warner cable’s video on demand service a go. In a nutshell, Time Warner needs to bolster their infrastructure as we were unable to watch a movie, any movie. We just kept getting error messages with an 800 number to call. We naturally dialed the number only to get an automated message stating that too many people were watching movies and that we would have to wait and try again later. Fantastic. I guess the Sunday afternoon movie really was a good plan. Only mildly phased, we looked at some listings and saw that Super Size Me was playing at a nearby movie theater in 15 minutes. So we managed the unthinkable, we rallied and rushed spontaneously to a new release movie without tickets and not only got in but got good seats and didn’t miss a second of the movie. Anyone who has or does live in New York City will acknowledge that this is a near impossible feat, it’s all about the fandango/moviefone pre-purchased guaranteed entry tix.

When I first heard about Super Size Me i knew it was something that I would need/have to see for several different reasons. First, as a result of my European upbringing here in New York City (both my parents are European) and spending all my summers as a youth in France and Italy, being a foodie came most easily and naturally to me. More than just being a foodie, I also happen to be utterly repulsed by fast food and eat it only under the most dire of circumstances: being stuck on a highway in the middle of nowhere and famished would probably qualify while a death defying hangover could on the rare occasion also be a just cause. Let it be noted for the record that I know how my body reacts to the ultra-rare ingestion of that garbage: cold sweats, stomach aches, gastro intestinal distress (we all know what that means, ok one guess: does the word explosive mean anything to you?), lethargy, and the inevitable skin breakouts in the days following the eating incident, and that all happens to me after 1 “meal”. That being said the thought of watching someone eat nothing but fast food for a month straight, and only McDonald’s no less, was just too good to pass up. Yes, I knowingly admit that there was a voyeuristic component in my wanting to see this documentary.

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