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April 1, 2010 01:26 PM


Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene and Heath Freeman in Skateland.

The ’80s couldn’t possibly have been this cozy. Skateland, Anthony Burns’ 1983-set coming of age story, is warm, welcoming and seen through a high gloss of nostalgia. The gorgeous light and loving cinematography say more about how Burns and company feel about the decade than any number of goofy, throwaway lines about how hot the cars (and the high-waisted jeans) were.

Skateland wears its John-Hughes-loving heart firmly on its sleeve even before the words “in memory of John Hughes” pop up at the beginning of the credits. Burns uses the sentimental value of pop songs like a true Hughes devotee; his female characters are perceptive and loyal in a way that suggests the influence of Watts and Amanda Jones from the Hughes-penned Some Kind of Wonderful.

But Skateland is no John Hughes movie. (Keep reading...)

For the most part, it succeeds at what Burns said, in the after-film Q&A, he wanted to do: tell an honest story of the era. Skateland follows 19-year-old Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) through one uncertain summer. His dreams get cracked; his parents split up; the skating rink where he works is going to close. He’s a writer with a slow-burning thing for the girl next door, Michelle (Twilight’s Ashley Greene, looking oddly like Teri Hatcher). Michelle's older brother, Brent (co-writer Heath Freeman), has recently returned home after things went vaguely awry with his motorcross career. (Ritchie’s other best bud, blond ladies’ man Kenny, is played by Taylor Handley of the Eugene-set Zerophilia.)

Summer drifts by like summers do. Parties, work, hanging out. Ritchie’s happy enough not making a plan for his future, which drives Michelle crazy. It drives me crazy that Michelle’s character is so built around Ritchie; she comes close to displaying depths and desires and her own agenda, but Skateland is so fully Ritchie’s film that her character’s second-fiddle position is primarily to push and push at her foot-dragging beau. On the flip side, too much of Ritchie’s easygoing, indecisive character is built on Michelle’s perception of him: She loves his writing, but we never see a piece of it. Similarly, he’s attached to Skateland, but the rink’s closing is a catalyst — at the very least, Ritchie has to get a new job — and little else. It’s there as a parallel to Ritchie’s parents’ divorce, and neither is satisfactorily explored. Each is a marker, a brief indicator of the way change is affecting this little East Texas town.

If Burns (and his fellow writers, Brandon and Heath Freeman) is a little transparent in his plotting, Skateland is nonetheless disproportionately lovely to look at, a hazy vision of 1983 as seen by someone who heard the stories and is sure it was an awesome time. Though the plot trucks along conventionally, the last reveal is so gentle and generous, it brought a lump to my throat. And, oddly, a pivotal car chase suggests that Burns has a future as an action movie director. The automotive face-off between Ritchie and Brent and the Four Horsemen, as their nemeses are dubbed, is tense, fierce and, most importantly, coherent. Burns never loses track of exactly where his characters are, which heightens and sustains the sense of danger.

The filmmaking here is sleek and sharp (the long take that opens the film is the roller rink’s best moment), and the production design is spotlessly, amusingly period. But the fact is, I keep thinking Adventureland when I should be thinking Skateland. As goes Ritchie, with his sleepy eyes and reluctantce to face change, so goes the film, which drifts too indulgently to make much of an impression. But damn, if it doesn’t look good.

March 30, 2010 08:34 PM

I would be wary of too highly praising the low-key and charming Cold Weather were it not for one thing: I went into the movie with what might've been, in another film, an unfairly high level of anticipation. A critic whose opinion I generally hold in high regard, L.A. Weekly’s Karina Longworth, called it the first unqualified hit of SXSW.

So I had expectations. And I’m glad I had time to sit with my thoughts about the film, to lets its damp windows and dingy motel drift through my mind as I walked around Austin, or sat on a plane on the way home, or stared out the window, dotted with rain just like the one in the film’s opening scene. Aaron Katz’s third film is confident — so much so that its ending feels like a shock. At first.

Cold Weather is a perfect depiction of a certain kind of aimlessness, the kind that comes not from lack of talent, or lack of skill, but lack of impetus. Its main character, Doug (Cris Lankenau), carries his lack of direction in his posture, slump-shouldered and stiff-armed. He’s ditched a degree in forensic science to move in with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), in a Portland apartment full of unopened boxes and half-built Ikea coffee tables. She works in an office; he gets a job in an ice factory, where he makes friends with Carlos (Raúl Castillo), who doesn’t believe that Doug loves Sherlock Holmes novels. Doug, in turn, doesn’t really believe Carlos is a DJ. Everyone’s expectations of everyone else are as fogged as rain-streaked glass.

When Doug’s ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), turns up, the film shifts, but it’s not a love triangle. It becomes, swiftly and delightfully, a mystery like the ones Doug so loves to read. And he becomes a detective, poring over books on cryptography and lifting penciled codes from a notepad. The library is his biggest toolbox, Gail his best assistant; she’s as reluctantly game for Doug’s detective efforts as she is, earlier in the film, to play hooky for a day and go to the overcast Oregon coast (I’m not sure it’s ever actually sunny in this film. Not raining, sure. But sunny? I can’t recall a bright scene). Their efforts are goofy, sweet, absurd and effective, and have the added effect of making TV detectives, with their fitted suits and terse dialogue, seem patently ridiculous.

Cold Weather is Katz’s third feature to premiere at SXSW. His earlier films — which I’ve yet to see — stir people to reference mumblecore, and I can see the connection in the natural, meandering conversations of his characters, in their ordinary jobs and perfectly individual, perfectly ordinary apartments, jackets, heavy wool sweaters. But Cold Weather is more formally lovely than any mumblecore film I’ve yet seen (and I do have a modest taste for the genre, if you can really call it that). Its cool Oregon light is perfect; its framing is precise; its dialogue is crisply convincing, dryly funny (Doug, fixated on his quest, decides he must have a pipe; his shopping experience does not go as expected) and perfectly balanced, revealing without ever leaving the characters to explain too much. So much is caught in the physical, in the stolen sip of coffee Longworth mentions in her review, or in the body language of Gail and Doug as they hunch over a bar or lean over the ledge of their apartment building’s roof, dropping grapes and watching them splatter. Theirs is a slightly contentious, ever impatient sibling revelry, smartly observed and elegantly depicted in Katz’s compact, playfully moody film. I hope you get to see it.

March 30, 2010 05:27 PM

Warpaint @ Lustre Pearl [unofficial day show] Lustre Pearl, a converted house just blocks away from the Austin Convention Center (and right behind an IHOP), might’ve been my favorite venue of the week. The building, tucked behind a rusty fence (the pic above was taken while I stood in line), is small, just a few rooms, one taken over by a bar, but the backyard area is huge, and complete with taco truck. The delight of finding a Brooklyn Lager (a sentimental choice) went nicely with the delight of finding Warpaint absofuckinglutely amazing. They were good at Sam Bond’s last year. They were superb in the middle of the afternoon in Austin, creating a dense, precise wash of sound, winding vocals in and out with such ease that it seemed like the music just hung there, undulating, in the middle of the sprawling white tent. I can’t remember songs. I can’t remember how many there were, or which they played, or if they were the ones I wanted to hear. It wasn’t that kind of show. It was like a big aural vacuum: You’re sucked in, you live in it, and then it’s over and nothing that comes next is going to be quite as good.

I nommed a fantastic taco and split after four Rogue Wave songs. I love Rogue Wave as much as the next pop-harmony sucker, but my magical spell had been all busted up and I wanted to be somewhere else.

Frightened Rabbit @ Mess With Texas [non-SXSW awesome minifestival] Standing in line for the Mess With Texas fest, a delightful bit of counterprogramming that I would commit unpleasant acts to have happen in Eugene, I heard Billy Bragg, and I cursed whatever bit of timing had made me arrive when I did, and not half an hour earlier. Bragg broke into “A New England” and I got goosebumps; is there a more plaintive, honest love-longed-for song? Could it be sung in a better voice than Bragg’s haunting, slightly creaky British tones? The answer you’re looking for is “No.”

The FRabbits were lovely and the crowd was huge and the sound was imperfect. I stood in the back, too close to a tent in which the curious, mostly women, were perching on a Harley-Davidson and revving the shit out of it. You can see how that might affect the mood. But I'd watch Frightened Rabbit through just about anything.

Jenny Owen Youngs @ Live Create Lounge The Live Create Lounge was well-stocked with free nutrional bars, phone chargers and overpriced beer. I took appropriate advantage of each and watched Youngs, who looks like a poster girl from the ’60s and sings like it’s as easy as breathing. Her pop-folk songs tend to the catchy and disconcertingly sweet-sounding, with an underlying steeliness, and she deserved to play to a bigger, more attentive crowd.

Anya Marina @ Maggie Mae’s I was curious about two things: Marina with a band, and the venue in which she was playing, with its multiple levels and slightly confusing staircases. Marina with band was fine, but unexpectedly lackluster, despite her perky, “fuck”-dotted stange banter; I think she’s got more personality than is showing through in her songs. Maggie Mae’s offered a nice vantage point from which to look down on Sixth Street, where the crowds had yet to reach their full nighttime density.

Patrick Stump @ Dirty Dog Bar Stump practically snuck onto the stage; there was no fanfare, and if some people didn’t immediately recognize the Fall Out Boy singer, newly shorn and less more than a few pounds, it seemed likely he liked it that way. (“Hi. I’m Patrick,” was all he offered as introduction.) But there was an off-kilter feel to his five-song performance. He tore around the stage for the first song, getting loops going with each instrument, proving himself a capable musician, but when the song finally settled in, there just wasn’t much to it: a bit of funk, that soulful vocal delivery, and what else? It wasn’t just Stump’s feverish uncertainty — which suits him when it’s in the lyrics; one song trades “This is my confession” for “I’ve got nothing to confess” in a matter of seconds — it was the nagging feeling that maybe these tunes (unrecorded, he said) weren’t ready for their close-up just yet. Operative word there being "yet."

Les Savy Fav @ Galaxy Room Backyard At one in the morning, those that aren’t wearing out are getting wearing on those that are. You follow me? Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington was as cuckoo as ever — was that a Wild Things costume he was wearing at first? — tearing about the stage, fucking with the lights, ripping up glowsticks, all that jazz, but something was missing. Penultimate SXSW night blues? The general lack of movement in the crowd? Everyone woke up for “Patty Lee,” which mustered up a bit of a singalong. It went like this: “Back before Babylon,” Harrington roared, and fans joined in, “SHIT WAS COOL!” This was almost as awkward — and equally entertaining — as when crowds sing along with Cursive’s self-aware songs about being self-aware dudes in a self-aware band.

March 29, 2010 12:02 PM

This email came from Brian Cutean this morning. I'm reposting it just as it is; hopefully someone out there can help.

Dear friends,

Eugene musician and music teacher William "Chico" Schwall had a devastating break-in at his work space and a lot of equipment was stolen when he was out working. We're asking local media to please help publicize this list. Share the list. Pass it on to anyone who should see it. Some of these instruments are unique and would be easy to spot.

Many thanks. Any information should be sent to Chico's at 541.684.8216.

Keep reading for the complete list of stolen items.

The list:

2006 iMac Intel computer serial # W8605C6PU2N

1971 Martin D-28 guitar serial # 208476
Top is "aged" in. Spruce top, rosewood back & sides. Nice condition.
Black case with stickers, including one that says, "Squirrel --the other
white meat"

Late 30's Kalamazoo archtop guitar
honey-colored top, f-holes. K&K pickups on inside top
In oversized black case

Late 30's New York Epiphone mandolin
Family heirloom, quite rare. F-style body with scroll and f-holes,
Assymetrical Epi peghead. Wide fingerboard, figured maple back, sunburst
finish. Easy to spot since very few of them exist.

Recent Guild acoustic flat top guitar serial # GAD- 20848
Cutaway, wood binding, old-style Guild logo (not the new script one),
Padouk back & sides (reddish). Tweed case.

Carvin C980T12 acoustic 12-string guitar
Rounded "jumbo" body, cutaway. Onboard electronics & tuner
Abalone trim, spruce top, rosewood back & sides

Roscoe Wright handmade custom Tele-style guitar
Bubble Maple top, binding, rosewood strip through the neck,
initials (FC, in nearly illegible script) inlaid on fingerboard. Unique.
Black bag. I have photos.

Danelectro 12-string electric guitar
red with white pickguard

Avante Baritone Acoustic guitar
large "cubist" acoustic body, spruce top Mahogany back & sides

Parker P 38 electric guitar
three pickup (plus piezo) sunburst, pearl pickguard. black bag

Rogue resophonic electric-acoustic guitar
Shallow body with f-hole and cutaway. Natural finish, metal resonator

Dean Solidbody electric guitar. Two pickups, dark natural finish

Fender TeleCoustic guitar
Dark natural top, black plastic back.

DeArmond solidbody electric 7-string guitar
Gray painted finish

Apple Creek Dulcimer in rectangular black case. solid wood.

Seymour Duncan SFX - 03 Twin Tube Classic pre-amp
metal casing, 6 knobs, two switches.

Black cube-shaped fabric microphone case with assorted mikes: '58 clones,
a beta 57, a couple of condensers. Cables and clips.

small black 'sports illustrated' binocular case with four harmonicas.

Pro Co "Rat" guitar pedal

Boss Ce-2 Chrous pedal

Overdrive pedal

Korg chromatic electronic tuner. black with painted red dots.

Black small brim fedora Stetson hat


March 27, 2010 01:08 PM

I’m not the world’s biggest Motörhead fan, but even I can’t even see the name “Lemmy” without seeing that creased brow and hearing “The ace of spades! The ace of spades!” in my head. Motörhead is universal; Motörhead is monumental. Motörhead’s Lemmy is as deserving of a documentary as any musician who’s been doing his thing for more than 30 loud years.

The list of musicians who appear in Lemmy to praise — and tell incredible stories about — the man born Ian Fraser Kilmister is in itself the story of the influence of Motörhead: The members of Metallica. Scott Ian from Anthrax. Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, whose band clearly didn’t think up umlaut abuse on their own. Joan Jett. Dave Grohl, who records a track with Lemmy and relates a highly amusing anecdote involving Lemmy’s supposed feud with the singer from The Darkness. Billy Bob Thornton. Ozzy Osbourne (Lemmy wrote the lyrics to “Mama I’m Comin’ Home”). Henry Rollins. Alice Cooper. Slash. Jarvis Cocker.

Lemmy is a fascinating, slightly overlong, almost-warts-and-all documentary about Motörhead’s bassist/lead singer and easily best-known member, he of the long hair, intense facial hair, Johnny-Cash-gone-punk all-black uniform and unforgettable, tattered voice. Lemmy is in his 60s and still plays with Motörhead. He sits at the Rainbow Room, on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, playing trivia on the Megatouch and drinking Jack & Cokes. Fans, unsuspecting, are in awe when they see him at the end of the bar. There is no mistaking Lemmy for anyone else. When Lemmy can’t find what he wants in L.A.’s Amoeba Music — the Beatles mono box set — the owner gives him her personal copy. People love this man, as Lemmy demonstrates, warmly and entertainingly, again and again.

(Keep reading...)

The personality that emerges from the stories, and from Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver’s film, is quietly affable, vaguely mysterious and sometimes perplexing. The filmmakers soar through Lemmy’s life, from his early bands to his time in Hawkwind to the beginnings of Motörhead to today, when Lemmy still plays with Motörhead and also with the rockabilly The Head Cat. Lemmy’s a fairly quiet person, but his presence is immense. When he does talk, he’s dryly funny and entertainingly observant (and extremely British in his sense of humor). A scene with his son turns surprisingly sweet and sentimental, even as the story of how Lemmy came to have a son is completely ordinary and less than romantic.

Orshoski and Olliver spent three years making Lemmy, and their dedication takes us to visit the man who makes Lemmy’s intricate boots; to his old school, where kids gleefully break into “Ace of Spades”; to Lemmy’s small, cluttered apartment near the Sunset Strip. Mementos and gifts from fans pack the space, but nothing is as disconcerting as Lemmy’s collection of Nazi memorabilia.

Flags, knives, uniforms — Lemmy says he just likes how it looks. He’d be a terrible Nazi, he says, because he’s had several black girlfriends. It’s a unsatisfying response to a weak question, and Olliver and Orshoski seem reluctant to press Lemmy on the topic. What about the Nazi aesthetic so appeals? How does Lemmy reconcile the attraction with the association? “I'm an atheist and an anarchist. I'm anti-communism, fascism, any extreme," he once said in an interview with Chuck Eddy. He’s addressed the topic before, which makes it hard not to feel that here, Orshoski and Olliver are tiptoeing too lovingly around their star. (Outtakes of him telling them to get out of his face, on the other hand, are a crudely amusing credit-sequence bonus.)

Lemmy is a straightfoward documentary made absorbing by the tough shell and surprisingly low-key demeanor of its subject. Lemmy’s funny, sharp, remarkably ego-free and impressively candid. His romantic history is spotty at best. He wears tiny shorts in the summer and has a lot to say about ’70s drug snobbery, Little Richard and whether his son’s mother preferred John or Paul. Olliver and Orshoski clearly made this movie as fans, but it’s not only for fans. It’s a portrait of a metal god who is, as Billy Bob Thornton puts it in the movie, “part rock star and part guy who works at the car wash.” As celebrity portraits go, this one couldn’t be more welcome, even if Olliver and Orshoski get a little indulgent with the performance footage at the end.

To the crowd’s delight, Motörhead was in attendance at the SXSW screening. I took exactly one note during the brief and entertaining Q&A: When asked who he would like to play him in the movie of his life, Lemmy responded, deadpan as ever, “Helen Mirren.”
Lemmy does not yet have a release date, but I hope it gets one soon, because I want to watch it again.

March 25, 2010 04:42 PM

JESUS H., Eugene, I hope you're over that nasty seasonal cold-thing that was going around, because you need to be ready to go out pretty much every night for the next week. Maybe twice. The pendulum is swinging back. It's time to de-hibernate, kids. We could only fit six previews in this week's music section, but there are at least three more places you'll find us in the next few days.

Yes, that's a band photo. For serious. It got my attention (and not just because it's not the dreaded Four Dudes Against a Wall). That's five-year-old Dahlia Crow and her pops, Abe Nobody (of Rye Wolves/Scrolls), who together are Tarahumara. I'm going to let Mr. Nobody tell you about his "conceptual psychedelic folk/drone project," as I've yet to have the pleasure of hearing the duo:

"I would like to point out being the proudest drone dad ever is great. I am quite certain that when Dahlia and I debuted Tarahumara last fall, Day 2 of the Eugene Noise Festival to a packed crowd @ the now dead Epicspace, we enjoyed one of the largest amounts of feedback that any of the 32 bands that played from all over received. She was fearless, played malleted, dare I say, avant-garde percussion over a woolly layer of psychedelic glacier melting bass drones and is eagerly awaiting her next all ages performance. I am pretty sure she is one of the youngest people ever to be in a psych/drone band and that in itself is pure and wondrous."

Tarahumara plays with al Queda (the band, not ... you know), Demian Johnston and Robin McDougall at 7 pm Saturday, March 27, at the Wandering Goat. All ages, a few bucks.

"We are Titus Andronicus from Glen Rock, New Jersey. Prepare to be amazed!"

I just saw critically adored Titus Andronicus in Austin, opening Pitchfork's showcase at the freezing cold, entirely outdoors Scoot Inn. The crowd was small but enthusiastic; a few less-hardy souls ducked out to hover around the firepit in the back of the venue while the rest of us tried hopelessly to warm our hands on tallboys of Lone Star and/or use taller members of the crowd as windbreaks. The band soldiered on in parkas and knee socks, tearing through a short set of tunes that a friend describes as "Conor Oberst fronting the Walkmen" and the music press calls wicked awesome. OK, I paraphrased that last bit, but TA's The Airing of Grievances was a 2008 buzz record, and the just-released The Monitor is garnering equally positive reviews.

The new record is a concept album; in press materials, bandleader Patrick Stickles says it "uses the American Civil War of 1861-1865 as an extended metaphor" as it addresses "topics of regional identity, emotional anesthetization, and the heavy yoke of trying to live decently in indecent times." Heavy shit, but played with fury and passion; TA's sound runs parallel to some other rough-hewn, regionally affected, American rock (think Hold Steady and Springsteen, who's referenced in The Monitor's first track), but then it flips its shit and spins out in an agonized and beautiful frenzy. "A More Perfect Union" is seven minutes long and deserves to be; full of ferocity and references and storming sing-alongs and unforgettable riffs, it's a mission statement, and one followed by "Titus Andronicus Forever," in which everyone chants "The enemy is everywhere!" and you feel like you're in a basement in New Jersey just fucking waiting for something to catch on fire or flood or otherwise turn into delirious, unforgettable mayhem.

Titus Andronicus and The Tunnel Kings play at 8:30 pm Monday, March 29, at 540 Van Buren. Free, all ages. The show is the first in a promising series of events presented by The Dropout.

Eliza Rickman does magical things with a toy piano. The plinking sound of the wee instrument is often used for an innocent, playful addition to a song, but under Rickman's hands, the eerier side of the toy piano comes out; just give "Black Rose," a mournful sigh of a song, a listen. "Lily Love" is a swoony pop song in miniature, but if you listen closely, you can imagine it transformed into a shiny, high-gloss radio hit. But why would you want it that way? Rickman's delicate songs have sturdier structures than you might expect. Her carefully controlled voice, clear and inclined to the bittersweet, makes most of her melodies sound like cousins to classic folk ballads; I wouldn't be surprised to find them in the big book of folk songs I used to try to play on the piano as a kid.

Eliza Rickman plays with Hannah at 9 pm Wednesday, March 31, at Cozmic Pizza. All ages, $5.

March 25, 2010 01:11 PM

Let me make this as uncomplicated as possible: The Weekly could use a few more smart, sharp music writers who know their stuff, particularly if said stuff is outside the rock/pop mainstream. You're really up on Americana, jam bands, blues, noise, experimental, metal, hip hop, dance, filk, folk or another genre I shamefully haven't included in that list for absolutely no particular reason? I want to hear from you.

A few things to keep in mind:

• Please know your shit.

• By "your shit," I mean a whole variety of things, including but not limited to basic rules of spelling and grammar, how to format song and album titles, how to proof your own work and how to write thoughtfully, critically and enthusiastically about music without being a Snarkmaster 5000 or an overly praise-tastic press release.

You do not have to have a journalism degree or previously published work for me to take your writing seriously. You do have to a) live in the area and b) have some writing samples. I would like to see two or three, and I would like at least one of said samples to be about a local band or performer.

• Familiarity with EW's music section helps. What do I mean by that? Basically, please keep in mind that brief concert previews make up at least 97 percent of our music coverage. Those previews can be in the form of interviews, retrospectives, CD reviews or anything else you can think up that works, but remember that we don't generally have room for pieces about acts that aren't coming to town.

• I'm looking to add to our roster of freelancers, but that doesn't mean this is a regular weekly gig; assignments depend on the shows coming through on a given week. It's very handy if you're the kind of person who already knows, four months ahead of time, that your favorite band is coming to town.

• Music previews are paid at a flat rate (for shorts) or by word (longer pieces). It's not a lot of money, but it is money (and there are a few additional perks). If you're interested in writing for EW! A Blog, I'd love to talk to you, but as of now blog posts are usually not paid pieces. Sorry.

If you're interested or want to know more, please email me (molly [at] eugeneweekly [dot] com), and be sure to send writing samples (if you send attachments, plain old Word docs are ideal; I'm also happy to read your stuff online). In the email, give me a quick bio and tell me what kind of stuff you're most interested in writing about. I don't need a full resume, but a bit of background is nice. Where are you from? What was your first concert? Who's your favorite local band?

If I get an overwhelming number of responses, I may not be able to respond to everyone — and please know that my inbox is a pretty monstrous thing sometimes, so it may take some time to respond. You can also leave questions in the comments.

Thanks, all.

EDIT: Yes, I made a typo in the post asking for pieces without typos. How very appropriate! It's fixed now.

March 24, 2010 02:57 PM

Have you read any Magnus Mills? No, there won’t be a test. But if you’ve read the Scottish author's wonderful The Restraint of Beasts or peculiar All Quiet on the Orient Express, and if you can think of the peculiar sort of existence the men in his novels have — their work repetitive and disconcerting work, their goals as arbitrary as anything, their situations just a little off — you may find it easier to sink into the out-of-time, mildly surreal, darkly funny world of Skeletons.

Nick Whitfield’s movie has a horror-film name but is nothing of the sort. In it, two men, one tall and red-haired, one short and slumped, walk across the English countryside. They carry briefcases. They argue, amusingly, about esoteric minutiae (one long-running discussion is about Rasputin’s morality). Their working relationship — long-running, familiar, antagonistic — is as clear as their job is initially perplexing. Why suits? Why do they travel only on foot? Where are they exactly?

Whitfield takes his time with the details, but the spare atmosphere and lonesome framing set the tone: offbeat, anachronistic, intimate. The men visit strangers, ask them to sign elaborate forms, and then perform a procedure. How it works is irrelevant, though a fire extinguisher and a pair of shiny rocks are involved; what it uncovers gives the film its name.

People, mostly couples, request the procedure as a sign of commitment or, in one case, as one more step in a long line of attempts to get closer — attempts that come off like a kind of work all their own. People make themselves busy; people push themselves apart. They use a search for answers as a way to ignore the questions: How did we get here? Why are we like this?

Davis (Ed Gaughan) and Bennett (Andrew Buckley) can only give evidence, not answer questions. “It’s simple, this job,” Davis says. “Stick to the rules, tell them everything, leave and never come back.” But in his free time, Davis, the shorter, sterner of the two, has a secret and lives in a boat in the middle of nowhere. Bennett, taller, bespectacled, is a softie, always pushing at the rules that keep him distant from those who hire him.

Their next job is different. In a thin, fey forest near a lovely old home, a woman (Paprika Steen) digs, looking for her lost husband. Her small son latches on to Bennet as a paternal stand-in. Her daughter, Rebecca, a beautiful, elfin twentysomething (the improbably named Tuppence Middleton), doesn’t speak, though she makes her fierce disinterest in her mother's quest quite clear.

Whitfield’s debut feature (adapted from an earlier short) wobbles a little when it finds its main narrative thread. It’s not that the beats aren’t honest, or that the reveals are necessarily too predictable, but that the film’s beguilingly immediate beginning — no lead-in, no warmup, no introductions, just this, here, now — is at the heart of its winning, odd effectiveness. The fields and forests (the film is rich in greens) through which Davis and Bennett walk are lovely, pastoral and nondescript; their clients could be anyone; their lives could contain nothing but this. The lack of anchors, the way Whitfield never bounds his characters’ existences with biography, gives Skeletons the resonance of a short story that contains an entire life, painted on a tiny canvas but composed of vital details that tell all the important truths.

March 22, 2010 02:01 PM

It’s about time Rhys Ifans — probably still best known as Hugh Grant’s peculiar roommate in Notting Hill — got himself a big, juicy whopper of a leading role. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Mr. Nice, based on the true story of Welsh drug dealer and jack of many trades Howard Marks, starts out relatively strong, even carrying the absurdity of Ifans playing a high schooler. An ordinary kid who’s ecstatic to get into Oxford, Howard quickly discovers drugs (the film lights up with color as he takes his first toke) and, over the decades, becomes — somewhat accidentally — a wealthy drug runner with ties to both MI-6 and the IRA.

The latter is represented by David Thewlis, wild-haired and crazy-eyed as Jim McCann, who helps Marks get drugs into the U.K. after driving them in from continental Europe gets too dangerous. In L.A., Marks works with a bewigged, twitchy Crispin Glover; elsewhere, he deals with the manically unstable McCann; occasionally, as the years pass, he even spends some time with his wife, Judy (Chloe Sevigny), and children. Marks gets busted, gets out of trouble, lives a comfortable life and finds it boring, and eventually finds himself in even deeper shit than ever.

Part of the problem with Mr. Nice — which takes its name from one of Marks' many pseudonyms — is that the endless sequences of Marks and company moving, packing, hiding or hiding drugs lead to a muddled, disconnected narrative that lacks emotional impact. There’s a more streamlined story in there somewhere, but writer-director-cinematographer-editor Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved) hasn’t quite found it.

(Keep reading...)

Rose drops in period details and does a clever thing or two with stock footage, but the referential cinematography and clever production design can only take the film so far. The film’s final sequences, button-pushing though they occasionally are, are among its most effective: Marks in jail is not a pretty sight, and Rose’s somewhat worshipful view of him as a clever bastard doing his best to get around needless drug laws shifts just enough to turn Marks into a more interesting and sympathetic character. While the film’s repetitive storyline muffles Ifans’ usual charisma, Sevigny, her British accent slipping, does what she can with a woefully underwritten character. Judy appears over a board game, invitingly explains the rules of Go to Howard and quickly replaces his previous love interest. Once the relationship is established, she’s shuttled off to the sidelines, where her role is to be pregnant and disapproving for most of the rest of the film.

Mr. Nice opens with Marks speaking to a crowded theater; when it closes with a similar scene, it’s almost a surprise to be back in that space. The framing device — a reminder that Marks is a real person, still out there, still writing and telling his story — wedges more distance between the film and the audience. Our stand-ins, the crowd on the screen, rise up and applaud when Marks finishes his tale. We’re clearly meant to be inspired to follow suit, but the flat, jumbled Mr. Nice elicits no such response.
Mr. Nice does not yet have a release date.

March 22, 2010 10:41 AM

Portland's Animal Farm played an afternoon show — one of several performances they had over the week — at the Texas Rockfest, a free event set up in a parking lot just off the main drag. It was a well run —  two stages meant there was very little downtime between bands — if slightly odd space, home also to a handful of seemingly miscellaneous booths (one of which boasted a giant banner reading I [HEART] VAGINA).

One in the afternoon can be a rough time to go on under any circumstances, but perhaps even more so here, where shows run until 2 am and then start back up again with day parties (often with free beer) at 11 am. But despite a lackluster audience, Animal Farm put on a determined and energetic show. I've got a lot of respect for performers who play to a small crowd with the same level of commitment you'd expect them to bring to a larger, fuller venue, and these guys — with their smart beats, clever wordplay and abundance of enthusiasm — definitely pulled that off.

(Note: I'm labeling the unofficial, non-booked-by-SXSW day shows SXSW just like the official evening shows; they may not be part of the festival, but to the music fan in Austin for the weekend, it's pretty much all just part of the South By experience.)

March 22, 2010 03:55 PM

PhotobucketJaguar Love at the Ghost Room, 3/18

The first day of SXSW's music track was also St. Patrick's Day. Whether this made a difference in anything but the amount of green seen on Sixth Street, the festival's main drag, I'm not quite sure; the street overflows with drunken revelers every night of SXSW. Before long, however, the main topic of discussion was a bit more somber: By that night, the news was out that Big Star's Alex Chilton had passed away. The Big Star show scheduled for Saturday night would go on as a tribute and memorial. But there were plenty of other things to do before then.

Miles Kurosky @ Red Eyed Fly [unofficial day show] If the name Miles Kurosky means nothing to you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because that means you missed out on the bittersweetly joyous jangle of Beulah, the late-‘90s/early-‘00s band for which Kurosky was the singer. Despite it being the middle of the afternoon and there being more people onstage than seemed comfortable, a slightly nervous-looking Kurosky made new fans and charmed the old with a mix of songs from his new solo record — and a few much-missed Beulah favorites. I’ve never been more happy to see a trumpet player as when Kurosky, muttering something about how they had a trumpet player, they might as well use him, broke into “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand.”

Goodness knows, it’s been a wonderful run...

I’ve not had a chance to listen to the new record but what I heard in Austin was just what I wanted to hear: Kurosky’s perfectly ordinary voice still blends with bright guitars and, yes, trumpets — among other things — as timelessly as it ever has. This guy makes songs that could fit on a mix-tape from any era in my life. There’s a magic that happens when the usual rock lineup transforms through superb songwriting into something so expansive. Go back and listen to When Your Heartstrings Break. You won’t be disappointed.

(Keep reading: Frightened Rabbit, Anya Marina, Jaguar Love and more...)

Frightened Rabbit @ Day Stage Café I can’t imagine that a lunch gig inside the convention center — where people are chowing on inedible Pizza Hut personal pizzas, searching for outlets and pawing through their enormous yet handy tote bags of promotional whatnot — is high on the list of any band’s dream places to play, but the truth is, the funky convention center venue had some of the best sound I heard all week. Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit started too soon — singer Scott Hutchison warbled, “Someone should have told us...” when it turned out they were supposed to wait for a radio DJ to introduce them, thus giving context to the live broadcast — but it didn’t seem to trip them up. The too-short set included at least some of the hits from their still-smallish catalog of soaring, heartbroken, inexplicably endearing indie rock, including the cheerfully sad-sack “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” the only song from the new The Winter of Mixed Drinks I actually know. (This is a minor tragedy.) The band has sprung a new member since they last played in this neck of the woods: Hutchison told Scottish music blog The Pop Cop that new guy Gordon Skene plays “a bit of everything.” His additional harmonies (look, I grew up on the Posies; I’m a sucker for a sweet harmony) made the FRabbits live experience just that much more likely to induce warm fuzzies.

Anya Marina @ Max’s Wine Dive [unofficial day show] I’m not ashamed to say I went to see Anya Marina for the simple reason that I really, really like her song on the New Moon soundtrack. I was less enthralled by the beginning of her brief set at Max’s Wine Dive, where, as I said on Twitter, my first impression was that she was like Joey Lauren Adams — the squeaky voice! the apple cheeks! — doing Metric karaoke on downers. But “Satellite Heart,” spare and pensive, was a delicate showcase for that odd voice, fragile and creaky at once, and didn’t need to be interrupted by the iPod. Later in the week, I watched Marina play a song or two with her band. The fuller sound helped, but still the rest of the songs just didn’t feel as complete, as ready to leap into the ears of listeners and take on lives of their own, as “Heart.” But she did do a sweet T.I. cover.

Danny Malone @ Live Create Lounge Malone recently played a show at Sam Bond’s to an utterly disinterested, loudly talking crowd. He was late, he was frustrated, he seemed about to crack — and then he left the stage to cut a rug in the open bit of floor and opted to perform his final song on the table of the loudest talkers, who, unsurprisingly, finally stopped talking. I get not being into a show, but I don’t get talking at full volume during a solo set. In Austin, Malone was better received — it’d be a hometown crowd were it anything but SXSW, where the few locals I met were apt to swear they don’t get near Sixth Street during the festival — as he yelped through a ferocious track I’d not heard before. I didn’t want to leave, but a Portland-shot movie was calling.

Bad Veins @ Red 7 Good venue, good (not too packed) crowd, better-than-good band. Bad Veins consists of two dudes and a reel-to-reel, and if you think that’s not much different than two dudes and an iPod, you’re sadly mistaken. The duo sounds kind of like the Killers if the Killers had gotten better and more DIY; their charm is bolstered by the juxtaposition of electronic elements and analog equipment (like Irene, the reel-to-reel, and the telephone singer Benjamin Davis sometimes uses as a mic). For being just two guys, they dominated the cavernous, concrete-floored indoor space at Red 7. I’ve had Davis’ voice in my head ever since, singing, “Sometimes / to get by / I believe in the lie.”

Two Rocky Votolato (at Red Eyed Fly) songs gave me very little to talk about but to say that the appreciative crowd was big, Votolato sounded great as ever, and I can’t get my hands on his new record, True Devotion, soon enough.

Jaguar Love @ The Ghost Room Maybe it was the Ghost Room's relative distance from the middle of the mayhem, or maybe it was the 1 am start time, but there weren’t nearly as many people as there should be to see Portland’s Jaguar Love — as was the case when they played The District in Eugene some time ago.

Look. Do you like your guitar lines angular, your electro-pop structures roughed up with noise, your singers explosively energetic and prone to excessive hair-shaking, your vocals over the top, your live experiences addictive? Then join the club, and forget that Pitchfork gave the band’s new record a 2 (out of 10). Yes, the band’s sound is a smash-up of rock mini-genres from the last few decades; yes, there’s a certain campy kitsch to Johnny Whitney’s shrieking, especially now that he’s grown out his hair (“He’s the Muppet Robert Plant!” a friend said). Hyper-stylized and just plain hyper, Jaguar Love is basically a frenzied post-everything guilty pleasure you needn’t feel guilty about; just pogo and sing along, or if you’re a stand-still viewer, watch transfixed as Whitney’s hair takes on a life of its own. Whitney and bandmate Cody Votolato (Rocky's brother), along with Past Lives’ Jordan Blilie, were in the Blood Brothers, but where that band veered toward a more aggressively hardcore scream-it-out sound, Jaguar Love wants you to dance it out. With screaming, sure. But it’s happy screaming.

March 21, 2010 11:33 AM

Alan Tudyk and Taylor Labine in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Winner, SXSW Midnighters Audience Award

Eli Craig's feature debut, which showed in perfectly appropriate midnight screenings at SXSW, is a fairly low-budget hillbilly slasher comedy packed with almost gentle send-ups of horror clichés. I loved it a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit.

Perhaps you want to know a little more than that.

Tucker and Dale stars Alan Tudyk — Joss Whedon regular, funny guy, the reason the movie caught my eye — and Tyler Labine (Reaper) as a pair of down-home, PBR-swilling, dirty-coverall-wearing good buddies who are totally stoked to spend the weekend at Tucker’s new vacation home, a fixer-upper in the woods. Naturally, some nubile college students are headed ... to the same part of the woods!

Craig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Morgan Jurgenson) starts doling out the clichés even before the two camps cross paths. The college kids are cocky, privileged, fresh-faced and mostly dumb if not borderline vicious; the country fellows are good-hearted and well-intentioned and misunderstood. Dale (Labine), desperate to talk to one of the cute blondes, tries to give it a shot, only to wind up looking like a logger angel of death. The sheriff is creepy. The fixer-upper looks like a set left over from a horror movie, but Tucker and Dale love it; it’s their vacation home! Time to get to work!

Meanwhile, the dicktastic leader of the college pack, Chad (Jesse Moss), spins a classic campfire tale: Twenty years ago on this very day, a group of campers at the same spot met a terrible fate. Murder! Mayhem! Only his mother escaped.

A likely story. (Keep reading...)

Tucker and Dale is a surprisingly sweet movie, even when kids are chucking themselves into wood chippers or getting accidentally impaled on conveniently located sharp sticks (the movie’s swipes at coincidence-laden plots are often clever but sometimes a little mild). A series of contrivances puts the cute blonde, Alison (Katrina Bowden, from 30 Rock), in Tucker and Dale’s care, where she and Dale learn they may have underestimated one another. Pop psychology peeks in and provides a chance for the opposing camps to air their grievances (maybe crazed slashers just need to be understood?). The self-awareness factor isn’t as high as in Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, where the characters know the rules of horror and are working around them; Craig plays it a little straighter, reversing character stereotypes and making the most of musical cues and overused images (some of which are direct references to classic horror flicks) to poke fun at the genre while he plays in its sandbox.

None of this would amount to much but a few giggles and gross-out moments were it not for Tudyk and Labine, who balance out the appropriately interchangeable collegiate characters with genuine warmth that turns into equally genuine frustration as the frantically dying kids make bigger and bigger messes. If their long-running, banter-filled friendship is misread, or their interests not appreciated, they don’t really mind — provided no confused campers are trying to kill them. Can’t a guy just have a nice quiet vacation? Not in Craig’s goofy, irreverent movie, which — of course! — has a warm little message about tolerance and judgment tucked in between the gory deaths.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil does not yet have a release date.

March 20, 2010 03:10 PM

Matt McCormick’s first feature-length film is a pensive character piece with a perfectly Portland heart — something that’s easy to say and harder to explain. Some Days Are Better Than Others is a three-pronged, subtle narrative about disconnection, loneliness and slow, quiet change; the SXSW film booklet says it “asks why the good times slip by so fast while the hard times always seem so sticky.”

In unremarkable corners of Portland, three characters drift: a soft-hearted animal-shelter employee (Carrie Brownstein) spends more time making Real World audition tapes than she does talking to people; a woman (Renee Roman Nose) sorts donations at a thrift store, where ordinary and unusual cast-offs from strangers’ lives pass through her hands; a scruffy slacker (The Shins' James Mercer) makes a living working odd and short-lived temp jobs, breaking up his days with visits to his step-grandfather (David Wodehouse), who makes art films consisting entirely of close-ups of soap bubbles.

These lives overlap, but in a compact, small-world way. McCormick’s eye for the small things that change a day, or a life, is sharp and compassionate; he finds the moments that initially seem unremarkable and follows them until they gradually transform into something greater. Amid the narrative strands of his melancholy film are transitional shots that are sometimes very familiar — abandoned buildings, soaring birds, the damp grays of the Oregon coast — but here they're appropriate and effective (and beautifully photographed). The best of these, a lovely shot of the Fremont Bridge, distills the film’s ideas about disconnection into one affecting image: it's just a piece of the bridge, neither end visible. Caught in the frame, the bridge and the cars and people on it are cut off from the whole, from the very purpose of the bridge — but only for the time being.
Some Days had its world premiere at South by Southwest. No further screening dates are available yet.

March 19, 2010 09:49 AM

I was on my way somewhere else when I stopped short in front of a bar on Red River.

There was something awfully familiar about the sound issuing from the doors, though it seemed unnatural to hear such a song in daylight. It was music for midnights, at the very earliest. But I had to know.

So I stepped inside, and lo and behold, it was indeed Eugene's own macabre psychobilly punks The Sawyer Family.

(It's a hastily snapped iPhone shot; be kind.)

There should have been more people in the bar, but those that were there seemed to be enjoying themselves. (It's hard to tell how much enjoyment is present in a room full of people who almost certainly haven't gotten enough sleep and equally almost certainly are already nursing hangovers with hair of the dog.) Seth Sawyer signed off, "We'll see you fuckers next time." Hopefully there are more of said fuckers when the band next lands in Austin.