Weather and Noise
I didn't get enough sleep last night. It's hot and humid. Time Warner customer service has started to rival Quest for levels of ineptitude. My fantasy team has no servicable relief pitcher beyond Eddie Guardado.
So pardon me if I have some fire in the belly this morning.
My wife and I saw "The Road to Perdition" last night at the Southdale Mega-Uberplex. I've liked Tom Hanks ever since "Bachelor Party", and the string of films he's done since then hasn't necessarily hurt his standings. And while I was not necessarily wowed by the previews, "Perdition" was the most interesting movie playing last night.
Let me interject something here-- I rarely see movies. I think I went to four last year-- "Momento", "Fifteen Minutes", "Legally Blonde", and "Zoolander". I just don't get a big kick out of movies, at least at the theater. I don't enjoy the "big screen experience" enough to justify paying $7.50 that often. But it's not even that-- when we're looking for something to do, the notion of going to see a movie just.. rarely comes up. So you should keep my relative inexperience in mind.
The story behind "Perdition" is interesting and pulled off nicely. I don't think I'll give away too much with a plot summary: Michael Sullivan (Hanks) works for John Rooney (Paul Newman) in a small-time mob family in 1931. Sullivan can best be described as a security detail, usually following Rooney's son Connor (Daniel Craig) around and shooting people that Connor wants shot. (It's more complicated than that, but I don't want to ruin it.) One night Sullivan's son sees his father and Connor off some rival gangsters; Connor panics, kills Sullivan's wife and other son (by mistake), and Sullivan spends the rest of the movie trying to off Connor without getting offed himself, with his son in tow.
Visually, the movie was well done. There are still several images burned into my head (cigarette smoke from Connor, wide-angled shot of the Sullivans driving to Chicago, Sullivan shooting the tommy gun from the dark) which doesn't happen to me frequently-- so I give credit there. I was also impressed by the wardrobes and sets-- there was great attention paid to every detail (including the pencils used) which made it easy to believe the movie did take place in the 1930s. (One question, though-- did the "L" train in Chicago exist in 1931? They showed it in the movie.)
The story itself was also well-presented. Reviews tout this as the next "Godfather"-- which I can't comment on since I've never seen the first one. It seemed a little strange as the movie started as violent/drama, then switched to light-hearted/father-and-son, then switched back to violent/drama-- but the humor in the middle wasn't excessive, so the movie wasn't overly schizophrenic. Hanks turns in a good performance, although I'd bet that he won't be taking home the Oscar for this one. His character didn't really develop much until the movie was half over.
Mainly, the reason I didn't like this movie was its excessive graphic violence. I know I'm sounding like William Bennett or Jerry Fallwell here... but it seems like ever since "Saving Private Ryan" came out, no one can just get shot in movies. Someone gets shot once, blood splatters EVERYWHERE, he falls to his feet and struggles, gets shot again, more blood, more flailing.... repeat. I'm not Pollyanna-ish enough to believe that death (even murder) shouldn't be a part of movies. But.. I dunno. I guess I feel like we've been subjected to enough senseless violence over the last year (another bus shooting in Israel yesterday) that I don't really need to see it graphically displayed when I go see a movie.
Anyway, if you don't have a problem with that (and I guess if I went to more movies I'd be used to it?), see "Road To Perdition". It's a good story. I give it 3 1/2 bloodsplatters.
Onto other things. One week ago I purchased Hard Candy, the newest release from the Counting Crows. While I was excited to get the disc, I was also a bit nervous-- 1999's This Desert Life, while still being a very good album, had fallen off considerably for me compared to 1996's Recovering the Satellites. Would the Crows become my next R.E.M., putting out new releases that I don't like anymore?
Incidentally, I sometimes wonder what changes more-- bands' styles or my tastes as I get older? The crows are one of the few groups that I listened to eight years ago that I enjoy listening to their new songs now. Who else was there? Nirvana? No, obviously. R.E.M.? Jumped the shark. Pearl Jam? Please. U2 still cranks out hits, but they're somewhat of an anomaly as they've been doing it for twenty years. In this age of Pink and Avril Lavigne and other here-today, gone-tomorrow bubble-gum rock stars, the Crows could be considered timeless.
Enough of my rambling. The disc starts out with a bang (seemingly a Crows tradition) with the title track. When I heard the first line for the first time (On certain Sundays in November / When the weather bothers me / I empty drawers of other summers / Where my shadows used to be), I got goosebumps. Not that that line was particularly moving, but it just reminded me that Adam Duritz's lyrics are quite deep and every song is almost a tapestry of words. When I read lyrics from most bands, I think, heck, I can do that. (Which I can't, but that's beside the point.) When I read Duritz's lyrics, though, I'm truly amazed and believe he has no peers among today's pop songwriters.
The second track proves that, although you might not believe it. Yes, it's the ever-popular "American Girls", playing once an hour, every hour on your favorite radio station. This song's shelf life was nearly over for me due to hearing it so much-- until I sat down and actually read they words when I bought the CD. Amazing. Plus Sheryl Crow does background vocals, which can't hurt. (Speaking of playing a song to death, I get nauseous when I hear the opening to "Soak Up the Sun" now-- anyone else?) Track #3 is a slow rambler called "Good Time" that I didn't like at first but it's growing on me, kinda like "Perfect Blue Buildings" in tempo and appeal.
Next comes "If I Could Give All My Love", my personal favorite so far. It starts with an almost Skynrd-like guitar riff, and Duritz's vocals are mixed perfectly and definitely the highlight. You're a pill to ease the pain / Of all the stupid things I do. Good stuff. Another highlight is "Miami", which starts slow and crescendos, ending with Duritz yelling his lyrics a la "Recovering the Satellites". "New Frontier" has a infectious riff and sounds almost Sting-like during the chorus. Again, the lyrics are the highlight: Miracle people with marvelous hair / And the knack to do anything better than anyone.
The other songs on the disc either haven't grown on me or never will. A few instances of trumpets and orchestras, generally a sign that the song doesn't have much of a chance with me. Overall, though, Hard Candy restores my faith in the Crows. They've toned down their sound since Satellites, but are still able to make complete packages of their songs and plant said songs in your head for a long, long time.
And speaking of the Crows. I believe Alex and I will have to agree to disagree on the issues of the Crows playing live. And that's fine. As the wise sage (or was it wide sage) Denny Green once said, the great thing about America is that everyone can have their own opinion. I'd like to explain my side, though, before putting the issue to rest.
It's true that Duritz and the Crows aren't obligated to play songs in concert exactly like the songs are recorded. In fact, the things that make live music so appealing to me is the rawness of the sound, the improvisation of the music, and the occasional curveballs that the band throws in. (That and having the bass player steal my Corona, which happened at the last Peacemakers show I went to.) And, I feel like I have a little bit of understanding on how playing the same version of the same song over and over and over again would get rather boring. Point taken.
The assumption I have is that in concert, songs will sound reasonably close to the way that they sound on the CD. Maybe that's not the right assumption, but the Crows are the only group that have ever invalidated it. Specifically, when I laid down $47 to see them play, I was expecting to hear the Crows as I knew them on the CDs. How would you feel if you bought Metallica tickets and they came out and decided to play, oh, Muzak versions of "Enter Sandman" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls"? That's an exaggeration, but it's in the same vein. And while I understand how gratingly boring it must be to keep playing the same version of a song for years-- I guess Duritz must have glossed over that part in the millionaire-for-life rock star contract he signed in 1993. I get bored at work, but I don't start composing e-mails in Swahili simply to keep myself entertained. I feel that when you charge the kind of money the Crows charge to see them in concert, you owe it to your audience to give them what most of them want-- live versions of songs that you can recognize.
But maybe that's just me. And Bill Simmons.