Jet: Get Born (**½)

Posted on October 21st, 2003 in Music by mynagirl

This is the resurgence of garage rock, hunh? I’m no expert (couldn’t tell a Hive from a Vine if I had a bad case of both), but I have to say, if you’re going to listen to non-groundbreaking musical stylings, I find that straight-up, just-one-shade-above-playing-at-a-local-bar type rock-and-roll ain’t a bad way to go.

So far everything about this CD experience has been nearly straight out of the late 70’s. I bought it low-tech: I heard their song once on the radio, thought it catchy, and went right out to Best Buy to get it without hearing / researching any further (“How retro,” comments engineerboy dryly). The album looks low-tech: I’m convinced the cover art might actually be the “Stillwater” album from Almost Famous. Either that or Jet found the guy who did the cover art for my mom’s album The Best of Bread, circa 1976. The sparse liner notes don’t even contain lyrics and are remarkably free of any shout-outs to their homies. Even the couple photos of these guys are of a taken-on-the-subway-with-a-shaky-35-mm quality. However, later during the day I buy the CD I realize the song I like is one of the tunes on the new iPod for PC commercials… so it’s not all throw-back, I guess.

The rock on this album (we’ll drag that concept out of the dustbin) is straight-up and fun, if not exactly revolutionary. I can name about five bands that might want to consider suing Jet for too closely resembling their sound — they are a remarkable blender combo of AC/DC, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Clash, and Golden Earring. Oh, and I think the Bangles might even have a quarrel with the tambourine intro to “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”. (Ok, so maybe I’m missing the point of garage rock, but stiilll, synthesize your own sound at least a liiittle bit). Nitpicking aside, when the songs rock, they rock. The current hit tune is a fun blast, “Rollover DJ” is kicky and exuberant, and “Cold Hard Bitch” (the most AC/DC-esque of the bunch) is excellent. Makes me wanna don my Nascar tank top and head to an ice house. As a matter of fact, if this album had more of its rocking songs on there, I’d give it a higher rating. There are a few too many Beatles-inflected piano intro songs on there… I’d make a joke about the Kiss pioneer power ballad “Beth”, but it’s low-hanging fruit — the last would-be-soulful tune on the CD is called “Timothy”, so the joke’s just too easy.

All in all, though, it’s an enjoyable if uneven ride. I can skip past the slow tunes pretty easily, and the rest is unchallenging and unpretentious. If you think modern music is pretty much crap since, oh, 1983 or so, then this is the album for you. Mynagirl says, “Rock on!”

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (***½)

Posted on October 18th, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Click here to see the review of Kill Bill: Vol 2.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film as a director. Well, third-and-a-half would be more appropriate, since this is really the first half of one film, not the first film in a film/sequel progression. So far he’s batting .500 in my book. I *loved* Reservoir Dogs, and still watch it once every year or two, even though it’s a tough, gritty ordeal. I’ve never been able to watch Pulp Fiction all the way through, finding it to be a moronic, but more slickly Hollywood, pale imitation derived from Dogs. I’ve seen enough movies that I believe I can tell the difference between good films that I just don’t happen to like and bad films. Pulp Fiction may not be a bad film, but it’s sure not good, and certainly not great, and I have always struggled to understand its popularity.

My pet theory is that Pulp Fiction was embraced by those who had heard that Tarantino was a great director, but had never bothered to seek out (or endure sitting through the pain of watching) Reservoir Dogs. I’m pretty neutral about Jackie Brown, in that it was mildly enjoyable when I first saw it, but it was quickly forgotten and I’ve never revisited it.

Which brings us to Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which I enjoyed greatly. There is almost zero prelude or character development in this movie, which jumps immediately into a violent revenge story, and only gives us the slightest of glimpses at the back-story of these characters. And even the back-story is an un-detailed, just-the-facts presentation of events, without any explanation of why. In typical Tarantino fashion, the story is not linear, but is told through flashbacks, memories, and even animated sequences. This is all done masterfully, weaving in the bits and pieces of the story at just the right times, without being dumbed down for (Hollywood’s understanding of) the multiplex audience.

The basic storyline is that The Bride (Uma Thurman) and her entire wedding party, including her unborn child, are slaughtered by her fellow assassins on her wedding day in a small, dusty, clapboard chapel in El Paso. Except that The Bride survives, even though Bill (an unseen David Carradine) administers a point-blank, bullet-to-the-head coup de grace. The Bride ends up in a four year coma, and when she wakes up she realizes she has lost everything except a white-hot need to exact revenge on her former boss and colleagues. The rest of the film follows The Bride as she starts hunting down her former teammates one by one.

In an interesting directorial choice, Uma Thurman’s character is never referred to by a given name in this film, with the exception of one scene where it is uttered twice, but purposely beeped out both times. There doesn’t appear to be any reason to keep her name secret, but it does add to her mystery, and the beeping feels right and actually works within the story rather than being

School of Rock (***)

Posted on October 18th, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Another star is born. Jack Black has slowly been working his way up the movie role food chain, starting with small roles in movies like Waterworld, Bob Roberts, Demolition Man, The Cable Guy, and Mars Attacks, and then moving up to more visible roles in such films as High Fidelity and Shallow Hal. And now, in School of Rock, he has grabbed the mic in his first big, mainstream, successful starring vehicle.

He is starting to be compared with John Belushi and Chris Farley, and I think those comparisons are close to the mark. Black has a unique style, and while he doesn’t appear to trying to emulate either of them (or anyone else), he does have Belushi’s commanding presence and Farley’s endearing earnestness, as well as the comic abilities shared by both. One hopes that Black will be able control the conflagrations of fame to become an enduring fixture, and not a brightly blazing, but too soon extinguished, shooting star.

The film itself is laugh-out-loud funny and charming, and manages to be family-friendly without slipping over into smarmy sweetness. The story follows Dewey Finn (Black’s character), who is a fringe-dweller in his town’s local music scene, as he gets kicked out of the band he helped found (to be replaced by a guy with less talent but better abs, tats, and hair) and finds himself broke and jobless and facing eviction from his apartment by his roommate’s girlfriend if he can’t cough up the back rent. Dewey’s roommate is a substitute teacher, and one day Dewey fields a call from a school looking for an emergency substitute, and ends up taking the position himself (while masquerading as his roommate).

The school turns out to be the finest private prep school in town, and Dewey’s students are all refined, polite, and highly intelligent. He tells the kids that they’re going to have permanent recess in his class, scams some munchies from one of the kids, and promptly does a whole lot of nothing else as he avoids the pinched headmistress (played with tightly-wound conviction by Joan Cusack) and attempts to keep up the charade long enough to get a paycheck without having to actually do anything.

But when his kids head down the hall for music class, Dewey follows them and finds out that they are talented musicians and singers. By the time the kids come back to his class, Dewey has schlepped in all the band instruments from his van and has decided that he and these kids are going to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands, giving him revenge on his former bandmates. The problem is that the kids are schooled in classical music, not rock and roll, but this only inspires Dewey to become, of all things, an impassioned teacher. And his lessons, ostensibly about the history and art of metal rock, are, in true Hollywood fashion, metaphoric life lessons.

And also in true Hollywood fashion, Dewey learns from the experience, too. He has written his one great song, a Zeppelin-esque