Friday, October 31, 2008

Cannibal Movies: Mmm, Mmm Good

I have neither the time nor the energy to do a Halloween blog as elaborate as last year's, so instead I'm doing a brief review of a few cannibal movies. We're all very familiar with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like. Just to be clear, though zombies eat human brains, they are not cannibals since they are technically dead already. Cannibal movies are their own genre, though my very brief and far-from-complete list should prove that the genre can actually be quite diverse. Also, consider this a warning...I'm on my third glass of wine (the alcohol will counteract all the sugar I've consumed today, right?), so this post may very well make no sense whatsoever.

Ravenous (1999)
This movie features Guy Pearce as this army guy who's stationed at some fort in the middle of nowhere in 1847. Robert Carlyle shows up and he's all wanting to eat people and stuff, because he had to at some point and he realized it made him superhuman. David Arquette is in it and (spoiler alert!) he dies, which is awesome. It also features Jeffrey Jones, the principal from Ferris Beuller's Day Off, in one of his better roles, before we found out he was a pervert in real life. I once cooked dinner for Jeffrey Jones when he came to the restaurant I worked at, and it makes me sad that he is a pervert.
But I digress. This movie is actually not terrible. But it is not terrible despite having the worst, most inappropriate soundtrack of any horror movie ever. Even though it takes place in rural America in 1847, the soundtrack is very contemporary and it sounds like it was composed by a 12-year-old on his Casio synthesizer. Still, there were some clever surprises and some creepiness, so it gets at least one thumb up from me.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
I already reviewed this movie here. It was a wonderful return to form for Tim Burton, and it was a musical about cannibalism! Who could've thunk of such a thing! Oh wait....

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)
Honestly, it's been ages since I saw this movie, but after finding the trailer online to do this post, I think I may have to buy it. I mostly remember it was awesome. Like Sweeney Todd, it's a musical about cannibalism. It's also based on the true story of Alferd Packer, the only man convicted of cannibalism in the state of Colorado. Wait, did I just type Colorado? That makes sense, because this movie was also written, directed, and starred in by famous Colorado person Trey Parker. Is it mere coincidence that "Packer" and "Parker" are such similar names? Yes, I believe so.
In any case, as you can probably tell by the trailer below, this movie was made on a shoestring budget, so it looks pretty cheesy. But really, that just adds to the charm. The hilarious songs give you an early glimpse at the genius behind South Park and it's just good fun all around. This is an essential movie for anyone who likes Trey Parker/Colorado history/musicals about cannibalism.

Delicatessen (1991)
I've saved this one for last because a) I just watched it last night and b) Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favoritist directors. I can't find anything about this movie not to like. Even though it's about a butcher in post-apocalyptic France who lures men into his building in order to eventually slaughter them and sell their flesh to his tenants (who know perfectly well what's going on), it's honestly more of a light-hearted jaunt of a movie. Like nearly all of Jeunet's movies--most notably Amelie and City of Lost Children--it is very, very pretty. From the opening panning shot and the beautifully clever credits to the Wes-Anderson-will-eventually-rip-this-off ending, this film is pure eye candy. Despite its plot (such as it is), it's really a dark comedy, heavy on the comedy. Nothing about this film is particularly scary. If you only watch one movie on this list, make it this one. If you watch it on my recommendation and don't like it, feel free to send a scathing comment or e-mail.

Do YOU have a favorite movie about cannabilism? Tell me about it!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gooed times

For gamers, the madness has begun. We have entered the late fall release period, when every week brings the release of two or more AAA titles from major studios and publishers. Just looking at this week's release slate makes me so, so happy that I do not review games for a living: I would probably go mad just trying to cover a tenth of this mess. We have the big sequels — this week sees Fallout 3, Fable II and Far Cry 2 are already out, Gears of War 2 and others are coming. We also have some truly unique and original ideas out and on the way, with parkour adventure Mirror's Edge and the cooperative zombie shooter Left 4 Dead. In all of this noise, you might miss a game like the physics puzzler World of Goo, from independent developers 2D Boy. Well, don't get snowed by the big boys — World of Goo will put a smile on your face even as you violently curse the law of gravity for its obstinacy.

The World of Goo is inhabited by numerous little goo balls that can be stuck together to create structures. In each level you have a few goos and a gap you must cross somehow to reach a pipe that forms the level's egress — the goo balls only really move across structures made from other gooballs. Most frequently you must build a bridge, but towers, arches, pendulums, and other more exotic designs are also needed. The key to each level is making optimal use of the structural properties of the goos, as well as their special abilities. The goo balls can produce relatively strong structures, but you rarely have the numbers or the space to build anything more than a rather wobbly one. Figuring out how to turn your limited goo balls into an escape route can be quite a challenge, and success produces some great "Aha!" moments.

On their own, the puzzles would be entertaining enough, and the game doesn't really need anything more. What made the game for me, though, was the art direction. The environments are whimsical, cute, and a little creepy. The music also contributes wonderfully to the atmosphere of each level. Although at its core it this a game about cute little balls of goo that stick together, the levels manage an impressive range of moods. World of Goo has a light little story, mostly carried on by unobtrusive signs and a few cutscenes, about corporate greed, skin-deep culture, and advertising. Understanding that the goo balls are delicious, however, is not essential to enjoying the game.

World of Goo isn't perfect. It can be difficult to select a specific goo that you want, especially if your structures are a bit crowded. Some goo balls that can create either nodes or struts have a tendency to add in as the wrong thing, and when your structures get to wobbling it becomes very easy to make a mistake or drop a goo ball by accident. These problems are essentially minor and probably won't get in the way of your enjoying the game. The only real sin in the game is one of the last levels, which I felt depended too much on luck. It's one thing for me to flub a level, quite another for the level to be flubbed for me by the design.

That one level aside, however, World of Goo has plenty of fun and personality to offer. Although the game is short enough to finish in one or two sittings, getting the obsessive completion distinction on each level, and gaining more extra goo balls for an associated meta-game, will provide several additional hours of play. It's the season for hi-res, hi-polygon titles from big publishers, but you could do much worse than setting those titles aside and getting elbow-deep in some 2D goo.

World of Goo is presently available through WiiWare, and it can be purchased for the PC directly from the developers or via several download services such as Steam. If you don't have a PC, don't despair: Mac and Linux (!!) versions are currently in beta and should be available soon. For this review the game was played to completion on the Wii.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spore Gets an F

This is really more MWC's territory, but when I first heard about Spore I thought it sounded pretty cool. A game that actually incorporates real scientific principles--evolutionary principles no less--sounded right up my alley.

Too bad it turned out to be about as scientific as Pac-man eating power pellets and getting chased by ghosts (sorry my game references are just a little outdated). Science's "gonzo scientist," John Bohannon, recently tried out the game with some actual scientists, giving it grades on scientific accuracy. The thousands of horrible reviews on Amazon already convinced me not to consider checking out the game, but the borderline angry flunking it received from these scientists served as the final nail in the coffin (sorry for the cliches here; I'm too tired to put that much effort into writing well today).

MWC--I've been aware of your disinterest in Spore for a while now. Any final thoughts?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First Impressions: Dressy Bessy, I'm From Barcelona, Head of Femur, Airborne Toxic Event

After a relatively slow August and September, I got a pile of new music this past month. I'm still digesting a lot of it, but here are some quick first impressions of a couple albums from two bands I know and two bands I didn't know.

Dressy Bessy: HOLLERandSTOMP
Dressy Bessy will always hold a place in my heart (or at least my ears) because they've produced a few of my favorite albums of this past decade. This new album, by the band's own admission, is a bit of a departure for them. It's a bit more lo-fi, a bit darker, and many of the songs are slower than what I've come to expect from Dressy Bessy. To be fair, Tammy Ealom and her crew have been going at this for the better part of 12 years, so they could probably use a tweak in their formula. HOLLERandSTOMP is no Electrified or Dressy Bessy, but a not-fantastic Dressy Bessy album is better than none at all. I can't quite imagine Tammy shaking her thang in her go-go boots to many of these songs (and I already missed their show in Boston, so I won't be able to find out first hand), and I wouldn't recommend this as an intro to this band (I'd definitely go with their self-titled LP for that), but HOLLERandSTOMP is a more than adequate addition to this underrated band's discography.

Head of Femur: Great Plains
Here's another band that's apparently been around for a while, but this was my first foray into their music. This album is a bit weird, and coming from me, that's saying something. They play with a lot of musical styles and toss around a lot of instruments (many of which are played by guest musicians, I believe). They even get away with some saxophone on one of the standout tracks on the album, "Jetway Junior." Stylistically, these guys are as all over the place as Ween, and their writing is as all over the place as They Might Be Giants...I'm pretty sure the song "River Ramble" is about pollution, song from the point of view of a hick. Maybe. I'm actually not that sure about it at all, but it's a strange-but-pleasant tune. Individually, a lot of these songs are fun and catchy, but disparate enough that I'll probably listen to them on a song-by-song basis rather than listen to this whole album from beginning to end very often. I need to give it a few more listens, but I've enjoyed what I've heard so far.

I'm from Barcelona: Who Killed Harry Houdini?
I'm from Barcelona's last album, Let Me Introduce My Friends, actually made my Top 10 list for 2007. I can say with some certainty that Who Killed Harry Houdini? will not find a coveted spot on my 2008 list. I doubt it will even crack my top 20. It's not that it's bad necessarily, or even that the novelty of this humongous Swedish band has worn off. It's more that their debut album was filled with a certain child-like wonderment, and this album moves the group into a more somber early-adolescence. Emanuel Lundgren's motley crew (seriously, check out the members page on the band's website) can still create some great music, but the songs have lost their innocence. I don't mean to trash this album, especially after only one just wasn't what I expected. I'll certainly give it many more listens before I can relegate it to the "listen to only once in a great while" pile, but I'm not really that optimistic about this one.

The Airborne Toxic Event: The Airborne Toxic Event
If you have any faith in my musical taste whatsoever, then you will go out and buy or steal or do something that will allow you to listen to this album. Listen to the song in the video below (if it's working--I've been having issues with the video), and take note that as good as it is, it's probably not even the best song on this album...that would probably be "Gasoline." The songs are super-catchy, the music is plain and simple rock--I'm glad I stumbled across these guys. They're just what I needed after a slow few months. Though I like the other three albums in this post to varying degrees, none of them will be in my top ten for the year, whereas this one stands a very good chance.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gmail's Mail Goggles

Just a short blurb... not particularly music related, but seeing as we all are Gmail users at the Love-Camel, I thought it would be good to share the info. So the next time you are three sheets to the wind and think it is a good time to send your ex-whatever a little drunken email, Mail Goggles to the rescue. I can't make this stuff up. Yet another reason to have a Gmail account. Fo Sho. If you gotta read more about this fabulous application.

Friday, October 10, 2008

There Will Be Snacks

So for the first time since we started this blog, EINR and I have seen the same artist on the same tour, but in two different places. The other night I saw Andrew Bird on the tail end of his solo tour--EINR saw the first stop on that tour.

I won't go into a lot of details since there was such a recent post (with a link to another decent concert review within that post), but I really can't stress enough how good A.B. is live. His albums are great and I listen to them a lot, but the energy and virtuosity he showcases live make him one of the best performers I've seen in the past decade. During one of his songs, he looped at least three violin tracks, a whistling track, hand claps, a sound he made with his mouth that sounded like brushes on a snare drum, a cooing vocal with which he would later harmonize, and then he picked up his guitar and started singing the actual song. And set it all up withing about 1 minute. Sitting back and listening to this wall of sound, it's easy to forget that one man just produced all of that music in a very short period of time, and he's keeping it all in his head as he continues to modify his loops. As I told my sister (who awesomely got us center seats in the second row for this show), the next couple times she sees a guy just singing and strumming a guitar, she's going to be a bit disappointed. Andrew Bird has way more talent than any one person should have, but I won't begrudge him for it. I'll just enjoy it. A lot.

For once, I actually found the playlist for this one:
1) Intro (Il Conformista Prelude, I think it's called) 2) Sovay 3) Why? 4) A Nervous Tic Motion 5) Natural Disaster 6) Water Jet Cilice 7) Spare-Ohs 8) Plasticities 9) Anonanimal 10) Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning 11) Skin Is, My 12) Tables and Chairs ENCORE: Action/Adventure and Some Of These Days.

Pretty similar to the set in Chapel Hill, with a few change-ups. A.B. explained what Spare-Ohs was all about, which was an interesting story to say the least. Throwing "Action/Adventure" into the encore was also a nice bonus.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the excellence of the venue. Even Bird himself said he'd been playing a lot of lovely theaters during his current tour, but The Music Hall "[took] the cake." It is beautiful, and has some of the best sound of any venue I've ever been in. Sure, the new lobby looks like Tim Burton just created a set for Munchkin Land, but it's still pretty cool. Please go see a show there if you ever get the chance. Portsmouth is already a pretty cool city, but The Music Hall ups its cool factor considerably.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


The elusive Bison Whisperer stayed with me for a few days last week and this past weekend. Yes, he's real! He may not actually post on this site, but we did talk a lot about music and movies, as we tend to do when we're together. Saturday night we decided to see a movie at the little theater down the street from me, though pickings were a little slim. We decided on Choke, the movie based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel by the same name.

Now I love me some Chuck Palahniuk. His books are sick and twisted, but often fairly amusing, too. Choke is the story of a sex-addicted historical re-enactor who deliberately chokes on food in restaurants so people will save him and feel good about themselves (and later, send him money because they feel responsible for him). It's a good read. The problem is, though Palahniuk's books are generally quite entertaining, they've got to be a bear to adapt to film. They generally don't have much of a plot, they often jump around in time or have some complicated narrative device, and I can't recall any of them ending happily. A crazy good director, like, say, David Fincher, can still pull it off. First time director Clark Gregg...not so much.

That isn't to say this was a bad movie. Some individual scenes were pretty good, I laughed out loud a few times, and the acting (particularly by the star, Sam Rockwell, and the always entertaining Angelica Houston) ranged from good to excellent. But the heart of the book--the choking scam the central character practices to "earn" money for his ailing mother--is essentially side-lined in the film while the sex addiction comes to the forefront. The result is a movie that appears to be a bit slapdash. True, the book is pretty slapdash, too, but books can get away with that whereas movies generally can't. By the time we got to the "twist" ending (which I'd honestly completely forgotten since reading the book), instead of shock, there was more of a little shoulder shrug on my part. The ending was also completely different from the book, which ended on a huge downer. I was suprised this purported Sundance winner played it safe with even a marginally happy ending.

It's impossible to say how I would have liked this movie if I hadn't read the book. Bison Whisperer, who hadn't read the book, seemed to like it OK. I'd rent it at some point if you're a Palahniuk fan, just because adaptations of his books are few and far between. If you happen to like Sam Rockwell, who's a fairly underrated actor, you might enjoy him here in one of his few leading roles. If you want to choose between the movie and the book, however, go for the novel.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Musical Nirvana

So right now I am in the middle my personal Evelyn's Music Fest 2008, which is basically what I hope to be three amazing shows in three days. I wasn't able to make it to any festivals this year, which, while making me a little depressed, helps to reinforce the idea that life is always changing, and well, enjoy the moment, because those festivals and shows that we often reminisce about, like when I was at Stubb's in 2005 for Arcade Fire and Black Keys, are distinct moments in time and will never be reproduced.

So, it just so happened that on Thursday I picked up a Daily Tar Heel and saw that none other that Andrew Bird was scheduled to play at UNC's Memorial Hall. How in the hell did I miss that? Well, I blame being recently reunited with Chapel Hill...I usually pride myself on being aware of these things. I was introduced to Mr. Bird by EJP some years ago, and ever since, he has been a constant fixture in getting some airtime in my ears. Turns out, his performance was to be solo, even better, because if you've never seen an Andrew Bird show, this man is truely a one man show with layers of looping, whistling, and a really good voice. I won't go into a complete run-down of the show, a much better review is here, but some highlights for me included getting to hear new tracks from his upcoming release, Noble Beast, as well as the most amazing cover I have ever heard: Charlie Patton's 'Some of These Days.' This song just hit home for me ... I can only hope that this song ends up on

Then last night I was able to catch The Walkmen at The Cat's Cradle, which as I also learned in the Wed. DTH is slated to be leveled and replaced by a hotel chain in Carrboro (how wrong is that?; however, the CC's owners insist the Cradle will survive). Earlier I posted my 10 favorite albums of the year and Walkman's You & Me was on there, and I'd have to say, it might be my favorite of the year. It was a crazy good Walkmen show...I've seen them multiple times and there have been some stinkers...but from the first Dylanesque belted lyrics from Hamilton Leithauser, you knew it was on. Unfortunately, no setlist yet, but the boys played most of You & Me, with the noted exception of 'Seven Years of Holidays' which is my personal fave. A show highlight for me was 'All Hands and The Cook.' Of course they kept everyone happy with 'The Rat' ... even as I type this I'm still amazed how good Leithauser's voice sounded live. One perplexing thought about the show though, there were perhaps 150 people there. can you be serious with how amazing their new album is...and Girl Talk, which is playing soon at CC, sold out a month ago. Don't get me wrong, I like Greg Gillis mashups too...whatever. I was there last night and it was nice. Very nice.

Finally, tonight I'm headed to the Orange Peel in Asheville, gasoline willing, with Sir Widget to see the Blues Brothers from Akron, aka, The Black Keys. OK, side rant. You're aware that the Southeast has been in a gasoline shortage since hurricane Ike. Yeah, that's right, the one that hit Sept. 13th. Ike Spike alright. Anyway, in the Western part of NC , it has been a real hassle to get our drug of choice it seems. Here's to hoping the ride is worth it. Yes, I could see them play in RDU, but the Orange Peel really is one of my favorite venues, plus I am planning on some bouldering in the area the next day.

Just got to make a commemorative t-shirt and poster for my festival, and I'll be all set.

Songs in Search of a Soundtrack: Noah and the Whale

I am a sucker for Wes Anderson movies and indie rock bands, which means it's inevitable that I would post something about Noah and the Whale. Even the name of this London band apparently came from Anderson collaborator Noah Baumbach's movie The Squid and the Whale. And the video for their ridiculously catchy single, "5 Years Time," was certainly cut out of The Life Aquatic handbook.

I picked up their recent (and I believe debut) album, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, and was pleased to discover a solid set of songs from beginning to end. "5 Years Time" is certainly a standout track, but I find it fascinating that Pitchfork described it thusly: "takes up familiar ukulele strums ...., violin, and a heavy beat." Only the Pitchforkians would describe that as "familiar." Have these guys ever listened to a Top 40 radio station?

But I digress. The rest of the album is not as happy/shiny as the single, but the songs are nearly all catchy and well-performed. As I mention in the post title, these songs--most of which are about love, death, love and death, or the death of love--could easily fall into the soundtrack of a quirky indie romantic comedy (or, hey, even a Wes Anderson movie). That's not meant to be a negative critique, because I would probably enjoy or even buy such a soundtrack. It's just that a lot of these songs are begging for a montage, and I can't think of an album that's ever struck me like that before.

Enjoy the video (I challenge you not to enjoy it, at least a little bit), and know that the song comes from a very decent album. The more I listen to it, the more it's growing on me.

(This video became un-imbeddable, so you'll just have to cut and paste the link)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wordle and Dr. Frank

Don't ask me how...but by some sort of King Dorkian intervention I ended up at Frank Portman's personal blog. I got distracted and started reading some of his posts (most are just YouTube vids) and came across something called a Wordle. Kinda cool. I'm sure everybody already knows about them. Anyway, here is my Wordle example: R.E.M. 'It's the end of the world...'

If you click on image, you can see a bigger size picture of the Wordle.