Friday, June 8, 2012

The Cynic Reviews: Prometheus

In 1979, Ridley Scott made what is, in my opinion, the greatest horror movie of all time, as well as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. But even in the hands of talented directors, the series went downhill after the first two masterful enstallments; the series never again reached those heights. Now, 33 years after that first classic, Ridley Scott takes back the helm to try to return to the franchise's glory days with Prometheus.

First off, I'm not going to go into detail about the plot, as I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone. The basic skeleton is that two scientists in the tail end of the 21st Century find a series of artifacts suggesting that mankind was visited by a race of people from a very distant star system, and that these people may have been our creators. And then shit gets real.

It's tough for any movie to live up to the hype and expectations heaped on Prometheus's lofty shoulders, and it's difficult to look past this hype and look at it as a standalone film (or as the ending would have you believe, a stadalone franchise), which is what Scott clearly wanted it to be. While much of this film's imagery informs what is seen in it, this is not a direct prequel to Alien. This works very much in its favor. It's tough making new scares when the audience knows where everything is going, so making a world where the iconic facehuggers and Xenomorphs are in early, primitive stages alongside very different, more advanced creatures helps keep things interesting. Still, it's impossible to not to compare it to Alien. Don't do this too much; it will make Prometheus seem much more disappointing than it really is. I started off doing this, and it made my opinion of the first twenty minutes or so sink. Once I forgot that, and just sat back to enjoy the ride, I liked the movie. A lot.

There's a lot to recommend Prometheus. Unsurprisingly for a Ridley Scott film, the movie looks fantastic. It's worth shelling over your nine bucks just to marvel at the scenery. It's beautiful, mysterious, unsettling, and terrifying all at once. While Alien was small and claustrophobic, it's clear the Scott made this film to be an epic, and it takes great advantage of that scope. I chose not to watch it in 3D, as I think that 3D is a dumb gimmick made by greedy executives to drive up ticket prices that needs to hurry up and die for a second time. But like all good movies, Prometheus is still great in two dimensions. Good sets and cinematography are still good sets and cinematography regardless of whether they're flying at your face. The acting is very good all across the board, but the show is stolen by Michael Fassbender as the android David 8. He's marvelous, and needs recognition come Oscar night. Seriously; he's that good. Not to anger any Bishop fanboys out there, but he's the best android the franchise has had since Ian Holm. The special effects are also top notch, though there was a bit of an over reliance on CGI. Still, it's some damn fine CGI.

But it's not perfect. The script sometimes fails Scott and his cast, with pieces of clunky dialogue that didn't need to be there. Some of the characters aren't well defined enough, most notably Charlize Theron, who tries her best despite being given next to nothing to work with. And much as I love Guy Pearce as an actor, they should have actually cast an elderly actor as the ancient CEO of Weyland Enterprises. Pearce, as always, does a fine job, but he's undone by laughable CGI aging. I hate to break it to Hollywood, but special effects aren't that good yet. There other things that let me down or made me scratch my head, but due to spoilers I won't talk about them here.

It's not Alien, which was flawless, nor is it James Cameron's sequel, which was very nearly flawless. Prometheus is far from perfect, but there's still a lot to recommend it. It may not be Alien, but it's still good enough to be worthy of its proximity to it. There's very clear sequel bait at the end, and I eagerly await that next installment, hoping it answers the many questions that Prometheus left. Still, it gives the audience a lot to talk about. Grade: B+

Sunday, February 12, 2012

the Top Five Best Albums of All Time

Before we start off, I must remind everyone here that this is all opinion. I may have strong opinions on music, but they're still opinions. I assume that there are a lot of you who don't share my taste in music. If you disagree, I would love to hear it, but please be respectful. Remember: You have the right to think that I'm off my rocker (I probably am), but bear in mind that I have the same right.

5. Summertime- Booker T. and the MGs (originally by George Gershwin)
It seems odd that, when picking the definitive version of one of the most frequently played jazz standards, I should pick a soul band. After all, luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Michael Brecker, and Charlie Parker have made brilliant recordings of this song. Needless to say, the completion here is tough. But despite Satchmo’s unmatched influence, despite Brecker’s awe-inspiring phrasing, and despite Parker’s unbelievably fast fingers (though this is one of his few slower pieces), the best version is probably the simplest.

It’s all in the feeling here- Booker T. Jones slows down the piece to almost half of its original tempo, letting each musician to really savor each note. As weird and crazy as this sounds, this cover actually feels like late summer; it feels sticky and too humid. The song’s about lazy summer days, and this instrumental rendition conveys that feel better than any lyrics ever could. No other version has accomplished this feat, and that makes Booker T.’s cover stick out among a vast sea of covers. He gave a jazz standard more soul than most R&B artists have ever been able to accomplish with their own material.

4. Hurt- Johnny Cash (originally by Nine Inch Nails)
Yeah, I know it’s overplayed. I know that everybody puts this song on their list of best covers. I know that you’re all tired of people saying that this is a good cover, but damn it, this is a hell of a cover. There’s no denying that.

See, Trent Reznor is one of those musicians whom I respect, but don’t really like all that much. He’s a pretty good composer and he uses harmonic and melodic ideas that most people in the fields of rock and pop shy away from, and I can appreciate that. But his music always seems so cold and detached and while I suppose is the point of his respective subgenre, it winds up harming the material in the long run. “Hurt” is a perfect example of that. While Reznor removes himself from any emotion, Cash makes things a little too personal, creating a much more powerful, multidimensional rendition of the material. Reznor’s original is freaky and disturbing, much as it ought to be, but Cash makes something that affects the listener on a much deeper level. And as overplayed as it is, the experience never diminishes, as Cash was an addict for many, many years. This is why he succeeds and every high school bass looking for the one song he can play to impress women with fails.

Plus, “Ring of Fire” is way more overplayed.

3. TIE: Georgia On My Mind- Ray Charles (originally by Hoagie Carmichael)/Try a Little Tenderness- Otis Redding (originally by the Ray Noble Orchestra)
These are together for two reasons: they both are in very similar veins, and I simply can’t choose between the two. If I only included one, I wouldn’t be able to put the other on here, and that’s not really fair.

What we have here are two 30’s jazz standards that were turned into soul classics so well that the notion that they’re both covers has been almost completely forgotten. I was very surprised to find that these weren’t the originals, considering that nobody will ever give a rat’s ass about any versions that aren’t by Ray Charles or Otis Redding respectively, and with good reason; just as the world with only ever associate “Giant Steps” with John Coltrane for one of the greatest solos ever improvised, Charles and Redding took throwaway novelty songs and made them mean something. They put significantly more feeling into the songs than the lyrics really justified, but that’s soul for you. Nobody has ever been able to top these guys, and nobody ever will.

2. With a Little Help from My Friends- Joe Cocker (originally by The Beatles)
One of my cousins called this the worst cover he’s ever heard. My cousin is insane.

Look, don’t think that means that I’m condoning Beatles covers. For the most part, only the Beatles can play the Beatles, because every time I hear a cover of one of their songs I think, “you know, Icould just be listening to the Beatles”. Sometimes goals are just too lofty to achieve.

Unless you’re Joe Cocker. He’s waded into these dangerous waters over and over again and kicks ass every single time. In fact, several of these covers have become classics in their own right, such as “Something”, “Come Together”, and this.

Let me put it like this: Think about the last time you heard a cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Was the cover based on the original or was it a big, soulful, brassy, ballad in ¾ time? It was the big, brassy one, wasn’t it? Almost every other version of this song is based almost verbatim on Cocker’s arrangement. And why not? Let’s face it; “With a Little Help from My Friends” was never the Beatles’ best song. They’ve written deeper stuff, as well as more interesting stuff. This song was a pop diddy; it was never the centerpiece of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s a very, very good song, but it suffered from blending in with the typical “60’s rock sound”. What made the Beatles great was their ability to break rules, not follow them. Cocker completely changed the piece, turning a harmless pop song into a loud, pleading soul-rock classic. The Beatles made a memorable song, but Cocker made it unforgettable.

1.Round Midnight- Miles Davis (originally by Thelonious Monk)
Originally, “With a Little Help from My Friends” was going to be number one. Then I remembered something: my favorite song is a cover of a piece by composer, pianist, and possessor of the world’s most badass name Thelonious Monk.

This was the first song I ever heard on vinyl, and I still have yet to hear anything nearly as beautiful. There have been many, many covers of this song by some of the greatest jazz musicians ever: Monk, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Maynard Ferguson, the list goes on. Hell, even Amy Winehouse recorded a pretty good version. Yet, no one has ever been able to top Miles Davis. The closest is a gorgeous version by Stan Getz, but even he couldn’t do what Davis’ quintet could do; not even with a full orchestra backing him. There’s just something about the way Miles plays the melody, something about the harmony and solo played by an up-and-coming John Coltrane on the tenor sax. It can’t just be Miles’ heavy use of the Harmon mute. Davis just had a way of playing that, try as many have, no other trumpeter has been able to duplicate. His phrasing is exquisite, Coltrane sticks through at all the right times, and the rhythm section is masterful. I may never be able to fully explain why this rendition makes me feel the way I do, but I can say what it is- pure bliss.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Cynic's Musical Side: top 10 of 2011

9. Let Them Talk- Hugh Laurie
Is there anything Hugh Laurie can't do? Unlike other actors who decide to make music, Laurie has made sure to do justice to the style of New Orleans blues he so loves. For the sake of authenticity, Laurie has surrounded himself with great New Orleans musicians such as Irma Thomas, Dr. John and the great patriarch of N'awlins himself, Allen Toussaint. Add in a great guest spot from Tom Jones and Joe Henry (who's own newest album is also featured on this list) adding his considerable talents to the producing end, and you've got a pretty cool album. Laurie rightly emphasizes his band more than himself; I dig his singing voice, but the real star here are Toussaint's wonderful arrangements. Let them Talk sets itself apart from other actors' musical vanity projects by keeping it real and nailing a gritty, down-home authentitcity that most similar albums are sorely lacking. Hugh Laurie's music heroes would be proud.

8. From Africa With Fury: Rise- Seun Kuti
Seun Anikulapo Kuti is the youngest son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, and that's about all you really need to know. If you aren't familliar with Fela Kuti, please stop reading this and go listen to "Zombie"; trust me, you'll be thanking me later. For those of you who are fans of Fela, you'll love Rise (assuming you don't already own it): Seun is about as perfect a reincarnation of his father as you'll get, with one exception- all the songs on this album are under 10 minutes, making Rise the perfect introduction to afrobeat for people who aren't used to twelve plus mintutes of pure, no-holds-barred funkiness.

7. For True- Trombone Shorty
Hey, speaking of funk...

The bad news is that For True isn't nearly as insane as Troy Andrews's debut, Backatown. There are no death metal guitars here, and you stand a slightly smaller chance of losing your hearing when plaing this album. The good news is that, despite polishing their sound, Orleans Avenue hasn't sold out;For True is still the funkiest album of the year, and is stuffed full of horn-driven jazz-meets-rock-meets-soul-meets-soul-meets-funk-meets-hip-hop goodness. Andrews lays the grooves on strong- take it from an awkward dweeb like myself, this album will make you move. You can't not boogie down when this album is blasted. You can't repel funk of this magnitude. For their next album, I'd like to see Orleans Avenue's rythm section stomp back on the distortion pedal like they did with their last album, but For True is still a keeper- a rollicking, fun, blast-until-your-ears-fall-off keeper.

6. The Bright Lights EP- Gary Clark, Jr.

Yes, this is just an EP. Yes, it's just four songs long. But when you hear someone like Clark, you gotta pay tribute. The full album is slated to come out in 2012, and I couldn't be more excited. The first time I heard "Bright Lights", I was hooked. It was pure magic. Taking as much from Jimi Hendrix as from Muddy Waters, Clark has crafted a sweet set that's part John Lee Hooker and part Black Keys. With only four tracks, he's already setablished himself as one of modern music's greatest riffmakers, if not it's greatest. A less mummified Keith Richards; an alternate universe Bill Withers who actually gets the recognition he deserves. Gary Clark, Jr. has shown us that he has the ingredient that sets a great musician apart from a good musician: that little spark of madness that makes his sound a little bit wild, a little bit scary, and a little unlike anything else you've ever heard.

5. Don't Explain- Beth Hart and Joe Bonamossa

It's often said that old ideas don't get worn out, but only the musicians who play them wrong. Much as I proze individuality, there's something special about high energy traditionalism.Don't Explain Is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Hart and Bonamossa set up a line of ballsy covers and knock 'em out of the park. Bonamossa is a formidable axeman and Hart has a voice that would make Janis Joplin cower. Together they make a killer record. No, it's nothing new, but it's a great example of how to do soul and blues right.

4. Dust Bowl- Joe Bonamossa

I don't know what madman asked for a blues album you can headbang to, but I am forever in their debt. Wheras Don't Explain was full of solid traditionalism, Dust Bowl shows that Bonamossa isn't afraid to get a little freaky. And then get much, much more freaky. And then get freakier still. Sonically speaking, Bonamossa has released what is unequivocally the nuttiest album of the year that didn't involve Tom Waits. Fusing Chicago blues and delta blues with a touch of hard rock, Joe Bonamossa leans on the distortion pedal and pumps up the amps for the party of the year. It's been a good year for the guitarist, and I really hope that this is an indication of more to come.

3. Reverie- Joe Henry

While this is very much a thematic follow up to 2009's Blood From Stars, musically speaking Reverie is a completely different beast. Joe Henry is a true original, unrestrained by genre conventions, and a man whose only concern is if the sound fits the lyrics- in short, he is an honest to god singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter. Every bit as brilliant a composer as he is a lyricist, Henry has made a folky, stripped-down light at the end of Stars's long, dark, bluesy and dense tunnel. I still can't decide which album I like more, but they're hard to compare; Henry sound is eclectic, strung together by his ethereal production. Henry, who is a cracking producer to boot, has created a sound that is both dreamlike and very real. This is how you make a great album.

2. El Camino- the Black Keys

Last year, the blues-rock duo went down to Muscle Shoals and added a Stax soul vibe to their sound, sort of like Al Green crossed with Albert King. Now, the band picks up where they left off with Brothers and steps on the gas. The result is their most fully realized album yet. Over the last 10 years, the Black Keys have honed their sound into a perfectly imperfect mashup of genres. This is the sound that they've been searching for their entire career, and it's a sound that has already had numerous imitators. Everyone wants to be the Black Keys- a sign that they'll someday rest among the pantheon of rock gods.

1. Bad As Me- Tom Waits

No surprises here: of course I'd pick a Tom Waits album. But I assure you that this spot is well deserved. Bad As Me is the best album Waits has released in years: raw and powerful, and full of the downtrodden characters that made him famous. Waits is a first rate poet and a first rate soryteller, and he's made the perfect album for our time. It makes sense; Waits has been the patron saint of the unlucky misfit since his career began in the early 1970s. Most musicians who reach 62 years of age tend to slow down, but Waits has never, ever been "most musicians". If anything, he floors it, diving head first into the climate of discouragement and uncertainty seen throughout the nation. Waits doesn't usually get political, but he does here, and with a vengeance- the military chant "Hell Broke Luce" is a flooring, deeply affecting portrait of a soldier going mad, and "Chicago" plays to the uneasy voice of many people who, finding themselves down on their luck, find they need to move on but don't know where to go. The album is also full of classic Watsian stories full of classic one liners and fascinating weirdos. He surrounds himself with a killer band, too: riffing with Flea, Les Claypool, Marc Ribot, and Keith Richards, Tom Waits created a true classic.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Cynic's Musical Side: Lulu

I don't like Metallica. I know, shocker, right? I don't hate them, and some of their early stuff is pretty good, but I'm mostly indifferent to them. I'm also pretty indifferent to Lou Reed. I know that a lot of my fellow music geeks are going to want to kill me for saying that, but it's true. I've tried really hard to like his music, and while I can admire the tunes, arrangements, and lyrics of a few of his songs, I just can't get past his singing voice. I've never been one to harp on talented musicians for having singing voices that aren't conventionally good- I'm a fan of so many of them: Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Dr. John to name a few- but at least those artists at least have interesting voices that suit the character of their music. Lou Reed's voice just puts me to sleep; it's so lethargic and monotonous, as if he's constantly bored with the state of his music. But enough about that. The important thing is that Metallica and Lou Reed have made an album together, and regardless of how I feel about both artists, that's just such a weird idea- such a bizarre pairing- that I just had to hear what it sounded like. With a concept like that, their album Lulu could only be two things: it'd either be a complete train wreck or pure genius.

Spoiler alert: it's a complete train wreck. Oh, but what a train wreck it is...

Think of the pantheon of hilariously awful music: Rebecca Black. Any of William Shatner's songs. These guys. I heartily believe that Lulu will soon be added to this pantheon. Reed's bored monotone pairs with thrash metal exactly as well as you think, in that it doesn't. Not a bit. But that doesn't matter when you're listening to Lulu, because you'll be laughing too hard to notice. This album is one of the greatest works of musical comedy ever made, though I seriously doubt that Reed and Metallica indended it to be that way. But how can you not laugh at an album that opens with the line "I would cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff", and wants you to take it completely seriously? And it only gets worse- or better, depending on how you view it- from there. The last track, "Junior Dad" is promising, being the only track on the album where Reed's voice fits, but with a run time of almost twenty minutes, it eventually gets old.

In the end, I'm really, really glad that I didn't spend any money on this (you can listen to the entire album on their website), but I'm also glad that I decided to listen to it. Lulu is seriously one of the most awful, stupid, and ludicrously entertaining ideas I've ever heard. I would be cringing if it weren't so damn funny. I'm sure that it will have it's fans- after all, there are people out there who legitamately like Ke$ha- but for the rest of us, prepare yourselves to be confused; to laugh but not really understand. To want to both gouge your ears out and thank the world that Lulu exists. To both hate yourself for ever wanting to hear this, and to profusely thank your curiosity. I urge you to not, under any circumstances, buy this album, but I also urge you to go out and hear at least part of it, if only so you'll actually believe me when I say it happened. Grade: D-

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cynic's Musical Side: Bad As Me

Tom Waits has released a new album, which pretty much means one of two things: you've already bought it (or are buying it soon or borrowing from a freind who just bought it) or you have no idea who the hell I'm talking about. Waits seems to be one of those secrets that isn't really all that secret: he never advertises, he never merchandises, and finding people you know who are familliar with his music is difficult, yet he has amassed a huge and devoted following amongst musicians and harcore music geeks. I've never met a record store owner who wasn't a fan, Rolling Stone positively drools over his work, he was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the list of musicians who've expressed admiration for his work is about as impressive a list as you'll ever see: Norah Jones, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Krall, Solomon Burke, Joan Baez, The Eagles, the list goes on and on. That's not bad for a guy who drank and smoked away his voice in the mid '70s and employs melodic and harmonic ideas that send more casual listeners running for the fences. You see, his work isn't the kind that you don't just hear idly while you screw around with other things; you actually have to sit down and listen. Really listen. Do that, and you'll soon uncover hidden beauty in even his harshest, strangest songs.

As you may have guessed, I absolutely love Tom Waits. I own every single album he's ever released, and I'm not about to let this one slip through my fingers. But after all that, it's an understatement to say that Bad As Me has big shoes to fill. In a career that spans 19 albums and almost 40 years, the singer-songwriter, who turns 62 in November, has never released a single dud. Think about that for a second. There are artists that I like more than Waits who have released some total crap (I'm looking at you, Tower of Power), yet Waits has gone 38 years without writing a bad song- some that take getting used to, certainly, but not an actual, honest-to-god dud. And it's not like he's played it safe, either; Waits is one of the most original artists in the modern music world, crafting sounds that nobody's dared attempt to create, using apochriphal instruments and percussion made from found objects and other junk, and taking his odd voice to strange new places. But what about his new album? Does Bad As Me live up to the hype?

You bet it does.

First of all, it's hard to make a bad album with the lineup of studio musicians Waits has assembled: Les Claypool, Marc Ribot, Charlie Musselwhite, Flea, Keith motherfucking Richards- seriously, how could this not be awesome? Secondly, this couldn't be a better time for a Tom Waits record: times are tougher than they've been in decades, and Waits has been a sort-of musical patron saint of the hard luck case since he was in his early twenties. And for the fist time in a while (maybe ever) Waits has released an album where he gets genuinely, truly angry. Before I even listened to the album, I went through the lyric sheet and read every last stanza, lest we forget amongst the strange noise that Waits is one of the music world's greatest living songwriters, challenged only by the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Inside lie some of the rawest, most powerful stuff he's ever written. The opening track, Chicago, tells the story of a destitute couple moving on in the fading hope of a better life, while not even knowing what lies ahead for them in their destination ("the seeds are planted here/but they won't grow/we won't have to say goodbye/if we all go"). "Talking at the Same Time" and "New Year's Eve" both illustrate the kind of downtrodden lowlifes that he's always hand a knack for writing about, cementing his place as one of modern music's last true storytellers. But the centerpiece here is the brutal, chantlike "Hell Broke Luce", which records a soldier's fiery rage, set to thundering drums and machine gun fire. Wits has written anti-war songs about the war in the middle east before ("Day After Tomorrow" from 2004's Real Gone and "Road to Peace" from 2006's Orphans, respectively), but never like this. It is rawer, darker, and more chilling than anything he's written since "Tom Traubert's Blues" back in 1976. It may just be the angriest song he's ever written, and left me dumbstruck. Musically speaking, it's not the best song on the album, but it's the one that left the biggest impression on me. I feel confident that years from now, it'll be considered with his most revered work such as "Jersey Girl" and "Jockey Full of Bourbon". It just goes to show that, while Waits isn't usually one to make a statement in his work, but when he does, hearing it isn't an experience you'll soon forget.

But it's not all darkness and gloom. As anyone who's seen his gloriously, hilariously batshit interviews and stage banter, Waits has a prominent fun, tongue-in-cheek side. He can't resist fun, and he gives some great jams, such as the soul-blues influenced title track and "Satisfied", a tribute song to the Rolling Stones featuring Keith Richards on guitar. Let me repeat that for you: Tom Waits pays tribute to the Rolling Stones. With Keith Richards. And yes, it is every bit as awesome as it sounds.

This isn't just another solid record from the music industry's greatest living sideshow act, it's his best since 1999's Mule Variations, and deserves to be said in the same breath as classics such as Small Change and the pure genius Heart of Satuday Night (my personal favorite album of all time). If you're a Tom Waits fan, you'll love this album to death. If you're not, who knows. But give it a chance; you might be surprised. Grade: A+

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cynic Reviews two thrillers

I recently saw two very different movies that both demonstrate a concept that almost seems lost in the movie intustry: how to make a good thriller. One of them I just saw, the other I've been thinking about reviewing for weeks. And since it's the season for scary movies, I thought I do you a service and tell you about two that don't suck.

Movie #1: Contagion: A new disease has broken out in the world. The CDC and WHO cannot identify what it is, and race to find a cure while millions die around them. It's a simple story, and the sort of thing that's been told many times before. But that just goes to show how a good director can breathe new life into a tired concept. The director in this case is Steven Sodergurgh, one of our era's most talented directors (and one who is retiring, much to my disappoinment). Soderburgh is working with a taut script and surronds himself with a brilliant cast. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen so many recognizable faces in a single movie. He also uses his old trick of the fractured narrative, making this seem a little bit like Traffic's horror-movie cousin. 

It's superbly detailed; I can't vouch for the science, but it seems like things check out. But what really makes this movie so gripping is the psycholigical element; Soderbergh dives very, very deeply into how society would begin to deteriorate during such an epidemic, making things uncomfortably real. This us a tense, suspenseful thriller that's definately worth forking over nine bucks to see in theaters. Grade: B+

Movie #2: I Saw the DevilA vicious serial killer murders the wife and unborn child of a Korean aecret agent. Struck with grief and anger, the agent tracks down the killer, but instead of murdering him, he forces him to swallow a tracking chip. This starts a tense cat-and-mouse game as the agent makes the killer's life a living hell before exacting a final, brutal vengeance... and losing his soul in the process.

This is a fantastically made movie- finely directed, tensely written, and brilliantly acted. It is one of th most gripping films I've seen in a while; I was afraid to blink in places. But here's a word of caution: I Saw the Devil is also the sigle most disturbing movie I have ever seen. Ever. Seriously, this is one of the most brutally graphic things you'll ever see; if you have a weak stomach, stay away from this. I mean it, because once you start watching this, you won't be able to stop. With a running time of over two and a half hours, I had planty of chances to stop watching but I didn't. I couldn't. I had to see how it ended. 

In the end, I am glad I saw this movie, but I don't think I ever want to watch it again. This is one of those movies that, if you can stomach it, you really should see, but only once. Trust me, you won't soon forget it. Grade: A-

The Cynic's Musical Side: Don't Explain

If there are any hipsters reading this, you may want to skip this sentence, because it will offend you: I believe that usually obscure music is obscure for a very good reason. Most music that never gains an audience really sucks; that's why it doesn't have an audience. Duh. It just doesn't seem like it, because when you do find a good artist that you've never heard of, it makes it kind of special; you can go and tell all your friends about what they're missing. Everybody loves that. This is also one of the main reason I love record stores (next to bargain bins; seriously, that shit is awesome). The first time I heard Fela Kuti was in a music store, and I have been an unabashed fan since. This brings us to Beth Hart's new album, Don't Explain. I was scrounging the bargain bin in a record store when the owner started playing this album. The opening track, the bluesy-as-all-hell "Sinner's Prayer" hits you like a baseball bat to the face. HotDAMN can Hart wail. So much so that I was shocked to find out that she's white. I had to know who this was. 

On top of that, you really have to admire her nerve. You see, there is a group of artists that people say you shouldn't ever cover, because there's a snowflake's chance in hell that you can do any better, and this album is a who's who of those daunting artists: Bill Withers ("For My Friends"), Aretha Franklin ("Ain't No Way"), Tom Waits ("Chocolate Jesus"), Etta James ("I'd Rather Go Blind", "Something's Got A Hold Of Me"), and- most dauntingly- Billie Holiday ("Don't Explain"). It takes balls of titanium to challenge artists of that calibur.

And. She. Tops. Every. Damn. One. Of. Them.

Teaming up with guitarist Joe Bonamossa, Hart gives us blues, soul, and jazz at their most bruising, filled with thundering highs and foreboding lows. They may all be covers, but Hart makes each song her own, using her powerful voice to its fullest potential. She has the perfect voice to sing the blues- rough and just raspy enough. She recalles great shouters such as Koko Taylor, Duffy Bishop, and Etta James herself. But best of all, while her voice is always powerful, Hart never oversings. It seems to be a disease plaguing modern music where perfectly good singers constantly feel as if they have to prove to us that they're good; filling their songs with pointless cadenzas and completely forgetting how to pick a note and fucking stick with it. All the great singers of old made it seem effortless; they knew that they had nothing to prove. They kept the notes steady and strong. Hart understands this well, and I think that the Beyonces of the world need to sit up and take note; this is how it's done. This is how you sing soul. Soul singers of the world, you just got schooled on your own music by a 38-year-old white woman. How does that make you feel?

Go out and buy this album. Right now. Seriously, what are you waiting for? It's nothing new, sure, but the blues has never been big on change. What Don't Explain is, though, is a singer simultaneously paying tribute to the singers and songwriters who have influenced her throughout her carrer while blowing them all out of the water. Plain and simple, it's a fun time with some great musicians and a singer who, while staying close to her influences, has a style all her own. It's full of verve and energy, and in this age of bland, listless, forgettable pop, that's always something to celebrate. Grade: A+