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Archive for the ‘Short Films’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Don’t Believe in Christmas” (2002).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

Although yesterday’s song was full of Christmas cheer, this one is a rocking raspberry for Christmas.

It’s a pretty standard blues riff with the verses being just drums and vocals.  And it’s all about how last year’s Christmas was a real downer so he has given up on the holiday

I hung my stocking on a wall
I didn’t get a thing at all

It’s got the simple sing-along chorus:

I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
’cause i didn’t get nothin’ last year

But as always, there’s a sly wink with all the bah humbug

Well i tried to get a little kiss
From a pretty little miss
She slapped me down and said “you jerk
Mistletoe doesn’t work”

There’s a nice guitar solo and then a surprising organ solo before the song wraps itself up in an tidy bow.

[READ: December 4, 2019] “The Unsupported Circle”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This is the kind of story that I really like and J. Robert Lennon is an author I would like to read more from.

The story is a series of unrelated vignettes–each one a movie or video–described by a narrator who we don’t meet for a while.

The first one is of a corporate retreat situation–a trust fall of sorts.

Next is a boy rapping on the street.  He has a humorous accident mid-video. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “BE MORE CHILL” Tiny Desk Concert #862 (July 1, 2019).

Be More Chill is a musical based on the YA novel by Ned Vizzini.  I hadn’t heard of the musical, but this Tiny Desk Concert makes me wish I had seen it [it closed August 11] (or that they make a movie out of it).  Or at least I’ll read the book now.

This performance was done on the night after the Tonys [June 9] where it went 0 for 1.

winding down a disappointing awards season. Even its big Tonys moment — a skit in which host James Corden parodied the musical’s breakout song, “Michael in the Bathroom” — passed by without anyone bothering to name the source material.

But you wouldn’t have known it the next morning, as the Be More Chill crew — composer Joe Iconis, all but three members of the principal cast and a handful of musicians, each of whom held a key role in shaping the musical’s sound — bused from New York to NPR’s D.C. headquarters.

Their arrival was a genuine event: For our Sesame Street Tiny Desk concert earlier this summer, we’d encouraged our coworkers to bring their young children, but this time around, we asked for their teenagers — the young theater enthusiasts in their lives, and anyone else they knew who’d fallen under the spell of Be More Chill and its pair of prolifically streamed cast albums.

All the performers seem to be having a great time (especially Lauren Marchus who is a treat to watch).

From the moment they arrived for their Tiny Desk debut, the cast and crew of the Broadway musical Be More Chill radiated kind exuberance. They posed for selfies behind the desk, shared stories from the previous night’s Tony Awards and clowned around with cast member Jason SweetTooth Williams, who’d torn a muscle in his leg 48 hours earlier and used a wheelchair to get from the charter bus to the desk and back

Joe Iconis wrote the music and plays piano. He also introduces the story of an avergae kid named Jeremy.  But there’s a thing called a squip, a supercomputer inside of a pill which tells you how to behave.  The story is how Jeremy now navigates high school.

Iconis also explains that this isn’t a show where people play instruments (like Once), but everyone in the cast CAN play an instrument, so they decided to rearrange the songs for the Tiny Desk.  In the show, the music is

set to wiry, hard-driving synth-rock music.  The show has been a true cult phenomenon, with an intense online following and one of the youngest audiences Broadway has ever seen.

So rather, for this show, there is acoustic guitar, upright bass, melodica and even a washboard.

The blurb is one of the longest and most detailed of any Tiny Desk Concerts as it provides a lot of context for the songs.

In the run-up to “The Pants Song,” Jeremy’s recently divorced dad (played by Williams), who’s been embarrassing his son by moping around the house in a bathrobe, senses that Jeremy is in trouble. So he enlists Jeremy’s newly estranged best friend Michael (played by George Salazar) to step up and intervene. As lighthearted as it is, the song conveys a powerful message about loyalty, parenthood, friendship, forgiveness and advocacy, all wrapped up in a simple mantra: “When you love somebody, you put your pants on for them.”

It is funny and really catchy and features the show’s musical director Emily Marshall on melodica, Charlie Rosen who did the orchestration on upright bass, Gerard Canonico who plays Rick on guitar and Tiffany Mann who plays Jenna Rolan with a tasty backing vocal part.

Britton Smith  washboard

A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” is a showcase for Jeremy’s crush, an oddball theater kid named Christine, who’s played on Broadway by Stephanie Hsu. But Hsu couldn’t make the Tiny Desk, so she’s replaced here by the charming Lauren Marcus, who normally plays Brooke Lohst onstage. It’s a sweet song about the early flowering of romantic interest, but it’s also a wise and insightful nod to the way declarations of young love can be so guarded and tentative that they seem, by design, almost nonexistent.

This song is catchy and very funny.  It’s a wonderfully endearing song.  I can’t comment on Hsu, but Lauren Marcus is terrific.  She plays ukulele and is so visibly emotive.  She totally makes the song come alive.  Britton Smith who plays Jake also does vocals [he played washboard in the previous song].  There’s backing vocals from Emily Marshall and Will Roland who plays Jeremy.

“A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” holds its emotions at arm’s length, but “Michael in the Bathroom” is an atomic bomb of teenage feelings — not to mention one of the most broadly relatable songs from any genre in recent years. The backstory is simple enough: Michael, having been abandoned by his best friend, shows up at “the biggest party of the fall,” only to sequester himself in the bathroom and practically dissolve under the weight of his alienation, self-doubt, betrayal and regret. How George Salazar didn’t get nominated for a Tony will have to remain a mystery, because his performance — like the song itself, which feels like a true standard — will be talked about for years.

George Salazar is really fantastic in this performance.  He is funny and nervous and mad and scare and his voice is terrific.  I love the little Whitney Houston musical quote.  Emily Marshall adds xylophone to the melody.

Before the finale, Iconis says that after Vizzini killed himself, Iconis was able to complete this finale in Ned’s memory.    He then notes that this is the first time they’ve done this arrangement so it could be a total train wreck.  But it isn’t.

Finally, “Voices in My Head” closes Be More Chill — and this Tiny Desk concert — with a rousing celebration of Jeremy’s return from the brink. Played by Will Roland, Jeremy seizes center stage here, taking mental inventory (“might still have voices in my head / but now they’re just the normal kind”) as the other cast members pipe up with their own commentary on his life. Above all, it’s wonderfully rousing, building to a buoyant finale.

Will Roland really impresses with his singing–especially at the end when his voice really soars. The whole cast chimes in in sequence: Jason SweetTooth Williams, Gerard Canonico, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Britton Smith.

I really enjoyed this and am very curious to hear what the original soundtrack is like.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Son of Friedman”

This is an interesting story of a father, a son and fame.

George was once a famous actor.  He could pick his own scripts and lived fairly large.  He had divorced twice.  He was meeting his old friend William.  He and William worked together on many projects, although William’s star never really sank like George’s did.

While they are sitting in the restaurant, George is aware that people are checking out William–but ignoring him.

When George’s son Benji was born, George asked William to be the boy’s godfather.  And he was a great godfather–he celebrated Benji and spoiled the boy.   George and William hadn’t been in touch much in the last decade because of their mismatched celebrity.

But Benji brought them together–somewhat inadvertently. (more…)

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[WATCHED: October 11, 2013] Pearl Jam interviews

lightning bowlToday is the release date for Pearl jam’s new album, Lightning Bolt. I have heard two songs from it (the fast and furious “Mind Your Manners” and the gorgeous “Sirens”) and I’m quite excited to hear the whole thing.  For the release of the album, Pearl Jam has decided to do some interviews.  But not with the usual suspects.  Rather, they have done four exclusive interviews with surfer Mark Richards, NFL player Steve Gleason, all around awesome lady Carrie Brownstein and director Judd Apatow.

The Mark Richards interview is available in excerpted form here.  I’m not sure how long the whole interview is.  But from the edited down video, we see that he interviewed all five of them for a bit (and then Stone, Jeff and Mike) and then Eddie.  A surfer seems like a reasonable person t ask them about their music and they clearly feel very comfortable with him.  (The video above is about 5 minutes). (more…)

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cadaverSOUNDTRACK: TAVI GEVINSON-“Heart of Gold” and “Heart” (2013).

taviBoth of these songs were recorded for the release of the film Cadaver (see below).  Neither song appears in the film, although Gevinson herself is the main character.  I admit to being awed and repulsed by Gevinson [insert standard issue comments about fashion, young fame and blogging here].  But I am glad she’s using her fame to write feminist theory instead of fashion anymore.  And I enjoyed her article in The Believer recently.

As for the film, she does a very good job as the voice in the movie.  But let’s hope she doesn’t pursue her singing career any further.

She has the kind of flat delivery that Zooey Deschanel does, but Deschaenl’s voice has a gravitas that Gevinson doesn’t (sure, you can say she’s only 16 or whatever, but there are tons of teenagers who can sing amazingly).  Her take on “Heart of Gold” is fine.  She enunciates very clearly, but there’s very little passion in the song.  Her take on Pet Shop Boys’ “Heart” (a song I know very well, but didn’t know that was the title) is a little better.  Primarily because she takes the very discoy song and turns it into a slow acoustic number.  The instrumentation is a little bland (not her fault) but she puts moments of excitement into the singing.  In both cases I’d much rather hear the original, and in fact I am going to listen to the Pet Shop Boys version right now.

And before you yell at me for picking on a teenager, she is far more successful than I will ever be, so just assume this is all sour grapes.

[READ: August 31, 2013] Cadaver

This book came across my desk and I was intrigued because it was a comic book about cadavers.  It’s shaped like a comic strip book (reminding me of early Far Side books) and it turns out to be a comic book adaptation of a short film which was originally a poem.  In the introduction, Jonah Ansell explains that his (baby) sister was going off to medical school so he wrote her a (funny) poem.  Eventually, the poem was turned into an animated short film.  And after being made into a short film it was made into this book.

The story is told in rhyme and is quite funny, until it gets rather touching.  In the introduction, Ansell also explains that there was more to the story than medial school–it’s about love and loss and cynicism vs romanticism.  Not bad for a 7 minute film.

An unnamed med student is handed a scalpel by the scary professor.  She is told to make the first incision into the cadaver.  She does so, but as she removes the heart (nicely shaped like a cartoon heart), the cadaver sits up and says that he needs it back.  The student’s partner passes out.  The man says he’s not read to die, he has a heart to give someone. (more…)

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[WATCHED: August 19, 2013] New Boy

new boyWikipedia leads me to find things about authors that I don’t know.  Some things lead you to unfindable items (see yesterday’s Douglas Coupland post).  But this time, the post about Roddy Doyle has led me to a number of things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about,

Like this short film.

New Boy is based on his short story “New Boy.”  I read the story a while ago.  I remembered the basic premise, but not the details.  And I was delighted by this short film.  It is about 11 minutes long and it really captures the story very well.

The story is about Joseph, an African refugee, who is starting school in Ireland.  He is not the only black student, but he really does stand out.  And when the mean boy behind his calls him “Live Aid” you know that things aren’t going to go all that well.

But then we flash back to the boy’s past (in an unnamed African country).  We see him in school there and then we see why he is a refugee (there’s nothing explicit either visually or narratively, but a lot is hinted at). (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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[WATCHED: August 22, 2011] “The Calamity Song”

I woke yesterday to the news that one of my favorite bands had made a music video which was a tribute to one of my favorite books, Infinite Jest. Colin Meloy was a reader during the Infinite Summer project (one of the more high profile readers, although he didn’t really contribute beyond the first week).  When I saw him at BEA, I asked him if he finished the book and he said that indeed he had. Weill according to this story from The New York Times, Colin liked the book so much that he wanted to use one of the great scenes from the book as the basis of a music video.  And since The Calamity Song has the line “In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab” which is an allusion to Infinite Jest‘s Subsidized Time, well why not use that as the song.

The video was directed by Michael Schur (a huge Infinite Jest fan) who is a major figure behind Parks and Recreation. The video is a bare-bones retelling of the Eschaton sequence from the novel. For those who have not gotten to that scene yet, Eschaton is a game of global annihilation played on a tennis court. There are strategic places you are supposed to hit from across the court (so it’s a physical game, not just an academic one) with your 5 megaton tennis balls.   The scene is challenging to read because there’s so much going on, but the video does a very good job of giving you the essence.

Sure, diehards will have lots to quibble about (it’s raining, not snowing; Ann Kittenplan (the girl who gets hit with the ball) is totally hot–not so much in the book; and the scene doesn’t end with someone’s head crashing through a computer monitor).  Most of the quibbles are addressed in the Times article but some are easily answered anyhow–it was filmed in two days, it’s a flat screen monitor (you can’t put your head through that), and why not have a hot Ann Kittenplan, it’s a music video, right?   (more…)

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