Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oxford Collapse @ the Mercury Lounge 9/27

I really like Oxford Collapse. It's cool that they are under the radar at Sub Pop. It's also cool that they have a cool name. And it's also cool that they just seem like regular guys who aren't even that cool. They aren't that hip. In fact, I'm sure if you had a misunderstanding with them, you might think they are assholes. Who knows. I just think that there's a particular swagger to their music. It's drunk, it's loud, it's sloppy but deceptively so because underneath all the distortion and howls there are real guitar hooks, real gems there. It's exciting to see them live again, and at the largest venue I've seen them at, the lovely Mercury Lounge. The sound is great, one of the openers, Takka Takka, was amazing live, with balanced guitars (I still hate 3-guitar bands but I'll make an exception in this case), rolling bass lines and tight, simple drumming.

Openers kept hyping up Oxford which was kind of funny because after the umpteenth time of a band member shouting "you guys are in for a real treat" the crowd probably thought, "these guys must be real pretentious". But they aren't; they watched the opening bands with support and encouragement, and that's the kind of community that music needs to have, an open, hey-i'm-in-the-crowd-too aspect.

I caught the second opener, Grandma's Boy, their second show ever, a foursome of young hip flower girls and dueling vocals, the taller one with a husky, deep power, and the other, a more precocious, somewhat perversely sexualized (fitting with their lyrics including songs like "Pink Chocolate"). It was cool, they settled into a groove, most of their songs consisting of two-chord progressions and mid-tempo 4/4 beats. It's like if Shonen Knife were less punk, even more simple, and talked about sex with obvious innuendos.

Takka Takka was really tight, I really enjoyed their songs, all varied, and the lead vocalist sounded great; I was thinking Echo and the Bunnymen the entire time, I hope that is a cool comparison. At first I wondered why they needed a percussionist, and 3 guitars, but they have some really nice little ditties that warranted a triple guitar attack. Very professional stuff, and they put their little keyboard to just the right amount of use, coming in with eclectic sounds at good moments.

And so Oxford came on around 11:45. By the end of the show, you know it's awesome when the backs of the bandmembers' shirts are just soaked with sweat from convulsing and kicking out the jams. They ripped through numbers like "Molasses" and songs from their new album "Bits" with a real urgency and fury. I wished they could have played Lady Lawyers but anywho. They have the unfortunate situation that most of their fans seem to be indie rock people who don't dance or do anything, although their songs are certainly moshable.

I think they are a solid band because they really have a punk feel, there's vibrancy at the root of their music, which is uncomplicated and certainly sticks to the guitar-drum-bass formula. They sing about getting ridiculous and loosing sight and stutter and wail about and wade in shit. They don't mind getting dirty I think. They sound normal, and not normal for indie rock, or punk, or garage rock, or whatever. They don't posture with their vocals, their melodies are clear and are backed by rambling drums, and it's music made more on impulse and catching that great moment, extending it for 2 or 3 minutes, and doing it all over again. They are a fun band to watch, when a bassist can come out to the audience and drink a patron's beer during a song, that's rude and odd and amazing. They aren't wimps on stage and prance around like it really matters to them, showing it not with just head bopping, but with head banging.

Check out Oxford Collapse's MySpace here. Or if you want to make it official, go here.

For Takka Takka, go here. Their song "Fever" is on the Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist soundtrack available next week.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bar Spotlight (Football Season Edition #3): Lighthouse Tavern

So keeping in the Park Slope vein I'm doing Lighthouse Tavern because, well, I just feel like it (don't worry Kettle Black, I'll hit you up at some point this season. And don't worry Manhattan, we'll get to some digs at some point).

Going here just to hang out is a good idea, it's on a nice block of the Slope on 5th near Ginger's and The Gate. They have specials every night (including game and trivia nights), and the food isn't too pricey, not the biggest portions but 10 bucks for pretty good fish and chips isn't a bad thing. The great thing about the place is it's cozy, the New England feel really seeps in with the light blue and the tight feel. The couches are snugly fit, and the back has a pool table, with not quite a lot of room to roam but thank god it's ditched on Sundays for football. I love anything that even pretends to be in a New England/northeast coast maritime style, and these guys have just enough small details from framed artwork to the tight pub feel. It's just a great neighborhood bar.

The thing about this place is the good selection of smaller beers that they have in rotation, you're always going to come here and be like, "I should try that". They have scheduled beer tastings as well, so be on the lookout.

So on to the football. They bring on the brunch for football season, as well as ton of fun patrons who all enjoy making fun of that one dude in the corner who's being really obnoxious. For a tight bar, there's plenty of room in the back, so I would suggest pushing toward that section of the place, because the front of the bar is skinny and two large guys or gals later and there's a traffic problem. It's a well lit bar, so you're able to see all the action without having to squint your eyes; I really like having lots of light during the day is so key, even if indirect, to the vibe of a bar. With Sunday ticket you'll have to pick your TV but the bartenders are friendly as are the patrons, so work it out!

The portions here are average but you could really catch yourself eating too much here; a place like 200 Fifth doles out the food as if we were kings, but here is a smaller kitchen operation and things are kept manageable in classic baskets of food. But at least my favorite, the ole' fish 'n chips, is crisp and light. They have an array of burgers and bar snacks under 10 bucks; the prices are also very reasonable, there's always a cheaper option in case the wallet is a little thin (High Lifes are 3 bucks, Bud Light 4) but you'll want to shell out 6 bucks for the micro brews (they might be in transition from summer to fall lineup, I'll have to check to see what they have going on). I would suggest the Old Bay bloody mary, it'll put a hop in your step if you're not doing so hot from the previous night. If you'd like to sip on a bourbon during the week or even during the game, they have a few more bottles than the average bar at smart prices (I do enjoy the Woodford Reserve).

Another great thing about this place (unless it's a bar particular to your team, then you'll feel right at home) is the lack of a dominant crowd; there's displacement from lots of different teams, so the communal football experience is really felt. People are less obnoxious when this happens, and that's why this is a great place to go on a sunny Sunday afternoon to catch up on the religion we know as football.

For Lighthouse's official site, go here. To see what they say about it on Yelp, click here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Recent Netflixing - Then She Found Me

Helen Hunt has been out of the spotlight for quite a while now after a brief few years as a interesting and grounded leading lady of films like Twister, As Good As It Gets (for which she won an Oscar), and What Women Want. Pay It Forward didn't really make a dent at the box office and after rooting for her especially when she won the Oscar, and thinking she could really have a fun career with staying power like Laura Linney or Laura Dern (although I now realize she doesn't have the range or fearlessness), I was kind of disappointed when I got wind that she really wanted to work on a pet project of hers. If you're Robert Duvall and you make The Apostle, it works. However, I feel like a lot of times when actors take on a directing role (Matt Dillon in City of Ghosts comes to mind for some reason) there can be less than stellar results, career-wise. It took a few years and didn't really get much fan fare despite the strong cast, but here she is with Then She Found Me, which was released earlier this month on DVD and Blu-ray.

(I'm taking on a review for this because it was filmed in Brooklyn (including St. Patrick's School, Coney Island, and way-out and very somberly filmed Gerritsen Beach, so I figured that's good enough for a lollygag or two).

If you have a picture of Hunt in What Women Want and compare it to any still from this movie, it's remarkable the difference. Her face is hollow and worn, the wrinkles on display as plainly as her wardrobe. She certainly is pulling no punches with her look, and the entire film is surprisingly coherent and somewhat unexciting, there's a natural feel to it that a lot of bigger indies I think really strive for and achieve a heightened sense of. To this teacher, April, who Hunt plays, life is a lot of pastels and grays.

April is shown getting married in the beginning at a Jewish ceremony to Matthew Broderick's character, Ben; they take off and do some bumper cars, but before you know it, her adoptive mother is sick and Ben feels let down by their probably boring life.

Enter two variables; one is a father of two kids who attend the school April teaches in, played with a weird intensity by Colin Firth, and the other is the appearance of April's birth mother in her life, played with an annoying intensity by Bette Midler. However, that annoying nature kind of works as you sense that Bernice, the birth mother/local talk show hostess, is a bit less than who she seems.

On top of all this, April struggles to grasp the concept of motherhood as she really wants a baby, but fears she is too old. Her brother, played by a very good actor Ben Shenkman, provides solace and a counterpoint to her feeling of not being as good because she was adopted.

So what does April do, and in turn, as the audience, how do we follow her small journey and come to see the film as a whole? It is strictly a character study; I wouldn't call it a comedy, I really wouldn't. Yes there are a couple of nice comedic moments, but they are placed carefully and I would really consider this much more of a drama. Hunt keeps it relatively simple in her first feature film as a director (with the exception of that very odd credit that she gives herself for writing the script; she's listed twice). In the commentary, which is "nice" but ultimately doesn't have quite the depth or entertainment value that I really demand to watch all the way through, she mentions that the whole movie revolves around the notion that in order to love and progress, you must come to accept betrayal. It is this theme that is most interesting to the film, and actually really carries it to the end. Much of the film teeters on being good but lacks a bit of punch with the camerawork. I think that was Hunt's intention, to not let the technical aspects get in the way, but it could have been a little more than pedestrian.

The other dimension is April's want of a natural born child. She struggles with her adoption still, and the entrance of Bernice, her birth mother, into her life just makes it more apparent at how lost she's felt. Firth's Frank has his own betrayal problems, his wife leaving him and his kids recently. I had a slight problem with Frank's intensity; he's an incredibly angry person, not tender at all really. He has a nice line, where he states that he's there for his kids until they can take care of themselves, and he doesn't have to like them. It's just his duty, and he makes that point to April in the midst of an argument stemming from a stupid but understandably impulsive decision midway through the film. Hunt's character is a good foil to his, but I just don't buy it, he's a bit too much.

Midler's character tempers down by the end, which is a good thing. April is nothing like her, and doesn't give her much room for mistake just because Bernice is her birth mother. That's something that is important, April's realization that even though her adoptive mother and her didn't get along too well, it was a real relationship and existed as such, and this leads to the last little twist of the film, which really leaves the movie on a high note.

Broderick is the lightest actor here probably in terms of what his character is able to get away with and the number of comedic moments he has. He does well as a child trapped in a man's body, although he's not really in it for that much.

Now to Hunt herself in the role of April. She actually does away with a lot of her particular mannerisms that have carried on throughout her career; she tends to accent sentences in a certain way, I feel like Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise especially are two actors who do that. She has a handful of moments where restraint is the key, because whatever makeup job they did, her sad eyes and tiny mouth in this film work wonders when the camera just sits on her as she's contemplating. She pulls out better beats in her dialogue than in previous films and it's one of her most patience performances. I think her character is a bit more reckless than she thinks, moving to decisions impulsively or at least seemingly so. One could argue that at that age, with less and less hope, she's just putting out her feelers and seeing what comes of it. The exchange between her and Firth at the end really is one of the best moments in the film, I wish the entire film could be as strong.

It's actually a bit pristine, and compared to another film about a Brooklyn teacher, Half Nelson, which granted has a much different tone and storyline, it suffers by comparison. Same can be said when comparing against Judy Berlin. These are all small films that deal with huge problems and have interesting relationships. But I think a film like Half Nelson is a bit more uncompromising and focused, and really presents a style that punctuates it's environment and while TSFM does that to an extent (Brooklyn does look like Brooklyn at least), the script hints at some great things but rarely hammers it home coherently; the structure is off due to the fact that there are a couple storylines going at once. The choices that end up being made are emotionally satisfying, but the themes are much richer, and I think that's what frustrated me about this film.

However, overall, I still thought it is a good effort and it's worth it to take a look. It's a bit boring for the first 30 or 40 minutes, but it starts to pick up, and the script gets stronger. Look for Salman Rushdie as a doctor and a few cameos on Bernice's talk show tapings. Maggie Siff from Mad Men also has a bit part.

I've heard it's much different from the book, and I think an interesting difference, according to Wikipedia, is that April didn't want a child in the book, whereas the film, for a purely emotional reason, April really wants a child (which kind of pushes a good chunk the plot).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bar Spotlight (Football Season Edition): 200 Fifth

Park Slope really does have a neat little collection of sports bars that are different from each other and present a nice alternative depending on what kind of thing you're going for. You want the great food and drink deal? Cattyshack. You want a cozy New England, homey place with a couple of actual couches? Lighthouse Tavern.

I'm focusing on 200 Fifth for this post, right off the Union Street R stop, and it's a monster of a place. A good place to go to for their beefed up and extensive bar menu as well as their full menu on the restaurant side (the place is divided up into two, with two bars back to back to serve both sides). They have some really good finger food while you're watching a game, I can't come here and watch a game without getting something to eat, to go along with the 40 or so taps that they have. The bar service is kind of grumpy, with some of the bartenders having a permanent scowl on their face, but don't take it personally. On the weekends it's kind of the macho dance party as they clear out the space and it's definitely louder than any of the neighboring places like Patio or my favorite, Union Hall. All the doors can open to the outside, and with the full window front, lots of good natural light can come in and hit most of the bar with the exception of the very back.

However, we are in football season, thus let's focus. They have I think 40 TVs here, and can handle a lot of different games; the bar has tons of packages and plays all sorts of sports, all of them attracting equal passion from the patrons whether it's tennis, soccer, baseball, or football. It's definitely the bar in terms of being able to cater to and hold all the games that one would possibly need to watch. There's plenty of room to see the games from, most are perched pretty high, but I would suggest if you want to be loud, stick to the bar side, you'll be more appreciated. The seats at the bar fill up quickly and take up space, but you'll usually see a row or two of people just standing, as any crowded sports bar would have. There's a good variety of fans here too, as with Lighthouse, really with the exception of a few more New York fans, people probably come here in hopes that they'll have all the other games on as well, so no problem. There is a lot of good natured jabbing here, the worst you'll get is an obnoxious fan of a more random team for this area like I don't know Kansas City or Carolina.

My biggest problem with the bar is that the TVs are of varying sizes and quality; they have everything from a huge projection screen to I think a small 13 or 19 inch, and the one above the bar door where the two bars meet really is poor quality. I think they should upgrade with a couple of them. Also with the height, your neck can get strained pretty quickly if you aren't in a good spot, but that'll happen at most places.

Again, the food can be key here if you're looking to gorge yourself, you've got the variety to do it here. You can go from buffalo chicken tenders to oysters to short ribs and mac 'n cheese and then onto shrimp and back again. And that's just the bar menu. For Sundays, they do have a brunch special as well, so if you get in early you can prep yourself while watching Boomer and the gang.

The bathrooms are kind of hilarious in that the whiteness of the tiles and the privacy of the partial wall separating the urinals is kinda nice and a tad above average.

As I stated before, the seats get taken up (it doesn't have as many as it could really fit, the bar stools are heavy and probably were pretty expensive, and there's a lot of dead space between the bar and the high tables and booths which is good for the dancin' weekends but does leave a lot of people standing. The great thing too in Brooklyn, last time I went there, people were tossing a football on the street during the halftime break. It's a nice picture when you think about it, a good Sunday afternoon spent in a great, busy section of Park Slope (200 5th really owns the block during this time).

All in all, it's a large bar that is able to accommodate fans from all around, although you might find it distracting everytime someone screams irregularly because of the variety of games on.

For more information about their sports packages and their menu, go to there official website:

Check out 200 Fifth on Yelp here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Poster Critique: The Express

One of my favorite posters of all time (I have 3 copies from my days at the old Latham Hoyts/Regal) was the Friday Night Lights poster where the 3 captains, holding hands, go out into the spotlight. It was gritty, it was dramatic, with a great sense of space, and a great anonymity to it, fuzzy, with three words: Hope Comes Alive.

Thus, with the latest critique we go to The Express, the latest inspirational sports story (do other countries really churn these out as much as we do?) to grace theaters this fall. Leatherheads didn't do very well, although that was a much different style; early fall has been kind to films like Invincible, provided that they have a great sense of period. Other recent films like Glory Road and Miracle stick to that true-story formula and deliver good numbers. It's football season, and everyone loves a good football tale.

And Dennis Quaid never hurts in feel good movies; he's been real good at it over the years. Rob Brown, who plays Ernie Davis in the film, also was in Finding Forrester, and this could be somewhat similar territory here.

So, onto the poster. Not my favorite, but when I'm browsing artwork for upcoming films, if something catches my eye just a little bit, I think it's definitely worth it to explore.

I like the sense of space that they are capturing, obviously placing Ernie in the foreground, in uniform, mid-stride creates a great sense of action. What makes it move is the cutoff; they trim his right side (probably could have trimmed more) and below his waist, and I think it gives it energy because it makes the character seem like he's one step ahead of everyone not only in the crowd but possible implied players behind him. His story was ahead of its time too, being the first black player to win the Heisman. I think it conveys that to a good extent. Since the poster really focuses on him literally (the background is a blur of outlines of the crowd and sideline) you get the feeling the film is going to portray a rather epic story but wants you to remember there's an intimacy with this character that they are inviting you to.

I also like that they put the bylines and copy (except the tagline) up at the top to balance the poster out; the overline on 'express' ushers a sense of speed, hence the title, and the title also features an outline of the Heisman, which was what Ernie was known most for.

To finish the poster off and give a great aged look, there's a bit of desaturation and I get the sense of sepia, combined with the era of his uniform definitely gives a nostalgic sheen. It feels down to earth, a period piece, Americana, and you know it's going to try to force the inspirational sugar down.

The tagline is ok; it could have had more to it, although if it's inspirational, that's adequate (if it were a controversial film, which I don't think it's going to be, they would have pushed the envelope farther). Also, the notion of changing things and progressing one yard at a time I think aims for an against all odds story, where every forward progress counts. And it also reminds me of Any Given Sunday, which has its flaws but that speech Pacino gives at the end in his usual delivery about fighting for every yard, every inch, always good for a real heart thumper.

The poster is of one man, but he is not among a crowd; he stands alone, and he is ahead of everyone else, that's what I get from the poster. It's a good title, not overdone like Invincible or Miracle or Glory Road, its his nickname, which brings an extra sense of individuality.

I just can't wait for a real Jackie Robinson biopic to come along. I also remember The Ernest Green Story, with a great young Morris Chestnut, I may have to watch that again, I thought that was pretty good.

here's the trailer:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bar Spotlight (Football Season Edition): Status Q

The time is upon us. Donning my Bledsoe Pats jersey that I've had since about 3rd grade, I will be doing another year of feverish game-watching on Sundays. Last season I was particular to Lighthouse Tavern and 200 Fifth because both had plenty of TVs and were in Park Slope which was on the R line. I also ventured into Bay Ridge, where Status Q became a staple and probably the only bar where I could walk in with a Patriots jersey and not get ripped to shreds (there was representation from all over, and Status Q isn't particularly crowded and the free food keeps everyone happy).

In fact, from week to week I'll talk about some great places to watch games during the season, from more casual places to establishments where you should indeed know your football or else don't speak more than "I'll have a ___". And yes, I'll watch college, and yes, from time to time I will watch all the games at home anyway. However, minus cable for now, I'll have to pick up ESPN and Sunday Ticket and Saturday Game Pass games of my favorite teams (Pats, Tennessee, Penn State) at the bar.

Let's start with Status Q. Situated in Bay Ridge, which as a neighborhood really doesn't get enough props because it's so far out (same goes for other near the end or end of subway line areas), it's on a fairly quiet and typical block on 3rd Avenue. The first thing that is impressive is the care they took with the outside look (I wouldn't really call it a "lounge" though). It sets itself up as a nice and nicely run establishment, which it is.

When you walk inside, it's incredibly clean and bright; the staff here is very nice even if they hate the Patriots, I've never gotten a cross look or a feeling of intimidation here (except one Yankees fan who was mumbling shit to me under his breath, it's like dude we're watching Sunday football, why don't you change into the correct sport or else step off). Lots of representation here that I've seen over the times I've gone, including Eagles and even the Bengals. If the games aren't for you (they have a large projection screen as well as 5 or 6 flat screens and Sunday Ticket, so just ask the bartender which game you'd like), they have lots of pool tables, hence the name Status Q. I've never been on a regular night, but I'm sure the tables are filled up with plenty of Bay Ridge-itude. They also have a serious Dart league that's ongoing as well.

The best part about Status Q for the Sunday games is the prices (3 dollars for a pint is always agreeable) as well as the FREE FOOD all afternoon. Nobody else seems to eat it, but I always help myself to as much as I can, with the blessings of the bartender. It's usually a change up every week of a two course thing, such as hot dogs with sauerkraut, or meatballs and pasta, or chicken and fries, etc. etc. It's good, it's hot, and along with a cold brew, and plenty of space (it doesn't get too crowded), it's an excellent, low key choice for Sundays. There's not going to be a lot of rabble rousing or a serious streak, it's very laid back and a great, very inexpensive way to spend time watching the games. As well, you can always skip over to Ben's pizza down the block and get something for yourself to bring into the bar if the free grub runs out.

Bottom line: highly recommended for a low key football experience; however, their MySpace page is anything but low key, it's hilariously entertaining, see it here.