Thursday, April 17, 2008

nada surf live at the troc

Nada Surf. They hit it big in the mid 90's with the single "Popular" from High/Low and then essentially faded from the mainstream. Luckily for them. People think they're one hit wonders and those people are wrong. They continue to put out quality albums that are for them and their fans and not the executives at a record company. In fact, they felt so strongly about their second album The Proximity Effect that they ended up breaking their contract with the company they were with and then fought a protracted court battle to win the right to release it in the United States. Over the years they have become a quiet favorite of mine.

Small venues are my favorite places to see bands. They're more intimate, obviously, and the band often interacts with the crowd much more. For bands with small followings, the people at the show are often passionate fans that really groove with the music. It all just lends itself to a better performance. Nada Surf was no exception. The crowd was singing along, people were dancing to the tunes and the band, especially Matthew Caws and to a lesser extent Daniel Lorca, was talking to the crowd. Caws called out some kids that were on the balcony at the front and said it was great that they were at the show. He told the guy with them that he was a great dad for bringing them to a rock show.

They played a lot of music from their new album, Lucky, in the beginning of the show. The new album sounds great and I plan on buying it...from a record store at the plea of Caws. Their newer music is a little less hard and heavy. My thought is that they're mellowing out a bit as the get older. This is fine, good bands change as they grow as musicians. The effect was that the first two-thirds of the concert was a little less "rock" and a little more "roll." They played some really great songs, including the haunting "See These Bones" and my favorite "Weightless" from Lucky.

They came back for the encore - I use this term was more of a shortened second set - and proclaimed that they had 25 minutes left to play and they had 4 songs left they had planned to play, which wouldn't take 25 minutes. The crowd shouted out some requests and "Hyperspace" (which could/should have been the single the record company was looking for from The Proximity Effect)was added to the set list. Caws said it had been a while since they played it, so we'd have to see how it went. Well, they rocked it and I think Caws and Lorca had the best time with that song in the entire concert. The encore had a different tone to it, they played all older songs and they really turned the intensity up. The concert would have been great if they hadn't, but it was incredible because they did. I left the Troc pumped and wishing they would have played for another hour.

After waiting so long to see them for the first time, I can't wait until they come around again.

nada surf silhouette rednada surfcaws silhouettecaws rocking

Monday, April 14, 2008

philly film fest - what we do is secret

At the beginning of the film festival, I had no intention of going to see What We Do is Secret. When it was suggested, I was ambivalent and expecting it to sell out, figured that I didn't really need to see it. Saturday came around and when it wasn't sold out and I had plans to be in the city later anyway, I decided that part of what the film festival is about is to see movies you wouldn't normally see. All I can say is that I would have been upset and kicking myself if I didn't see this film. For me, it was easily the best of what I had seen so far.

What We Do is Secret is the dramatized, biographical film about Darby Crash (played phenomenally by Shane West) and his late 70's punk band The Germs. The film uses a mix of interviews, live performances and everyday life to tell Crash's story. The movie benefited from input from band members - Pat Smear was on the set for 80 - 90% of the filming according to the director. It is a hauntingly realistic view of Crash's life from his teens to his death in his early twenties.

The seriousness of the film is intense. There are light moments, but usually they last only a few seconds. The one notable exception is a band interview at KROQ in LA. The scene is light, laugh out loud funny and most remarkably, actually what happened. The transcript from the interview was used for the movie. During the Q&A after the film, the director, Rodger Grossman, noted that he had to fight tooth and nail to include this scene in the movie.

Funding for the film was limited; according to Grossman, it took over ten years to secure funding and when they finally nailed it down, they filmed 80% of the movie in 15 days. It's a shame it took so long to tell this story, but it's great that it was finally told.

What We Do is Secret
Ritz East
Philadelphia Film Festival

philly film fest - lucky miles

This cute film set in the Australian desert in 1990 teams up the unlikely combination of a Cambodian, an Indonesian and an Iraqi who have been brought together by a series of deception and mishaps, which continue to plaque them as they wander seemingly aimlessly. Their final destinations are different, one wants to go to Broome, one to Perth and the third simply wants asylum and none of them know how to achieve their respective goal.

The best scenes in the movie are those that involve the army reservists that are tracking the trio through the desert. Not quite a bumbling set, they spend their day punting the football or grilling shrimp on the engine of their truck. On the chase, they find the water hole that the trio their tracking found two days before. While taking a swim, the truck rolls into the pond. In a classic scene, the reservist responsible for the truck simply drops his head and lets out a sigh in admission of his failure.

The film suffers from a tad too much comedic fantasy. One character falls off the side of a cliff as he is being chased and the grunts he emits as he falls, unseen while the camera remains fixed at the point where he went over the edge, are laughter inducing because they last for so long and continue long after they should. But in his next scene, this man is seen without torn clothing, cuts, limps or any indication that he had just fallen hundreds of feet. The same goes for a pickup truck that is repaired from an utterly destroyed state in a matter of days. The repaired truck allows for humorous scenes, including the fact that it can only go in reverse, but it is unlikely it would ever actually be able to be restored to running condition.

Overall, Lucky Miles is a funny movie that doesn't make you think too hard, which can certainly be appreciated on the final weekend of the film festival. The audience laughed out loud on more than a few occasions and I think that should count as a successful comedy.

Lucky Miles
Ritz East
Philadelphia Film Festival

Friday, April 11, 2008

philly film fest - mrs. ratcliffe's revolution

Heading into this movie, expecting a dark comedy, I was prepared for uncomfortable situations that aim for uncomfortable laughter. Surprisingly, the only dark part of the film was its setting, Communist East Germany. It seemed almost lighthearted. Laughs came easily and the somber scenes in the movie were short-lived.

The movie is based loosely on a true story. A quick search on Google didn't turn up anything more than stories on the movie and not the actual events, so how loosely based it is remains a mystery to me. I'm guessing it's pretty loose, but I know very little about East Germany.

I wish I had more to write about this movie. I liked it. It was good. But truth be told, we ended up discussing Lovely By Surprise over dinner after this movie.

I wonder what that says about each of the movies?

Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution
Bryn Mawr Film Institute
Philadelphia Film Festival

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

philly film fest - lovely by surprise

Frankly, I walked away from this movie disappointed. As the credits rolled, the story seemed incomplete, full of holes and questions left unanswered. The Q&A session with one of the producers wasn't very helpful, with the response, "That's a good question," leading off most of his answers. To be fair, he was filling in for the director and writer (Kirt Gunn), who had a family emergency. He only came on board the project after shooting was complete, but it seems to me that for someone in a position that can heavily influence the final product, perhaps less so in an indie flick, he knew very little about the actual substance and background of the film.

A few of the actors were terrible (Dallas Roberts as Mopekey comes to mind). Others were outstanding, perfect for the role in which they were cast (Kate Burton as Helen, Reg Rogers as Bob). There are scenes that don't seem to quite sit right within the movie. There are scenes in the film that are excellent and these are the scenes that stay with you after the movie ends.

I didn't think I had as much trouble wrapping my head around the movie as other people, but the more I think about it and discuss it with friends, the less secure I am in that thought.

As disappointing as the film was initially, two days later we were still talking about it, trying to work it out. Movies that stay with you for days afterward have done their job. They make you think, contemplate the story, dissect the scenes, search out clues to what the director or writer had in mind. They may even draw you in to watch it again and try and pick up on those little nuances that you missed the first time around.

I have the benefit of having friends to whom music is like second nature. I know what I like when I hear it, can recall lyrics and tunes from years past, but struggle to remember song and artist names. While I often feel and even see music - particularly at live shows - I am envious of my friends who can recall songs and names of small indie artists, connect familiar sounding songs with other, different artists, or generally know more about music itself than I do. I try to learn from them as much as possible. As it is, music in movies is often a background element for me, unless it's really a horrible selection. I tend to concentrate on the dialogue and settings. As the musical selections for Lovely by Surprise were discussed, I realized how well it fit in with the movie. When I think back on the film, I can remember the music, but it doesn't stand out in a glaring, obvious way. This to me is a good thing, because it didn't take away from the movie in anyway. On the other hand, I wish I could admit that it added to the film for me. I feel like I missed an important character in the film.

In the end, I'm glad that I saw this movie. And I've decided that I actually would like to see it again, this time trying to pick up on the things missed in the first viewing. I'd also like to really hear the music and connect it to the film. I wonder if I'd be as disappointed with the movie the second time around and I suspect that I won't be.

Lovely by Surprise
Ritz Five
Philadelphia Film Festival

Sunday, April 6, 2008

philadelphia neighborhoods

With a friend of Jared's in town from California, we hit up a few of the best areas of Philadelphia.

We started the day in Northern Liberties, heading to Honey's for breakfast. Honey's has an interesting Southern Jewish style menu. There was 30 minute wait for a table, which I always take as a good sign for a breakfast place.

honey's sit 'n eat

Walking in the door, I wanted pancakes, but as soon as I sat down and saw the words French, Toast, Stuffed, Peanut Butter, and Bananas on the same line of the menu, I knew that I had to try it. I wasn't prepared to forget my desire for a pancake and Jared said the latkes were really good. So along with the Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast, I ordered a buttermilk pancake and a latke. Too much food, I know, but I had to do it. I was not disappointed in the least. The peanut butter was homemade, the pancake was thick and perfect and the latke was plain looking, but so tasty.

breakfast honey's

From Honey's and Northern Liberties, we headed off to Chinatown for a little adventure. First up was the Shanghai Bazaar, where we learned how to use an abacus (sort of) and played with Chinese brain teasers, one of which was purchased and brought home.

chinese maskchinese market aisle

Afterward, we ventured into a Chinese market that was below ground and the funk of fish hit you as soon as you opened the door. With no fear and a bit of anticipation, we headed down the steps to the market. We wandered around, looked at the live fish and crabs, marveled at the boneless duck feet and were astounded by the dried sea cucumbers ($89.99/lb!) but left basically empty handed. With the meter running out, we headed off to our next neighborhood, the fantastic Italian Market.

The Italian Market is filled with food, colors, culture, people, smells, tastes, and sounds and there is nowhere else like it.

bananas and orangesbutcher

The highlight of our visit was DiBruno Brothers, where we sampled Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor, a goat cheese with black truffle. Purchased. Next we sampled the Midnight Moon Goat Gouda. Also purchased. And finally, we decided that we absolutely could not pass up a chance to try a prune that had been soaked in cognac and then stuffed with foie gras. If ever a perfect food was created, this might be it. So rich, just one is more than enough, but so, so succulent. We also picked up a baguette before leaving. Moving down the block, we picked up some fresh mozzarella before heading off to South Street.

We decided to walk from the Italian Market to South Street since we had free parking and weren't really all that far. They're doing construction on South Street to freshen the look. They've pulled out all the trees, including the gum covered one, which is a little disappointing, but supposedly the "new" South Street is going to be worth it. Anyway, the goal on South Street was to get Jim a cheese steak. We passed up Jim's and moved down to Steaks on South, under appreciated and not nearly as busy as Jim's, the steaks are great. Plus they take a shot right at Geno's, which always makes me happy. We wandered around a bit more before heading back to the car we left at the Italian Market.

steaks on southconcrete footprint

From there, we took Jim on a driving tour of University City and Manayunk and then headed back to the house, stopping at ACME to see if we could find some Hank's Root Beer for Jim to try. We failed at that, but decided to have a taste comparison of Virgil's Root Beer and Natural Brew Root Beer. While picking those out, it was decided that a Key Lime pie would be made for dessert. Jim's family was instrumental in the history of Key Lime pie and he insisted on making it right. With true Key Limes - the yellow ones that come from the Florida Keys and not the green ones that come from Mexico - in short supply, the only acceptable substitute is Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice. Luckily ACME carries it, so we were in business. We picked up some eggs, sweetened condensed milk and a pre-made pie crust (it was a long day), ice cream and milk and headed back to the house. Jim took control, prepped the filling and stuck it in the oven for 15 minutes, at which point we decided to tackle the cheese we had purchased earlier in the day. When we sampled the Truffle Tremor at DiBruno's, we didn't get a whole lot of the truffle flavor, but it really stood out when we ate it now.

soft goat cheese with trufflemidnight moon goat gouda

Jared pulled out some dark chocolate chips and suddenly chocolate and cheese was being enjoyed. A little olive oil was put into a dish and we had a gourmet cheese plate on our hands. We busted out the root beers and decided that the Virgil's was better of the two, but the Natural Brew was made into a root beer float to be enjoyed.

key lime pre-bakeKey Lime slice

A game of Kalooki while we waited for the pie to set in the fridge passed the time and before we knew it, we were finishing our day off with Key Lime pie at 12:30 am.

Friday, April 4, 2008

philly film fest - young@heart and opening night party

For the opening night of the Philadelphia Film Festival, we went to see Young@Heart, a documentary about the Young@Heart Chorus, a group of seniors that sing rock songs. The movie, while primarily uplifting, runs the full spectrum of emotions as the members of the chorus experience life and death together. Comedy and tragedy are intermixed throughout the entire movie. The chorus sings such songs as The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go, James Brown's I Feel Good and even Sonic Youth's Schizophrenia. The arrangements are well done and suited to the seniors' singing style.

After the movie, the chorus director, the movie director and three members of the chorus held a short Q&A session. Becca bought their CD and had them autograph it, much to her delight. The part of the CD that I heard was pretty good.

panel q&abob signing the cd

From the movie, we went to the Opening Night party, which was being held at swanky XIX Nineteen in the Park Hyatt. The party was an interesting mix of the ultra-hip art crowd, the societal elite, the elderly, and normal people. We took advantage of the limited (sponsors' drinks only) open bar, ate some of the tasty hors d'oeuvres, learned that P.I.N.K. vodka has caffeine and guarana, and generally had a good time until they turned the lights up and we were stunned to look at the time and see that it was 1:00am. On a school night.

some hors d'oeurves

All in all, it was a great way to kick off a cool event like the Philadelphia Film Festival. I'm looking forward to the rest the event.