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Live review: Nine Inch Nails reclaim their empire of dirt in Jacksonville

Florida Times-UnionHow much can you blame a band for its weaker, subordinate offspring? How much can you hold into account the inventor of a cliche if it was novel when he thought of it? Is it fair to blame Pearl Jam for Creed? And is it fair to blame Nine Inch Nails for the tiring parade of industrial-rock welterweights who ungraciously jammed the airwaves during the post-Downward Spiral mid-’90s? (Don’t make me come over there, Gravity Kills).

Trent Reznor certainly deserves his slice of the pie for conceiving some of industrial metal’s most inspired moments — all of Spiral, most of Pretty Hate Machine and its follow-up EP, Broken. But after Spiral in 1994, things got itchy. Following a trademark Reznorian layoff of slightly more than a presidential term, he returned with 1999’s sprawling two-discer The Fragile, an unspectacular work that occasionally slipped into unintentional comedy and left many wondering if Nine Inch Nails had peaked and would be ladling up Sin to the state fair circuit before long.

Happily, last spring’s With Teeth laid to rest those worries, and Nine Inch Nails’ 21-song tour de force Friday at the Arena finished shoveling dirt on them.

Proving that he’s lost none of his punishing power, Reznor reclaimed that industrial title while proving that, at 40, he’s still got what’s probably a medically worrisome capacity for apocalyptic but often danceable rage, delivered with the cobweb-free precision of a guy who’s newly clean and sober and knows he’s getting his belt back. Might have been the strobes, but I think I even caught a little smirk there during March of the Pigs.

Much of Reznor’s enduring appeal lies in his ability to use synapse-reprogramming industrial songs and their darkly erotic sonic underbellies to disguise insanely catchy pop hooks (Closer and Head Like A Hole chief among them). The overwrought Fragile got away from that, but With Teeth brings it back. the anti-Bush screed The Hand That Feeds bounced along on a bassline that was almost merry, and new single Only is the closest thing he’s birthed to Pretty Hate since the late-80s, a piece of bent metal with a slithery synth riff and hook you can bob to (though it also works in that album’s most aged trait, predictable lyrical mumbo-jumbo about being “less concerned about fitting into the world — your world that is.”)

But the hooks and the noise were both at full throttle all night, punctuated by a crack band as adept at handling Reznor’s often-convoluted song structures as they were rocking grotesque guitar-god poses. Nine Inch Nails paused occasionally to let mists of piano-driven melody drift into the maelstrom, particularly during a de facto intermission of the more meandering Eraser, Right Where It Belongs and Beside You In Time. But for most of the night, they left the nuance and color to the CD and used the live setting to generally throttle the soundboard.

Predictably, Pretty Hate went largely unheralded, save for Head Like A Hole, the obligatory set closer; Terrible Lie, whose blippy late ’80s effects were retrofitted for extra bang, and a small tease of The Only Time dribbled into Closer to keep the overplayed latter something approaching fresh. This was a show designed for maximum output– You Know What You Are roared, March of the Pigs blazed and the blackly sexy Reptile created a mass of sound that threatened to break out of the arena and take over entire sections of town.

Moreover, Alex Carapetis, who stepped in when original drummer Jerome Dillon was forced out off the tour for heart troubles, was a gallant knight. It’s not like Carapetis was filling in for BTO or something – Reznor had him juking and time-shifting as much as he had him thrashing to the noise, and the new guy stepped up like a pro.

One exception to the noise was Hurt, which Reznor, taking a welcome cue from Johnny Cash, performed alone at his keyboard, welcoming the crowd participation and letting their contributions wash over him — “If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself,” he and everyone in the house sang. If the rest of the night was a industrial catharsis for them; one got the sense,that hearing their responses was an equally potent catharsis for him.

Stoner-rockers Queens of the Stone Age made some fans of their own in an inspired, workmanlike opening set that gained steam with every passing minute. Frontman and potential Craig Kilborn stunt double Josh Homme drove his four-piece through new-era psychedelia that touched on thunderous ’70s rock, trippy-but-efficient jammy detours and some hooks of his own (Little Sister, No One Knows).

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Movie Review: “The Island” — What kind of paradise harvests your organs?

Florida Times-Union — The Island is this summer’s second Ewan McGregor movie about clones, but there’s one big departure from Star Wars: In this one, he gets to emote!

Then again, since The Island is directed by Michael Bay, the auteur behind dialogue-driven indie flicks such as The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, most of that emoting is of the yelling-while-plummeting-off-a-skyscraper variety, with a little bit of the screaming-while-being-chased-by-helicopters variety and a small dash of the hollering-during-a-shootout-in-a-train-station variety.

A logic-free shoot-’em-up masquerading as a Matrix knockoff, The Island takes a slick idea and quickly scuttles it under action cliches — it’s the kind of movie that says: Why have a guy just fall, when you can him fall into a very large wine rack? As with anything Bay, it has plot holes the size of hot-air balloons, but the good sense to, if one of those holes becomes too obvious, blow up some cars.

Set in the near future, The Island kicks off with a neat hook: A legion of developmentally stunted white-clad drones work methodically in a self-contained colony that, they’re told, has been sealed off from an outside world that’s been “contaminated.” Their moods are monitored, their gruel-heavy diet is controlled and they toil in the hopes of being sent to “the island,” a futuristic Margaritaville you can only get to by winning a lottery.

But if you’ve ever read more than three pages of sci-fi, you know that winning a lottery is never, ever a good thing. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) is suspicious of the whole place, especially when his crush, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), becomes a lucky powerball winner.

And though Lincoln’s every step is tracked, he gets “proximity warnings” every time he spends more than 14 seconds with Jordan and his urine is always scanned for quality, he manages to sneak around long enough to uncover the truth about the place: Evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean, overdoing it) is growing extra humans that he harvests for parts for his rich clients. “You guys are just replacement engines on their Bentleys,” the “insurance policies” are told.

Bay sets it up nicely, and for a minute, he even lets you hope that The Island might be gearing up to make a statement on stem-cell research, or maybe the ethical limits of science or the fundamental nature of humanity. And then he punts the action outside to L.A. and stages a brain-rattlingly loud car chase.

From then on, there’s nothing you won’t see coming a mile down the turnpike. Action set pieces whiz by in flurries of jump-cut confusion (in many of the schizophrenic fistfights, Bay has to put glasses on one of his competitors so audiences have a fighting chance at knowing who’s punching what). Clone Lincoln seeks out his “sponsor,” Real Tom Lincoln, who, surprisingly, owns a very fast car. Steve Buscemi plays Steve Buscemi. Djimon Hounsou adds class as an assassin hired by Merrick to track down the “product,” but there’s never much drama about which side he’ll end up on.

And, sure, this isn’t the sort of thing that demands a lot of logic, but come on: There’s only one Tom Lincoln in 2019 L.A.? How does Clone Lincoln know how to handle a flying motorcycle, or, for that matter, a car, or, for that matter, his shoelaces? Who’s handling security in this bunker so badly that Lincoln gets to go play with a butterfly when he feels like it? And what of the clones? There’s a fascinating story to tell about the events right before the closing credits, but Bay pathologically steers clear of philosophizing, probably because that would require talking scenes.

Oh well. Johansson looks great at all times, although McGregor, as he did in Star Wars, totally mutes his natural roguishness for some reason (until the clones hook up with ultra-rich Real Tom, who’s a kick).

But you can’t help but get the feeling that 10 years ago, in the pre-Independence Day age, this would have been the summer blockbuster. This summer, scuttled at the end of July and without half the buzz of the Sith or the Batman, The Island is destined to be quickly wiped from your memory.


Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: Sometimes you feel like a nut

Florida Times-UnionNot that there was ever much doubt, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s take on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is completely nuts.

It’s too nuts sometimes, and not quite nuts enough in others. But fans looking for Burton’s new-era-Seuss madness and Depp’s nuttiness will go home quite happy, their eyes taffy-pulled as much as Mike Teavee’s body.

Charlie — not a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, Depp has stressed, but a more faithful take on the Roald Dahl book — still stands as one of children’s literature’s weirdest brain-scrambles. With its demented protagonist, roster of unpleasant kids and rather detached take on child welfare, it’s sort of a version of Seven with way, way more marshmallows.

But it’s exactly that monstrous dark side that makes it the perfect playground for Burton, who rises and sleeps with this sort of glistening madness, and Depp, who, since his pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, knows he can make big studios pay for as much bizarro behavior as he wants.

What he gets away with is an uneven but pathologically watchable man-child who ends up proving more psychologically bruised than the wild-eyed nutcase dialed up by Wilder (and often not far from Depp and Burton’s tremblingly innocent Edward Scissorhands).

The Michael Jackson parallels pretty much jump off the screen: Depp’s Wonka lives in his own sealed universe, talks like a 14-year-old, has Mary Tyler Moore’s hair, wears Victorian clothing, gives in to fits of inappropriate giggles and is seemingly completely unprepared for life with other humans. Part of Wonka’s twisted outlook is explained in flashbacks involving Wonka’s father, played by horror vet Christopher Lee, and though I’m not the movie expert here, I can definitively say that Lee has come up with American cinema’s best-ever pronunciation of the word “caramels.”

Depp’s a hoot to watch, even if something about his mood swings — sometimes mysteriously dark, sometimes garishly innocent — never quite gels.

At least until a ragged new ending, the story remains the same: Penniless Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp’s sad-eyed co-star in Finding Neverland) scores one of the prized Golden Tickets that grants him and his kindly grandfather (David Kelly) a one-day tour of the candy recluse’s castle (“Everything in here is eat-able!” cries Depp. “I’m even eat-able!”).

The other winners are the unforgivably gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz, who does not appear without chocolate on his mug), bratty Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), ultra-competitive Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb) and Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), who’s been upgraded from a couch potato to a connoisseur of violent video games. As the tour goes on, each repugnant little mutt ends up suffering a comically gruesome fate, which is followed, without fail, by a dance number.

Needless to say, the film doesn’t really rev up until the gang gets to Wonka’s factory. And if the ’71 film had a dark undercurrent, this one parades its weirdness, and it becomes a careening boat-ride of fantastical contraptions, bizarre back rooms and production numbers by the Oompa Loompas, who have been shrunk to 2 feet tall, are all played by actor Deep Roy and walk off with every scene and dance number they’re in (especially the funk one).

Still, for all their arty giddiness, the scenes in the factory, and the final act, struggle to find their mood, and Burton, as he does, hints at more darkness than he ends up being comfortable providing. Where Wilder had a terminal glint of mischief in his eye, Burton lets Depp hint at nefarious, possibly pre-conceived intentions that are never quite explained. (Burton pulls his punches, too — in the Oompa Loompas’ first production number, they assure the gaping throng that “Augustus Gloop will not be harmed”). And there’s the matter of the show-closing semi-sweet Lesson, which is as clamped on as Lessons get.

But, like Charlie Bucket says, candy isn’t supposed to have a point, and this movie isn’t either. And when Burton and Depp are left to frolic in their own gooey playground, they serve up a nutty, creamy, fizzy factory that’s too weird to have possibly come from anyone else.


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