[Five Deadly Everythings]

Atmosphere’s "Your Glasshouse"

Posted in break it down, hip-hop, music by Jef on May 12, 2008

Your Glasshouse” from Atmosphere’s “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold” is another example of Slug’s fondness for taking simplistic sayings or cliches and complicating them with, to use his own words, a dosage of “life, love, stress and setbacks.”

Here, the titular “glasshouse” is a stranger’s crib in which our protaganist has woken up after a night of hard partying and regretfully bad drunken behaviour. “Anyone else would leave but you?/ You crawl back to the bed and fall back asleep” raps Slug, in effect casting stones at the glasshouse with a comfort that lets us know that, although he’s rapping in third person, he’s lived here before.

Ant has really grown as a producer — his beats are more thematically panned-out and sound lusher instead of plodding, augmented by live instrumentation — and “Your Glasshouse” is a great example, where Ant’s main motif is three synth pulses followed incongrously by an ominous bass chord. The result is something like good horror film sequences in that you know the scare (the bass) is coming right around the corner, but it is nonetheless unsettling every single time it rears its ugly head.

The bass is the hangover that results from the synths, and pulsing behind lyrics such as “You don’t want no one to see you like this/ Maybe you don’t recognize it/ But this is your home, this is where your life lives”, it magnifies Slug and makes him resonate in a way he can’t on his own.

For most of the album, Slug forgoes his first-person confessionals and instead opts for a storyteller’s point of view. Unable to resolve his own problems (or perhaps because he already has, in his personal life), he creates fictional characters to move about and observe from a distance. It morphs him from the solitary drunk he’s so often positioned himself as, to the local dive bartender, listening to tales of woe, offering his two cents and providing more libations to keep the mood sombre and mellow instead of violent.

Rapping as a narrator/therapist, he keeps his tone measured and soft, sympathetic and calming. It’s a big change from his typically loud, exact and exaggerated tone, and it lends itself very well to the sing-songy qualities his rhymes often approach. Here, he can actually let himself sing, and it doesn’t come off as just bad rapping.

On the chorus for “Your Glasshouse” he’s practically humming (which he does outright two tracks later on “Guarantees”). He sings: “All we need is because/ So come and party with us/ Take care of you when you’re passed out/ Right there with you in your glasshouse”. Soft and soothing, the hook is the type you can listen to when you’re hungover, but the message is exactly what you don’t want to hear.

When it comes to “with you in your glasshouse”, an extra voice creeps up and yells along with the last word, ruining Slug’s lullaby tone. Along with the random wailing that starts the song and is interspersed throughout, they’re the ghosts of last night, the drunken memories you can sleep off but not forget.

Listen to Your Glasshouse
Watch video for Guarantees


Lars and the Real Girl

Posted in break it down, movies by Jef on May 7, 2008

Ryan Gosling’s performance as socially-dysfunctional oddbal Lars makes Lars and the Real Girl a fascinating film to watch, but it’s ultimately a flawed film whose story doesn’t support the depth Gosling gives to his character.

We first see Lars staring out into a drab, snowy exterior from behind a window pane. A girl (Emily Mortimer as Karin, whom we later discover is Lars’s sister-in-law) sneaks up on him and reticently invites him to breakfast. He makes excuses and declines.

This plays out again later with Karin physically tackling Lars on the driveway and imploring him to eat with her and her husband. The film hasn’t given much info about their relationship at this point; we know Lars is a recluse because of his awkward, reluctant interactions with co-workers, but why is Karin so obsessed with him coming over for dinner? We don’t know that they are related in any way, so is she in love with him? And if so, why? — he’s a certifiable weirdo.

Karin’s agressive kindness towards Lars and his adamant refusal to interact with her is at the crux of the film’s failure. When Lars later orders a sex-toy Real Doll, falls in love with it, and presents her to the world as his new girlfriend Bianca, it lowers him from withdrawn and unusual to downright creepy. He’s a loner of the most alienating kind.

The film makes us view Lars from the vantage point of his social network. We never see his first interactions with the doll, only the reactions of those around him when they first find out about his new relationship. This is fine, but the film is dependant upon the audience’s sympathy towards Lars and the temporary suspension of disbelief required for us to view Bianca as a viable character/person. Lars views her as so, and later the whole town does as well, but we are given no reason to follow along, other than the fact Gosling is a terrific actor who can cry with anguish while kissing a silicone fuck toy. If we are to feel for this relationship, why don’t we ever get to see its intimate moments?

Why does the town rally behind him with such enthusiasm, tagging along with his delusion and going out of their way to make Bianca a part of the community? Who is Lars to these people? To the audience so far, he’s unfriendly, awkward to the point of abrasive, in love with a fake person and rejecting of real ones. All we know is that he had a hard time with his father, a depressed widower, and that this affected him greatly. But who was he before this and why should we give two craps?

The town’s love for Lars is unfounded and the film relies on the fictional construction of small town citizens as simple, salt-of-the-earth folks, hand-holding members of a giant family. They take Bianca to work with them, party with her, attend her funeral, all for Lars, whose most endearing quality (other than he’s played by Gosling) is that he falls in love with Bianca — we at least see the positive effect SHE has on people. It’s too bad the film does a better job of fleshing out the Real Doll than it does its main character.

Baby Mama

Posted in break it down, movies by Jef on May 4, 2008

Tina Fey wants a baby really badly but she’s single and her uterus is shaped like a “T”. Her doctor (the Daily Show’s John Hodgman) says twice that he “just doesn’t like her uterus”, which is a strange line that’s vaguely mysogynistic and I guess sets the tone for the film. This screenplay kind of dislikes women, or at least dislikes the women in it, but like with the doctor, the hope is that the sentiment is so ridiculous it will be funny.

We learn how badly Fey wants a baby in a scene where she watches infants bounce and bob across the screen in slow motion, held by other women. The last bit of the montage has Fey at work (she’s a high level executive, flanked by males) where she imagines the men at the boardroom table as babies. This isn’t funny at all; it plays as kind of sad. If we’re putting babies in random places, why not get as ridculous as the idea of hallucinating about babies is in the first place? Why not have the sweet montage mutate to Fey eating a piece of chicken that then appears to be a baby? Take a poo and then the baby is there in the toilet? (Which would have a vicious secondary meaning that makes the laugh innapropriate and maybe more enjoyable). I dunno, I’m not a comedian, but Fey is. This should be funnier.

Fey’s boss is a hippie-turned-yuppie corporate brand monster, played by Steven Martin. He has long white hair, talks in parables about himself climbing mountains and breaking bread with indiginous peoples, and he has weird behavioural tics, like staring into people’s eyes for uncomfortable lengths and sitting on boardroom tables with legs crossed in a lotus position. This nicely positions Fey in a world of fake, mass produced wellness, a jab at corporate lifestyle gurus such as Starbucks and Lulu Lemon.

While Fey can’t succeed at her true goal (pushin’ out babies), she climbs the corporate ladder with ease. Her boss hands her the point-position on a new project, the construction and opening of a flagship store in a burdgeoning, small community neighbourhood. After her promotion of sorts, she walks downstairs and all the women employees give her a quiet standing ovation. This sets us up for some sort of feminism tacked on to the building anti-corporate sentiment.

Back at the uterus, Fey has opted for a surrogate mother. The clinic she tries is run by Sigourney Weaver, who made such great cinematic strides for women as Ripley from the Alien series, but whose bragging card here is that she’s old but can still push out the babies. She rubs this in Fey’s face repeatedly while selling her on the idea of a surrogate, which she describes as a babysitter before the birth.

At her apartment, waiting to meet her surrogate uterus, Fey chats with the doorman, played by 40 Year Old Virigin’s Romany Malco. Malco is playing the exact same role as in 40YOV, except with a doorman outfit and without the choice lines. Missing the quality comedy, the role comes off as stereotypical. He schools Fey on the fact that her surrogate is basically a ‘Baby Mama.’ “You pay the bills, she has a baby. Ask any black man, that’s a baby mama,” he explains.

Fey’s surrogate, played by SNL’s Amy Poehler, is a white trash trailer-park type, dressed in ghetto-fab fashion and participating in the ordeal as part of her significant other’s (Dax from Punk’d) latest entrepreneurial scheme. We’ve set up the class/gender/racial divides and criss-crossed ’em like wires on a ticking time bomb: hilarity should be ensuing, exploding at this point, right?

But the film proves tamer that anything Fey’s been involved in so far; less absurd than 30 Rock, less audacious than Mean Girls, and much less commited to the joke than Saturday Night Live.

Fey’s budding relationship with Poehler is mirrored by a flirtation with Greg Kinnear, a small business owner in the neighborhood she scouts to build her company’s new store. He owns a place called Super Fruity, a gay joke that goes nowhere, a juice smoothy joint that he adamantly distances from camparisons with the corportate Jamba Juice. The film’s subtextual preoccupation with whole foods and organics becomes urgent in that Poehler’s character refuses to eat healthily — she loves junk and is most likely harming the health of the baby.

Ultimately though, Baby Mama has nothing to say about the tensions it sets up between class and gender, nor the one between big corporations and local businesses, or even whole foods and sugary snacks. At one point, during the highpoint of the film’s conflict narrative, Fey calls Poehler ignant white trash, but this is never recanted and Fey’s character never learns why she is wrong (or perhaps, the film wrongly forgives her this outburst).

The film’s best laid constructions turn out faulty: the relationship between Fey (giant corporate mover-shaker) and Kinnear (plucky entrepreneur) commences when Fey visits the juice bar drunk and dressed like a girl half her age, clearly in the throes of a mid-life no-baby-yet crisis. She should seem like a drunken sob story here, let alone a drunken sob story trying to put shops like his out of business, but instead they hook up and it makes no sense, no statement, and illicits no laughs. This should be an embarassing scene for Fey — she’s drunk, innapropriate, she’s ditched Poehler — but instead it’s the start of a great new (un-justified) relationship.

Fey being caught between Steve Martin and his problematic mountain wisdom and Greg Kinnear and his wholesome common sense goes nowhere, and Fey never ends up having to choose one over the other, make any moral decision, grow in any sort of way.

All the tensions are solved by babies, and all character developments are halted and made irrelavant by the fact that everyone is now magically (especially in Fey’s case) with child. Poehler and Dax have a baby, Fey and Kinnear have a baby, Malco is shown to have a family of his own devoid of any serious baby mama drama that he’s alluded to, and they all party together, a mismatched group if ever there was one and a bizarre extrapolation of an ‘alternative family’, at Chuckie Cheese. It’s cool to see a counterpoint to recent pregnancy-themed movies where, for once, the pregnancies are all planned, conscious decisions, but by the end, all barriers between the characters have been merely collapsed instead of resolved.

“Best of” Tiny Fey
Slate’s take

Free comix are for kids

Posted in comics, missives by Jef on May 2, 2008

Saturday May 3 is Free Comic Book Day — the day the comic industry gives away free books even though they’re not sure if it helps increase readership.

At the Palmerston Library in Toronto, the fine folks from The Toronto Comic Art Festival and the Beguiling comic shop will be holding an event specifically aimed at youth readership. Participants include Jeremy Tankard, Steven Manale and Michael Cho.

Yeah, the Beguiling will be hosting festivities aimed at grown folks as well, but this year, Scene Guy is all about the children. Bring your nieces, nephews, illegitimate children, of if you’re ten years old yourself, pay your child TTC fare and gon git.

Props to Mr. Christopher Butcher for all the great work he does.

Michael Cho’s Tony Stark fan art site
Hey Kids! No Comics!

Technics vs. Marvel Comics

Posted in comics, fashion, hip-hop, missives by Jef on May 1, 2008

Wolvering cutting it up on a set of gold-plated 1210s? Check out these limited edition (you know, like every other t-shirt) tees, available online through the DMC store.

I’m sure the X-Ecutioners approve, or at least are willing to battle for rights to the X name.