Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spotlight: Brett Dennen

So I came across a new (to me) artist a few days ago while surfing around iTunes. Brett Dennen has been on Rolling Stone's "Artists to Watch" list, on Entertainment Weekly's "Guys on the Rise", and reviews have compared him to everyone from Dave Matthews, Tracy Chapman, Jason Mraz, and Nick Drake to (most oddly, I think) Billie Holliday and Bob Dylan. Dennen has been around a couple of years, his first album came out in 2005, and although I've only listened extensively to his newest album, Loverboy, I'd say he sounds more like an amalgamation of Jack Johnson, Paul Simon, Loudin Wainwright III, a bit of My Morning Jacket's Jim James, and a touch of the soulfulness of Van Morrison. He even name checks Simon's album Graceland (as well as Joni Mitchell's Blue) on the wonderful "Make You Fall in Love with Me".

He's an artist I've only just discovered and will continue to explore, but he's got a goofy charm (where I get the Wainwright comparison) and enough catchy melodies and grooves to keep me coming back. The first three songs in particular, "Surprise Surprise" "Dancing at a Funeral" and "Comeback Kid (That's My Dog)" are ones I've had on repeat for days now. If you like what you hear, check him out like I did, maybe it'll be something new.

"Surprise Surprise" from this year's SXSW festival

"Dancing at a Funeral" album version

"Comeback Kid (That's My Dog)" official video

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Now, I love westerns and I love science-fiction, but I would've never thought to combine the two. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg did just that in his 2006 graphic novel Cowboys and Aliens. Now director Jon Favreau, producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and executive producer Steven Spielberg bring the comic to life with a tremendous cast including James Bond and Han Solo. Seeing the first previews many months ago, I thought "Well that looks stupid. Those genres will never go together." Thankfully, I was proven wrong.

Cowboys and Aliens, beautifully shot by Oscar nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, has both the fun humor and the tremendous action that it needs. Favreau meshes the genres together onscreen, and gets his cast to give the ridiculousness a certain character grounding and believability that helps us in the audience accept it despite its fantastical happenings. Leading the cast, Daniel Craig doesn't exactly have a difficult role to pull off, he's the typical monosyllabic action hero we've come to expect from movies, but he's as great as he can be in the role. Harrison Ford plays a bit of a bad guy, which I didn't quite believe at first, but came to accept as his performance grew on me. Best of all, as expected when I saw the cast, are the performances of Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, and Keith Carradine. All are amazingly under-appreciated actors, with Rockwell in particular proving he's among the handful of best actors we have right now.

Surprisingly, Cowboys and Aliens hasn't made much money and didn't receive the best reviews from critics. I say it's surprising not because it's an amazing movie, but because it's a good one, and at least ambitious when it comes to the action genre. I was pleased to see something different, happy that the seemingly opposite genres worked together, and entertained as best as I could've hoped to be. It's not a great movie or one we'll be referring back to over the years, but it's certainly worth watching. In these days of the continual dumbing down of the box office, we really expect anything more from a big summer blockbuster?