The Wood

The Wood
Cast: Omar Epps
Studio: Paramount
Rating: 5/10

The Wood is all about a group of three male friends and their embarrassing boyhood experiences involving women. Bringing back the old school beats, the afro picks, and the Geri Curl is Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, and Richard Jones. The movie goes back to their days of growing up in Englewood, California, which means a whole lot of foot stomping, fist pumping non-stop laughter. The crowd in the theater was going wild. This movie doesn’t have any gang banging or drug dealing. We’re getting out of the hood and into The Wood.

The movie is built around Diggs, Epps, and Jones as three kids growing up and the evolution of their male/female relationships. Narrated by Epps as Big Mike, we hear the story of what has shaped them as men and what has cemented their friendship. The movie is laid out before us based on Diggs’ upcoming marriage. The three naturally get nostalgic and reminisce about life as boys in The Wood. Growing up in The Wood is like growing up anywhere else, and life is sometimes hard, but these guys put it all into perspective. This is a comedy that everyone will enjoy.

+ jonathan lin

In Dreams

Cast: Annette Bening
Studio: dreamworks
Rating: 4/10

In Dreams is a nightmare. The story takes too long to develop and Robert Downey Jr.’s character doesn’t show up until the end of this drawn out production. My flat 7-Up (not a corporate plug) gave me more satisfaction than this bore.

Neil Jordan shouldn’t be blamed for the poor script. His camera style and angles are amazing at times. The scene where Annette Bening walks in front of a semi, although unbelievable, is wonderfully shot and the water scenes are splendid. The entire film’s imagery is brilliant and alive with colors. Unfortunately, ratings are based on actual content rather than imaginative directing.

The plot isn’t very strong. Annette Bening’s character is drawn into a psychotic man’s dreams. Bening engages in some terrible overacting. Her poor one-liners are reminiscent of Nightmare on Elm Street. She reinforces this in saying, “No matter what happens, don’t wake me up!” The film spends entirely too much time on the development of Annette Bening’s character, or lack thereof. There is no cohesion among the various elements in the movie. So much of the film is unbelievable that you can’t help but snicker. The restlessness of the audience at my screening was indication enough.

+ charlie craine

Gladiator

Gladiator
Cast: Russell Crowe
Studio: Dreamworks
Rating: 9/10

A movie set during the time when Rome was all powerful, even more so than God himself, seemed ambitious back when Charlton Heston graced the robes for Ben-Hur. Back in those days, epics were made constantly. Today, movie budgets are usually more epic than the films. Gladiator has all of the ingredients for an epic tale, the old way: the rise and fall of a man who loses all and attempts to win it back in the face of the immovable force of the Roman Empire.

The opening sequence starts out fabulously. The sheer size of the battle is amazing. The fight itself was rather quick, and hard to follow as the camera swept around at a torrential pace. Russell Crowe plays the great General Maximus. After what he thinks is his last battle, he’s in for a surprise that causes him to choose between his family and his love for Rome.

After all hell breaks loose (I’ll let you find out what it is since I don’t want to give too much away), Maximus is bought and sold as a slave-turned-gladiator for the profit of his master. He must fight in what isn’t exactly your everyday sporting event. As a gladiator, if you win, you live at least one day longer. Losers are dragged out and thrown to the desert vultures. The fight scenes between gladiators are wonderful. Crowe shows intensity and deftness that I thought was beyond him. His battle-weary face and calm in the presence of death is chilling.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Commodus, the son of the fallen Caesar and mortal enemy of Maximus. Phoenix plays the part of the whiny and weak yet evil Commodus to perfection. You have nothing but hatred for his character. You find yourself cheering his failures and booing his victories.

The film itself was exquisitely directed by Ridley Scott, from the scenes of battle to the desert gladiator ring, all the way to the pillars of Rome. Everything feels authentic, bringing you in and never letting you go. The costumes are fantastic. The one problem I had was with the usage of words and phrases from an era over a hundred years before the birth of Christ.

The final act doesn’t let you down. It’s perfect because it’s what you expect, but don’t really expect to happen. You finally get what you want to see instead of something ruining it along the way. For a film that lasts well over two hours, you never find a chance to get restless or distracted. I only hope that Gladiator is the beginning of more epic movies to come.

+ charlie craine

Fight Club

Fight Club
Cast: Brad Pitt
Studio: Fox
Rating: 9/10

I was lucky to have an early screening that allowed me the weekend to sit on my review and reflect upon what might be the best movie I’ve seen all year. I needed the three-day weekend to figure out pieces of the film that I missed the first time around, but pulled together once I really thought about it. The bits I didn’t get the first time around will be ironed out when I go and see the film again.

In the end, Fight Club is about empowering ones self. The movie’s synopsis reads: You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. These are the amendments that Tyler Durden lives by. This is how he goes through life, one experience at a time. And what an experience this movie was.

Fight Club is about fighting, but that’s not all. As a matter of fact, fighting only opens the door to a whole lot more. And inside this broken-down house lies the dual life of either a madman or someone in search of the opportunity to empower himself. This movie is intense. You laugh a few times, but the intensity is what keeps your eyes on the screen.

Most of the movie seems to be poorly written, as Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, is the prototypical bad-cool guy. Pitt plays his cool against Edward Norton’s average Joe. As Norton walks on the sidewalk, Pitt walks in the water filled gutter, Norton takes the bus and Pitt steals a sports car. As stereotypical as Pitt’s character seemed early on, you soon realize that the intense creature that is Durden seems to be coming unraveled, as all psychopaths do in the movies, but you are in for a surprise.

Fight Club touches on the strength of a man’s heart and soul, his ability to change the world. It may not be as far-fetched as it seems. The movie leaves you wondering what contribution you are making to yourself and the world around you. See this movie. Let it sit in your mind and swim around. Trust me, it will strike you right away, but it will torment you forever.

+ charlie craine

Usher – Interview [1998]

usher

Since the release of the single, “You Make Me Wanna,” Usher has done nothing but increase his celebrity. He credits his mother for more than genetics. “My mother introduced me to singing through church, then after that I did talent shows.” More impressive was his mother’s sacrifice in moving them from Chattanooga to Atlanta. “That is a great place to get recognized.” Once in Atlanta, he continued to do talent shows. It is at one of these shows that Bryant Reid, brother of LaFace Records co-president Antonio “L.A.” Reid, recognized Usher’s potential. Bryant arranged for Usher to meet L.A. Reid and, as Usher likes to tell it, “the rest is history.”

After his 1994 album, which was mediocre by his latest standards, Usher looked to make a change. He found it in executive producer Jermaine Dupri. A host of other top name producers (Sean “Puffy” Combs, Babyface, and Teddy Riley) added variety.

As an artist begins to pack away a few hit songs and a couple of million dollars it’s not unusual for heads to swell. Usher owes his ability to maintain a level head to his mother’s guidance. “She was the leading force in my career and she was always very supportive.” She is his mother, his manager, and his mentor.

Where did you learn to dance?

Studying. You have to study. It’s not all about getting up there and just freelance. A lot of people can do it, but it also helps if you have an eye for what is hot and what will be hot. I’ve been studying people like Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly.

What’s up with leaving your shoes on the floor when you finish?

The ‘Shoe Man.’ I’m the shoemaker. (Laughs) They call me the king of the stage, so I’ve got to leave my shoes on the stage. They call me the ‘Prince of New Jack.’

Who are some of your musical influences?

The Jackson 5, Miami Sound Machine, Heatwave, Parliament, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder to name a few.

What was it like to work with the amazing group of producers you had for this album?

Well, some people have a lot of ego with them. Fortunately, I’ve worked with a lot of successful people and I’ve noticed the more successful you are, the less ego you have. I’m not gonna say that about everybody, but Babyface has definitely taken the time that was needed to make my record what it was. Maybe it took like a month to get it, but he did it. Jermaine and Teddy Riley took the time that was needed to find out what I like. Then they brought in Babyface for the mainstream and Teddy for his own crowd.

With your new career as an actor and model are you too busy for a social life?

I talk all the time.

Is there a significant other to speak of?

No particular girl. I talk all the time. (Pauses to laugh) I’m like L.L. Cool J. I need love.

What do you see in your future?

I’m in it for longevity. I want to do more acting, producing, choreographing, and even directing.

A new album is being outlined and it doesn’t seem he’ll stray too far from the formula that has insofar won him celebrity. Usher hopes to enlist some unusual collaborators like Elton John, Dr. Dre, and LeAnn Rimes. With Light It Up being shot next month, the premiere of his movie, The Faculty, and an opening spot on Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope tour, Usher is a very busy man.

+ sam conjerti

Sammy Hagar – Red Voodoo

Sammy Hagar
Artist: Sammy Hagar
Title: Red Voodoo
Label: MCA
Rating: 6/10

The way I see it, Sammy Hagar is the man who ruined Van Halen (let us forget for the moment that right now David Lee Roth is balding and pathetic while Sammy here still seems to be rocking strong). It is a small grade-school grudge that I have not been able to move beyond, however, I am trying to put the past behind me and give this album a fair listen.

After some touring in Australia and Guam, Sammy Hagar and his band, The Waboritas, have come back to the States to put out eleven tracks of good old- fashioned rock and roll in the form of Red Voodoo. The album starts out with “Mas Tequila,” a song that (I am hesitant to admit this) I was singing along with on the radio before I even knew that it was Mr. Hagar. I think most rock stars out there will agree with me when I say that this song deals with a very important subject: driving south of the border to drink copious amounts of tequila. “Red Voodoo,” the title track from this album, is a fast paced ditty about hot peppers and pretty girls, another important staple in your rock diet. The Waboritas slow things down a bit with “Lay Your Hands On Me”. This is where the album starts to lose it. The slow rock ballad just is not working for them. In a song or two though they are back on track with “Don’t Fight It (Feel It)”. With a slide guitar and some horns, they add a little something extra that gives a blues quality to their music.

These guys seem to be stuck on some permanent spring break, and their music reflects it. This album is full of fun, feel-good music. They could have left out the slower tunes, but overall, this is good rock and roll.

+ Kevin Cousins

Buck-O-Nine – Libido

Buck-O-Nine
Artist: Buck-O-Nine
Title: Libido
Label: TVT
Rating: 6/10

As the 90’s come to a close, it would seem appropriate to leave behind the fads that graced the decade and move on to something original, whether it’s by a new group or one that already knows the ropes. Buck-O-Nine’s 1999 release, Libido, has all of the elements of past fads, rarely displaying anything new in their sound. The up and down punk-styled ska-core band seldom shows any marked improvement on their latest release, as most of the songs sound very similar to their last album, as well as other ska outfits that keep putting out uninspiring discs for kids to buy.

Although the production on Libido is great, it falls short in the creativity department. The simple reggae-like tone present in every song makes for one monotonous album. The exception has to be “Falling Back to Sleep”, as it picks up speed and aggression and drowns out the common weaknesses of most ska bands today. “Headlines” has a smooth vocal sound and more emotion is presented, while the horn section leans on a funkier sound that isn’t heard anywhere else on the disc. “A Lot in My Head” grooves as well and sounds like the early Chili Peppers with a little horn added for flavor. Beside these three standouts, the tracks tend to blend together, sounding similar in every aspect, including vocals, brass, and guitar structure.

There would be little noise about this release if it weren’t for a few thousand ska-freaks that’ll snatch up anything that sounds like the rest of their collection. The disc is good, but it just doesn’t capture any feeling like great music should. Maybe the evolution of ska-core has finally reached its limit…about three years ago.

+ rick hinkson

Built To Spill – Keep It Like Secret

Built To Spill
Artist: Built To Spill
Title: Keep It Like Secret
Label: Warner Bros.
Rating: 6/10

Hasn’t the world declared alternative rock dead? Not according to Built To Spill. From behind the stinging guitar and brushed snare comes their latest musical composition, Keep It Like A Secret. Singer/guitarist Doug Martsch isn’t concerned about whether this album falls into the pop or alternative categories; his only goal is in making a musical vision come to fruition. Objective accomplished.

Built To Spill plays music that doesn’t fit any one classification. Martsch’s layered guitar solos display his unusual squelching busyness. On the surface the sounds seems disorganized and trite, but if you listen closely you’ll notice that Martsch has complete control over the intense movements.

It’s all in the verses.

His rambled dreaminess provides the framework for Built To Spill’s latest composition. Through soft vocal twists and ingenious story lines, Martsch purges his soul.

“Center Of The Universe” is too Weezer for even Weezer, but has a peculiar quirkiness that is pleasing in its obscurity. “Sidewalk” marches along the unbeaten path of buzzing sonic bliss. While “Bad Light” opens with a blaring repeated riff that shines throughout the song’s chorus, “Broken Chair” is Martsch’s chance to revisit his love for jamming. The solos are lush, but lean, paying homage to Seattle’s passing musical fossils.

“You Were Right” is a walk through a rock lexicon of song titles from the world’s biggest bands: Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Segar. “You were wrong when you said everything is going to be alright/ You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold/ You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind/ You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall/ And when you said manic depression’s a frustrated mess/ You were right when you said you can’t always get what you want/ You were right when you said we are still running against the wind/ Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone/ You were right when you said/ This is the end.”

+ rae gun

Third Eye Blind – Interview

Third Eye Blind

Rewind to 1997!!
“I want something else to get me through this.” As much as the band struggled to decide on their first single, they weren’t prepared to pay the price success would bring. Speaking to Arion Salazar, it’s clear the band has realized the price of a semi-charmed kind of life.

If you dismiss Third Eye Blind based solely on their sugarcoated pop song, “Semi-Charmed Life,” you’ll miss out on a really good rock album. It “was a kind of scary thing coming with [Semi-Charmed Life] out of the box,” said Arion. “Because we all knew that there was a chance of getting dismissed as a disposable pop band…That is really the only song that sounds like that on the record.” The other songs on the album are a rock-punk hybrid, with catchy choruses galore. But in a year of songs like Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun”, you quickly feel burned when you buy their albums and discover you’ve became a victim of the old bait and switch. Sugar Ray’s not a ska band, and Smash Mouth is. Third Eye Blind isn’t a pop band, rock is more this band’s flavor. But for the sake of radio and MTV, bands elect to give the masses what they want. Arion agrees, “Everybody wants a little MTV.”

Third Eye Blind has been thrown into a group of pop-rock bands that are constantly churned out by record labels. Most fans let these bands slide by, dismissing them as a made band. Still, more often than not, these bands outsell any band that fans see as real. Third Eye Blind is in a unique situation: they have a huge hit, a great story, and are a real rock band. “I think we have a Third Eye Blind sound and I don’t think we have a lot in common with the bands we get clumped together with. I don’t understand it, but I’m at the point where I believe in our record and I’m proud of it and if you don’t like it, it’s no big deal.” Arion spoke with a real passion, one that only comes with putting a lot of hard work into something and then having it taken apart and criticized piece by piece, based solely on one aspect.

So what made this a strong album? “The album is a combined effort,” Arion began. “We worked hard as a band to get all these songs together. I guess I attribute [the fact that there are no throwaway songs] to the fact that we had label interest on and off for the past four and a half years. We had showcases that were our big chances to get signed with mister bigwig in the audience and we fucked them all up. And that was really good because at that time we didn’t have those fourteen songs yet.” During that time, the group put together a strong demo tape that consisted mostly of the songs that appear on their self-titled album. This demo was the driving force behind Electra Records CEO Sylvia Rhone’s interest in Third Eye Blind, not to mention the interest of many other record labels. “She was a really big supporter. She flew out to see us in LA and then flew us out to NY to showcase for her people. I’ve got to say…that’s the biggest reason we went with Elektra.” It’s not every day that the head of a major record label goes out of their way to sign a band. But more than that, Arion said it was Sylvia’s real approach with the band that won them over.

On the road and along the way they have opened for some of the world’s biggest bands: Rolling Stones, U2, and Oasis.

So how’s the tour going? “Really, really, really good. Outstanding,” Arion seemed reassuring, but added, “It’s been really tough this last week.” The weeks really start to add up when you’re on tour for almost a year straight. So what about the Stones? “We met them.” A meeting was arranged on the last night that Third Eye Blind was to open for the Stones. Arion continued, “We were herded into their dressing room moments before they were going to go onstage. So… we all lined up to take a shot with them and we just talked to them really briefly, and I’m standing next to Mick Jagger and I heard him say, [Arion imitates Mick Jagger] ‘Come on, hurry up, take the picture, let’s, let’s do this.’ ” So their attitudes held true to form? “Mick Jagger is definitely right up there with his whole…reputation that he has.”

“U2 on the other hand went out of their way to hang out with us and was popping into our dressing room at any given moment.” Arion said all eight shows spent on the road with U2 were great. How would you sum it all up? “Really fucking cool!”

Arion saved the best tour story for last. During the time record labels were tripping over each other to sign Third Eye Blind, they decided to use some of their leverage to get an opening gig for Oasis. It worked. At the time, “We didn’t even have a real big following in our hometown and then suddenly we’re opening up for Oasis, playing in front of nine thousand people.” Arion didn’t stop there, like many others; he had a funny Liam Gallagher story. “I almost got into a fight with Liam and so did Kevin [Cadogan].”

And so the story goes…

“It was around sound check and Liam was play sparring with some of the dudes in the band, [he was] jumping around and he didn’t see me. And he kind of backed into me and turned around and I said, ‘Watch it, bub!'” Bub? Laughing, Arion says, “I watch too many cartoons, but that’s what I said. So he looks at me totally shocked that any little peon would speak to him. Then he turned back to his band and said [attempts a Liam-esque brit accent], ‘Did you hear what he just said to me?’ And he walked away bewildered that I had spoken in his presence.” Neither of us could help but to laugh. But you gotta take it in stride. He called [George Harrison] a nipple!” Arion added laughing.

So, seriously, what is the best thing about being in a band? “The chicks!” Really? Oh yeah, and there’s the part of “doing what you love and getting paid for it,” Arion said, cutting back from his initial joke.

Finally, what’s better about being in a big rock band than you would have guessed? “The accommodations are better. The bus is like a yacht. We’ve got the satellite channels and stuff. This [bus] is better than my house. Traveling on the bus is great!”

So what’s worse?

“The fact that you’re away from friends and family for a long time.”

I’m not listening when you say goodbye.

+ charlie craine

Sugar Ray – Interview

Sugar Ray

Rewind to 1997…

In some cases, a meager beginning builds character. You have to work and work for every chance you get to move ahead. Like their namesake, Sugar Ray Leonard, the band named Sugar Ray started with little, only to kick, scratch, and claw their way to the top.

Bands dream of reaching the plateau of rock stardom. The guys in Sugar Ray are no different. In a chat with Rodney Sheppard, lead guitarist, I learned that they had “to play parties for years and years,” but only after realizing that they were going nowhere did they get serious about music and get a major label recording contract.

With a sound much their own, Rodney told me that the band’s musical influences vary, everywhere from “The Jam to The Beatles and a lot of English punk. All of us like the Sex Pistols and Ted Nugent. We also admire Rage Against The Machine and Korn.” Sugar Ray was able to play with a few of the bands they admire, but none as special as when they opened for the Sex Pistols. “It was awesome. It was a thrill of a lifetime. It was all the original guys, minus Sid Vicious, and in the same year we also opened for KISS.”

Where did the track “Fly” come from?

That came out of a broken rehearsal. The band was fighting, and Mark, our singer, left, and we started getting ready to pack things up. Murphy just started playing bass and our DJ had a drum loop and then everyone pitched in and in five minutes we had it. And when we got back to LA, Mark wrote the lyrics and the verses. We took it our producer and after that we had a really excellent song.

Why did you guys make two versions?

Atlantic Records felt a lot of radio formats wouldn’t want Super Cat rapping through the whole song, so we wanted to include both because if some people heard one of the versions on the radio and bought the record they wouldn’t feel ripped off.

We all know how it is buying a record and getting the shaft.

Yeah, I got that once with a Breeder’s single.

What is it like to have a hit song?

It’s exciting. It’s everything. It’s everything we always wanted all of our lives. It’s not like the money, because nobody is really making money. We’re just having the greatest time.

How did you shoot the video for “Fly” with Mark walking across the ceiling?

That’s actually taken from an old Fred Astaire movie from the ’40’s or ’50’s. It’s a square room and all of the furniture is nailed down and the room itself is in a giant circular thing almost like a ferris wheel. It spins and they mount the camera and the room spins. It’s an optical illusion.

What’s up with this Sweet Rain band trying to rip you guys off with a cover of “Fly”?

I know. I heard Kurt Loder on MTV talking about it, but I’ve yet to hear the song. I’ve gone to every music store to try and buy it.

So much for their stealing your fire?

[Laughs] I know.

I actually heard their cover of your song and of Smash Mouth’s “Walking On The Sun”.

Was it good or bad?

The cover of “Fly” was really good, but the Smash Mouth cover was exact. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t know better.

You see, they’re banking on the fact that we haven’t released it as a single. They just released a single for the people who hear “Fly” on the radio and go to buy the single. But honestly, it is a bit flattering that someone wants to cover our song. I know they have other reasons for doing it, but it’s still flattering.

A few years ago you guys took on a challenge by Howard Stern to any band out there listening to try and cover two songs he wrote as a child.

So we took him up on it. I guess Atlantic got a version of “Psychedelic Bee” and “Silver Nickels” (the two songs written by Howard Stern) and we had them while we were touring. So we listened to them and I decided we should cover “Psychedelic Bee”. We went into the studio in Denver and recorded it in like five hours. The next day we sent it back to Atlantic and they gave it to Howard. He played it for a week and a half, every single day. And then we got to New York and he asked us to come to the studio and play it for him.

What was it like when you finally got in there?

It was great. We still have a relationship with him. After “Fly” came out, his daughter got it and loved it, and liked the video and Mark, so he had us come back in again.

What is Howard is really like?

He’s a nice guy. He’s not at all like the character he projects.

What is the band’s future?

Relentless touring. We’re gonna tour China, Australia, and then more in the States. Then we’ll get another album out.

Will the next album convey the same Sugar Ray?

We’ll have to see how this year has changed us.

+ charlie craine