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April 13, 2006 - Image 10

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10A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, April 13, 2006

ARTS

Lips cant
win 'War'
By Abby Frackman
Daily Arts Writer
Music R EVI EW *
Last we heard from them, the Flaming Lips were
busy telling the story of Japanese fighter girls pre-
paring to battle pink robots. Now, four years later,

The musician's critical ear

the Oklahoma-born, acid-fueled
Lips are back taking potshots
at the president and asking rhe-
torical questions about world
destruction. And that's just in
the first 10 minutes of At War
With the Mystics, their new LP.

Flaming Lips
At War With
the Mystics
Warner Bros.

Most fans know and love the Lips for their explo-
rations of fictional (read: drug-induced) lands and
equally odd circumstances. Lead vocalist Wayne
Coyne is a master of taking normal, everyday sounds
and turning them into something completely unrec-
ognizable, yet beautiful. His ear for the experimen-
tal was never more evident than on 1997's Zaireeka,
a four-CD set intended to be played on four stereos
simultaneously and on The Soft Bulletin, the band's
watershed moment - well, more like acidshed, but
you get the point.
And parts of At War With the Mystics are dizzy-
ing blends of sounds and noises layered behind intro-
spective, sometimes dreamy lyrics that recall the
Lips at their best. The outstanding tracks are found
in the opening moments of Mystics. The beginning
of "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" might make some
listeners want to start a hoedown, but unless you're
as handsome an alien as Coyne, don't. That feeling
thankfully subsides as Coyne toys with introspection

Courtesy or Warner Bros.
If Wayne Coyne were on Facebook, his No. 1 interest would be buckets of acid.

- "If you could watch everybody work while you
just lay on your back / would you do it?" - before
launching into a chorus of yeahs.
Another instantly gratifying tune is "Haven't Got
a Clue." The track is stuffed with robotic effects,
chimes and what can only be described as spacey
videogame music. Forget the childish hook "Every
time you state your case / The more I want to punch
your face," and wallow in the digital-radar stomp.
The beginning beat of "The W.A.N.D." sounds
oddly like something off of a Sugarhill Gang album:
restrained and bass-heavy at the same time. That
feeling is squashed once the distorted guitar and
drums kick in, but the transition alone is memorable.
Fans can hear elements of the Lips they first fell in
love with not too long ago.
Much of the remaining album is slow - some
songs drag on incessantly: "Vein of Stars" could

easily be on the "Garden State" soundtrack. The
tone is somber, the lyrics are trite, and Coyne
sounds as if he's about to drift off to sleep along
with listeners.
"Mr. Ambulance Man" opens with a 911 call,
immediately setting the mood for the rest of the song.
Sirens flutter throughout as Coyne deadpans about
waiting with someone until an ambulance comes. His
voice is down and dejected, "hopin' that it doesn't
come too late." It would be a perfectly acceptable
song if it wasn't a direct rip-off in mood and lyric
from The Soft Bulletin's "Spiderbite Song."
Hardcore fans of the Lips have waited four
years for their heroes to release another album
with even more innovation and originality, but
what they get with Mystics is a letdown. The
Lips fall short by releasing a mediocre, and, well,
sober-sounding effort.

Fellow music lovers and critics:
I think it's time to re-evaluate
the way we listen to - and
our lack of participation in - music.
We've become blank-eyed observers,
pop-culture consumers who, at our
best, pass godlike arbitration on the
essential worth of art and entertain-
ment alike: With a few sentences of
a blog post, we can dismiss as atro-
cious or elevate as sacred the material
we critique. At our worst, we let that
content pass through our
consciousness without
comment or question,
judging nothing at all.
There's nothing
inherently wrong with
exempting oneself from
participation in an art
form in order to bet-
ter understand that art
form through the (ideally
informed and relatively ALEXA
objective) eyes of a critic.J
And it's not a copout if oO
you want to occupy the highly enjoy-
able, low-pressure and completely
necessary position of the patron -
watching and listening, appreciating,
offering feedback and tossing a few
bucks the way of the artists whose
work pleases you. What's problematic
about the way most of us interact with
the music we consume lies in the fact
that most of us don't have any experi-
ence with musicmaking. We don't
really know where those sounds come
from, what the creative process for
the artists was like (or, in this era of
manufactured pop stars, whether any
real creativity really went into the pro-
cess at all) or what it's like to create
something personally important and
unleash it on the world to be digested
and critiqued.
Too often, we allow ourselves
simply to react viscerally to what
we hear. But are we really able
to respond to ideas expressed in
one specific medium via a differ-
ent discursive avenue? Can written
criticism, whether journalistic or aca-
demic, really respond as clearly and
as appropriately to a piece of music
as another piece of music could?
I'm not saying that critics should
have to earn the same musical back-
ground as the artists whose work they
assess in order to profess legitimate
opinions. But why, when the enjoy-
ment, criticism and consumption
of music is such a large part of our
culture, don't more fans - and more
people in general - choose to make
their own music?
Maybe the process of learning a
musical instrument seems too dif-
ficult to some people. But the simple

Ur,

chord progressions and stripped-bare
execution of many of the more recent
pop trends (the return of garage, for
example) is an element of that kind
of music in which fans revel. Perhaps
the expense of acquiring the proper
hardware and taking private lessons
daunts would-be musicians. But all it
takes to get your hands on a perfectly
good used saxophone, Hammond
organ or set of bongos is a quick
perusal of your local newspaper's
classifieds or dragging
yourself out of bed early on
a Saturday morning to get
first crack at the good stuff
at Kiwanis. As for private
lessons, they can create
structure and accelerate
the learning process, but
- and this is coming from
a classically trained tubist
who's about to graduate
NDRA with a degree in music
performance - the value
of learning an instrument
yourself and training yourself to pick
out tunes by ear cannot be under-
estimated. Self-taught guitar-player
friends of mine might not know how
to read music, but they can learn a
new riff or chord progression after
hearing it only a few times. That's
a kind of independence I wasn't
encouraged to learn for myself.
By picking up some kind of instru-
ment and experimenting with it until
you can make sounds - whether
they're pop songs or concertos or
exercises in free improvisation -
you're coming closer to understand-
ing the musicians you love, as well as
the ones you might not be so crazy
about, than you ever could by sim-
ply regurgitating a reaction to their
work. In the film "High Fidelity," a
favorite of pop elitists everywhere,
Rob Gordon realizes that his world
is really starting to unravel when the
ultra-opinionated music geek Barry,
whose character previously served to
dish out arbitration against the music
and taste of others, announces that
he's starting a band. And the most
touching moment of the film, Rob
and Laura's closing reunion, is under-
scored by Barry Live and the Uptown
Five's debut rendition of Marvin
Gaye's "Let's Get It On."
It doesn't matter whether you sing,
slam out rhythms on a trash-can
lid or create your very own style of
trumpet playing: You don't have to be
a professional to be a musician, but
becoming a musician will make you a
different kind of music lover.
- Jones wants a practice partner.
Join her at her almajo@umich.edu.

'Dust' meanders as an adaptation

By David R. Eicke
Daily Arts Writer

Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell,
"Alexander") enters his apartment
through the window.
John Fante's novel "Ask the Dust"
enters the cine- _
matic world in the Ask the Dust
same way, only it
forgets to remove At the Michigan
the window screen. Theater
And just as a pota- Paramount Classics
to passed through
a screen is diced into French fries,"Ask
the Dust" is diced into an inert pile of
similarly disconnected chunks, a col-
lection of scenes that refuse to cohere
into anything intelligible.
Perhaps the film should have stayed
a book. Robert Towne, the writer/
director responsible for the screenplay
of 1974's film-noir classic "China-
town," can obviously pen a fantastic
script. But the film, with its disjointed
plot and flagrant abuse of voiceover

narration, seems to fall victim to the
all-too-common mistake of adhering
too closely to the original text - a
text that probably should have been
left alone to begin with.
The story goes that young Italian
writer Bandini moves to Los Angeles
with a meager bank account and a lot
of ambition. There, he falls instantly
in love with Mexican waitress Camilla
Lopez (Salma Hayek, "Once Upon a
Time in Mexico") and proceeds to win
her over with a stream of insults and
racial shin-kicks.
Their strange lustful/malicious
relationship carries on until, one day,
an unidentified young Jewish woman
(Idina Menzel, "Rent") climbs into
Bandini's window. She slowly gets
closer to him after Bandini discovers
Camilla with another man. But then
she dies in an earthquake. Then Camil-
la shows up in his room. Then those
two start being nice to each other. Then
they have sex. Then he teaches Camilla
how to read English.
The rest of the plot will not be
divulged here, but it's similarly

drunken-sounding and pointless. And
throughout, Bandini's drunken neigh-
bor (the venerable Donald Sutherland,
"Pride and Prejudice") occasionally
bursts through his apartment door like
an elderly Cosmo Kramer to sputter a
few slurred words about life or milk
or something.
Then he leaves.
Sutherland's character is essentially
superfluous. The same goes for the
young Jewish woman, who comes out
of nowhere and then promptly dies. The
film is about the romance of Bandini
and Lopez, and other characters seem
simply thrown in, their ties to the plot
most likely severed in the razor-storm
of the adaptation process.
The film, though, is not without
some redeeming qualities - some
of the French fries from this ravaged
potato are, metaphorically, quite tasty.
The opening pan over old-school Los
Angeles (despite the movie being shot
in South Africa) and a skinny-dip-
ping scene are especially eye-catching
and well edited, and not just because
of Hayek's bountiful chest (though it

Dear Salma, you mad hot.
doesn't hurt). The film is also infused,
in spots, with a subtle, dry humor,
much of which comes from the actress's
comedic talents.
Her strong performance, however,
cannot save "Ask the Dust" from the
mincer. It's fallen into too many differ-
ent fries. It's no longer whole. It's no lon-
ger logical. It has forgotten its potato.

Need a 308 iPodi
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Slick thriller catches right breaks

By Christina Choi
Daily Arts Writer

Only Josh Hartnett can make a broken nose look this good.
As the suave lead character of "Lucky Number Slevin,"
Hartnett ("Sin City") is the epitome of
kismet gone awry. Shortly {after being
evicted from his apartment, discovering Lucky
his girlfriend in the throes of adulterous Number
rapture and getting gratuitously punched Slevin
in the face, Slevin heads to New York
City in search of a much-needed vacation. At the Showcase
Instead, he soon finds himself embroiled and Quality 16
in a case of mistaken identity that leaves Weinstien
him at the mercy of two feuding crime
lords, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley, "Oliver Twist") and the Boss
(Morgan Freeman, "Batman Begins").
In true eye-for-an-eye style, the Boss wants Slevin to kill
the Rabbi's son, on account of the fact that his own son has just
been murdered. Considering Slevin is a complete stranger on
the scene, a puzzle piece is definitely missing. The answer lies
in the mysterious world-famous assassin, Mr. Goodkat (Bruce
Willis, "Sin City"), who has an agenda of his own. Whether
this includes diverting attention from Willis' dated comb-over
or deciphering who came up with the ridiculous character
names is up to the audience to decide.
The film operates in the "Ocean's Eleven" tradition, with

Goodkat and Slevin as the proprietors of a revelatory end-
ing that allows them too much self-confidence throughout
the story. But whereas Goodkat's cockiness is justified by his
talent, Slevin's easygoing character is inexplicable in light of
his stressful circumstances. This problem is particularly evi-
dent in scenes where Slevin calmly fields death threats while
clad in nothing but an envy-inducing lavender towel. Despite
this, Slevin's unburdened, ever-curious character adds a sharp,
tongue-in-cheek humor to the film.
Willis also has his fair share of witty lines punctuated by
his character's invincible nature and lightning-fast reflexes.
Aside from the occasional bug-eyed stare, Goodkat perfectly
embodies a cold, calculated killer as he seamlessly completes
one assassination after another. This accentuates the film's
classy, clean-lit backdrops and well-timed flashbacks that push
the storyline along and deflect confusion from an often-murky
plotline. Thanks to the nature of crime thrillers, however, any
unexplained character is creatively killed off anyway. My per-
sonal favorite is the baseball-to-the-face technique.
And, of course, no crime thriller would be complete without
the inclusion of a hot love interest: enter Lindsey (Lucy Liu).
Her versatility shines in Lindsey's infectiously cute appear-
ance and spunky dialogue that's surprisingly genuine, making
it easy to see why Slevin gets a kick out of simply watching
her sloppily devour noodles (who wouldn't?). She also seems
blissfully untroubled by the fact that he's about to become a
first-degree murderer who puts her life in terrifying danger
and then proceeds to make her lug his suitcase to the airport.
Surely, this love was meant to last.

I

What is Iookstsr:

Digital realm absorbs #

A site that helps you discover things on the
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Myspace combined with Google.
Why should 1 care?
Because Jookster can help you find every-
thing from new websites to cool video clips
through friends. Oh and winning a new iPod
would rock as well.
ria timni. iue n waallu niuiin n

0

By Kevin Bunkley
Daily Arts Writer
Forget about going to final lectures and
writing term papers: "The Elder Scrolls
IV: Oblivion" has _.......__.__
arrived. Bethesda's The Elder
four-year effort cre- Schrolls IV:
ates a momentous and Oblivion
gorgeous role-play-
ing experience that PC or Xbox 360
promises to erode the Bethesda
social lives of all who
enter into its world.
The events of "Oblivion" take place
in Tamriel's capital province of Cyrodil,
where once again an imprisoned hero is

dynamic and have unique medieval styling
centered upon massive stone cathedrals
complete with flying buttresses that reach
high into the sky.
Bethesda has also created a radiant
artificial intelligence system to govern the
world's inhabitants - a system so lifelike
that light reflects off their eyeballs. Resi-
dents greet players upon entering town,
and guardsmen ask of news from the fron-
tier. They sleep, eat, read books and paint.
Combat is tremendously satisfying.
Frantically fending off foes and blocking
are elegantly placed in the control of the
player. The camera is terrific, shaking vio-
lently when players suffer a brutal blow.
And with the addition of rag-doll phys-
ics, death has never looked so good. The
game's sound is particularly crisp during

been remedied if Bethesda had scaled
it correctly. Parts are good (the quest log
and fast-travel system), but the inven-
tory and character screens are horrendous,

I

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