The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Tuesday, January 11, 2011-- 5
The Michigan Daily - michigandailycomTuesday, January 11, 2011 - 5
.Cake is getting stale
And the Academy
Awards go to.
Classic alternative band
does nothing new
By CHLOE STACHOWIAK
- Daily Arts Writer
There's something refreshing about
Cake's musical style - a clever fusion of
guitars, horns, percussion, keyboard and
the occasional organ.
The band has been
diversifying the alter-
native rock scene since
the early '90s, breathing
originality. into a genre
dominated by the same
guitar riffs and gruff,
scratchy vocals (what is
the difference between
album's opening song, "Federal Funding,"
features a cool, laid-back beat and an edgy
guitar pulsing in the background. The
song is iced with a trumpet and French
horn, which only add to its easy, funk-
infused sound. Together, the parts create
an undeniably appealing whole, capable of
making any listener feel like a badass.
"Teenage Pregnancy" also makes a
bold musical statement, as Cake's pre-
cision and intricacy in the studio shine
through on a purely instrumental track.
With dark, dejected piano keys and
aggressive guitar breaks, the song har-
nesses powerful emotions in less than
three minutes. The captivating blend of
sounds showcases Cake's musical range
and sets the album apart from much of
the band's earlier material.
Few of the album's other tracks make
the same impression as these two. Songs
like "Mustache Man" and "Easy to Crash"
attempt to follow in the funky footsteps
of "Federal Funding," making use of the
same strong horn parts and a low, rhyth-
mic guitar. However, the songs don't
offer anything new. Instead, they employ
similar instrumentals and vocals without
melding the sounds into anything notably
original. They feel flat and familiar, fading
into the background of the album.
"Got - to Move" carves the album's
mediocrity even further. Though Cake is
known for its inventiveness, the role of
instruments in the song is simple and less
impressive than in past work. Instead of
building upon each other dynamically, the
guitars and keyboard wail the same slow
melody continuously. Additionally, the
vocals are slightly underwhelming; each
Q NC 9¢5.
Nickelback and 3 Doors Down, again?).
Unlike some of its alternative peers, Cake
plays on touches of funk, ska and jazz,
constantly varying and evolving its music
into something new, original and, above
That is, the band did until the release of
its latest album Showroom of Compassion.
There is nothing revoltingly terrible about
the 11-track collection - on the contrary,
the songs are all fine. That's it, though.
While the album is pleasant as a whole,
few tracks stand out - it's nearly devoid
of irresistible hits like "Short Skirt/Long
Jacket" and "Going the Distance" that
drove the band to popularity.
This isn't to say Showroom of Compas-
sion lacks catchy tracks altogether. The
COURTESY OF UPBEAT
line rhymes perfectly and sounds obvious,
forced, verging on irritating. Even the
piano part isn't enough to rescue the track
from its dull, predictable sound.
When Cake does attempt to diversify
Showroom of Compassion, the results
sound awkward and out of place. "Bound
Away" takes on an unexpected country
persona, complete with twangy guitars
and crooning vocals. In a different context
the track might shine, but here it sounds
more like the theme song to a gimmicky
Western flick more than anything else.
Showroom of Compassion might not
be hideously bad - or, for that matter,
bad at all - but compared to the band's
past work, it comes as disappointment.
Though it starts out strong with "Federal
Funding," the rest of the tracks don't offer
anything new or exciting. The alterna-
tive rock scene might just have to wait
for future Cake albums for the next fiery
"Comfort Eagle" or "Short Skirt/Long
Jacket" megahit, because this record just
Visuals are legacy of 'TRON'
The early days of the new year
are less than exciting for film
releases, soit isn't especially sur-
prising that more attention will be paid
to the major awards ceremonies in the
coming months than
to the actual theatri-
cal output during
the same period. At
The Michigan Daily
(as well as across the
world of artsjournal-
ism), there's likelyto 1
be forecasts and pre- ANKUR
dictions of what might SOHONI
occur on Oscar or
Golden Globe Sunday,
and a breakdown of what should happen,
in the journalists' ownhumble opinions.
But maybe it's time to take a look back
and consider what exactly these awards
accomplish. What's the point?
A ceremony like the Oscars is more
than a simple awards show, but the hype
that surrounds it has been consistently
misplaced. It's often Hollywood politics
- a campaign of sorts that finds studios
pitching their films to industry folk and
doing what they do best: throwing money
and buying success.
The strategy has worked well for
certain films in the past. The Oscar-bait
Miramax films that earned their awards
through multi-million dollar campaigns
often saw the studio employing campaign
strategies that involved sendingscreeners
to Academy members and hiring teams
of consultants to leverage their film's
advantages. Miramax also saw other stu-
dios employing similar tactics to catch up,
- most notably with the success of unde-
serving films like "Shakespeare in Love"
In many ways, the Academy Awards
became like an election, wherein voters
didn't choose the the best film. Instead,
the one that fit with the Academy's image
of the award was crowned the winner.
Among true film fans, the Academy
Awards, and specificallyits Best Picture
crown, is among the most flawed awards
in the book - likely amplified by cer-
emony's prominence in the industry as a
potential red-herring sign of quality.
That said, the Academy, like the com-
munity of filmgoers as a whole, is evolv-
With the inclusion of ten, rather than
five, nominees for Best Picture, the Acad-
emy is startingto counteract displeasure
with nomination snubs and allowing
more non-traditional titles into the fold.
While the result may initially seem like
a circus for the elite awards show, the
long-term effect allows for a more accu-
rate and ultimately less questionable
With more strict promotional regula-
tions limitingstudios' interactions with
Academy members now also in place,
those outside the industry can be con-
fident that Oscar decisions aren't being
made by marketers on the inside.
It's also safe to say that the Academy
Awards, as well as other awards cer-
emonies, is just as much a driver of the
film industry as something external to it.
Films released in the last few months of
the year are often positioned there specifi-
cally for the awards season, and a number
of films get spurred on at the box office
and in home video sales because of their
The most important point of this sea-
son has become clear in recentcyears.
More than being a measure of the best in
film, the awards ceremonies are a meter of
the film industry as a whole andillustrate
trends in whatpeople want fromyear to
In the past ten years, that public opin-
ion has shifted from wanting traditionally
dramatic films like "Gladiator," "A Beauti-
ful Mind" and "Million Dollar Baby" to
more original concepts dealing with con-
temporary stories, like "The Hurt Locker,"
"Crash" and "Slumdog Millionaire."
The 2011 Academy Awards, as well as
the Golden Globes and other ceremonies
over the next few months, will likely fol-
low in that trend.
Front-running films in this year's
awards season - "Inception," "The Social
Network" and "Black Swan" - and others
likely to get significantcattention - like
"Toy Story 3" and "127 Hours" -beauti-
fully show a shift in the film industry
toward critically rewarding originality.
Even films that have more historical,
based-on-a-true-story premises are show-
ing a formal shift in the way in which they
are made. "The King's Speech," set in the
One small step for a
naked golden man,
one giant leap for
early-to-mid twentieth century England,
uses off-puttingcinematography and a
quiet aural landscape to focus the audi-
ence on its characters while foregoing the
melodramaofthetypical period piece.
"The Fighter," a boxing film set in the
1990s in Massachusetts, strives for reality
in its boxing sequences by using the same
TV cameras that were actually used in
broadcasting the fights.
No matter what type of film they're
working on, directors and filmmakers are
consistently and confidently puttingtheir
efforts into new, inventive modes of film-
making, and viewers, critics and awards
voters alike are rewarding them for it.
In an industry thatless-than-subtly cel-
ebrates its history and whose golden age is
by definition long past, it's a refreshingly
good sign. With new technologies taking
over the industry in abig way, the future
of filmmaking is looking up in a manner
unique to our time.
I'm excited for the coming awards
ceremonies, startingwith Golden Globes
on Sunday. If nothing else, I'm excited to
watch the next ten years of film begin its
own evolution. And if the general cyni-
cism that often surrounds the awards is a
sign of the past, perhaps that excitement
is what's most important.
Sohoni is campaigning for "Best
Supporting Critic." To vote for him,
email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By BEN VERDI
Daily Arts Writer
Imagine if Lady Gaga wrote and direct-
ed "The Matrix." Now imagine if video
games were portals to a world where peo-
ple who looked like Daft
Punk had dreamed them
into being. Throw in the
most unconventional TRON:
performance of Jeff
Bridges's career, and you LegaCy
begin to approximate At Quality 16
what "TRON: Legacy," and Rave
directed by newcomer Disney
Joseph Kosinski, feels
This film doesn't hide what makes it
entertaining, valuable or expensive. It's
a fairly standard, and at times didactic,
good-versus-evil plotline. It is essentially a
reimagining of "The Chronicles of Narnia"
set inside a video game instead of a ward-
robe. Bridges is stuck inside his created
virtual world until his son Sam, played by
Garret Hedlund ("Friday Night Lights")
comes to save him, and brings him back
to the real world. From there fights ensue,
armies are assembled and the film's spe-
cial effects become the star of the show.
This description may make the film
seem a little shallow, and there is some
validity to that opinion. However, people
don't go to "Cirque du Soleil" and leave
disappointed because the show lacked a
challenging narrative. "TRON: Legacy"
was created to be viewed in 3-D, screened
in IMAX and immediately turned into a
Actually, "TRON" already is a video
ga'me. So there's no excuse for not know-
ing exactly what this film is going to feel
like. And to form an opinion toward the
film after only seeing it in 2-D; would do
the entire project a disservice. That would
be like judging a university's greatness
solely on the quality of its dorm food, party
scene or football team.
The virtual world itself, with its haunt-
ingly beautiful mountain ranges slashed
with constant lightning to mirror the
turmoil of the peoples below, is breath-
taking to behold. The ships they fly, the
cars they drive and the things they wear
make the characters (who are really com-
puter programs ... again, think Lady Gaga's
"Matrix") look almost as outlandish and
tragically mechanical as the world they
The only reason for a true conflict to
arise in this film is its villain: a program
called Clu, also played by fridges, who
was created by the good Bridges to perfect
the virtual world and remove everything
that "held it back." But, instead of improv-
ing it peacefully, Clu became a vicious dic-
tator, creating an Orwellian dystopia from
the virtual world Bridges thought would
save humans from their own imperfec-
The message that sneaks its way into
our minds as we're bombarded with the
killer soundtrack and images of "TRON"
is that, in a way, the most evil thing for
which we can strive is perfection. We have
to be able to embrace the fact that things
- even things programmed to be perfect,
isn't so bad.
like Clu - will always have flaws, because
we, their creators, and the world that
every hero attempts to save, has flaws too.
So when we live only to perfect the
things around us, through judgment, war
and - as those who instigate it might argue
- genocide, we are perhaps overlooking
the place where we find more imperfec-
tion than anywhere else - ourselves.
A straightforward message indeed, but
a valuable one extracted from an unlikely
source. It's one we won't encounter if we
assume that a movie about a game can't
possibly be worth our time. One we won't
realize if we expect every story we hear,
every book we read and every movie we
see, to be perfect.
ABC's 'V' is lost in outer space
Cage the Elephant still
childlike on 'Birthday'
A few plotholes can ruin an other-
wise great series. Maybe there's that one
scene in which there's just no way our
hero would have left that
bastard alive. Or maybe *
there's the scene when
the super-tight security V
conveniently has a blind
spot just where the pro- Season Two
tagonists go. But while Premiere
there were a few of these Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
scenes in the first season ABC
of ABC's alien adventure
series "V," every scene from season two is
full of gaping holes. Every last one.
That devious character from last sea-
son - he's a good guy now. That security
the aliens have monitoring every science
lab - well, it doesn't cover the one science
lab that contains an alien skeleton in it.
That incredibly dangerous alien traitor
with intimate knowledge of the alien's
culture and infrastructure - yeah, let's
let him go free. And that dead guy - yeah,
he's alive now. Seriously. All that's in one
episode, along with too many others to
And then there's the greatest plot
inconsistency of all. An alien is said to be
traitorous, or at least untrustworthy, if
Daily Arts Writer
The release of Cage the Elephant's
2008 self-titled debut left the rock scene
with tentative admiration and a hand-
ful of questions: Was
this band from the
boondocks of Ken-
tucky worthy ofC
the harsh scrutiny
directed at the alter- Elephant
native genre? Was "Thank You
its arrogant swagger Happy
justified or simply a Birthday"
fagade? Ultimately, Relentless
the answers would
have to wait until its body of work grew.
With Thank You Happy Birthday, the lis-
tener gets some long-awaited answers.
Cage the Elephant's sophomoric (in
more ways than one) release is a few short
steps above mediocrity. At times, it shows
the same promise that radiated from
2008's "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked."
However, the bravado occasionally bor-
ders on excessive, and many of the cocky
risks end up resulting in a mess of noise.
In an album where it seems to be feast or
famine, the hits are impressive, but are
overshadowed by the flops.
Unfortunately, Thank You Happy Birth-
day suffers from the affliction of bad filler
material - something that plagues many
younger bands. The deep tracks are fairly
forgettable, or memorable for the wrong
reasons. For instance, "Sell Yourself" is a
punk nightmare. The lyrics echo passion-
ate dissatisfaction and would complement
any semblance of a tune, but the end result
finds singer Matthew Shultz shrieking his
lines over a mash-up of cymbals and bad
One track worth mentioning above the
rest for its blatant display of egotism is the
uncomfortable "Indy Kidz." The band tries
its best to sound intimidating, but fails
miserably. Twice during the song, Schultz
falls into bouts of senseless screaming. The
second time, the screaming declines into
strange guttural noises, which Schultz
follows by repeating the yearning lyrics,
"You're so cool" and "I want to be just like
you." If Cage the Elephant is trying to sug-
gest anything for the listener to believe,
the music dissuades it from doing so.
Musical mess is
the elephant in
It's a shame thata few of the songs are
so heinous, since there are a few gems
among the havoc. "Right Before My
Eyes" is perhaps the best song Cage the
Elephant has composed. It's deep, slower
and uncharacteristic of its artist - but
then again, the best songs often are (see
"Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"
by Green Day). "Right Before My Eyes"
shows maturity where almost every other
song exudes some measure of childish
See CAGE, Page 6
I told you no on the crash diet.
it has human emotion. And which emo-
tions specifically are human? Whichever
one seems convenient at the time. Minor
bouts of anger, joy, disappointment and
worry are all perfectly fine for an alien,
but the extremes are taboo. It's nonsensi-
cal that the strength of an emotion should
determine whether it's human or not. The
one consistently human emotion appears
to be love. And as quaint as that is, if love
is what the writers mean by "human emo-
tion," then they should just say "love"
But iLot everything in this season is a
worsening of the old flaws. A couple new
characters appear to be stepping into the
mix. First is Dr. Sidney Miller (Bret Harri-
son, "Reaper"), the bumbling young scien-
tist unwittingly forced into intergalactic
war. A caricature of the techno-savvy,
nerdy young adult, Miller adds nothing
to the series, except that five people tak-
ing down an entire alien race is way more
believable than four. Then there's Anna's
mother, played by Jane Badler of the orig-
inal "V." She has yet to utter a line, but
based on how unbelievable it is that the
aliens haven't already gotten whatever
they want from us, her diabolical input is
unlikely to speed things up.
With its second season, "V" needs to
accelerate. Week after week, the aliens
offer some blessing that turns out to be a
See V, Page 6