seracahoone“I’m safe for now, but I know the rest is on its way…”

The music on Sera Cahoone’s second album, Only As The Day Is Long, is solidly in a country vein, complete with acoustic and steel guitars, fiddles and banjos. This set of ten songs has been aptly described by her record label Sub Pop as “country noir,” as the lyrics are often marked by unease or tension, but listening to the record is hardly the heavy going “country noir” may imply in the minds of some potential listeners, as the focus here is on solid, stylish songwriting and musicianship, highlighted by Cahoone’s lovely and evocative voice. Definitely recommended for mainstream country and alt-country fans alike. Standout cuts: “Baker Lake,” “Only As The Day Is Long,” “Shitty Hotel” and “You’re Not Broken.”

http://www.myspace.com/seracahoone

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One of the latest batch of “8 Films To Die For” After Dark Horror Fest movies, Nightmare Man is a mostly entertaining B-movie that frequently succeeds in spite of itself. The plot involves a mask that may or may not have resulted in a woman being possessed by a murderous demon. The movie’s marred by the usual things that plague a low budget production: Spotty writing and acting, makeup that’s often more silly than scary. Its primary problem, however, is it can’t quite decide what sort of movie it wants to be, instead opting to change gears about every half an hour. Then there are a couple of plot twists, one you’ll probably see coming, and the other you’ll probably wish had never arrived. Nevertheless, the movie works up some tension and a few scares, and the actors, particularly Tiffany Shepis, who seems to be a sort of 21st century Linnea Quigley, do a lot to sell the movie. The last twenty or so minutes of the movie borrow copiously from at least two other horror thrillers that I can think of, with not so great results. Until then, it’s not a bad ride for undemanding horror fans, so I give it three monkeys, though you’ll want to adjust that rating down if you are a demanding horror fan.

MONKEY RATING: THREE (DEMONIC, OR POSSIBLY JUST DEPRESSED AND DELUSIONAL) MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Amiable, if slight, fantasy, adapted from a short story by Etgar Keret by writer/director Goran Dukic, about an afterlife for suicides that’s “just a little worse” than the lives they left behind. The landscape of this afterlife is bleak and almost colorless, it’s littered with junk and wreckage, and it’s hot. The inhabitants, who still bear the signs of their method of “offing” themselves, can’t smile. Into this world goes Zia (Patrick Fugit), who has cut his wrists after his relationship with his girlfriend, Desiree (Leslie Bibb), ends. When he discovers that she, too, has entered this afterlife, he goes on the road with a Russian ex-rock singer, Eugene (Shea Whigman) to find her, eventually picking up a hitchhiker named Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who insists she’s there by mistake and wants to take her case up with “the people in charge.” Though it’s in a comic mode, Wristcutters: A Love Story is only occasionally laugh out loud funny. Mostly, it settles for being whimsical and amusing, but it’s made watchable by the very appealing cast, which also includes Tom Waits, John Hawkes and Will Arnett. And if it goes all gooey-eyed by the end, well, it is subtitled “a love story,” after all.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MILD SPOILERS CONTAINED HEREIN:

Unfortunate misfire about a bankrupted English lord who unwittingly leaves his schizophrenic son in charge of his desperately ill wife, with horrific consequences. Though ably acted (with a particularly fearless performance by Kate Fahy), the movie collapses into shrill, overwrought melodrama owing to a script that requires characters to behave in annoyingly foolish and often flat out unbelievable ways, i.e. the father leaving before the nurse he’s hired for his wife arrives, then that nurse that taking her time calling the police when clearly the situation demands immediate attention. Of course, if they did act sensibly, then the movie would be over that much more quickly. The climactic scene also strains credibility to the point of absurdity. The Living And The Dead is not without its effective moments, but I can’t recommend it.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

“They’re inside the house.”

Them (Ils), a brutally efficient little thriller from France, is a model of sustained tension: Set outside Bucharest, a young French language teacher (Olivia Bonamy) and her writer husband (Michael Cohen) find their remote country home invaded late one evening by unknown and very deadly assailants. The truly frightening opening sequence, which introduces the assailants and their threat, immediately sets a tone of fear, unease and dread, which the film maintains for most of the rest of its 77 minute running time. Gorehounds will probably be disappointed, as Them locates its terror in more seemingly mundane things: Searching, approaching flashlights, odd sounds that are at once familiar and increasingly terrifying, a TV left on, a car moved. On the commentary for The Silence Of The Lambs, director Jonathan Demme quoted Roger Corman as saying one of the scariest things in a movie is movement towards a closed door, “because you wonder what’s going to be behind that door.” Them is a movie built on exploiting that fear, what’s behind that door, what’s around that next corner, the fear made worse by the fact that the doors and the corners are in the characters’ own home. It’s the type of movie that may shatter a lot of viewer’s notions about their homes being safe havens, which is precisely what the filmmakers are up to. Unfortunately, the film makes a miscalculation at the very end, as it feels the need to explain itself too much, which undermines some of the impact of the final images. Oh, had the movie only ended a minute or so earlier, but oh, well, it’s still worth a look for horror and thriller fans in particular.

MONKEY RATING: ONE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

P.S. This movie has been reportedly remade as The Strangers, starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, opening May 30. Both Them and The Strangers announce themselves to be “based on true events” and involve invasions of remote country homes that begin at even roughly the same time. However, having seen the trailer for The Strangers, it seems the writer/director of the American version takes things in a different direction.

P.P.S. According to Stacie Ponder over at the Final Girl blog, the reports that The Strangers is a remake of Them are “misinformed,” despite the plot similarities, which I guess are more superficial than I thought. I’m seeing The Strangers no matter what, so there’s that, and it shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing Them, which has gotten rave reviews from everyone I’ve personally recommended it to.

chathamcountylineivThe fourth release from North Carolina band Chatham County Line is a simply beautiful album from first note to last: They are bluegrass quartet who list among their influences the Band, Bill Monroe and Wilco, but their songs, specifically the lyrics, often reminded me of Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen. IV is marked by gorgeous vocals and often thrillingly good musicianship, so good I thought these guys were already stars in their field that had until now flown under my radar. (There are a couple of nifty instrumentals that highlight their playing, “Clear Blue Sky” and “Paige.”) I don’t think Chatham County Line’s future lies in becoming the next great bluegrass or alt-country band, as some might say they are already that, but rather I think they have a shot at becoming one of the next great American bands, period. Standout cuts: “Chip Of A Star,” “Let It Rock,” “Birmingham Jail” and “I Got Worry.”

http://www.myspace.com/chathamcountyline

April Fool’s Day is a direct-to-video remake of the 1988 theatrical movie of the same name, and let me get this out of the way immediately: The joke’s on anyone who watches this movie. This is one of the most dramatically inert movies I’ve seen in some time. It’s supposed to be a horror thriller, where the characters get bumped off one by one, but it plays more like a soft core porn Skinemax kind of a movie. Not only is there zero suspense and tension owing to the inept direction and script, you wouldn’t have really cared who gets killed, anyway, because all the characters are unlikeable (not to mention poorly acted). This is a movie where the characters do a lot of walking around. Then some driving around. Then more walking. Then a little running. But is there gore? Not really, no. April Fool’s Day ‘s an R-rated movie, though I’m not sure why. It’s not owing to violence or nudity, anyway, of which there is little and none. This movie was just lame. I’m going to stop writing now. Okay, bye.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR (VERY INERT) MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

This isn’t exactly a new release, but hey, it’s new to me: This is an inspired 2005 version of the H.P. Lovecraft story, The Call Of Cthulu, done as a silent movie to suggest what a adaptation would have looked like had it been released in 1926, the year the story was published. (The decision was also a rather ingenious way to get around the limitations of a low budget.) I can’t honestly say my acquaintance with Lovecraft’s writing goes much beyond the various movies I’ve seen before that were based on his work, most notably The Dunwich Horror and Stuart Gordon’s classic movies, Re-Animator and From Beyond. This adaptation, directed by Andrew Leman and written by Sean Branney, is reportedly the most faithful yet, and certainly can’t be accused of padding the running time with extraneous material, as the movie only runs 47 minutes. Once you accept the style it’s done in, The Call Of Cthulu is pretty effective and creepy, and perhaps best of all for silent film fans, it’s a lot of fun to just look at, as it features some impressive visuals that recall German Expressionism and M.C. Escher drawings, among other influences. The first appearance of Cthulu, which involves some nicely done stop-motion animation, even gave me a bit of a start. If you like your horror old school, like really old school, The Call Of Cthulu is the movie for you.

MONKEY RATING: ONE (MANY TENTACLED) MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

For their latest album, Attack And Release, Akron based band the Black Keys recruited Danger Mouse for their producer, but longtime fans worried that they’ve abandoned their funk and blues-fueled rock sound need fear not, as their signature sound is fully intact. Danger Mouse, great producer that he is, doesn’t try to reinvent the band, but rather gives their music a fuller, more expansive feel where appropriate. The result is the best sounding Black Keys record yet, and better yet, the impassioned material feels like the work of a freshly invigorated band. It’s all the dirt and the grit and the funkiness you love about the Black Keys, just on a bigger scale.Standout cuts: “Strange Times,” “Psychotic Girl,” “Remember When (Side B)” and “Same Old Thing.”

http://www.myspace.com/theblackkeys

raconteurs1The Raconteurs (Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence, Patrick Keeler and Jack White) finish their new album in early March, and here it is released already in late March. But is it good? Well, in a word, yes. Some might say very good, in fact. If their debut album was an exercise in pop, Consolers Of The Lonely is a full on rock record, rock with an often distinctly 60’s and 70’s feel, clear from the opening notes of the title track and then the first single, “Salute Your Solution,” which follows in short order, right down to the stunner of a final track, the mini-epic “Carolina Drama.” There’s country and blues thrown into the mix, too, and some wicked good guitar playing. Though I liked a lot of Broken Boy Soldiers, I can’t say I really loved any of it. Consolers Of The Lonely, however, is right down my alley. I think it’s good enough to stand along the best work the various members of the band have done outside the Raconteurs, plus it’s as fun to listen to as all get out. Rock fans rejoice, you have a hell of a cool album in store for you. Standout cuts: “Consolers Of The Lonely,” “Salute Your Solutions,” “Five On The Five” and “Carolina Drama.”

http://www.myspace.com/theraconteurs