Jonathan Demme's concert documentary captures a reflective, emotional Neil Young. And we say goodbye to the Bluth family as Arrested Development signs off.
Comebacks and farewells are part of the drill in the entertainment business. Neil Young survived a health scare and got the valentine of a concert film he deserves. Arrested Development was too quirky to catch on and fades into the sunset — it shall be missed.
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Paramount Classics)
The Nashville audience that attended the Ryman Auditorium late last summer to hear the premiere of Neil Young's Prairie Wind record had no idea what to expect and since I had mostly bypassed the album, I was in the same boat for the film that chronicled the event. Young's country-sentimentality records can be strong statements of love and devotion, but their weaker moments sputter on schmaltz and old-fart mustiness. But just as the dull Silver & Gold got deeper, tougher textures live, so too does Prairie Wind — committed to tape, "It's a Dream" is sappy; in the film, it rips your heart apart. Jonathan Demme's documentary emphasizes the humanity of songwriting, how living creatures make music about and for other living creatures, who sometimes come together to perform it and hear it. Demme doesn't strain to romanticize Young, a wise choice when the music has enough sweetness and nostalgia (coupled with Young's bout with mortality when he discovered he had a brain aneurism) to do the job succinctly. On the whole, Prairie Wind holds up quite nicely and the eternal stuff in the encores proves he's been a treasure for more than 30 years now. I'm not sure what (if anything) this film will tell non-fans, but I'll conclude with my fiancée's comment that while she liked it, she was able to mentally rearrange the furniture in our new place about 10 times while watching it.
Arrested Development (Fox, Feb. 10)
I say this as a true fan: The show's strongest element was its cult status. Arrested Development worked best as a secret shared among the select few — its running jokes and serialized plotlines a present to those who stuck with it. But for all its great characters and funny situations, two ingredients will guarantee the show's legacy. First is its skewering of Southern California — I'm not sure if anybody not from here will understand just how correctly Arrested Development skewered the weirdness of Orange County and the entertainment community. But the other factor hasn't been written about enough and was nicely in place on the two-hour finale: the snide rebuke to the Iraq War and the Bush administration in general. We have enough angry ranters and raving bloggers — the Bluth family's sardonic reaction to the continuing insanity of our post-9/11 lives was pitch-perfect and underplayed nicely. As for the finale as a whole, it was perhaps not the two best hours the show has ever delivered, but it didn't drive off into television oblivion smug or bitter. Me, I hope that no other network decides to revive it — Arrested Development wasn't built to last and that was its charm.
Firefly (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) and Serenity (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Not one to take a cult show (or its fans) all that seriously, I figured my buddy's strenuous support of Joss Whedon's short-lived series was well-intentioned but biased. Many pleas from my friend and many DVDs later, I can see why Fox would drop Firefly but more clearly why that was an unfortunate decision. Whedon's merging of sci-fi and western has less to do with cleverness and more about giving his outer-space drama a cowboy-and-Indian grandeur and sadness — the best surprise of the series was how relentlessly downbeat it was, how the occasional jokes were the characters' only way to keep from offing themselves. I preferred the character episodes to the twist-twist-twist plot episodes, and going into the film, I was hoping to be sent off on a high note. Though Jack Green's cinematography gives the ship an even more epic look, Serenity doesn't quite live up to the best of the series. Like many a TV show before it, being blown up to feature length means repeating character arcs that took many episodes to flesh out — it feels both pleasantly familiar and sorta kinda redundant. I am happy that Kaylee finally found love, though.
He can do better than this. But a lot of other acts can't even get here. While the will-he-or-won't-he questions about retirement rankle, there's nothing theatrical or melodramatic about the music. Stark and singular — so much like his collaboration with Nate from Encore that I wonder if it's a leftover — he forgets his closet full of problems and focuses instead on female derrieres, another thematic holdover from Encore. It's getting tougher to think of him as "hard" or "street," but he wears his superstar hat as well as Jigga does. Not bad for a guy now residing in Kanye's shadow — how quickly this stuff turns around, huh?
Prince, "Fury" (performed on Saturday Night Live, NBC, Feb. 4)
The song? Eh. Nobody wants to deal with a woman scorned — agreed, Prince. He's coasting on good feelings, mine included, and the second-half guitar workout was just so wonderful it didn't need to be attached to anything, frankly. A day later, a clueless white guy announced to his friends at a Super Bowl party that he didn't realize Prince "was such a good guitarist." Yeah, and he can do the splits too, dink.
The Rolling Stones, "Rough Justice" (from the Super Bowl halftime show, ABC, Feb. 5)
I was just about alone in enjoying their performance, especially this track which, like it or not, is a gutsy choice for a 20-jillion-person audience. Basically the song is one good riff — not as great as the one from "Start Me Up" but fresher because it hasn't been neutered by constant classic-rock radio exposure. It makes a fine stab at urgency and defiance, and the guys kicked it around with appropriate abandon for a thoroughly uninspired setting. Call them geezers and make your snide jokes, but there is life left in them.
The Clientele, Strange Geometry (Merge)
Can't say for sure if London's gray skies had an impact or if these guys are naturally so gloomy, but these droopy slices of aural prettiness are intended for mopers and mopers alone. Two big problems present themselves — the songs mostly sound the same and you must avoid the lyric sheet which doesn't offer any insights or surprises but instead stinks of bad poetry. They're sad, they're in love, things didn't work out — I imagine people grow out of such forlornness or they latch on to women who consider suffering a sign of depth.
Nada Surf, The Weight Is a Gift (Barsuk)
Occasional spasms of terrific indie popcraft offset by mild catchiness and generally earnest anonymity. Stick with Let Go.
Consumables is a regular overview of popular culture.