Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy birthday, Ryan Gosling!

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Actor Ryan Gosling turns 31 today. He stars in two films now in theaters; he plays a Hollywood stunt driver who also drives getaway cars for robberies in Drive and a political staffer to George Clooney's presidential candidate in The Ides of March.

Born November 12, 1980 in London, Ontario, Gosling first started acting on television, including The All New Mickey Mouse Club (1993-95), Breaker High (1997-98), and Young Hercules (1998-99). He broke out in film with his performance as a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer (2001), for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. He continued to take dark roles in indies The Slaughter Rule (2002) and The United States of Leland (2003). In Murder by Numbers (2002), Gosling played a high school student who conspires with Michael Pitt to commit the perfect murder.

In 2007 he attended the Academy Awards as a Best Actor nominee for his performance as a high school teacher addicted to crack in Half Nelson (2006) and then was seen in the thriller Fracture, co-starring Anthony Hopkins. Later that year Gosling starred in Lars and the Real Girl (2007), playing a character who falls for a life-size doll. After being absent from the big screen for several years, he appeared in two movies in late 2010: All Good Things and Blue Valentine. All Good Things (2010), co-starring Kirsten Dunst, is based on the true story of the 1982 disappearance of Katie Marks (Dunst), the wife of David Marks (Gosling), who was suspected but never convicted in her assumed death. Blue Valentine (2011) is about the relationship between Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). The movie contrasts their moments as a couple falling in love with difficult-to-watch scenes of their marriage falling apart. To call the movie depressing is an understatement; even though I’m a huge Ryan Gosling fan I put off seeing the film for months because I didn't think I could handle the emotional turmoil. But I am glad I finally watched it. One of my favorite moments is when Dean urges Cindy to tap dance in front of a store window with a heart on it. Meanwhile, he serenades her with "You Always Hurt The Ones You Love" on his ukelele. You can check out the song on the Blue Valentine Soundtrack.

I love the way Gosling completely disappears into his characters, and while he has demonstrated his talent in dark roles, I have been hoping for him to take on a comedy for years. One of my favorite movies from 2011 is the comedy-drama Crazy, Stupid, Love, about a man (Steve Carell) dealing with being single after his wife (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce. Gosling becomes his wingman, advising Carell's character on clothes, women, and how to be a man.

I look forward to more Ryan Gosling films in 2012: Gangster Squad (also starring Sean Penn) and Only God Forgives, in which he reteams with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Current Album Obsessions

Five albums that have spent an unhealthy amount of time in my car stereo of late:

Have One on Me- Joanna Newsom
Find it in the catalog!

I avoided listening to this album for almost a year after it was released.  While I like Ys. initially, it wasn't a record that I wanted to listen to over and over again.  And this album is three discs and over two hours long.   It seemed exhausting.  However, I find Have One on Me a lot more enjoyable that Ys.  The songs are still super long and complicated, but they have an easygoing, seventies Joanie Mitchell vibe to them.  Also, while the album works together well as a whole, it's not necessary to listen to all three discs in a row.

Track Obsessions:  "In California", "Have One on Me", "Good Intentions Paving Company", "Does Not Suffice"

The Rip Tide- Beirut
Find it in the catalog!

It's been four long years since Zach Condon's last album, 2007's Flying Club Cup Being a fan of both previous Beirut albums, this was one of my most anticipated albums of the year.  Upon first listen, The Riptide seemed a little bit underwhelming.  It lacks the big, orchestral punch of the previous two albums and is, instead, more an understated synth pop album (but not of the Cut Copy variety).  However, after repeated listens, my appreciation for the album has grown considerably. Though Beirut's sound has evolved, The Rip Tide still has the moodiness and old-timey quality that I enjoyed on his previous albums. 

Track Obsessions:  I almost always hit repeat (at least once) on "East Harlem" and "the Peacock."  "Payne's Bay" (especially the first two minutes) and "Santa Fe" are favorites as well.

Meadowlands- The Wrens
Find it in the catalog!

I had never really listened to the Wrens before, having had them mildly confused with late 90s Canadian folk punk (that's a real thing, apparently) outfit the Weakerthans.  I listened to the Weakerthans during my short-lived emo period, which is not a musical phase I like to revisit often.  Anyway, I'm glad I finally checked out the Wrens.  Meadowlands is a breakup album, which always wins bonus points from me, but it also rocks pretty hard on occasion. 

Track Obsessions:  "Hopeless" has become a recent favorite of mine, but "Everyone Chooses Side" is still my absolute obsession here.  It gets repeated at least twice per album listen. 

Apocalypse- Bill Callahan
Find it in the catalog!

I hadn't heard of Bill Callahan or Smog until his record, Sometimes I Wish I Was an Eagle, was listed on fellow blogger Jason's best of 2009 list.  Because I refuse admit that there are musicians that I haven't heard of, I immediately checked him out and I have been a fan ever since.  Callahan has a lo-fi sound, mixed with witty lyrics and a gloomy baritone.  Apocalypse is his latest seven song EP and it ranks among his finest work.

Track Obsessions:  "Drover," "Baby's Breath," and "Riding for the Feeling."
Yuck- Yuck
Find it in the catalog!

The cover of this album (Google it, if you must) is one my least favorites of the year. In general, this would cause me to avoid listening to all together like Cocorosie's Grey Oceans (click on link at your own risk- you cannot un-see it!).  However, I was desperate for something new to listen to and had heard good things. Yuck's sound reminded me a lot of the 90's guitar driven alternative rock like the Smashing Pumpkins that I listened to early in my high school career.  In fact, with hints of the Cure and guy/ girl vocals, Yuck would have totally been my favorite band ever, if I discovered them in high school.  I'm glad I checked out the album in spite of the aesthetic unpleasantness of the cover, though Grey Oceans is still gonna be a no-go.

Track Obsessions: "Get Away," "Suck," "Sunday," and closer "Rubber."

Monday, November 7, 2011

What we're listening to: Born This Way

Born This Way by Lady Gaga
CD Pop/New Age Lady Born
Find it in the catalog!

Lady Gaga's album Born This Way does not disappoint. Since its release in May this CD has been on repeat in my stereo (and in my head). My favorite songs change from week to week, because there are that many good ones. Lately my favorite is the slinky electronica-esque "Heavy Metal Lover." Just as on previous albums Fame and The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga continues to make fun dance songs filled with energy, including "Marry the Night," "Scheiße," "Judas" and "Born This Way."

Born This Way also includes several songs heavily influenced by the '80s. "Hair" and "Edge of Glory" both feature the late Clarence Clemons of The E Street Band on saxaphone, and "Bad Kids" and "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" sound like they could have been released 30 years ago. I think this album shows the chameleon-like abilities of Lady Gaga as a singer and songwriter. She sounds different on each song, even singing in Spanish on the mariachi-tinged "Americano" and speaking in German over the addictive track "Scheiße." And by addictive I mean, just try to play that song only once.

While Gaga can always be counted on for catchy dance songs, she also writes emotional ballads like "You and I." This song, about a lost love, is one of my favorite Gaga songs ever. I first heard this song at Gaga's February 28 concert at the United Center. Hunched over the piano attacking the keys, she was on fire singing: "It's been a long time since I came around / Been a long time, but I'm back in town / This time I'm not leaving without you." Her February concert was one of my favorite memories of the year, and this album ranks as one of the best of 2011.