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  CONSUMABLES: WAINWRIGHT, MANN, WAYNE, AND WHERE'S THE LOVE?  
   
   
   
 

 

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, LIVE AT ROYCE HALL, JULY 24
"You're starting up and I'm winding down," Loudon Wainwright III sang to his angry young son 11 year ago. Now 30, Rufus still feels like he's starting up. Where his father is autobiographical, direct, acoustic-guitar-and-a-few-truths, Rufus is all operatic gestures and theatrical emotion, every song a piano tune of amorphous beauty. Previewing material from his upcoming "Want" and digging out crowd favorites from his first two albums, he reveled in his bratty flamboyance. His mastery of flourish and romantic non-specifics is without question. And when you stop to notice the lyrics, well, they can be pretty terrific, too. He could be Marc Shaiman if he wanted to. Right now, though, he's just enjoying an undisciplined natural talent that hard-working fools kill themselves to achieve. B+

AIMEE MANN, LIVE AT ROYCE HALL, JULY 24
When she's not careful -- or, rather, when she's overly careful -- her precise songs and too-clever lyrics feel like they're trapped under glass, suffocating slowly and painfully. "Lost in Space" changed all that; she couldn't out-clever depression, not to mention a stifling sense of failure so profound it freaked her out. Starting a new tour, Mann seemed tentative as she tried to find her comfort level. There's no question she has the songs -- that's never been my problem with her. Despite her best intentions, ultimately she's trying to find the sort of writerly perfection that leads to embalmed craft. She's trying to avoid the lows, and so she never finds the highs. The exception: a vulnerable, moving "Invisible Ink," where her inability to hit the notes led to something akin to grace. Maybe even a little humanity. B+

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, JULY 27
I was hoping for something as revelatory as their new album, and so I was a little let down. Chris Collingwood and his band eschewed the outer dimensions of their sound, which gave "Welcome Interstate Managers" its panache. Live, the group focused on efficiency, guitar tricks, and the sing-along chorus. Ignore the new album, and you'd be convinced this is all they're good for. Nevertheless, "Stacy's Mom," which coulda been a Cars cover, segued perfectly into an actual Cars song. And screw power-pop. As the night went on, these East Coasters rocked louder and harder than most of the West Coasters in the audience would have expected. B+

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, DIRECTED BY STEPHEN FREARS
Don't see it because of the poster. Audrey Tautou doesn't look that stunning in the movie, and she's never in such a state of undress. More to the point, this lowdown story of outcasts in London is highly unglamorous; it doesn't have any of the slick crime-thriller trappings the advertisements lead you to believe. What is does have is Chris Menges' as-always great photography -- he makes Frears' London look even more gloomy than the one in 28 Days Later -- and an intelligent, lived-in script from Steve Knight. And the whiffs of Casablanca are unmistakable and earned. But best of all is Sergi Lopez, the menacing friend in With a Friend Like Harry, whom I didn't expect to see as good ever again. I'm always happy when I'm wrong. B+

CLEM SNIDE "SOFT SPOT"
Songs sung to the songwriter's spawn are usually dreadful. The explanation is obvious: Who of us can stand home movies of other people's kids? But like all new parents, Eef Barzelay knows this and doesn't care a lick. How does he get away with it? By turning his goo-goo-gaa-gaa into heartfelt love songs in the grand tradition of indie rock. This means acoustic guitars, lo-fi production, and striking vocals. And, as would be expected when you become a dad, the tempos slow down, you get a little more folksy, you come down with a case of the cutes. But if Yo La Tengo made the idea of a healthy marriage feasible, this band does what it can for the concept of child rearing. B+

SEABISCUIT, DIRECTED BY GARY ROSS
Here's the thing: I haven't seen it yet. And by that I mean, I simply can't bring myself to sit through this. Why? Because the movie feels like a blatant Oscar-grabbing manipulation. Because it's very proud of itself for being a "smart" movie for grownups during the summertime. Because it's not aware that Finding Nemo, 28 Days Later, Swimming Pool, Dirty Pretty Things, and, hell, even Pirates of the Caribbean have already easily made this a satisfying film season. Because every P.R. quote out of writer-director Ross' mouth involves an obnoxious analogy to the sport of horse racing. Because it's supposed to symbolize our country's can-do spirit. Because that description makes me gag. Because I still haven't recovered from Ross' last piece of crap, Pleasantville, which was also mighty pleased with how "smart" it was. When in doubt, take "honest" over "smart" whenever you can. N/A

 

 
 

GOOD THINGS.

KATHRYN CHETKOVICH "ENVY"
You're struggling to put pen to paper. You want to be a writer, but you're eaten alive by doubt. Then, you meet this great guy who's a much more focused (and, damn it, better) writer. You fall for him. He falls for you. You're in love. Then he ends up producing The Corrections, while you're still stuck and suffering. Chetkovich's memoir of loving (and envying) her boyfriend Jonathan Franzen plays the same societal role as Joyce Maynard's tell-all about sleeping with J.D. Salinger. We get to hear the tawdry details and see a famous author with his guard down. But Chetkovich is after something deeper: our attraction toward talent, our shame that we can't seem to pull it out of ourselves. Her artistic difficulties gain resonance because of her shockingly honest account of a relationship based on creativity and forever jeopardized because of that same spark. If she wasn't dating a Successful Artist, would we care as much about her problems? Maybe not. But she sees her predicament as one we all share, and she had the guts to lay it bare. A-

 

BAD THINGS.

BLACK EYED PEAS "WHERE IS THE LOVE?"
Justin oughta know better. Every era has its "Self Destruction," its "What's Going On," its can't-we-all-get-along, and Mr. Timberlake probably felt bad not helping out. (Hey, he's against the KKK, too.) But this piece of middling liberal guilt doesn't have the beat or the brains to compete with the stuff Justin gets from his producers these days. Meanwhile, the Black Eyed Peas have always been lumped into L.A.'s positive-rap movement, mostly because they're black and don't hate bitches. Their inability to contribute anything more substantial than that speaks volumes for the timidity of the cause. C

MASKED AND ANONYMOUS, DIRECTED BY LARRY CHARLES
Technically, not that bad. The film imagines a new world order dominated by the musings of one Bob Dylan. For his rabid fans, this scenario won't be too much of a stretch. But if I'm gonna mock his devotees, I'd better admit to my own Bob love. The man's heartwarming late-century comeback has been a product of his fatalism, mixed with a strong sense of humor about such nonsense. Eyeing 60 and the grave thereafter, he seems cheered by the gathering apocalypse, but he never forgets to bring some good jokes for the trip. The best parts of his film embrace that duality: John Goodman, Luke Wilson, and Val Kilmer are all great because they're hip enough to follow Dylan down. None of this means the movie isn't a big mess, though. Great concert performances, the execrable Penelope Cruz, Mickey Rourke with bad weird hair, a Dylan fight scene beyond explanation or logic, and those glorious cowboy hats on top of that skinny funny troubadour. Musically, the film is "Self-Portrait" or the born-again phase: far from terrible, but not worth risking your credibility defending. C+

 
 

 

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*BT*

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.