East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ten favourite movies of the year: Orgasm addicts

  1. The Wayward Cloud: Because watermelon is more sensually fulfilling than porn. The final salty scene makes this Tsai's masterpiece.
  2. Army of Shadows: By my count, it would've been the second best movie of 1969 as well (behind The Wild Bunch), so placing it this high doesn't reflect poorly on 2006. The violence against allies is wrenching; the final text devastating.
  3. Breakfast on Pluto: Filled with missteps, Neil Jordan's adaptation never lacks in pop life, while Gavin Friday and Stephen Rea provide remarkable tender cameos.
  4. Casino Royale: Best Bond I've seen. Much credit goes to Eva Green, winner of this year's Keira Knightley "when did she learn to act" award. But if, as I suspect, the major auteur is Paul Haggis, he should be immediately be banned from working on any movie with half a Oscar chance, for Hollywood's sake.
  5. Princess Raccoon: Old Japanese folktale meets postmodern cutting. Zhang Ziyi always looks best when (cineamatically) cut to pieces.
  6. Three Times: These days, Hou seems at his best these days when ripping off WKW, and at his worst when ripping off himself.
  7. Shortbus: Welcome to New York City, a town of beautiful phalluses and sexual possibility. Line of the year: "It's like the Sixties, but with less hope." Non-Maggie Cheung performance of the year: Sook-Yin Lee.
  8. Why We Fight: The lionisation of Eisenhower is shaky, but the damning analysis of the motivations and dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex Ike warned us about is spot on. It's a problem that's greater than any one war.
  9. Heading South: Laurent Cantet treats Ménothy Cesar, his Haitian lead, as the Other, risking the wrath of critics who treat this as a reflection of his personal morality, rather than a reflection of society. It takes respect to let both Cesar and Charlotte Rampling be beautiful in their different ways.
  10. United 93: You may not approve of what it's doing, but you can't deny it's doing it. The one false moment, as the movie ends, is genuinely inspirational.
Best ensemble cast: World Trade Center: The screenplay has more than a few unnecessarily manipulative moments, mostly involving Maria Bello: no one has worked harder just to make her scenes respectable. Meanwhile Michael Pena and Maggie Gyllenhaal shine in better defined roles, and Viola Davis gives a cameo so noble you wish they built the film around her.

Most unfortunately overrated: Little Miss Sunshine: It's churlish to give this to a movie that's moderately good, but I've avoided bad movies with some success this year, and Sunshine's likely Best Picture nom, along with overhype from critics who should know better, makes it fair game. As funny as an upper-middling episode of The Simpsons, the sentimentality starts an hour too soon, and it unforgivably doesn't end with Greg Kinnear getting burnt at the stake.

Full 2006 lists: top 50 movies, inevitable wrestling picks, other stuff

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ten favourite albums of the year: Revenge of the old farts

You may note that the young are a minority of those named below, and only Pink has emerged during the last decade. It's of more concern that the albums by Dylan, the Dolls, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy and Ornette Coleman all seem well short of their respective peaks. But remember (i) the problem with Pitckfork/ILX/Da Blogazfear is that it's rarely acknowledged that anyone is interesting past their third (if not first) album, and (ii) to my ears, this was a pretty good year. And who knows which of the other artists listed, after a few years of critical distance, might join the all time greats? (Hint: #1.)
  1. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale: Wailing over a history of hip hop beats, Ghost is less spammy than usual, Clit Boulevard notwithstanding. The killer cameos are unified by Ghost's tone as much as the, gasp, narrative.
  2. Irène Schweizer, Portrait: Ignorance isn't bliss, but it allows surprise. I'd never heard of this sixty-something Swiss pianist until this year; this retro makes her sound like Cecil Taylor's funnier sister. It might've been number one if I had any context for it.
  3. Bob Dylan, Modern Times: For once, it's not his best album since Blood on the Tracks. Maybe second. Is it that hard to believe that our now unquestioned (RIP JB) Greatest Living Song and Dance Man can keep turning out minor gems until his voice goes? (No, that hasn't happened yet.)
  4. The Klezmatics, Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie: You know how I was looking for a new favourite band? Well, the Klezmatics get that spot. Between this, and their Hanukkah collection, and the associated Frank London album, this has been their year. Lorin Sklamberg might be the best singer in America right now.
  5. New York Dolls, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This: Their worst album. There's still no one who can match David Johansen for song concepts.
  6. Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped: You'd think after two decades of greatness, they might get some respect. Three steps down from Dirty is a step better than (to pick a band I love and hope to love more) Be Your Own Pet have achieved.
  7. Public Enemy & Paris, Rebirth of a Nation: Their best since, I don't know, Apocalypse '91? Paris's ghostwriting sounds like vintage P.E., while Chuck's lines are still the highlights.
  8. Jon Faddis, Teranga: It's not everything you can do with a trumpet. You could use it as a funnel.
  9. Pink, I'm Not Dead: Her rep as the freshest voice in pop survives her desire to be an Indigo Girl, because she knows it's not enough to be pretty, or even smart and pretty. A girl's gotta rock.
  10. Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar: This probably should be higher, but Ornette's albums take me a while to fully parse. His sound is still unmistakable, no matter how many bassists he has.
Most unfortunately overrated: Cat Power, The Greatest: For one thing, Dusty was direct.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Ten favourite books of the year

  1. Taylor Branch, America in the King Years: This three volume, 2000+ page work, completed this year, is both the bio a great figure deserves and a history of a era in which America was transformed, as an overt form of discrimination ended and a more insidious form began. The fact that the violence and institutional complicity of the time is so shocking to those of us who weren't around at the time might mean things have changed for the better -- or that the Good Old Boys are now better at hiding their hand.
  2. Roy Fisher, The Long and the Short of It: This collection from Birmingham's Greatest Living Something-or-Other is usefully organised, meaning all the best stuff is at the front. Joycean.
  3. Ali Smith, The Accidental: Multiple narrators leave much unsaid, or, eeny meeny Pasolini.
  4. RETORT, Afflicted Powers: The most incisive post-September 11 analysis is also oddly hopeful for the future of The Left. Whatever gets you through the night.
  5. Mary Gaitskill, Veronica: The kind of novel you can cut yourself on.
  6. Robert Charles Wilson, Spin: What if one night the stars went out? What if you knew the end of the world was due in your lifetime? What if someone wrote a sci-fi book with lifelike characters?
  7. The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan: Yes, dead white male poet, but a good one. The Sonnets are an Important Work in the New American Poetry. The rest is quite funny.
  8. Sarah Waters, The Night Watch: You always hurt the one you love. You usually manage to hurt everyone else as well.
  9. Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness: Maybe he did deserve the Nobel. See the movie, but this is unadaptable.
  10. David Larsen, The Thorn: In poetry, inappropriateness is the new black, but no one is making it as elegant as LRSN is. Boiled dove pizzas, Islamic apocrypha, and some all-caps melodrama involing a pancake vendor and the beautiful Osama bin Laden.

Most unfortunately overrated: Edward St Aubyn, Mother's Milk.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

When empathy goes too far

The kid who mugged me was so bad at the whole robbery thing, I felt sorry for him.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Casino Royale: Craig listing

Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with Paul Haggis
Directed by Martin Campbell

Bartender: "Shaken or stirred?"
Bond: "Do I look like I give a damn?"

In Casino Royale, the best James Bond movie in decades, the super-agent knows less than we do. That dissonance is the source of the movie's humour, its tension, its sorrow. Since the tragic On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969, Bond seemed closest to a recognisable human being in GoldenEye, Casino Royale director Martin Campbell’s previous franchise reanimation. In GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's Bond faced an unbeatable enemy -- middle age. The attempt at depth was limited by Brosnan's inexperience in the role. He finally became comfortable in The World Is Not Enough, by which time no one cared.

This relaunch, starring Daniel Craig, takes the more conventional approach of returning to Bond's early years, the prelude showing his first use of his licence to kill. Bond is slightly out of sync with his 007 role -- his movements are a little off, he struggles to dispatch run-of-the-mill enemies. His playboy nature is still something of a facade. His image is still in the process of seducing him.

Once again, no one would care about the character development if there weren’t some memorable set pieces. Bond's best ever bipedal chase occurs early in Casino Royale. Bond chases a bomb maker, played by Sebastien Foucan, through a construction site. The breathtaking agility of Foucan’s wall-bounces contrasts with the knee-crushing determination of Craig’s leaps. The final rescue, in a building crumbling into the waters of Venice, is nearly as good.

The action sequences, as aerobic and sweat-stained as they are, make up only a respectable fraction of the movie. 007 spends almost as much screen time playing poker (and, it must be added, when he succeeds, it’s mostly through dumb luck). Bond is new to the high life, and the movie lets us enjoy it with him. It's rare for a modern Bond movie to let us enjoy the scenery; rarer still for the particularities of landscape to matter, as in that Venice sequence.

Campbell’s direction is natty, but he lets his performers make the movie. That decision proves wise, as his leads play off each other as deftly as you could’ve dreamed. Bond uncomfortable with being Bond is an easier role to step into than Bond weary of being Bond, but Craig, who spent many years in arthouse purgatory before becoming 007, doesn't need easy. Claims of his ugliness are ridiculous – Sean Connery has funny-shaped ears as well, you know – but he looks more thuggish and exudes a more basic sexuality than any of his predecessors, best displayed in the latest Ursula Andress tribute scene, in which he emerges from the sea in his Speedos. His big, sky blue irises betray that there's something not quite right with him, which is necessarily the case for any hitman. It remains to be seen whether his features will make it hard for him to play the experienced Bond, the callous fantasy figure Connery mastered.

Eva Green, as Vesper Lynd, doesn't turn up for a long time. When she does, it's shocking: she's grown from game, limited eye candy (in The Dreamers) to witty, sophisticated actress. Becoming a Bond girl is supposed to be a career peak, but Green joins the still shorter list of Bond women: it's just her and Diana Rigg. When Bond tries to melt her by making inferences about her past, she scores a knockout counterpunch by repeating the trick on him. But she's
not emotionally invulnerable -- after she assists Bond in a life-or-death struggle, she's horrified. The scene that follows back in their hotel room is remarkably poignant -- it's a very Paul Haggis moment (he polished the screenplay by Bond vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade), showing that when bluntness is a strength, he's one of our finest writers.

After Green enters the picture, other women are almost completely absent, with the exception of Judi Dench's headmistressy M, and after a while even she starts to get squeezed out. Vesper takes over Bond, rather than the usual opposite. She has him considering giving up his job, his lifestyle, everything. But we know he won't, and that dramatic irony makes the endgame the most affecting in series history. Unlike other Bond movie endings, during which we know, and don’t care, that we’ll never see the girl again, this one is a beginning.



Right, one more post about end-of-year music list nerdism, then it's time for end-of-year movie list nerdism.

For each song in 99 Lives, I've made a best guess as to on whose recommendation I first longlisted the track. The breakdown is:

51: Xgau
9: S/FJ
7: Tom Hull
4: Eirik Blegeberg, Tom Breihan, Matos, Chris Monsen
3: Nate Patrin, Popjustice
2: Jess Harvell, Keith Harris
1: Pazz & Jop, Chuck Eddy, Yyzz, Alastair Johnston, Acclaimed Music, KCRW

Norwegian-to-feminine ratio: 8 to 1.

That Christgau dominates despite his Fall-long underemployment shows I'm a total drone, but it's for good reason. You can argue about who was the best movie critic ever -- Kael? Bazin? Farber? Taubin? -- but there's no argument that Christgau's the best rock critic, though if Lester Bangs had lived or Greg Tate wrote about music more regularly, it might be close.

Christgau's Consumer Guide has been resurrected at MSN, of all places. The Dud of the Month is, as usual, the most fun thing to read. The rest of the column is more useful.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

99 Lives

My 99 favourite tracks of the year. The rules are (1) songs should be first released in an English-speaking country this year or last (but see #2) and (2) really long songs are discouraged (but see #1). Songs that should've been in last year's list, but weren't, are eligible. Thus "Gold Digger", which everyone else thinks is a 2005 song, makes it this year, because last year I was preoccupied with "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" and "We Major". Here at East Bay View, we don't always get there first, but we get there.

I thought the list would be completely dominated by legends, but it didn't turn out that way; they'll probably own my albums list, though. Four songs for Ghost, also four for Frank London: two with his Klezmer Brass Allstars and two with the Klezmatics, though he doesn't do much, if anything, on the higher one. Three each for Pink, Dylan, the Dolls, the Hold Steady, and Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics. Lots of Timbaland. Monk percentage unchanged from last year. Hard to pick trends, aside from an increased interest in Eastern European flavours, whether Gypsy or Jewish.

It was a two way race for the top spot, albeit not at as rarified a height as the classic "1 Thing"-"Since U Been Gone" duel last year. Natasha Bedingfield's reinvigoration of a hackneyed phrase was exceedingly savvy, heartfelt, and just plain smart. But though she pushes the boundaries of her genre, David S. Ware erases the boundaries of his. No one, not Ware himself on his first recording of "The Way We Were", not even Coltrane, has ever destroyed a well-known tune quite the way Ware, Matthew Shipp, Wlliam Parker and Susie Ibarra do on this year's number one.
  1. David S. Ware Quartet, “The Way We Were”
  2. Natasha Bedingfield, “These Words”
  3. Kocani Orkestar, “Siki, siki baba”
  4. The Klezmatics, “Come When I Call You”
  5. Be Your Own Pet, “Adventure”
  6. Sonic Youth, “Incinerate”
  7. New York Dolls, “Dance Like a Monkey”
  8. Ghostface Killah ft. Ne-Yo, “Back Like That”
  9. Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, “Midnight Banda Judía”
  10. Killer Mike, “That's Life”
  11. Cham ft. Akon, “Ghetto Story Chapter 3”
  12. Jon Faddis, “Teranga”
  13. Ghostface Killah ft. Trife, “Be Easy”
  14. Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
  15. Neil Young, “This Old Guitar”
  16. The Go! Team, “Ladyflash”
  17. Irène Schweizer & Han Bennick, “Hackensack”
  18. Shelby Lynne, “Johnny Met June”
  19. Robyn, “Be Mine”
  20. The Coup, “I Love Boosters”
  21. Mr. Lif ft. Murs, “Murs Iz My Manager”
  22. The Shys, “Never Gonna Die”
  23. Irène Schweizer & Louis Moholo, “Angel”
  24. Arctic Monkeys, “When the Sun Goes Down”
  25. Pink ft. the Indigo Girls, “Dear Mr. President”
  26. Bob Dylan, “Workingman's Blues No. 2”
  27. Justin Timberlake ft. T.I., “My Love”
  28. Bobby Pinson, “I Thought That's Who I Was”
  29. Public Enemy ft. Paris, “Hard Rhymin'”
  30. New York Dolls, “Fishnets and Cigarettes”
  31. The Mountain Goats, “This Year”
  32. T.I., “What You Know”
  33. Prince, “Lolita”
  34. Kimya Dawson, “My Mom”
  35. Pink, “U + Ur Hand”
  36. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood”
  37. Ladytron, “Destroy Everything You Touch”
  38. Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water”
  39. The Hold Steady, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”
  40. Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers, “In Gradina Cu Tufani”
  41. Ghostface Killah ft. Raekwon, “Kilo”
  42. Todd Snider, “You Got Away with It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)”
  43. Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx, “Gold Digger”
  44. The Hold Steady, “Chillout Tent”
  45. Earl Greyhound, “SOS”
  46. Fergie, “London Bridge”
  47. Dixie Chicks, “The Long Way Around”
  48. Comet Gain, “Days I Forgot to Write Down”
  49. The National, “Abel”
  50. Beyonce, “Irreplaceable”
  51. Scissor Sisters, “I Don't Feel Like Dancing”
  52. T-K.A.S.H., “How to Get Ass”
  53. Lil Wayne, “Shooter”
  54. Dr. John, “World I Never Made”
  55. Arctic Monkeys, “Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts”
  56. The Rakes, “22 Grand Job”
  57. OutKast ft. Lil Wayne & Snoop Dogg, “Hollywood Divorce”
  58. Wide Right, “Laws of Gravity”
  59. The Hold Steady, “Chips Ahoy”
  60. The Pipettes, “Pull Shapes”
  61. Wussy, “Airborne”
  62. Emmanuel Jal & Abdul Gadir Salim, “Gua”
  63. Herbert, “Harmonise”
  64. Bébé Manga, “Ami O”
  65. Pink, “Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)”
  66. Sobanza Mimanisa, “Kiwembo”
  67. Rihanna, “S.O.S.”
  68. Justin Timberlake, “Lovestoned/I Think That She Knows”
  69. The Little Willies, “Love Me”
  70. Comet Gain, “Just One More Summer Before I Go”
  71. Ghostface Killah ft. Theodore Unit, “Jellyfish”
  72. Jamelia, “Beware of the Dog”
  73. The Coup, “Laugh/Love/Fuck”
  74. Sonic Youth, “Turquoise Boy”
  75. Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers, “Vintule, Bataia Ta”
  76. Rhymefest ft. ODB, “Build Me Up”
  77. Saint Etienne, “Milk Bottle Symphony”
  78. Be Your Own Pet, “Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle”
  79. World Saxophone Quartet, “Political Blues”
  80. Mahala Rai Banda, “Mahalageasca”
  81. Ray Cash ft. Scarface, “Bumpin' My Music”
  82. E-40 ft. Keak Da Sneak, “Tell Me When to Go”
  83. Gui Boratto, “Like You (Supermayer mix)”
  84. Franz Ferdinand, “Do You Want To”
  85. Bob Dylan, “Nettie Moore”
  86. Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, “Oh Agony, You Are So Sweet Like Sugar I Must to Eat You Up”
  87. Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland, “Promiscuous”
  88. Rich Boy, “Get to Poppin'”
  89. The Klezmatics, “Mermaid Avenue”
  90. New York Dolls, “Plenty of Music”
  91. Ak'sent ft. Beenie Man, “Zingy”
  92. Arctic Monkeys, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
  93. OutKast, “Morris Brown”
  94. Wide Right, “Dishrag”
  95. Neil Young, “Let's Impeach the President”
  96. Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock, “Moonlight in Vermont”
  97. Busta Rhymes, “Touch It”
  98. Alexander von Schlippenbach, “Green Chimneys/Little Rootie Tootie”
  99. The Streets, “Hotel Expressionism”
Omitted for length: John Coltrane, "One Down, One Up"; George Russell, "Electronic Sonata for Souls Beloved by Nature"; Craig Harris, "The Color Line".

BONUS TRACKS: Some of these are stunningly obvious, but if you have this CD and last year's, you'll have all of my 20 favourite songs of the decade.
  • Amy Rigby, “Don't Ever Change” -- still #1 for the decade, only has to hang on for three more years
  • Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady”
  • Eminem, “Stan”
  • Aimee Mann, “Ghost World”
  • Panjabi MC, “Beware of the Boys”
  • Freelance Hellraiser, “A Stroke of Genius”
  • Youssou N'Dour, “Tan Bi”
  • Sonic Youth, “Free City Rhymes”
  • OutKast, “Ms. Jackson”
  • Daft Punk, “Digital Love”
  • Britney Spears, “Toxic”
  • OutKast, “Hey Ya”
  • Northern State, “Dying in Stereo”


The Coup bus crash fund

Friday, December 01, 2006

Interim top ten

The 2006 edition of my annual MP3 comp 99 Lives is due for release next week. I've chosen the songs, but I'm still finalising the ranking. Reserve a copy by dropping me a line. If you can't wait, track down these ten songs that made the cut:

Irene Schweizer, "Hackensack", "Angel": If I decide it counts, I'll give Portrait, a comp of Schweizer's best performances over two decades on Intakt, consideration for album of the year. No jazz record I've heard this year has seemed like such a revelation. She's terrific when jabbing percussively at her piano, like on the Monk cover. Her secret might be her incredible left-hand swing, which ingratiates Dudu Pukwana's "Angel" until it seems like a standard, whereupon she can start deconstructing it.
Killer Mike, "That's Life": Allowing for the rhetoric, this is the angriest, most astute track in a fine year for political hip hop. George Bush don't like blacks? No shit, Sherlock.
Beyonce, "Irreplaceable": She doesn't scream, since she's not trying to mimic speech; she evokes instead more viscous internal feelings. So now she's an interpretative singer: dig the way she lingers over the word "home".
OutKast ft. Lil' Wayne & Snoop Dogg, "Hollywood Divorce": Time was that Dre's rhymes would be the tightest among the players assembled here; though that's not the case, the sound of his voice, whether crooning or speaking, makes the track by amplifying the production's eerieness. Maybe he should focus on acting.
Scissor Sisters, "I Don't Feel Like Dancing": If you're old enough to remember when Elton was this good, you're old enough to know what it's like to not feel like dancing.
Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim, "Gua": Southern Sudanese child soldier escapes to Kenya, raps with northern Sudanese oud master, Kidman-starring movie to come next year.
The Pipettes, "Pull Shapes": "No," said the boy to the vicar, "I am Shapes."
Jamelia, "Beware of the Dog": Sampling "Personal Jesus" -- who does she think she is, Johnny Cash?
World Saxophone Quartet, "Political Blues": As a rhyme for "Bush, Cheney and Rice", how about "the Republican Party's infested with lice"?