East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, October 27, 2006

California ballot measure endorsements

NO ON 83: Sex offender monitoring
This is a particularly stupid measure that looks likely to pass because all parties feel they have to support it to appear tough on crime. Effectively, it bans sex offenders from living in cities, meaning rural kids have to absorb the risk. But don't worry, the ex-cons will be tied to a multi-million dollar GPS system, which are somehow supposed to prevent re-offending.

YES ON 84: Water and parks

HELL NO ON 85: Pregnancy notification

YES ON 86: Cigarette tax for healthcare funding
It wouldn't be my tax of choice, but healthcare is woefully underfunded. The Chronicle argued that the initiative wouldn't take in that much money because people would stop smoking. Isn't that the point?

YES ON 87: Oil tax for alternative energy research
More Chronicle illogic: Vote no because gas prices will go up, and besides, it's good for alternative energy if gas prices go up. Uh, agreed, except for the "vote no" part.

YES ON 88: Parcel tax for education
More Chronicle disingenuity: Vote no because it isn't much money. Hey, if $470 million is so little to you, why don't you give it to the state?

YES ON 89: Campaign finance reform
This clean money prop is perhaps the most important measure on the ballot, so don't take my word for it, watch the official Yes on 89 rap video:

Currently, if you're not on the side of money, this is the kind of crap you have to stoop to. Vote yes so liberal causes can afford guest spots from Lyrics Born, though maybe not Jay-Z.

NO ON 90: Eminent domain restrictions
This would make government acquisition of land outside of an extremely narrow range of uses exponentially more expensive. More than that, landowners would have grounds to sue over as little as an adjusted rent control or a zoning change. Vote no if you have even a passing concern about the environment.

EH ON 1A-1E: Bonds and funding protection

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Old Joy: A little more space

USA, 2006
Starring Daniel London, Will Oldham

Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt from a story by Raymond
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Men and women of letters have often written, sometimes several times in the same issue of the New Yorker, with similar insight to that possessed by this movie into the way friends can be separated by their contrasting alienations. Those writers, though, can't introduce the theme by pumping Air America through car stereo speakers, and might not be conceptually deft enough to realise this is clever. This is one way Old Joy is subtle even when it's only moderately deep. Another example: on a drive through Oregonian woods towards an isolated spring, after sociallly responsible Mark (London) is led by unreconstructed hippie Kurt (Oldham, who should act more often) down a number of wrong roads, he pulls over to study his map, and says something like "I need a little more space". He says it quietly, and no one feels they need to draw attention to the line's less immediate meanings. Part of subtlety, though, is knowing when to be direct -- who wants to see another movie that pussyfoots around its homoeroticism? (It was bad enough when the not subtle, not deep, yet bluntly and simply effective Brokeback Mountain did it.)

Many of the verdant American landscapes I've seen in movies lately have been over-glossy, but Reichardt's budget prevents that. She posits a unity in nature simply through awareness of the surroundings -- when we're awaiting Mark's and Kurt's semi-actualised old joy, she cuts to a curling, cute slug. The fractures in the human world are first revealed through those Air America broadcasts, by their content and the editing: jump cuts shatter the anti-Bush and anti-Democrat tirades into soundbites. The same editing means we hear Kurt's cosmic chatter and Mark's platitudes in snatches, drawing attention to their separateness. This is not a movie of verbal fireworks, so the dialogue is deceptively flat: it's the particular banal response to the preceding banal statement that's revealing. There is one pivotal line, which Mark immediately realises is a gaffe, but Kurt's lack of reaction means we don't see how deep it has cut until the coda. The atomised world gets to burning men too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It remains to be heard

Thirty albums I should get to before I finalise my 2006 lists:
  • Lily Allen, Alright Still
  • Balkan Beat Box
  • Bell Orchestre, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light
  • Blueprint, 1988
  • Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
  • Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways
  • Cat Power, The Greatest
  • Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse
  • Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar
  • Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies
  • Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor
  • Girl Talk, Night Ripper
  • Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • Dennis Gonzalez's Spirit Meridian, Idle Wild
  • The Handsome Family, Last Days of Wonder
  • Adam Lane Trio, Music Degree Zero
  • Adam Lane Trio, Zero Degree Music
  • Liars, Drum's Not Dead
  • Love Is All, Nine Times That Same Song
  • Mastodon, Blood Mountain
  • Monk's Casino (in the mail)
  • David Murray, Gwotet
  • Mario Pavone Quartet, Deez to Blues
  • The Rough Guide to Planet Rock
  • Irene Schweizer, Portrait
  • Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock, Symbiosis (in the mail)
  • TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
  • Scott Walker, The Drift
  • World Saxophone Quartet, Political Blues
  • Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
And thirty more songs:
  • Annie, Songs Remind Me of You
  • Joe Bataan, Secret Girl My Superfraud
  • Big & Rich, 8th of November
  • Booman ft. Labtekwon, Hammerdance
  • Gui Boratto, Like You (Supermayer mix)
  • James Carter, Stereo
  • Crazy Titch, Singalong
  • Eminem, We're Still 1
  • Grupo Batuque, E Ruim (Zero DB remix)
  • Girls Aloud, Somethin' Kinda Ooh
  • Hive, Krush
  • Jackson and His Computer Band, Rock On
  • Emmanuel Jal & Abdul Gadir Salim, Gua
  • Jamelia, Beware of the Dog
  • Killer Mike, That's Life
  • Kurupt, Stalkin'
  • Labtekwon, Sex Machine
  • Rod Lee, Dance My Pain Away
  • Lethal Bizzle, Pow!
  • Lovestink, Gangsta Boogie
  • Murderbot, Only World
  • P.O.S., Safety in Speed
  • The Pipettes, Pull Shapes
  • Radio Citizen, Night II
  • Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Glorious (somewhere lost on my hard drive)
  • Scissor Sisters, I Don't Feel Like Dancing
  • Sally Shapiro, I'll Be by Your Side
  • Sugababes, Red Dress
  • The Thermals, Pillar of Salt
  • Yung Joc, It's Going Down

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It remains to be seen

These are the movies I've seen in 2006.

These are the movies I need to see before end of year list time:

The Queen
Marie Antoinette
Old Joy
The Case of the Grinning Cat
The Child
The Science of Sleep
The Departed
Deliver Us from Evil

List deliberately kept short because I'm going to be living at the PFA for the rest of the year. Of course I'd also like to see Half Nelson, that Warhol doc, The Illusionist, Don't Come Knocking, Little Miss Sunshine, The Ground Truth etc. etc. Then there are the slightly older titles that I meant to get around to this year, like Infernal Affairs 3, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, A Talking Picture.

Suggestions welcome.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fearless: Through a glass Jet Li

China/Hong Kong/USA 2006
Starring Jet Li, Zhao Zhigang, Betty Sun Li, Dong Yong
Written by Chris Chow and Christine To
Directed by Ronny Yu

I know you hate movies bloated beyond necessity, but honestly, inflating wuxia has its benefits: the pumped-up production makes the punches crunch in the Yuen Wo Ping-designed style-clash fights, and at this historical moment, I find the token moralism inserted to soothe the global audience's conscience refreshing. You do need a hero who can hold his own in widescreen, and Li, as Huo Yuanjia, certainly fits the bill, even if he's chronically unable to play romantic -- he often chats with his dead dad, while barely mentioning his dead wife. The aforementioned token moralism teaches Huo that ruins results from fights caused by one's ego, one's drunkeness and even, to some extent, one's defence of the family name. Blood feuds suck because you don't want your family dragged into it, but also because you don't want your enemy's family dragged into it -- a view more balanced than, say, Munich's.

Since blood feuds produce the best dust-ups, the second half of the movie, consisting in large part of blind village girl Moon (Sun) showing Huo the chilled-out way of life, doesn't match the first. This is a Jet Li joint, so Huo unfortunately doesn't resume fighting to raise money for an operation to restore Moon's sight, but because the Chinese really get neurotic about foreigners making fun of them. Even racial nationalism, however, is secondary to good old martial chivalry -- after you've beaten the white boys. We like to kid ourselves that the Japanese understand.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Suck at Games: Archon

I'm trying to play every good video game ever, and I might as well blog it. So you might hear a lot from me about NES games for the next year or two.

Atari 8-bit, 1983; NES version 1989
Designed by Jon Freeman, Anne Westfall and Paul Reiche III

Those against mixed mythologies should be appalled, as Golems and Valkyries take on Banshees and Orcs, as the Light and the Dark battle on a 9x9 grid. I told Yz it was Zoroastrian, she said it was more Manichean. (In Archon II, Order battles Chaos: if Chaos wins, doesn't it lose?) The cute feature is that Light and Dark pieces do better on squares of their own shade, and furthermore, a large subset of the squares lightens and darkens with the progression of time (which Yz pointed out was Taoist. That the Dark side is better: not so Taoist.) The basic strategy is simple -- keep your piece on squares of their own shade, and pick off opposing pieces when the ground shifts from under them. It's complicated by a second way of winning: instead of wiping out all your opponent's forces, you can occupy five squares designated as Power Points.

The combat part is intiated when a piece moves on to a square occupied by an opponent; you then cut to an obstacle-filled battlefield, on which the two of you shoot it out. If you're decent at combat, your force's leader can defend its home Power Point, and you're safe from all but the flukiest of wins. It would seem that at a high level of play, withut too much difference in the players' combat abilities, you'd draw most of the time. If, however, you suck at combat, there's a lot of fun to be had in strategising ways to overcome your ineptitude.

Time until boredom: six hours.

See, they can get it right sometimes

The Nobel: Congrats Orhan!

The NBAs: There's a new Richard Powers novel!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lifeblog: Boys and Boys in Filmcritland

Last week I said that over the last three years, only Kanye had put out two better albums than Todd Snider. Well, the Hold Steady deserve to be in that picture as well, not for the decent warm-up Almost Killed Me, but for Separation Sunday and the new Boys and Girls in America. On my 2005 list, Separation Sunday was my #33 album, which was a mistake: cut that position by half, if not more. Playing both records back-to-back, Boys and Girls might be slightly weaker, but not by much, and anyway it's too early to be sure. As Norwegian blogger Chris Monsen (who has exactly the same taste in music as me) points out, Craig Finn is very much working in an American tradition, and yet projects a very distinct voice within that tradition, which not many artists can honestly claim.

But I thought you were the Mafia Dept: When David Edelstein joined the auteurist newsgroup a_film_by, it resulted in dozens of attacks (some by well-known critics) on himself and Pauline Kael, which he in no way provoked except by his presence. (The group's Statement of Purpose requires that members agree "that for the majority of great narrative films the director is the primary author". Who would argue with that?)

There's a new entry on my list of best cheap eating establishments in the Bay:
  1. Zachary's, College
  2. Cheeseboard, Shattuck
  3. Cafe Andree, Sutter
  4. Koo Sushi, Irving
  5. Barney's, various
  6. La Vie, Geary
  7. Dragon Well, Chestnut
  8. Le Bateau Ivre, Telegraph
  9. House of Curries/Naan 'n' Curry, various
  10. Asqew, various
At La Vie, I had mango chicken and prawns, not too sweet and with a kick. Marvelous.

Your Booker winner is Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss". I guess that means I have to read it.

Other things I liked about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

  • The crowd reaction when Todd Snider made his Camp David reference in "You Got Away with It"!
  • Guy Clark asking Steve Earle if Earle was getting testy in his old age, after Earle performed an acoustic version of "Fuck the FCC"!
  • Billy Bragg's out-of-Iraq song, "Sing Their Souls Back Home", his most moving non-Woody work in xteen years!
  • Sally Timms getting distracted by a shirtless jogger!
  • The Drive-By Truckers, now officially America's best live band, sharing smokes on stage!
  • Richard Thompson simulcasting "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" with Del McCoury! (Bet Del sang it better though.)
And one thing I didn't like:
  • The Air Force manoeuvres overhead drowning out the performers. Rico wanted us to give them the finger, but as Jon said, they're just doing their job.



plus Rico...

plus Sally...

equals THREEKONS~!

That's "Sentimental Marching Song" in unwatchable video and insulting audio.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lit prize handicapping

The Booker:
The Booker usually has a good shortlist, from which the worst book is named as the winner. I've taken a look at all this year's shortlist, except for Hisham Matar's In the Company of Men. The two I've got through are Sarah Waters's The Night Watch and Kate Grenville's The Secret River. I hope to say more about the Waters later; for now let's just say that she deserves the gong, not least because Fingersmith wuz robbed in 2002. The Secret River is a fun read (high B+ish), and there's no shame in its nomination, but it does seem a little slight for a winner: all the old themes are there (Aborigines good, colonialism bad) but none of it's unprecedented. I also hope to finish Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, but I suspect I might shelve it for something a little more gripping.

That leaves two books that play on one of my pet peeves, the impossibly aware child. At least MJ Hyland's Carry Me Down tries to turn the tyke's consciousness into a conceit, but that book ran foul of one of my more reasonable by-laws: if more than one household pet dies violently in the first fifty pages, I stop reading. (This is the second time I've had to enforce this rule this year, after Magda Szabo's The Door.) Edward St Aubyn's Mother's Milk is just annoying, with oh-so-clever dialogue that sounds nothing like the speech of anyone I know (and if you ever hear someone say "Oh dear, do I detect marital conflict?", punch them for me.) It'll probably win.

The Nobel:
Favourite is Orhan Pamuk, who would certainly be a good choice. The smart money is on Polish journo Ryszard Kapuściński -- the little I've read of him is excellent. This year pundits are seriously mentioning Murakami for the first time, but he might be a decade away yet. I repeat my assertions that American authors are strongly discriminated against by the Nobel committee, and that they should gong Roth (possible) or Ashbery (not bloody likely) -- nothing against Joyce Carol Oates, but not Joyce Carol Oates.

The NBAs:
No one's been to pick the National Book Award fiction finalists since they went wacky in 2002. Still: Kathryn Davis, The Thin Place; Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; Alice McDermott, After This; Deorah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes.

RIP Anna Politkovskaya

One of the finest journalists of our time. There will be a lot of attention as to how Putin handles this.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Canonball #987: The General Line

USSR, 1929
Starring Marfa Lapkina, Vasili Buzenkov
Written and directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov
  1. The first mechanical cream separator was devised by Swede C.G. de Laval around 1880. Such a machine feeds whole milk into a bowl rotating at a hundred or more revs per second. The skim milk, being heavier, is spun to the outside, while the cream remains in the centre. The pressure then forces the skim milk and cream into separate containers.
  2. Shooting for The General Line began in 1926; delayed by a break to make October, the movie was ready for release in early 1929, but this was postponed, as Stalin was unsatisfied by the ending -- his exact objections are unknown, but they appear to have been minor compared to later censorship demands. Rejigged, and retitled Old and New, the film finally came out in October 1929; within weeks, its individualist attitude to collectivisation -- that joining a co-op was a choice one should make for one's own enrichment -- was revealed as naive by the new state policy of forced collectivisation. Lacking the historical drama of his previous features, The General Line was too episodic to be effective as propaganda, and perhaps isn't as artistically effective either. Still, his montage is superb as usual, particularly during a bovine wedding leading into a mating, which at the last moment cuts away to a waterfall -- perhaps the first occurrence of that particular trope.
  3. Perhaps Eisenstein made his big move towards individualism because in Marfa Lapkina, he finally had a performer who not only could keep his attention for more than four seconds, but deserved to have her whole body on screen. Lapkina doesn't have the saucer eyes or the ethereality of most silent stars; she's earthy enough to drive the action, convincing her fellow peasants that collectivisation is the path to the acquisition of technology, and thus prosperity. You remember the cream separator, but you really remember the grin on her face as, after so many cuts, the machine spurts liquid. Oh, for the days when cream on a woman's face signified rustic good nature -- not that I'm sure that was the case in 1929.
Trivia note: Lapkina didn't get to see the movie until 1978.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lifeblog: Mr. Lightside

B. Flowers: "I don't think Beethoven was trying to be funny." What about "Take the Skinheads Bowling"?

R.I.P. Cleopatra Jones.

"all to no end save beauty..."

Why I don't expect The Departed to match Infernal Affairs:
Leo DiCaprio (why is Marky Mark not in this role?) << href="http://villagevoice.com/film/0640,hoberman,74637,20.html">ham mode <>>> the world, but I don't think that's enough.)

On Echoes, The Rapture sounded like they wanted more than anything to be stars. On Pieces of the People We Love, they sound like they want to be burnt-out stars, like they wish they were already in the washed-up, reality show stage of their careers already. Still, you can dance to it -- their fusion of Eighties with Eighties revival may be pro forma, but at least they're pros.

Of course there are things I want to see at Mill Valley, (Summer Palace!) but it's too much trouble for me to get there. I hope to instead spend much of weekend at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The attractions on Saturday include Todd Snider (only Kanye has put out two better albums in the last three years) and Langford/Bell/Timms of the Mekons. On Sunday there's Iris DeMent (finest singer of the Nineties, though she hasn't done much since then) and New Favourite Band finalists the Drive-By Truckers. I don't know if there's a better free annual music fest than this one. Anywhere.

Not that you care: Cena vs Edge in the cage this week was the year's best Raw match, badly booked ending and all.

I know you think my praise for The Passenger was faint, but I really believe Jack's performance in the amazing ending should be somewhere on this list. Also: his performance in Lakers-Spurs '03.

Top Ten: Klezmer for Woody

Download a zip of #s 1, 3-10 here (58Mb, link expires Oct. 11th).

1. The Klezmatics, "Come When I Call You": On "I Was Born" on Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2, Natalie Merchant playfully folked around the clock. This is an altogether more mournful Woody Guthrie lyric -- Lorin Sklamberg is so worn down by infant mortality and jagged bar lengths, he doesn't even make to twelve.
2. Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, "Midnight Banda Judía": Sounds like a drinking song, but you try getting those rhythms right while inebriated. Michael Alpert beats Sklamberg for the best vocal on London's Carnival Conspiracy album -- that takes some doing.
3. Mr. Lif, "Murs Iz My Manager": It's not the first time undie rap has been funny, there's Z-Man, and that skit on Lyrics Born's album, and, um... Anyway, funny and funky is unprecedented.
4, 5, 6. Bob Dylan, "Spirit on the Water", "Workingman's Blues No. 2", "Nettie Moore": Modern Times might be my album of year, but aside from the boringness of picking Bob at this point in history, shouldn't an album of the year have a signature top 10 or 20 song? After a month of close listening, I can't find a sure shot like "Po' Boy" or "Mississippi", let alone "Hard Rain" or "Tangled Up in Blue", but any of these could still make the jump. On "Spirit on the Water" it sounds like he has his best band since the Band. The justified and ancient "Nettie Moore"is better written than anything on World Gone Wrong. And "Workingman's Blues" might make you forget he hasn't been using the word "proletariat" all his life. (Neither did Chaplin.)
7. Girl Talk, "Give and Go": So many songs to be mashed, and Ciara still gets centre stage for nearly half the track.
8. Prince, "Lolita": Well, sometimes you just want to dance.
9. Fergie, "London Bridge": Most Valuable Plagiariser.
10. The Klezmatics, "Condorbird": Condors have a better rep than vultures -- looks matter.

Ten more: Ben Allison, "Tricky Dick"; Cabruera, "Probido Cochilar"; Kimya Dawson, "My Mom"; Bob Dylan, "When the Deal Goes Down"; Earl Greyhound, "SOS"; Justice, "Waters of Nazareth"; The Klezmatics, "Orange Blossom Ring"; Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, "Oh Agony, You Are So Sweet Like Sugar I Must to Eat You Up"; The Rakes, "22 Grand Job"; David S. Ware, "Sentient Compassion".

Next month: Got a bunch of jazz coming in the mail, so mostly that. Also: will the Vans-look-like-sneakers song remain stuck in my head?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I know linking to YouTube as a substitute for real blogging is lame, but...

Via Hard News, here's Martin Scorsese's Sesame Streets. It would have been the greatest thing ever if only they'd used "Be My Baby" instead of "Layla".

The moment where Ernie and Bert turn their heads to face each other, and the Bert turns a little more to face a picture of them on the wall, is the most subtle piece of acting in a Marty movie since, well, since De Niro was subtle. Okay, besides Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong in Kundun. And Dylan in No Direction Home.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Village Voice corpsewatch ctd

Gawker sez Mike Atkinson out for Nathan Lee.

I like Lee's Film Comment work, and I disagree with every opinion Atkinson has ever held on anything, but this is hardly a good sign. Hope man-alone J. Hoberman has a new job lined up for himself.

UPDATE: Yep, Dennis Lim as well.