East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Top ten: Welcome to the beautiful south

I'm glad I've got two, probably three spots in my top ten albums of the year sorted out already, though that necessitates a little squeezing this month.

1. Mavis Staples, "I'll Be Rested"/"99 and 1/2"/"My Own Eyes": At 68, she's taken even longer than her Pops to peak. On We'll Never Turn Back, she draws upon her memories of protests and arrests during the civil rights era. This isn't self-congratulation: "99 and 1/2" (set to LAPD brutality footage below) and "My Own Eyes" and Katrina remind us how far away we are from equality in practice, how much work remains to be done. But while turning back isn't an option for the brave, it's essential to look back and honour past heroes. Her reimagination of "I'll Be Rested" moves from a roll call of civil rights martyrs ecumenical enough to include both Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy, to a list of passed gospel greats ending with Pops. There's no song that can make me a believer. But that's never stopped me from wishing there were a heaven.

2. Tabu Ley Rochereau, "Karibou Ya Bintou"/"Adeito": I like the more expansive soukous of the Seventies onwards better than the early dance club stuff. So while I find the first disc of the Rochereau comp The Voice of Lightness enjoyable, it's the second, covering his peak Afrisa International period, that sounds great to me. The wah-wah "Aon-Aon" you should know, while "Karibou Ya Bintou" is a gently gorgeous warm welcome. In the live "Adeito", Rochereau lets his supergroup mess around for five minutes, before jumping in to show why he was the great African singer of the era. Next: someone please compile his best post-1977 tracks -- if the best are as good as those of his rival Franco (whom Rochereau dominates on their classic collab Omona Wapi), he goes way up the worldwide all-time list.

3. Taio Cruz ft. Luciana, "Come On Girl": Mostly generic, but at least they're ripping off the best, even if Timbaland would find their attempt to recreate his "My Love" synths laughable. Then there's Luciana, of "Covered in Punk" and "Yeah Yeah" fame, one of the most sexual singers ever (even though she sounds like the not particularly sexual M.I.A.), who flips the song to make it truly dirty. Funny that a song called "Come On Girl" should be most memorable for its invocation of male orgasm, but that's porn for yuuuuuuu.

4. Gui Boratto, "Beautiful Life": Hey Ace of Base, don't jump off that bridge! Just look at that water down there -- it glistens.

5. DragonForce, "Through the Fire and Flames": South African singer. Hong Kong guitarist. New Zealand guitarist. Ukranian keybist. French bassist. Scottish drummer. The official extreme power metal band of the United Nations. Go Planet!

6. Of Montreal, "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal": Break-up as theatre, explosion, implosion, food fight and over-analysis. Maybe it's the last of those that got them back together.

7. The-Dream ft. Rihanna, "Livin' a Lie": Umbrella manufacturer and umbrella wielder find that parasols can't dry your tears, eh, eh, eh.

8. Against Me!, "Thrash Unreal": It's not like you're going to make her kick heroin, so she doesn't want your sympathy -- because it'd be accompanied by your judgement.

9. Imperial Teen, "21st Century"/"Baby and the Band": Fourteen years after they formed Imperial Teen in an attempt to solve the "All My Friends" OMG-I'm-30 problem, 30 for life doesn't seem so bad. As much as they love the hair, the TV etc., and as exhausting as touring is, there's nothing like making noise to remind themselves they matter in the 21st century.

10. Ghostface Killah ft. Raekwon & U-God, "Rec-Room Therapy": Eat your whole grains, else that crack vial up your ass is gonna mess you up.

Eleven more: Burial, "Archangel"; Drive-By Truckers, "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife"; Flo Rida ft. T-Pain, "Low"; Franz Ferdinand, "All My Friends"; Imperial Teen, "Room with a View"; Lil Wayne, "Blooded"; The Magnetic Fields, "Too Drunk to Dream"; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "Killing the Blues"; Ghislain Poirier, "No More Blood (Megasoid remix)"; Tabu Ley Rochereau, "Likambo Ya Mokanda"; Mavis Staples, "Down in the Mississippi".

Good but not that good: Bloc Party, "I Still Remember"; The Brunettes, "Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth"; Fucked Up, "Year of the Pig"; Jay-Z, "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)"; Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights"; R. Kelly ft. T.I. & T-Pain, "I'm a Flirt Remix"; Konono No. 1, "A.E.I.O.U."; Linkin Park, "Bleed It Out"; Kylie Minogue, "The One"; David Murray Black Saint Quartet ft. Cassandra Wilson, "Sacred Ground"; Danuel Tate, "Pushcard".

I still can't work out what people see in her, possibly because I've seen neither the videos nor the iPod ad: Feist.

Under ether: PJ Harvey.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stone the crows, it's the Fifth Annual Utopian Oscars

As always, I didn't get to all the likely contenders. This year, I skipped many titles with acclaimed performances when the rest of the movie didn't sound that interesting: Grace Is Gone (Shelan O'Keefe and John Cusack), Starting Out in the Evening (Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose), The Savages (Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney), The Iceberg (Fiona Gordon), Sweeney Todd (His Deppness), and The Mist (Marcia Gay Harden, according to Edelstein). Also, I only saw one of the three movies shot by cinematographer of the year by quantity, Roger Deakins; I regret missing Jesse James but not In the Valley of Elah.

Best cinematography:
Charles Burnett, Killer of Sheep
Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
William Lubchansky, Regular Lovers
Martin Ruhe, Control
Robert Yeoman, The Darjeeling Limited

Black-and-white rules this year. Best of these was Ruhe's Control, which gorgeously adapted director Anton Corbijn's rock photo style to the moving image.

And the Topie goes to... Martin Ruhe

Best adapted screenplay:
Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, The Bourne Ultimatum
Michael Goldenberg, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Matt Greenhalgh, Control
Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
Sarah Polley, Away from Her

A pretty soft category: Goldenberg's Potter work isn't as tight as Steve Kloves's, while the script for Control, though fine, isn't its strength. Persepolis might've won if I hadn't read some of the comics before, whereas Away from Her clearly added to its source material.

And the Topie goes to... Sarah Polley

Best original screenplay:
Judd Apatow, Knocked Up
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman, I'm Not There
Richard Kelly, Southland Tales
Tsai Ming-liang, The Wayward Cloud

There are two nominees that might make many say what the hell, but the real contest is between Apatow and Haynes/Moverman. Apatow would've pulled it off if he didn't sidestep around shmashmortion.

And the Topie goes to... Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman.

Best supporting actor:
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Marcus Carl Franklin, I'm Not There
Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad
Gordon Pinsent, Away from Her
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Young McLovers vs old men. Let's call it for Wilkinson for making the truth-telling madman type overused in fiction for centuries seem plausible.

And the Topie goes to... Tom Wilkinson

Best supporting actress:
Charlotte Gainsbourg, I'm Not There
Taraji P. Henson, Talk to Me
Valerie Lemercier, Avenue Montaigne
Leslie Mann, Knocked Up
Samantha Morton, Control

A very deep category, with arguably the two should-be gigastars (Gainsbourg and Morton) and the two wittiest character actresses (Henson and Lemercier). Beating them all is an underused talent who finally got the role she deserved by being married to her director.

And the Topie goes to... Leslie Mann

Best actor:
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Glen Hansard, Once
Lee Kang-sheng, The Wayward Cloud
Henry Gale Sanders, Killer of Sheep
Song Kang-ho, The Host

As much as I've dissed him, Daniel Day-Lewis didn't miss this list by much, but the nominees here all act with a small "a". And there's no greater advantage in small-a acting than preternatural coolness.

And the Topie goes to... George Clooney

Best actress:
Drew Barrymore, Music and Lyrics
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Chen Shiang-Shyi, The Wayward Cloud
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Sienna Miller, Interview

My goodness, this is a shitty category, and it would be worse if I didn't draft Blanchett out of the clump of supporting actresses who should be playing leads. Still, the winning performance might be the finest by one of the greatest actresses of all-time, and better than anyone male came up with this year.

And the Topie goes to... Julie Christie

Best director:
Charles Burnett, Killer of Sheep
Todd Haynes, I'm Not There
Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
Richard Kelly, Southland Tales
Tsai Ming-liang, The Wayward Cloud

There's no way I can't give it to Burnett, thirty years late. Though To Sleep with Anger is a more accomplished work (with an actual budget), Killer of Sheep is an unparalleled ghetto picaresque that one hopes another film student will someday match.

And the Topie goes to... Charles Burnett

Best picture:
Away from Her
I'm Not There
Killer of Sheep
The Wayward Cloud

If I had seen Persepolis before this week, the race might've been closer. But I saw The Wayward Cloud nearly two years ago, and I haven't seen a more memorable new movie since then.

And the Topie goes to... The Wayward Cloud


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers, USA, 2007): A first-rate chase movie until the Coens decide to pander to the crowd that mistakes bleakness for depth (insert swing at Cormac McCarthy readers here). And then you get the crazy cat guy giving the "yes, this really is no country for old(-fashioned) men" speech, and even that's unembarrassing compared to the dreaming-about-daddy closer Tommy Lee Jones has to spout. Before then, we get some excellent button-pushing suspense and Javier Bardem doing the Two-Face gimmick justice. B PLUS

Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, USA, 2007): To turn a Straightforward Choice into a Moral Dilemma, the deck has to be stacked: not only is choosing the Wrong Side made the more elegant solution, choosing the Right Side will lead to Loss of Pussy. But credit Ben Affleck for holding together the implausible narrative for that long, and brother Casey for having the humility to play the lead like a sidekick.B

Jumper (Doug Liman, USA, 2008): To make us feel for a guy with superpowers who doesn't even consider saving people in a flood would require more than Hayden Christensen can offer. Maybe not more than Rachel Bilson can offer, but she's granted no great power and no great responsibility. C

Ridiculousest haircut of the week (just edging out Bardem):


Thursday, February 14, 2008


Overheard on the 9 bus:

"So I told him there's hydrogen dioxide in our water, and he was like 'Oh my god, there's hydrogen dioxide in our water!'"
"He didn't get it?"
"No, he didn't think like, OK, hydrogen is hydrogen, and di means two, so dioxide means..."
"He didn't think like H2O? What a retard."
"What a retard."

Like a catblog, only instead of cats he has rock critics

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2007): This is a great movie when it's about oil, a good one when it's about capitalism, an OK one when it's about religion, a mediocre one when it's about family, and a terrible one when it's about Daniel Day-Lewis: PTA had to set it in the badlands, otherwise Day-Lewis would've eaten all the scenery. The first hour is fascinating, beautiful stuff: mines and accidents, wheeling and dealing. But when his brother turns up, Danny and the movie go nuts so slowly that you might not notice the descent until the abrupt jump to 1927. Well, if they must piss away two hours of goodwill with a daft ending, credit them for doing so with conviction (unlike No Country for Old Men, but I'll complain about that next week). A MINUS

Interview (Steve Buscemi, USA, 2007): I guess Sienna Miller gets this year's Knightley/Green "when did she learn to act?" award (yes, it's always a she), even though she was never that bad (well, apparently she was in Factory Girl, but I'm not subjecting myself to that). Simple two-hander, journalist and celeb meeting and emotionally manipulating each other, and did I mention neither of them is insane? B MINUS

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, USA, 2007): Cleverly, this gets the implausible climax over with at the beginning, so that all the rest makes sense, especially the twist post-climax that's no less satisfying if you know it must be coming. Tilda Swinton is ticky and panic-stained; Tom Wilkinson is ticky and nuts, but has the decency to not kill anyone. George Clooney does not need to stoop to such "acting"; he needs merely drop hints he's above it all, even when he's up to his neck.A

An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1951): Sure, the last ballet is kitchy and interminable, and neither the script nor the leads can untangle the love story. Yet Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are hugely appealing, at least when they're joyful, as they usually are; their sad faces are, well, sad. Anyway, it's all about Oscar Levant, here unencumbered by any romance of his own, the better for his friends' complications to befuddle him and for his own ambitions (below is the third movement of Gershwin's Concerto in F, a better piece of music than "An American in Paris") to enrapture him. He, Kelly and Georges Guetary singing "By Strauss"is enough to warm the hearts of all hams, which apparently is everyone in Paris. A MINUS


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hit count: Blood on the 32-track

Leona Lewis, "Bleeding Love": The new Mariah or Whitney? Nah, more like the new Paula Cole, with a better voice and lesser songs (notwithstanding a cover of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" that she does nothing with; definitely withstanding "A Moment Like This"). Which means we in the U.S. can hope to ride her out and after three months never hear from again -- unless she gets on a goddamned soundtrack, which seems like just the sort of thing known sadist Simon Cowell would inflict upon us. This is as close as she gets to a good song, but OneRepublican Ryan Tedder and chipmunk Jesse McCartney run the metaphor into the ground: "my heart's crippled by the vein that I keep on closing" indeed.

Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You": After Leona, the real thing seems very good indeed. Now that Mariah's enduring superstardom is finally assured, you'll hear this every December for the rest of your life, and it's better than all the post-Spector secular alternatives. I'll leave it to Tris McCall to determine whether it's better than her "O Holy Night".

Linkin Park, "Shadow of the Day": By now it's clear that this is an above-average radio band when Mike Shinoda gets to rap and a below-average radio band when he doesn't. Their previous single, "Bleed It Out", was one of their best, with Brad Delson building Walls o' Guitar around Shinoda. Sadly in this one, they don't just rip off U2's guitar sound but their song structure as well. Needless to say, the song doesn't go anywhere.

Finger Eleven, "Paralyzer": Franz Ferdinand as Canadian idiots. Not nearly as fun as that sounds. If "it's been sheety and I feel uk-WARD" is their idea of an acceptable lyric, I'll keep my irony, thx.


Thursday, February 07, 2008


Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK/Canada, 2007): Viggo! He can put on a Russian accent! He can fight naked! He can out-act Naomi Watts if you give her a lame enough role! A MINUS

Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, "America", 2000): Bjork has a weak spot for pretentious jocks, and if Matthew Barney is not nearly as skilled a provocateur as our Lars, he's certainly better for her health. But credit Ms Guomundsdottir's wailing, more than her warbling, for lifting this well clear of worst-of-the-decade territory. It might've even had some good musical numbers if they had got Michael Rooney to choreograph them, and Spike Jones to direct them. Of course, this would've required smashing in Lars's skull with a cash box. C MINUS


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

MacArthur BART: I wrote two choruses of parody lyrics; they weren't funny

Because I have to have an opinion on everything

Bach's concertos don't seem nearly as interesting as his best choral, keyboard or organ works. I've long had a philosophical preferrence for JSB over decadent smartass Mozart, but closer listening shows that Wolfgang is by far the better orchestrator.

Also, I take back my dis of E. Power Biggs from some months ago. Not only is Great Organ Favorites the greatest Bach organ crib sheet around, he also has the ultimate rock star name.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Remember that "visit every BART station" resolution?