Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy New Year!

Mssrs. Tosy and Cosh will be away on vacation until year's end, so posting will be nonexistent until the new year is upon us.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Uses of Language I Don't Get

From John Lahr's New Yorker review of the current revival of Sweeney Todd on Broadway. In the sentence below he discusses a benefit of the very abstract staging of the classic musical (bolding mine):

"In this production, which sheds the eggy trappings of naturalism, even the star-crossed young lovers, Anthony (Benjamin Magnuson) and Johanna (Lauren Molina), who usually come across as ninnies, take on a refreshing, compelling sweetness."

Eggy? What in the world does that mean?

Until Whenever
Appearing in Your Own Story

Slate has an interesting piece up in which Jack Shafer takes a look at the New York Times child pornography article I linked to yesterday and debates the ethics of the Times' reporter's involvement in the story. Specifically, Eichenwald, the Times reporter, helped the subject of his article get immunity and to be come a witness for the prosecution in going after some of the pedophilic predators that had targeted him. Shafer takes issue with this, and asks the reasonable question of whether or not a reporter would do the same for, say, a teen prostitute or drug addict they were writing a story about. Give it a read.

Until Whenever
Questions in the Theme of Four

Taken from the estimable (and recently recovered from a health scare--happy news), Terry Teachout, and his cohort in crime, His Girl in Chicago.

Four jobs you've had in your life: Airline menu writer; Actors' Equity membership representative, accounting proposal writer, high school musical director.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Star Wars, It's A Wonderful Life, Beauty & the Beast, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Four places you've lived: Jersey City, NJ; New Brunswick, NJ; Bogota, NJ; and Midland Park, NJ.

Four TV shows you love to watch: Gilmore Girls, Lost, How I Met Your Mother, and The Simpsons.

Four places you've been on vacation: Jamaica, Orlando, New Hampshire, and Lancaster County, PA.

Four websites you visit daily: Byzantium's Shores, Tom the Dog, True Hoops, and Dave's Long Box.

Four of your favorite foods: Bacon, Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, rack of lamb, and blackened shark.

Four places you'd rather be: Home, browsing through a very large Barnes & Noble with lots of time, in a sunny, warm beachfront house with the fam, seeing Kig Kong.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 19, 2005

Odd Modesty

An article in today's Times by Kurt Eichenwald on the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet (teens selling pornographic webcam images of themselves), an article that discusses, among other things, how children have sex and masturbate on camera for pedophiles, includes this sentence:

"Unnerved by menacing messages from a fan of his first site, Justin opened a new one called jfwy.com, an online acronym that loosely translates into 'just messing with you.'"

In a serious article, one that talks about serious issues, couldn't they have run with just "f---ing with you" as a description of the acronym? Does the Times editorial policy proscribe against even the use of dashes to describe profanity?

I don't get it.

(The article itself, by the by, is good--if creepy.)

Until Whenever
Fifteen Things About Music

Now why didn't I think of this?

1. Until the age of, I dunno, fourteen or so, I had almost zero interest in music.

2. My first inkling of just how much fun it is to sing came in a fourth-grade production of a somewhat abridged version of Hello Dolly! I was Ambrose Kemper and so had no solos, but singing "Elegance" with three other students was fun.

3. I didn't start to really get into singing until high school, when choir and the yearly musical started to demonstrate for me how much fun singing was.

(For the record--my musical theater roles have been:
Fourth grade - Ambrose, Hello Dolly!
Fifth grade - (?), Best Foot Forward
Sixth grade - Abner, Lil' Abner
Eight grade - Chorus, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown
Ninth grade - Older Patrick, Mame
Tenth grade - Pirelli, Sweeney Todd
Eleventh grade - Hugo, Bye, Bye Birdie
Twelfth grade - Sanjar, The Apple Tree
College - Anselmo, Man of La Mancha
College - Potiphar and Judah, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Community Theater - John, Godspell
Community Theater - JB Biggley, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Community Theater - Mr. Schlegel, Carnival

4. Probably my most treasured musical memory is of singing in the choir for a performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Awe-inspiring.

5. Probably my second-most treasured musical memory is of singing sacred music in a centuries-old church in Warsaw as part of an Eastern European tour with the Rutgers Glee Club.
6. I didn't like Sondheim when I first encountered his music, but sometime in college I got bit hard and became a full-fledged Sondhead.

7. Listening to Sondheim's "Next," the finale in his Pacific Overtures, really loud makes me cry--not because the music is sad, but because it is so powerful.

8. In grade school I remember performing in a recorder ensemble concert and completely pretending to play--I wasn't actually blowing through the instrument.

9. I love to play piano, but can't play piano. Ironic, hm? The pieces I have sheet music for that I most like to fumble my way through are: Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here," Williams' "Schindler's List (Main Theme)," Sondheim's "Loving You," Menken's "If I Can't Love Her," and Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

10. Probably my most treasured musical memory (solo category) is singing "Brotherhood of Man" in a community theater production of How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

11. I used to absolutely love Bon Jovi. So unclean.

12. My favorite group is U2 (really?); favorite classical composer is Beethoven; and favorite musical theater composer is Sondheim.

13. In high school I was tenor, but in college I started to lose some notes on top and moved into the baritone voice. In a high school production of Sweeney Todd I had to hit a high b-flat as Pirelli; that was hard.

14. I always wanted to sing in a rock band; never did.

15. I used to be able to read and write with music on much more effectively; nowadays anything with lyrics trips me up.

Until Whenever
Best Of . . . ?

This blog is something of an oxymoron. It's purportedly a pop culture blog, in which I write about movies, TV, music and any other pop culture ephemera that hold my somewhat easily distracted interest. And yet, as the father of twenty-one month old twin girls, my weekly dosage of current pop culture is in reality pretty thin on the ground. To wit; the thought occurred to me to write up a post of the year's ten best movies. And then I remembered that I only went to the theater twice, I think, this year (Revenge of the Sith and Pride and Prejudice). Any year's-best list I tried to trot out would no doubt be mightily hampered by the fact that I haven't seen much of what any specific category had to offer in 2005.

So. What follows is in no way, shape, or form a "Best Of" 2005 (the misleading title to this post notwithstanding), but much more narrowly and honestly a "Favorites" list--the 10 pop culture/entertainment products that I loved the most in 2005. In no particular order:

1. Star Wars - Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
I actually just saw this again, on DVD, and was struck anew by how daring, and contradictory, the story Lucas told in these prequel films actually was. I, for one, and most other Star Wars fans too, I'd reckon, were expecting some big, world-changing event to have happened to Anakin to turn him from the good Jedi he was to the bad Sith he became. We were all expecting some huge story point to explain the creation of Vader. Indeed, over the years I expounded in several venues my own pet theory for what might have turned him (1). Instead of one clear event, though, what Lucas gave us was a very gradual, imperceptible drift from Anakin to Vader--suggesting that the line between good and evil is not completely clear. What I love about this is how wonderfully it addresses a longstanding criticism of the Star Wars films and the fantasy genre in general--that the bad guys are always cartoonishly bad, with no shadings or grays to their all-consuming evil. The prequel trilogy makes a strong case that the line between a good man and an evil one isn't in any way clear, but vanishingly thin.

2. Star Wars - Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (score)
Williams best Star Wars score since Empire, full of lushly dark, ominous, tragic music that fit the story completely perfectly. A triumph coming after his Episode II score, which aside form the wonderful love theme was very recycled and uninspired.

3. Battlestar Galactica
Haven't seen any of season two yet, but season one was wonderful--engaging stories, well-shaded characters, and a refreshing take on a sci-fi universe. And Katee Sackhoff is one of the casting finds of the year--pretty in a very non-traditional way, and a very rare instance of that now-cliche character--the pretty girl who kicks ass--who actually looks like she could kick ass. I love me my Buffy, but I wouldn't be frightened is Sarah Michelle Gellar attacked me. Sackhoff not so much.

4. U2 Vertigo - Live from Chicago
I didn't get to see the band live this tour (first missed tour since I got into them in the late 80s), so this DVD of their stint in Chicago has been a godsend. City of Blinding Lights kills as an opener.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Rowling continues to spin one hell of an epic story--stuffed to the brim with interesting characters and twisty plots all inhabiting a wonderfully realized world.

6. The Light in the Piazza
A gorgeous score by Adam Guettel. I still have faint hopes of seeing this on stage before it closes. Guettel's next score will be for a musical adaptation of The Princess Bride. I can't wait.

7. No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
The soundtrack to the Dylan doc is better than the doc itself. The highlight for me is Dylan's very early, stark-yet-somehow emotive take on Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

8. Crash
What I loved perhaps most about this film is how it took a sensitive, volatile topic (race); refused to dumb it down or metaphorize it; dealt with it through very, very real-sounding characters; and yet still did it all within a defiantly "Hollywood" sensibility--this wasn't a dark, post-modern indie film, or a dry, scratchy plotless film all about character, but a bold bit of old-fashioned, too-many-coincidences-to-be-actually-credible storytelling, in the best possible sense of the word. The film made you think, and hard, about race and how you react to other races, but it also delivered Potter-esque twists and turns worthy of Dickens.

9. Bob Dylan live at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, April 19
First time I've ever seen Dylan live (and only concert attended this year). Seeing him ensconced behind an electric keyboard for nearly the entire show was odd, but the musicianship and daring were inspiring.

10. Lost
The mix of storytelling, world-building, and character development has been near-perfect so far, and I only hope they can keep it up. I'm jonesing for a new episode hard.

Until Whenever

(1) The short version: When Kenobi is killed in the original film, the music we hear at that moment isn't the Force Theme, isn't Luke's theme, but is, oddly, Lea's theme. Why? My theory centered around the notion that there was a buried reason for this musical blip in Williams' otherwise strong use of motifs--that he was clueing us in to the hidden truth that Ben was Lea's father, not Anakin. My theory was that Lucas was holding this final surprise for the eventual Episode III, and that basically, Anakin and Padme would have spent the night together before the final and defining battle of the Clone Wars (conceiving Luke); that in the battle the next day, Anakin would be thought to have been killed; that Ben Kenobi would personally bring this news to Padme that day; that in their mutual grief they would comfort each other, ahem, physically; and that Anakin would turn up miraculously alive, witness the betrayal and go nuts. Seems I was wrong.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Click. Bang!

1. "Under Your White Stars" - Mandy Patinkin - Mamaloshen
A delicate ballad from Patinkin's all-Yiddish album.

2. "The Gloria from the Mass of St. Bernard" - Chuck Mangione - Land of Make Believe
I get the feeling that Mangione's brand of melodic, big, full jazz sound is considered a bit cheesy, but I love it. This combination of swinging' jazz and choral odes to God is an odd mix, but one that works for me.

3. "Mad World" - Tears for Fears - Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits)
The original, not the big UK X-Mas hit of a few years back.

4. "November 22, 1963" - John Weidman - Assassins (Original Cast Recording)
The original cast CD of Sondheim's Assassins featured this full-length scene from the play in its entirety. It's a riveting, theatrically imaginative scene, in which John Wilkes Booth magically appears in the Texas Book Depository and convinces Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate Kennedy. Creepy, chilling stuff. I used an edited version of this for my standard audition monologue in college.

5. "Lucky Town" - Bruce Springsteen - The Essential Bruce Springsteen
Not one of my favorites, but in truth it's not a bad rock song.

6. "How Long Has this Been Going On?" - Elvis Costello - Kojak Variety
Elvis does standards better, and more often, than any other rock singer I can think of.

7. "Like Spinning Plates" - Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong (Live Recordings)
I love this live rendition of the Radiohead song, it's a somber, dark read on the song, with a lovely piano accompaniment running through.

8. "Love Is Everything" - K.D. Lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Gorgeous cover of the Jane Siberry ballad (I've never heard the original).

9. "Swimming in Your Ocean" - Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
Whatever you think of this band, the album title is just great.

10. "So" - Tracy Chapman - Matters of the Heart
Chapman's most underrated album. This is an urgent song with some interesting percussion in the background giving it a real drive, making up for (mostly) the overstated lyrics ("So you made a little money/Off of someone else's sweat/Watching people starve/While you got fat, while you got fat")

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Music Morsels, Vol XIII - Myths and Hymns

I rhapsodized here about Adam Guettel's latest theatrical score, The Light in the Piazza. Today's morsel is the cast recording of his second theatrical work, which was performed after the well-received off-Broadway and regional semi-hit Floyd Collins. Unlike Light and Floyd, Myths and Hymns was not a real musical, per se, but instead a kind of song cycle comprising theatrical songs written by Guettel around the twin themes of, well, myths and hymns. The result is a spotty, uneven piece, especially on disc, but nonetheless one that offers up some real gems.

The real highlight here is a new "hymn" of Guettel's, "Migratory V," which, with a simple yet elegant metaphor, makes a beautiful point about faith. But the real offering the song has to give is it's pure, equally simple yet achingly gorgeous melody, a tune Guettel's granddad, Richard Rodgers, would be proud of. The album features Guettel himself singing, well enough if not exceptionally, on a few tracks, including the bluesy and passionate "Saturn Returns" and the abortion mini-drama "Come to Jesus." The middle section of the album includes a few relatively straightforward musical retelling of classic myths, including "Icarus," Pegasus," and "Sisyphus." The best of these is the jazzy, funky "Icarus." Some of the musical experiments work better than others, with a gospel-inflected "There's a Shout" a particular weak point, but there's more than enough here to really admire--and in the case of "Migratory V" one song, and melody, for the ages.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

15 Things About Me and Books

Stolen from Scalzi, who stole it from others.

1. I feel very guilty if I start a book and don't finish it--an odd compulsion that I've gotten better at ignoring over the past few years.

2. I love to re-read books I've loved, and I've read several more than twice (and Stephen King's It what has to be 6-7 times.

3. I learned to read at an early age, and when I was three my father used to sit me on the counter at the deli he owned in Jersey City and have me read the Daily News headlines to customers.

4. I worshipped the Curious George books as a kid, and have recently taken great pleasure in reading them to my twin girls.

5. I credit The Electric Company with teaching me to read; my father credits the fact that he did all the voices from Sesame Street.

6. Two aunts did much to inoculate my love for reading: My Aunt Maureen, who had many a Shel Silverstein book in her home and who always gave me books for birthdays and Christmas, and my Aunt Christie, who lent me The Neverending Story at a young age.

7. I own many books, but do the vast amount of my reading through the munifecence of my local library system. Libraries are remarkable institutions. Just minutes ago, I clicked my mouse a few times, and within a week, my local library will have for me the first three volumes of Loeb's Superman/Batman stuff and his Hulk: Gray.

8. I own relatively few hardcovers--mainly stuff I know I'll want to re-read and pass down to my kids (Stephen King's books and the Harry Potter stuff among others).

9. I have a real aversion to writing in books--I pretty much never do it.

10. I love used books (the same words for half the price), and have a hard time not buying something whenever I visit one.

11. I love that my niece, to whom I had read Sobel's Frog and Toad stories out of my own copy, which my Aunt Maureen had given me, wanted her own copy for Christmas one year - but only if I would inscribe hers on the inside cover the same way my aunt had inscribed mine.

12. I pine for big, fancy, expensive prestige books (The Complete Calvin and Hobbes) but can't justify the cost to myself.

13. I leave the book I'm currently reading out on my desk at work in the hopes someone will notice and remark on it, and it's worked, a few times.

14. I've written a short novel (40,000 words) that I hope to expand one day.

15. My most prized book is the copy of The Giving Tree that my Aunt Maureen, who died when I was seven or so from a sudden brain aneurysm (she was about the age I am now), gave me. It's a wreck, given that as a youngster I wasn't the kindest to books, but it's treasured.

Until Whenever
Recent Reading

What's been on my nightstand/in the bag I take to work over the last few weeks?

(Yes, I'm envisioning this as a recurrent feature. Yes, I know you didn't ask for it. Sorry.)

New Avengers (1-6), Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch
Read this last night before going to bed. I've recently discovered that my local library system houses many a new comics collection, and I've been playing catch up with a whole bunch of titles I had abandoned when I gave up comics a few years back. I had read a fair bit of negative stuff about this one, but I liked it, if not wildly. Bendis writes the characters really, really well, and that's for me a key piece of any comic. The randomness of the team, and the kind-of-lameness at Cap assembling a new Avengers after Marvel went to all the trouble of blowing up the old one was assuaged in large part by the great character writing.

Paradise Lost, Philip Roth
I read The Human Stain when it came out a few years back and liked it, but was somewhat put off by how Roth would just abandon his narrative for pages at a time to indulge in long, wordy essay-like diatribes against race, class, or whatever other thematic elements the story was mucking about in. He does it here too, and, I'm supposing, throughout his work. And it's, for this reader, at least, a bit of a shame, since the actual plots and characters themselves are well worthy of the verbiage he instead spills pontificating outside of the narrative's confines.

Here there's also another twist--the main story, that of the terrorist act committed by the main character's daughter and what that act does to him and his family, isn't begun until a 100 or so pages in. The big front piece of the novel is taken up with Roth's doppelganger writer character, the version of himself he also plopped into The Human Stain, reminiscing for us about the main character as a high school sports God. And when the narrator (finally) begins to tell us the main story, it appears (and I haven't finished the novel yet--I've got another 100 pages to go, so I could be wrong here) that he's making it up, as away to explain what had happened to this hero from his youth to explain some odd behavior the narrator witnessed the hero engaging in. Very off-putting, and, again, sad, given that the actual story--that of the terrorist daughter and her family--is quite engaging.

The Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley
I've never read any Mosley, but had heard so many good things that I felt the need to check him out. This was a great short novel, with very well-drawn characters and a slightly absurdist situation that Mosley makes very real-feeling. My next step is to figure out the order of the Easy Rawlin's books and start diving into those.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Volume II: Doom, Warren Ennis, Stuart Immonen
I love this take on the Four with one big exception--this whole "Doom has powers brought on by the same accident that created the FF" thing is just, well, dumb. And the notion that Doom was turned into some kind of metallic, hooved being by the accident is just blech. I'm looking forward to reading the Doom-less volumes three and four.

Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
I hadn't read any Proulx, but the universal acclaim the film's been getting and the fact that The New Yorker put her short story up on their website for free spurred me to read it. As good as advertised. It's a powerful, moving, sad story that works in large part because of her ability to make the relationship, and the powerful lust and love between the two cowboys, real and not gimmicky. One of the better short stories I've read in a long while.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What I Used to Call My Mom's Mom

The Grammy nominations are out, and I thought it might be fun to illustrate just how much I am out of the loop when it comes to the current music scene by listing out some select categories.

Record of the Year
''We Belong Together,'' Mariah Carey
''Feel Good Inc.,'' Gorillaz featuring De La Soul
''Boulevard of Broken Dreams,'' Green Day
''Hollaback Girl,'' Gwen Stefani
''Gold Digger,'' Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx

Haven't heard a one.

Album of the Year
The Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah Carey
Chaos and Creation In the Backyard, Paul McCartney
Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Gwen Stefani
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Late Registration, Kanye West

Have heard the U2 probably a hundred times or so; the others all together, um, zero.

Song of the Year
''Bless the Broken Road,'' Rascal Flatts
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''Ordinary People,'' John Legend
''Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,'' U2
''We Belong Together,'' Mariah Carey

Oooh! I know two of these. Between Bruce and U2, I go with U2.

New Artist
Ciara
Fall Out Boy
Keane
John Legend
SugarLand

????

Solo Rock Vocal Performance
''Revolution,'' Eric Clapton
''Shine It All Around,'' Robert Plant
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''This is How a Heart Breaks,'' Rob Thomas
''The Painter,'' Neil Young

I like rock, and only have heard one of these (Bruce). The Neil Young is high up on the X-Mas list, though.

Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal
''Speed of Sound,'' Coldplay
''Best of You,'' Foo Fighters
''Do You Want To,'' Franz Ferdinand
''All These Things That I've Done,'' The Killers
''Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,'' U2

Why does the U2 ballad get nominated for "Rock Performance?" I've heard the Coldplay, I think.

Rock Song
''Best of You,'' Foo Fighters
''Beverly Hills,'' Weezer
''City of Blinding Lights,'' U2
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''Speed of Sound,'' Coldplay

Three of five, wow. My love for "City of Blinding Lights" has been well-documented.

Rock Album
X&Y, Coldplay
In Your Honor, Foo Fighters
A Bigger Bang, The Rolling Stones
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Prairie Wind, Neil Young

Go U2!!

Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media
Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey
Napoleon Dynamite, Various Artists
No Direction Home: The Soundtrack ? Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, Bob Dylan
Ray, Ray Charles
Six Feet Under Volume 2 ? Everything Ends, Various Artists

Such an eclectic group. The Dylan is awesome.

And some more obscure categories I am interested in:

Traditional Pop
The Art Of Romance, Tony Bennett
It's Time, Michael Bublé
Isn't It Romantic, Johnny Mathis
Moonlight Serenade, Carly Simon
Thanks For The Memory...The Great American Songbook Volume IV, Rod Stewart

Sad how the big names get the nominations here. That Rod Stewart stuff is just horrid.

Musical Show Album
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Billy Straus & David Yazbek, producers; David Yazbek, composer/lyricist
Hair, Kurt Deutsch & Joel Moss, producers (Galt MacDermot, composer; James Rado & Gerome Ragni, lyricists)
The Light In The Piazza, Steven Epstein, producer; Adam Guettel, composer/lyricist Monty Python's Spamalot, John Du Prez & Eric Idle, producers; John Du Prez, composer; Eric Idle, composer/lyricist
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Kurt Deutsch & Joel Moss, producers; William Finn, composer/lyricist

I actually have all but one of these (Hair), and The Light in the Piazza is easily the best.

Best Score Album
The Aviator, Howard Shore, composer
The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino, composer
Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood, composer
Ray, Craig Armstrong, composer
Star Wars Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith, John Williams, composer

I have two (Star Wars and The Incredibles) and have heard all. Hate to be cliched, but Williams Star Wars work was his best Star Wars stuff since Empire, and should win.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Yes, I know it's Thursday. And?

1. "I've Got You to Lean On" - Stephen Sondheim - Anyone Can Whistle (Live at Carnegie Hall - 1995)
Rousing ensemble number from Sondheim's first, flop score, here celebrated with an all-star (Bernadette Peters, Madeline Kahn, and Scott Bakula) cast in a benefit concert performance.

2. "Strange Meadowlark" - Dave Brubeck - Ballads
Very pretty jazz ballad by the very underrated Brubeck.

3. "Guess your nun ain't coming back, De Roche" - Jake Heggie - Dead Man Walking
Sister Prejean tries to comfort death-row inmate Joe after his final appeal is denied.

4. "Grimes! Grimes!" - Benjamin Britten - Peter Grimes
My favorite opera. This is Grimes' final aria, sung as he hears the distant mob of townspeople chanting "Grimes! Grimes!" as they march to his hut to most likely lynch him. Afte this aria, he will set off in his boat to sink it, in the process killing himself.

5. "Invasion Hit Parade" - Elvis Costello - Mighty Like a Rose
Horn-accented Costello tune.

6. "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock) - John Mellencamp - Scarecrow
"What I like about you!"

7. "Drifter's Escape" - Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
Not a classic, but a fine Dylan song all the same.

8. "All Aboard" - Stephen Sondheim - The Frogs (Original Broadway Cast)
Brief interlude as our protagonists set sail on the river Styx. And yes, there is a lyric that goes "Get your kicks on the river Styx."

9. "The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square" - Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - Songs from Ragtime (1996 Original Concept Album)
Stirring number from the score, as the young would-be revolutionary is inspired by hearing Goldman speak to a crowd in Union Square.

10. "Hey, Tsigelekh" - Mandy Patinkin - Mamaloshen
From Patinkin's all-Yiddish album. A tender, melancholy ballad.

Until Whenever

9.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Is He Kidding with the U2 Again?

I have always tried to keep a running list in my head of what I consider to be the top 20 U2 songs. Every time a new album is released, that list is thrown into turmoil for a little while as the songs jockey with the old in my personal estimation--and I need a fair amount of time for the new songs to seep in to really, fairly place them amidst the old. Well, some 14 or so months after the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, I think I have my new list cemented, at least lightly. And yes, it would have made more sense to do this after I complete my "U2 Canon" series, but, well, I wanted to do it now. So there.

1. Where the Streets Have No Name - My favorite rock song of all time, bar none.

2. Please - I wouldn't have thought U2 could pull off a jazz-inspired drumbeat. I was wrong.

3. Walk On - I don't think any song I have ever heard has made me want to play it louder than this one.

4. One - Slowly but surely becoming the one (hah!) U2 song that will be remembered in the decades hence.

5. Sunday Bloody Sunday - Maybe the defining riff of Edge's career, almost classical in its elegant simplicity.

6. Pride (In the Name of Love) - Bono singing higher than he should; a capsule definition of his career, in a lot of ways.

7. Bad - Live, the setting in which this song becomes truly incandescent.

8. Acrobat - A forgotten deep cut off of Achtung Baby, one of the most impassioned and desperate songs the band has laid down.

9. City of Blinding Lights - If you couldn't get to a concert (like me), get the Chicago DVD and revel in the way this song opens the show. Palpable chills.

10. Kite - Heartbreaking ode to a child; its sister song is below.

11. Beautiful Day - Crank it up on a sunny day with the car windows down and the breeze pouring in. Priceless.

12. All I Want Is You - Epic sweep, filled with a lush grandeur.

13. Original of the Species - The twin to "Kite," another beautiful ode to a child.

14. Mercy - I shouldn't include this, as it has not been officially released, but this song, which was left off of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb will storm the U2 faithful when it eventually sees the light of official day. Trust me.

15. Love Is Blindness - The darkest song the band has ever recorded.

16. Stay (Faraway So Close) - Maybe the most well-constructed song the band has written. In a just world, this would become a standard.

17. Gone - A forgotten Pop shout of a song.

18. When I Look at the World - A painful look at a God we can never live up to.

19. Mofo - Odd, isn't it, that it tool electronic beats to get U2 to rock as hard as they do here?

20. Yahweh - "Always pain before a child is born." Indeed.

Until Whenever
Really?

TV Land is running this week a series running down what they've chosen as the "100 most unexpected TV moments." The special itself is mildly entertaining, and some of the clips are neat to see, but the list itself is bizarre, almost random. I mean, does anyone really recall Karen telling Minnie Driver's character on Will & Grace a few years back to "bite me?" It was a funny line in context, but one of the hundred most unexpected moments ever? And the list is full of bizarre choices like this, check it out. Puzzling.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Buried Beauties, Vol. VI

Melanie Lynskey plays the slightly pyscho Rose on the solid, if not exactly groundbreaking, sitcom Two and a Half Men. Hers is a very sweet, very open and almost comforting beauty. Many a time you hear the appellation "girl next door" used to describe a girl you could never imagine living next door to - Ms. Lynskey, I think, actually fits that cliched description quite well.


Until Whenever
X-Men 3

The first trailer is up, and unlike many in the geek-osphere I am encouraged. The style and look seem very faithful to the world Singer has established in his first two films, and the hinted at dual plots of (a) humanity trying to foist a cure for the "mutant disease" on mutantkind and (b) the resurrection of Jean Gray/Phoenix hold much promise. How in hell they are going to juggle the number of X-xharacters shown effecively (see below for a list of xharacters referenced in the trailer to see what I mean) is very much up in the air, but that was a fault of the second film as well, and that one was superb. The Beast looks great, very feral and, well, blue, and I have a hunch that the casting of Grammer is going to turn out as inspired. My fingers are crossed, but I really am looking forward to this.

Professor X
Jean Grey
Cyclops
Wolverine
Storm
Magneto
Beast
Angel
Juggernaut
Kitty Pryde
Iceman
Pyro
Rogue
And I might have missed some.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 05, 2005

The U2 Canon - Rattle and Hum


Along with Pop, Rattle and Hum gets derided often as a U2 "misadventure," as a failed experiment and a generally unworthy album. And, in the sense of an "album" as a cohesive, focused artistic statement in which all of the pieces, all of the songs, work together towards one common goal, together, in the order presented, creating a valuable and organic piece of art, well, the received wisdom is right.

But see, Rattle and Hum was not conceived as an "album" in that sense. It was conceived as no more nor less than a scrapbook designed to document a moment in time, a very important moment in time for the band--the moment when they became not just a good, critically appreciated band, not just a cult band, but a huge band on a global scale--the moment when they became huge, especially in America.

And to the metric of this goal Rattle and Hum succeeds quite well. The hodgepodge collection of live songs, new songs, and aural collections from their massively successful Joshua Tree tour contains some good stuff, some great documents of that time, and some real gems.

1. "Helter Skelter" - There's been a lot of talk about how much gall it took for Bono to introduce this live cover of the Beatles classic with his now-infamous "Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We're stealing it back." The thinking is that he was basically claiming the mantle of "greatest band" from the Beatles--announcing U2 as being as big as the Beatles, in effect. I've never understood this. To me, it was always pretty clear that he was saying that the song "Helter Skelter" had become famous not for being a kick-ass Beatles tune but for being connected somehow to a serial killer, and that the band's intention was to reclaim the song as a song, not as a connection to evil. That all said, I do love the band's cover of the song,which is more muscular and aggressive than the original, and which feautures a great vocal from Bono, who was really in the peak of his vocal powers on this tour, a fact really evidenced nicely by the live stuff on this album.

2. "Van Diemen's Land" - The odd solo Edge number--written, played, and sung by his Edgeness. This is one of those rare exceptions to the "U2 really don't write 'songs'" rule I've discussed before--this is a solidly crafted, elegant little folk ballad that many a singer with a guitar would be happy to play.

3. "Desire" - The Bo Diddly homage that does a much better job than you first think at melding American roots rock with U2's more ethereal style. A nice stomp of a quick, tossed-off rock song.
4. "Hawkmoon 269" - This mini-epic, replete with timpani, has always struck me as being woefully underappreciated. The slow build to a climax and the Cash-esque growl Bono shows off do a lot to create real tension and drama, and the big climax at the end, with Bono very likely doing a lot of the vocal damage that would become readily apparent in the 90s through hoarse shouts that would make Daltry himself proud, is suitably ferocious. And that Hammond organ intro? That would be Mr. Bob Dylan himself tickling those keys.

5. "All Along the Watchtower" - From an impromptu free concert U2 did in San Francisco during the tour. There's a truly awesome moment in the film where we see the band in a trailer before hitting the stage deciding on the cuff to do this song. The Edge figures out the chord progression on an acoustic guitar while Bono tries out a verse. At the same time, we hear a roadie yell out for someone to "find someone who knows all the words to 'All Along the Watchtower.'" Brilliant. The rendition U2 comes up with won't make anyone forget Hendrix, but it's a raw, intense performance closer in spirit to the Dylan original than anything else.

6. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - Live from Madison Square Garden. The band brought a local gospel group that had been doing the song as a gospel song on stage to do the song with them, and it's an inspired performance that really brings out the joy and passion in the song, which was almost laconic on disc. Easily my favorite version of this song.

7. "Freedom for My People" - Again, it's an aural scrapbook. Just 30 seconds or so of a street musician singing some blues.

8. "Silver and Gold" - Another live cut, of a Bono original he had penned after being shamed by the likes of Keith Richards at not knowing any blues songs, or being at all conversant with the giants of the genre. Bono went back to his hotel room that night and penned an original blues song, "Silver and Gold." This live version undercuts a little of the bluesiness, but adds a lot of drama and tension. Bono's mid-song rant at the evils of apartheid ("am I buggin 'ya? I don't mean to bug 'ya.") has entered the pantheon as a near-Spinal Tap-esque moment of almost-self-parody, but this is more solid than you probably remember.

9. "Pride (in the Name of Love)" - A great live version of this U2 classic, inspirational and spirited.

10. "Angel of Harlem" - U2 records in Sun Studios, alongside the ghost of Elvis himself. U2 and horns by all rights should not mix, but they do, quite well in fact, at least here (and on "When Love Comes to Town," actually).

11. "Love Rescue Me" - A true forgotten U2 gem. This is another exception to the rule mentioned above--this is a classic song, in structure and form, and I'm surprised it hasn't been covered a ton. Dylan worked with the band on the song, and if the rumors are true, there exists somewhere a recording of Dylan singing some of this--in the end he decided that he didn't want to be on the track and the vocals are all Bono's. This is very Dylan-esque, in lyric and in the music, and is really an all-time great U2 song, albeit one most people completely forget about.

12. "When Love Comes to Town" - Another inspired collaboration, this time with blues legend B.B. King. A great rip of a blues song, with Bono delivering some very B.B.-esque vocals and lyrics.

13. "Heartland" - The song that probably feels most out of place, this feels like a Joshua Tree outtake, and might be for all I know. Not bad, per se, but very kind of generic U2 mood music.

14. "God Part II" - A sinister steam locomotive of a song with some wonderfully biting, snarled lyrics.

15. "The Star Spangled Banner" - This snippet of Hendrix at Woodstock serves as the intro to the live "Bullet the Blue Sky," and it's quite an effective transition.

16. "Bullet the Blue Sky" - A blistering take on what would become a live U2 staple--it's been featured, almost always prominently, in pretty much every tour since this one. This original stab stands up very, very well, with great, intense guitar work from the Edge and a tough, insistent backbeat from Larry and Adam. The Edge's solo, while devoid of pyrotechnics, is distilled beauty.

17. "All I Want Is You" - The cut everyone remembers, and rightly so. This is a gorgeous ballad, tender and open at first and passionate and aching at the end. Entertainment Weekly named it the fifth-greatest love song ever earlier this year, and who am I to argue? This song features my all-time favorite Edge guitar solo, double-tracked as it likely may be.

Until Whenever

Making Gates Look Like a Chump

Forbes magazine presents its annual list of the 15 richest make-believe people. I like that they play it mostly straight, as if it were just another Forbes list. Seen via News From Me.

Until Whenever

Friday, December 02, 2005

1. "The Girl I Mean to Be" - Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman - The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast)
The solo by the little girl that New York-area folk of a certain age will remember well from the ad they ran incessantly during the show's run. "I need a place . . . "

2. "Angel Band" - The Stanley Band" - O Brother Where Art Thou? (Original Soundtrack)
Not sure why I eventually broke down and bought this. It's good, but I really don't listen to it.

3. "A Warm Night" - Jake Hegie - Dead Man Walking
An aria from the opera in which our death-row-dwelling lead sings, gorgeously and sadly, about a warm memory from his pre-incarceration days.

4. "Yeah! I Live on My Grape Ranch" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
Short dialogue scene from this complete recording of the entire play, on three discs.

5. "This Time" - Smashing Pumpkins - MACHINA/The Machines of God
Pretty generic Pumpkins.

6. "By the Rivers Dark" - Leonard Cohen - Ten New Songs
Cohen in his speaking mode.

7. "Airport at Biarritz" - Stephen Sondheim - Stravisky (score)
Pretty little bit of underscore.

8. "Cello Concerto, Op. 22: Allegro Moderato" - Samuel Barber - Barber: Cello Concerto and Medea
He's much more than "Adagio for Strings."

9. "The Rising" - Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
This was the big single they pushed from this album a few summers back, but it's one of the album's weaker tracks.

10. "Entr'acte" - Tom Schmidt and Henry Jones - 110 in the Shade (1999 Studio Cast)
This is an underappreciated, heartland-flavored, Coplandesque score from the Fantasticks team.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I Won't Brook It

The Recording Industry Association of America's site has a nifty list of the top-selling (in the US) artists. I never would have guessed that Garth Brooks comes in at #4--with a total of over 100 million albums sold. Who knew? My boys, U2, come in pretty far down the list--with 50.5 million. I wonder what the list would look like if worldwide sales were taken into account?

The top ten, in millions sold:
in Millions)
The Beatles - 168.5
Elvis Presley - 116.5
Led Zeppelin - 107.5
Garth Brooks - 105.0
The Eagles - 89.0
Billy Joel - 78.5
Pink Floyd - 73.5
Barbra Streisand - 70.5
Elton John - 69.0
AC/DC - 66.0

Until Whenever
Stupid NBC

As discussed at length elsewhere, I still very much enjoy the oft-maligned current and past few seasons of ER. I also have a fine appreciation for Parminder Negra, who plays Neela on the show, also documented elsewhere. Which is why I hate NBC so much. For the past two seasons or so, ER has been spooling out a well-done and simple love story between Neela and Gallant. At the end of, I believe, the 2003-2004 season, Gallant , a reservist, was called up to active duty in Iraq. Right before he left he and Neela finally acknowledged the attraction that they had been ignoring all season. Since then we've gotten small tastes of how their long-distance love has grown, as well as a very sweet episode last year with Gallant home briefly on leave in which their love was, ahem, consummated. And now, according to the bozos in the NBC promotional department, they are going to get married in tonight's episode. I love that they are putting the two together like this and it feels very right for the characters, but I did not want to know this beforehand. The NBC promo bozos see intent on spoiling all their shows, and especially ER by giving away well-crafted and well-earned plot points like this that I'm sure the writers and producers would rather us find out by, you know, watching the show. I swear, if The Sixth Sense had been a TV show on NBC, NBC would have given away the secret in August before it even premiered. Idiots.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Music Morsels Volume XII--Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi


Everyone knows the Linus and Lucy theme, even if they tend to think of it as the Charlie Brown theme (people wouldn't most likely recognize the actual Charlie Brown theme), and it was probably that as much as anything else that spurred me to pick up this album of New Age pianist George Winston covering classic Vince Guaraldi tracks. But when I put the CD into my player, from the very first notes I was transfixed by a tune I had previously been unaware of, the Guaraldi classic "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

The track starts off with a simple pulsing quarter-note figure in the left hand, a low note striking and then the octave-and-a-third higher repeating. I've since heard the original and Winston's is, as might be imagined, more serene and wistful, and less groovy, than Guaraldi's. But here especially this lighter touch works. The reading Winston gives of the song is just beautiful to my ears; this is Guraldi's best bit of songwriting and Winston runs with the structure to give us a very gentle and spare bit of melody.

"Cast Your Fate to the Wind" hooked me, but the rest of the album ain't shabby either. Here and there you can hear Winston pushing against the limits of his New Age style and, perhaps, abilities--for example, there's a moment in the famous Linus and Lucy theme, right after that famous "doo-doo-doo-doo-do-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-do-doo opening" bit where the piano hits a staccato burst of chords and then fills in a syncopated triplet figure in the right hand before hitting the staccato part again. You probably can't place it from my poor description, but you know the part. Well, comparing Guraldi's classic original to Winston's cover you see that Winston can't quite get the jazzy rhythm of that figure; it's a bit stilted and square and not quite right.

But still, he handles a lot of these songs very, very well--especially the slower, more melody-based ones, as opposed to the swingers. The other real find for me here is the "Great Pumpkin Waltz" which may just be most accurately autumnal, melancholy piece of music I've ever heard--just rapturous.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 28, 2005

Covering a Cover

From John Scalzi, I get this fun musical meme. The rules they are simple--take an oft-covered song and write a lil' bit about different covers. My choice is Leonard Cohen's esteemed "Hallelujah."

1. Bono (Tower of Song: Songs of Leonard Cohen)
I've expounded at length about my love for Bono as a vocalist, and place him as (no joke) the greatest rock vocalist, ever. But this is horrid. He's being experimental, kind of speaking the lyrics over some inane electronic beat, and the result is just as pretentious as can be and does nothing for the song. Sad.
Grade: F

2. Rufus Wainwright (Shrek)
This is the first version I really heard of the song, and it's a spare but effective melancholy reading, with Wainwright singing in a plain, reedy voice over a simple piano arrangement. The version in the film is truncated, which is not good of course, but the album version may restore the expurgated verses.
Grade: B

3. k.d. lang (Hymns of the 49th Parallel)
A gorgeous rendition, sung at a nicely leisurely, understated pace, and with a great piano-dominated arrangement that really gives the song (simple in its musical structure) some appreciated heft. This could have gotten too big and maudlin easily, but lang holds it all together superbly. Hers is easily the best-sung of any version of this song I've heard, full-bodied and rich in tone without getting Celine-ish.
Grade: A

4. Jeff Buckley (Grace)
One of the all-time great covers, Buckley's version uses only guitar and his own naked voice to give the song a new and stark reading. Similar in spirit to Wainwright's, but more elegantly phrased and passionately felt. The repeated "Hallelujah!"s at the end are spine tingling.
Grade: A

A little Googling tells me that a bootleg of Bob Dylan doing the song in concert also exists (alongside many, many other versions). THAT I would pay to hear.

Until Whenever

What to Show?

A comment on last week's episode of Lost from my local paper's weekly summary of the show got me to thinking.

(Lost spoilers follow.)





In the episode, characters who had left the island a week or so previous on a raft were reunited with some of their fellow castaways unexpectedly. The question was why one of the characters - Mike - didn't just explain what had happened to him and the others from the raft. For those familiar with the show, why Mike didn't explain to Sayid what had happened to him, Jin, and Sawyer during the week since they left on the raft. Here's my question. Are we to assume he didn't? What the writer was asking for was basically for Mike to provide Sayid with exposition--by telling Sayid what had happened to him and Jin an Sawyer since the beginning of the season. Boring stuff, in other words. Now, the episode - 42 minutes or so of actual show - took place over presumably the better part of a day. That's a lot of time unaccounted for. Couldn't the wished-for conversation have taken place during those unaccounted-for hours? In other words, in any filmed entertainment, TV show or movie, how much is the filmmaker allowed to leave unsaid? Given that a show or film showing every second of what happens is vanishingly rare, shouldn't the filmmakers have some leeway as to what is going on during the time in the character's lives we are not seeing--including shuttling off boring exposition to those times? Or is that cheating--is it cheating to not show us Mike explaining what had happened to the tied-up Sayid? Thoughts?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Buried Beauties, Vol. V

Not really that buried, as an episode of Seinfeld can attest to, but I've always found that Marisa Tomei's beauty has gone largely underappreciated by the public at large.


Until Whenever
Film Language
Jaquandor posts here about his ten least favorite films, and ends with a brief pan of Saving Private Ryan, probably one of my all-time ten favorite films. The pan is brief, and basically alludes to a criticism screenwriter William Goldman made in Premiere magazine the year Ryan was up for several Oscars.

(Saving Private Ryan spoilers follow)



I have the essay Jaquandor refers to in Goldman's The Big Picture, and the thrust of his argument is that the movie is basically one big cheat. See, the film opens with an old man in contemporary times visiting a grave in Normandy with his family. The man breaks down at the grave and as his family moves to comfort him we zoom in for a close up of his face and the film goes back to the D-Day invasion. Part (and not a big part, really--the film hardly nags on this mystery) of the engine of the film is the question of who that old man was--which one of our main characters. We are maybe led to believe that the old man is the film's chief protagonist, Capt. John Miller, played by Tom Hanks. And as the film winds on, and members of our core cast are killed, we have a kind of Ten Little Indians thing going, as old man candidates are eliminated. By the end of the film only a few of our main characters are alive--if memory serves, Miller; Pvt. Richard Reiben, as played by Ed Burns; and the titular Private Ryan, as played by Matt Damon. Ryan has not been introduced until basically the last act, the narrative thrust of the film being Miller leading a band of soldiers to find Ryan, who has earned a free ticket home by virtue of his three brothers all having been killed.

The old man turns out to be Ryan, and Goldman's argument is that this is bullshit, since that opening grave scene flashed back to the Normandy beach, which Ryan wasn't part of. Goldman goes on to say that the whole movie is bullshit since of course the whole film being his flashback makes zero sense--since he isn't around until the end of the film. This would be a valid criticism if you accept Goldman's positing of the whole movie as a flashback. My point is that there is no reason to do so. Just because we close in on the old man's eyes before flashing back does not therefore imply that we are seeing his memories. To my mind, to start a movie in the present and establish that the main story is in the past is not to imply that the main story comprises any one man's memory. One could structure a film like this of course, but there is no real reason to assume Spielberg has done so here. Goldman is taking that zoom shot into the old man's eyes as an established communication in film vocabulary that "we re now going to see this character's memories." But why? Just because many a film has used such a shot to do just that doesn't mean that's what it means here. I think Goldman is falling prey to assuming things he wants to assume--to being, in essence, a lazy viewer who is taking other films he's seen and applying their vocabulary here. The error he ends up watching the film with isn't, therefore, the film's fault.
Spielberg hasn't cheated at all.

Now Goldman has other issues with the film which are more a matter of taste than anything else, but his essay makes clear that this is his chief problem with the film, and I think it's an entirely unfair one. Ryan remains for me a brilliant film, and easily a top ten choice.

Until Whenever

Friday, November 18, 2005

Never? He'll Make Money This Summer!

Take a gander at the teaser for Superman Returns. This briefest of glimpses has me very encouraged about this film. The use of the music, the choice of images, and most especially the attention to detail--look for the mini-explosion that appears when Superman enters the Earth's atmosphere from space--are all spot on. Excellent.

Until Whenever

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Things that Make Me Inordinately Happy

Starbucks is selling the almighty Egg Nog latte again. My poor, poor waistline.

Until Whenever
Sweet, Sweet Oxygen

Coming up for air, albeit very, very briefly. Doesn't working for a living just suck?

Taking a page from James Tata, I have provided below a list of my very modest collection of Christmas music. While I with rare exception almost never listen to this music outside of the mid-November through late-December timeframe, I always very much appreciate having it in that timeframe. Driving to get the tree, or decorating the house, just isn't right without some Christmas music jingling away in the background.

Time-Life Treasury of Christmas
A fine sampler, even if a few artists are over-represented (I'm imagining because of rights issues). This set is nice in that includes many rock-solid classic renditions, the ones no season would be complete without hearing at least once, including Perry Como's "Home for the Holidays," Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" (I love reminding the mildly anti-Semitic that "White Christmas" was written by a Jew), Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." My favorite track though is a positively scorching swing through a pure-jazz "Jingle Bells." The scatting at the end is, as the kid's used to say, the bees' knees (or is it "bee's knees"?).

A Charlie Brown Christmas
One of my favorite all-time CDs, and the exception to the rule stated above--I listen to this all the time. Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" is to my mind the most gorgeous carol to be written in decades and I love the sly transition between the stately jazz chord intro to "O Tannenbaum" and the swinging main piece.

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
I got this primarily because "This Little Babe" is so kick-ass, but the rest has never grown on me.

The Christmas Song--Nat King Cole
Smooth and easy, one of the great voices, and this collection provides for some wonderful lazy Christmas and cocoa background music.

I would like to get a new Christmas CD or two for this season--any suggestions?

Until Whenever

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle (on a Sunday)

A quick shuffle before another intense, most likely regrettably light blogging week commences.

1. "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Understated, relaxed, and oh-so-smooth. A great rendition of a great song.

2. "The Delivery Man" - Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man
A slow, shuffling song with a great bit of quiet swagger about it from Elvis' latest.

3. "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major VI" - Bach - Bach: The Cello Suites
From the same suite that gave us the classic piece of music highlighted in a The West Wing episode. The whole thing is well worth hearing.

4. "Bicycle" - Luis Bacalov - Il Postino (Original Score)
The main theme, a beautiful and tender piece of music. The whole score is more or less variations on this, but it is one hell of a theme.

5. "Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm" - Benjamin Britten - War Requiem
Lots o' kettle drums pounding, trumpets spitting out angry fanfares, and a big bari voice declaiming with passion. Britten gives good oratorio.

6. "You're Not Foolin' Me" - Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones - 110 in the Shade (1999 Studio Cast)
From the underrated score, a great scene between the two leads as they do a bit of the classic fighting between a man and a woman feeling obvious attraction.

7. "Peace in Our Time" - Elvis Costello - Goodbye Cruel World
A bittersweet ballad that might have been a classic if not for the wretched 80s synth-heavy and turgid arrangement, features that torpedoed most of the album.

8. "Hoch Uber Der Welt" - Alan Menken and Tim Rice - Der Glockner Von Notre Dame
From the German-language stage version of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame that played Berlin for a few years a while back. Never made it to Broadway, which is a shame, since this is Menken's most accomplished score.

9. "Black and White World" - Elvis Costello - Get Happy!!
Little bit of soul from Elvis.

10. "New Moon" - Ricky Ian Gordon - Bright Eyed Joy
Kind of a round, a bouncy, infectious, and joyful ode to new beginnings. Nicely appropriate to end the post, actually.

Until Whenever

Friday, November 11, 2005

Their Best

For the first time in my albeit brief blogging career I am attempting to jump-start a meme all my own. Well, not really all my own since all I've done is take the music meme I stole from Jaquandor a while back and transplanted the rules to authors instead of artists. Consider this an open invite for other bloggers to take this and run with it--and most definitely add their own authors to the mix, since the number of authors I've read multiple works of is woefully small.
Anyway, here are my initial scribes:

Stephen King - It - Probably still my favorite novel of all time. I'’ve read it, all 1,100+ pages of it, six or seven times. The structure is perhaps what impresses me the most, the way King deftly keeps jumping back and forth between the 50s, with kids, and the 80s, with the kids now as adults, all bracketed by the recurring flashbacks to other killings in Derry. The Stand gets noted more often, but to me this is really the ur-King; the epic, overstuffed length; the very knowing treatment of children; the smorgasbord of horror archetypes; and the wonderful characterization that are his trademarks are all here, and in splendid form. Truly a masterpiece.

John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany - A haunting novel. The Meany character should just be laughable, what with the all-caps yelling and the exaggerated characterization and the rest of it but it just works.

Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible - Another novel with a different and extremely effective structure. A missionary reverend and his wife take their four daughters to Africa for missionary work. Each chapter is narrated in the first person, present tense by one of the girls. All four get plenty of chapters to narrate, with the whole thing interrupted periodically with third-person, future remembrances from the mother. A powerful novel about religion.

Isaac Asimov - The Robots of Dawn - I've always loved this at-one-point final chapter in the robot books best of all; the robot books in general I always enjoyed much more than the Foundation series, which is of course, wonderful in its own right.

Robert R. McCammon - Swan Song - Sure it's very Stephen King-influenced, but its epic scale and end-of-the-world story stands as a fine complement to King's similarly themed The Stand.

Arthur Miller - Hard to beat Death of a Salesman really.

Terrence McNally - Love! Valour! Compassion! - A heartbreaker of a play that offers, at the same time, real gut-busting laughs. Just some beautiful, very natural writing.

August Wilson - The Piano Lesson - The central stage-prop metaphor of the piano really holds this one together.

Shakespeare - Gotta be Hamlet, really. Mel GibsonĂ‚’s performance is well worth a look-see if you haven't.

Anyone care to add to the list?

Until Whenever
Tom's Indy Meme

OK.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

That was easy.

What? Not what he wanted us to do? OK, let me look again.

Ah.

OK. From Empire magazine's list of the 50 greatest independent films, I'm going to bold the ones I've seen, italicize the ones I haven't seen, and underline the ones I haven't seen and don't want to.

1. Reservoir Dogs
Love it, but I don't think I've ever made it through the ear scene without looking away.

2. Donnie Darko
3. The Terminator
This actually could be pretty good.

4. Clerks
Not a bad film, but the pass the critics and public have given it on the really, really, atrocious acting has always puzzled me.

5. Monty Python's Life of Brian
Never seen any of the Python stuff. Shame on me.

6. Night of the Living Dead
Not a gore/horror fan.

7. Sex, Lies, and Videotape
8. The Usual Suspects
That devil line has always struck me as actually pretty lame.

9. Sideways
As good as advertised, a tough feat.

10. Mean Streets
11. Bad Taste
12. Eraserhead
13. Memento
14. Stranger Than Paradise
15. Blood Simple
I SO have to see this.

16. She's Gotta Have It
I LOVE Do the Right Thing and yet haven't seen any other Lee joints. Must rectify.

17. City of God
18. Withnail and I
19. Lone Star
20. Slacker
21. Roger and Me
22. Nosferatu
23. The Evil Dead
24. Happiness
25. Drugstore Cowboy
26. Lost in Translation
Also as good as advertised, to my surprise.

27. Dark Star
28. In the Company of Men
29. Bad Lieutenant
30. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
31. Pink Flamingos
Gross.

32. Two Lane Blacktop
33. Shallow Grave
34. The Blair Witch Project
My friend doesn't follow news much, and hadn't heard a thing about the film before we went to see it. It scared the crap out of him; he thought it was real.

35. THX-1138
36. Buffalo '66
37. Being John Malkovich
Is it just me or did this movie kind of inadvertently kill Malkovich's career?

38. Grosse Point Blank
Underrated. As is, come to think of it, Minnie Driver's beauty.

39. The Passion of the Christ
I'm on the pro side. Brilliant filmmaking.

40. The Descent
41. Dead Man's Shoes
42. Swingers
43. Shadows
44. Amores Perros
45. Mad Max
46. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
47. Blood Feast
48. Cube
49. Run Lola Run
50. El Mariachi

Until Whenever
I Did Not Know That.

Finished No Direction Home, the Martin Scorcese documentary on Bob Dylan, recently and may have more expansive thoughts at some later date. But the most striking thing that I came out of the multi-hour documentary?

Joan Baez was hot. Really hot.

Until Whenever

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Laugh It Up

Picking up the Scalzi-begun film comedy meme, here's my look at the 100 canonical film comedies according to Bob McCabe, author of The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. I've bolded the ones I've seen.

Airplane!
Entertainment Weekly named this (probably 5-10 years ago now) the greatest comedy ever. Hard to disagree. (Note--the list is alphabetical, not ranked, so McCabe isn't naming it as the greatest.)

All About Eve
Amelie
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Blazing Saddles
Bringing Up Baby
Broadcast News
Caddyshack
Le diner de con
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Duck Soup
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Four Weddings and a Funeral
I actually was very underwhelmed by this--which is odd, since writer Richard Curtis' other romantic comedies, Notting Hill and Love, Actually are very high on my list of great romantic comedies. Love, Actually, in particular, is a lost gem of a movie, a new holiday classic that pretty much landed with a big flump two or so years ago.

The General
Ghostbusters
What do you say when someone asks you if you are a God?

The Gold Rush
Good Morning Vietnam
The Graduate
Groundhog Day
I've never been able to figure out just how many times Phil repeats the day. It must be in the thousands, no?

A Hard Day's Night
His Girl Friday
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Lady Killers
Local Hero
Manhattan
M*A*S*H
Monty Python's Life of Brian
National Lampoon's Animal House
The Odd Couple
The Producers
Raising Arizona
Roxanne
Nice to see this. An oft-forgotten, sweet little movie.

Rushmore
Shaun of the Dead
A Shot in the Dark
Some Like it Hot
Strictly Ballroom
Sullivan's Travels
There's Something About Mary
Just saw this again, after not seeing it since it first came out. Holding up very well.

This is Spinal Tap
That rare comedy I really need to own on DVD. It's on the list.

To Be or Not to Be
Tootsie
Toy Story
Good call. Many would have forgotten it given its animated status.

Les vacances de M. Hulot
When Harry Met Sally...
Did you know those interstitials, of the elderly couples reminiscing, are all scripted and acted? I always thought they were real.

Withnail and I

I am a bad blogger and all-around human being, never having seen any Marx Brothers film, among many other deficiencies revealed above. I have a lot of great comedy to catch up on.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Wit of Elmo
First a public service announcement. Tosy and Cosh haven't been the tragic victims of any untimely deaths, but more simply, and mundanely, the victims of a sudden and unexpected, and unwelcome, intense busyness in the real world of jobs and such. In any case, they apologize for their absence, while at the same time admitting that said absence is likely to continue for a bit--this brief post notwithstanding.

With that out of the way, let me say that, as the father of twin 20-month old girls, I have, in the past two weeks or so, seen the film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, or, as the girls call it, Elmo, many, many times (though not nearly as many times as my poor suffering wife). It's not a bad pre-school-aimed flick at that, and for this devout Mandy Patinkin fan, Patinkin's presence as the stock bad guy Huxley (he's greedy, and insists that everything he touches his his) just sweetens the pot that much more. Two lines, in particular, have been sticking with me these past few weeks, and I felt compelled to share them with you kind folks:

Elmo: (Zoey has Elmo's blanket, to which he has, even at this early stage of the film, displayed a perhaps unhealthy attachment to, and won't give it back) Elmo needs his blanket, Zoey! Elmo has a nice washcloth you can have.

Bert: (Bert and Ernie appear in meta-fashion throughout the film to interact with us, the audience, and to discuss the film. Bert continuously shows much anxiousness at the darker turns the story takes--Huxley's taking of Elmo's blanket, Elmo's getting lost, etc.) Ernie, what if Elmo never gets his blanket back!
Ernie: Don't worry Bert, movies always have happy endings.
Bert: (muttering underneath his breath). What about Gone with the Wind? Dr. Zhivago?

Great stuff.

Until Whenever
10

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

C3PO Meets Po-Mo

Want to read an entertaining, if odd and very acrobatically reaching, post-modern-type reading of the Star Wars films as Pirandello-esque meta-meataphorical "texts?" Go here.

Until Whenever
Batman Begins

Finally saw the new Batman film on DVD and was, if not mightily, plenty impressed. My take on the series so far has been, like so many others', one of rapidly diminishing returns. And not just in the quality of the films as the series wore on, but in how they individually, especially the decent first two, held up over time as well.

I remember being very excited for the release of Burton's Batman in 1989 (I was 14 at the time), and absolutely loving the movie that summer. But as the years wore on, and I'd revisit it every now and then, it seemed less and less impressive. Nicholson's Joker was a great hammy piece of acting, but he wasn't really playing the Joker, now was he? And the plot was pretty boilerplate and uninteresting. And the Batplane is taken down with a gun?

Burton's second entry, Batman Returns has similarly devolved in my estimation as the years have worn on. DeVito and Pfeiffer are great, but the plot gets a bit silly and Batman is never quite as threatening or intimidating as a character as he should be. And the less said about the Schumaker films the better.

So I was very happy to hear that Warner Bros. was restarting things with an honest-to-goodness origin film. And now that I've finally seen it I can say that it easily outpaces its predecessors. Why?
  • Bale as Batman. I liked Keaton quite a bit, actually, but Bale was at least his equal. I don't know whether it was his idea or director Christopher Nolan's, but having his Batman speak in a whispered, gravelly growl--for Wayne to disguise his voice, essentially--was an inspired choice.
  • The plot. I had read the leaked script, so wasn't surprised by the third-act twist, but I thought it worked very well. And as an origin story they were nicely comprehensive, and surprisingly effective in handling the flashback-heavy opening. Wonderful writing. I even liked the added twist of having Bruce's fear of bats tie directly into his parents being murdered--it was a nice touch.
  • The action. I was suspicious of the Batmobile when I first saw pictures, but in context it was perfect, and the chase scene was well-handled. Sure, some of the Batman fighting stuff overplayed the "get into the criminals' mind by never knowing where Batman is" stuff, with a panolopy of very quick cuts defining each fight scene, but the truth is that in a Batman film I don't need to see the unparalleled fighting skills--in a Captain America movie, say, sure, that'd be key, but the key to Batman isn't his karate skills.
  • Gary Oldman as Gordon. A wonderfully understated and underplayed performance.
  • The comic homages. That the swarm of bats rescuing Batman and Gordon's look were taken directly from Year One and that Falcone is a Loeb/Sale Long Halloween invention I know, and I don't doubt that there were many others.
I did have some minor misgivings, especially around the opening "Bruce Wayne in Nepal" stuff, and how the training montage and the black-garbed ninjas and several other elements from that section of the movie felt like they could have been lifted directly from a bad Van Damme movie, but the movie quickly gained its feet once it centered in Gotham.

I hope they are able to maintain the quality and tone in further installments, especially if Nolan and writer David S. Goyer bail at some point (which presumably they will), but this is a wonderful re-start to the franchise.

Until Whenever
Did You Miss Me?

As is my wont (you know, I don't actually know what "wont" means? I like using it though), I hereby return from a brief, unexpected blogging hiatus by stealing one of them squirmy meme things, from here in this case.

Feeling ________.
Still a little sleepy, after a particularly unrelaxing weekend of painting and housecleaning. Coffee isn't doing its job. Bad coffee.

Listening to ________.
Nixon in China. I likes me the John Adams.

Spent last night ________.
Showing off the monkeys in their Halloween costumes, finishing up the aforementioned cleaning, and scanning through the Sunday paper that had been waiting unread all weekend.

Missing ________.
The girls. After a near-week off, it's always a shock to go back to work and see them for an hour a day.

Had breakfast of ________.
Oatmeal.

Thinking of ________.
Going back to the gym after a two-week hiatus.

Would love to ________.
Get away with the wife for a weekend.

Planning to ________.
Relish the Tuesday cafeteria regular buffalo chicken wrap.

Working to ________.
Get the house cleaned and ready to decorate for X-Mas. Having just put in a new kitchen, this will take more time than may seem necessary.

Favorite time of day is ________.
Those four or five hours between getting home and going to sleep.

Always wanted to play ________.
Sweeney Todd, in the Sondheim musical.

Dreaming of ________.
Someone, somewhere, publishing something I've written (you know, on paper.

A dream comes true when ________.
Depends on the dream, well doesn't it?

Really hate ________.
Raw tomatoes. Blech.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The U2 Canon - The Joshua Tree

No look at Wide Awake in America. Sorry. I don't have it on disc and don't feel like digging out my old cassette to take a fresh listen. So on to what is for me, and many fans, critics, and others, the pinnacle of U2's output.

The Joshua Tree is the first U2 album I really fell in complete and utter love with. Ironically enough, my first exposure to the band at all (I was just a kid during the early-mid 80s and was pretty much completely oblivious to music in general, never mind U2) came with the "With or Without You" video's omnipresence on MTV. I had only just started to develop the primordial beginnings of musical taste, and was very keen on, ahem, Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins, and Bon Jovi. (I learned.) At first I had an intense dislike of the video and song, and would get visibly annoyed when it came on TV. After a while though, and I'm not sure when or how it happened, I began to develop an affection for it. When "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was released I took immediate interest, and it was pretty much all over from there.

I can still remember riding my bike into the downtown main street drag of the next town over, to the only easily accessible record shop for my 13-year-old self. The shop was in the basement of the local bookstore, and was always filled with older kids in leather and jean jackets who, quite frankly, frightened me in their insolent attitudes and height and omnipresent cigarettes. I purchased the cassette, rode my bike home, stuck the album into my small boombox, and started listening. And I haven't stopped since.

As I've mentioned previously, to me The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby are easily the two all-time classics in U2's catalog. In my personal estimation, the former outguns the latter, if only by a hair, because of a few things. To me, the mood on The Joshua Tree is somewhat more coherent and sustained than on Achtung Baby; stylistically it's more of a whole, more of a seamless entity. And I like that The Joshua Tree is consumed with an outsider's look at America, unlike Achtung Baby's more inside look at European themes--my feeling is that others have looked at Europe musically through a vaguely similar lens, whereas The Joshua Tree is more unique in its perspective. And, of course, above all of this is the fact that The Joshua Tree was the first album I truly and deeply fell in love with. That that may be coloring my judgment isn't just something I suspect, but something I'd be surprised to find not to be true. In other words, much as I might like to pretend otherwise, I am not objective, nor can I be, when it comes to this album.

1. "Where the Streets Have No Name." - My favorite rock song, by anyone. I love every inch of it, from the marvelously solemn and hushed series of keyboard chords that ushers the song in; to the faint ringing guitar figure that drifts in slowly, gaining strength throughout the intro; to the way the drums kick in with power and an urgent drive partway through; to the impassioned and open-throated pure singing Bono indulges in throughout, to the perfect, symmetrical ending. And live, as anyone who has attended a U2 show could tell you, the song takes on added power and urgency--see the Rattle and Hum film for a stellar example.

2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - That simple guitar figure that defines the song is very sneaky in the way it expands beyond its basic structure to really give the song an urgency and a mood. And what a vocal on this one--those notes are high, and Bono handles them with seeming ease. The searching, hopeful religious themes that U2 highlight on pretty much every album take center stage here, but never get preachy or overbearing.

3. "With or Without You" - Only two U2 songs have ever reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in America--this one and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." "With or Without you" may have been somewhat overplayed, and as a result lost some of its power to the ear, but this is a marvelous song, a gorgeous, plaintive ballad that makes use of Edge's infinite guitar to give it an almost otherwordly underpinning. The discipline and control in Bono's vocal is inspiring.

4. "Bullet the Blue Sky" - One of Adam's most indelible bass lines, and a mean backbeat from Larry anchor this U2 classic. Defining guitar work from the Edge here as well, as he shifts from the ringing, repeated guitar figures to try on a distortion-heavy, power-chord dominated approach married to just a hint of funk. Bono's mid-song rap is infamous ("Outside is America!"), but really it works wonderfully in context. This is one of the band's most blatantly political songs, and its indictment of a warring America rings true today just as much as it did nearly 20 years ago.

5. "Running to Stand Still" - One of the slower songs U2 has ever recorded, this is a spare and stripped-down track, with quiet piano and scratchy slide guitar giving the music a clear blues feel, while not really straying into hard blues land. Bono unleashes a clear and strong falsetto here that matches the quiet of the song well. The build to the end is masterful, with the band coming together to affect a hushed, effective climax that leads out to a sad, harmonica-tinged coda.

6. "Red Hill Mining Town" - Rumor has it that the band abandoned support for this as the album's fourth single when Bono realized he wouldn't be able to hit the high notes night after night on tour. I love how this song marries the scratchy, fingers-on-fretboard blues guitar sound with the Edge's own signature ringing tones. And, while maybe impossible for him to do live for weeks on end, this is a wonderfully passionate vocal from Bono.

7. "In God's Country" - A great, blistering short pop song, faintly reminiscent of some of the Boy material.

8. "Trip through Your Wires" - An old-fashioned blues romp, harmonica. hootin' and hollerin' and all, U2-style. While it can be looked at as somewhat of a throwaway on the album, I think it does serve to really drive home the American musical inspirations that are littered elsewhere by very virtue of its status as a straightforward roots music homage.

9. "One Tree Hill" - One of my favorite tracks. A slow, patiently building song highlighted by some wonderful guitar work by the Edge and some remarkable singing, especially at the end, by Bono.

10. "Exit" - "Love Is Blindness" aside, perhaps U2's darkest song. A kind of hymnal innovation to God sung by Bono at the beginning gives way to a very, very quiet intro, with the bass and Bono's opening lyrics barely audible. The guitar kicks in after a verse in almost as quiet a fashion, picking out an ominous, foreboding melody. By the time the whole band is up to full volume, Adam, Larry, and the Edge are thrashing together almost (almost) like a heavy-metal band, with particularly fierce guitar work from the Edge.

11. "Mothers of the Disappeared" - An inspiringly solemn piece inspired by stories the band heard of South American women--the "mothers of the disappeared"--whose families were the victims of political violence, who danced as a silent means of protest (Sting's "They Dance Alone," off of . . . Nothing Like the Sun is a song about the same story). "In the trees, our sons stand naked/Through the walls our daughters cry/Hear their tears in the rainfall." Bono's heartbreakingly pure falsetto "tears" in the second verse chills my blood. A great way to end the album.

Grade: A+

Until Whenever