Friday, December 30, 2005

the year in the rearview

5. Spoon "Gimme Fiction": Simple, bold,
and eye-opening; like a cup of coffee after
a long night on the town. Britt Daniel is a
songwriter of sublime talent.
4. The Game "The Documentary": Stark
honesty + inspired production X ferocious mic
skills = west coast revival. The album drips
with consequence and guilt; two weapons
most rappers aren't hard enough to hold.

3. The Wolf Parade "Apologies to the Queen
Mary": strange melodies, disembodied vocals,
and two emotionally raw songwriters ; the most
unsettling brilliant album of the year.
2. Thelonius Monk Quartet w/ John Coltrane
"Live at Carnegie Hall": Two masters at the peak
of their genius converge for a truly monumental
musical and historical moment. The music
surpasses any raised expectations the pairing
creates; blazing, expressive and focused.
1. Kanye West "Late Registration": All the
hype (his own and others) aside; this album
stands alone because it is a unique instant of
ambition matching execution. West and
co-producer Jon Brion reache into every decade,
every genre, and create something dynamic
and wholly unique. Hip-hop roots itself
in this creative esthetic of
deconstruction/reconstruction; and this
album stays true to his endearingly
schizophrenic vision of a hip-hop landscape where
Paul Wall, Curtis Mayfield, and Adam Levine from
Maroon Five can co-exist. We respect Kanye
West because he continues to prove he's an artist of
blinding talent. We love him because he's not too
self-conscious to tell you that some of that glare
is shinin' off the diamonds on his chain.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

oh, canada

why isn't it cold inside hockey rinks? not that they're always the most comfortable temperature, but still, that's ice they're skating on and i'm all right in a long sleeved shirt. hockey makes sense in the winter, kind of like snow and jesus, so i watched an entire penguins game the other night. two words to describe the new nhl: fucking awesome. no icing, no scrums in the corner as if it was rugby on skates, movement, passing, space. all of this leads to more offense, which leads to more fans, which ends in better ratings. too bad they didn't do this before they stuck a skate blade in all their fan's backs by letting last season get cancelled.
also, i love that there's no ties in hockey anymore, even though i admit i'm still confused by the third number in the win-loss-? column. each shot of a shootout is quite possibly the most exciting 10 seconds in sports that doesn't involve maria sharapova searching for a ball to serve somewhere inside that thing she calls a tennis outfit. in soccer the goal is too big and the ball is too small. in some south american countries i hear they kill you if you miss penalty shots; it's that easy. but hockey is a completely different beast. a small goal and a large russian goalie that fills just about all of it evens the odds. if a hockey player misses a penalty shot or the goalie saves it maybe they show the highlight on sportscenter, maybe not. you're definitely not gonna get shot in the parking lot on the way to your car though.
the other great thing about hockey is penalty boxes. what a revolutionary concept. sometimes you feel like guys in the nba and the nfl just don't get it because really, what kind of lesson is someone making a symbolic hand gesture or throwing a little yellow flag in your general direction. hockey gets it right by actually making people sit in a little box and think about what they've done. two minutes for minor infractions barring a goal which "kills" the penalty, to five minutes in the box no matter who scores for major penalties. kind of like the difference between scolding your child and grounding them. much more effective and i get a kick out of seeing hulking, grown men who get paid millions of dollars lower their head and shuffle to the penalty box like my dog does when he shits in the house and i make him go outside and think about it for awhile.

Monday, December 12, 2005

see no evil

"white people be going 'why do you hold your things?' Cause you took everything else, mother fucker."
richard pryor 1940-2005

fool's gold

Directed by: Steven Gaghan
Rating: as messy as the exxon valdez

why do people think gaining weight is the mark of great acting? it's all de niro's fault. everyone's always talking about how much weight he gained when he played jake la motta in 'raging bull', the 'astounding physical transformation.' and they're right, his physical commitment to the role is amazing, along with the absolute ferocity of his performance: the primal streak of viciousness that underlies all of de niro's work, but most specifically his films with martin scorcese.
the problem though is that de niro already staked his claim to greatness in a series of films that required no weight gain at all. starting in 1973 until 'raging bull''s release in 1980, de niro made 7 films including 'mean streets,' 'the godfather: part ii,' 'taxi driver,' 'new york, new york,' and 'the deer hunter.' groundbreaking, influential, timeless. there are a million superlatives one could pour all over these films, but none of them required him to gain weight.
so all these actors search for legitimacy by playing people who are out of shape, which makes an odd sort of sense for hollywood, the only place in the world which gives people awards and accolades for gaining weight.
and oddly these are the thoughts that swirled through my mind as i watched george clooney and the 40 lbs. he gained for his new film 'syriana.' actually, to call it a george clooney film is a bit misleading. there are so many actors, and so many stories in this movie i got that nervous feeling i get sometimes when i'm at a bar on sundays trying to watch five football games at once, and can't keep track of all the scores.
'syriana' is about oil. about how people lie, steal, cheat, and kill; for and because of it. about how it is an undercurrent of all of our lives, whether we accept it or not. that a film like this is even possible in today's political climate is remarkable. steven gaghan, george clooney, steven soderbergh et all set out to change the world with this picture. but sadly, in the mad rush to inform the public about the seedy nature of the oil industry and our government's explicit involvement in said deception and corruption, the team behind 'syriana' forgot to make an actual movie. gaghan, who directed and wrote the screenplay along with ex c.i.a. agent bob baer, throws too wide of a narrative net to create a taut thriller; invests no time in building his characters and in the process loses any sense of epic drama; and with all the fictional plot elements lacks the bare-bones impact of straight documentary.
'syriana' follows a similar structural pattern to 'traffic' (written by gaghan,) connecting four narratives to tell one overarching story. his direction lacks focus though, and the small moments he presents us with to humanize the characters, such as jeffrey wright's alcoholic father or george clooney's angry young son, are dealt with in such a hasty manner that they become distractions, almost as if you were watching a completely different movie starring the fat george clooney from 'syriana.' gaghan jumps from one narrative to the next, almost as if on a timer, and the audience is never given time to fully grasp the nature of the character and his motivations.
not surprisingly, the one instance where gaghan plays his cards right is in the narrative depicting a young man's transformation from oil field laborer to holy warrior of the jihad, just as in 'traffic' it is through the eyes of benicio del toro, an outsider, that we bear full witness to the vagaries of the international drug trade. gaghan manages to humanize what we consider monstrous, and in the process open our eyes to the fallability of american government and industry. we are no different from colonial nations that rose and fell before the united states; we want no cultural exchange or exchange of ideas, merely any natural resources or anything else of worth. we take oil from the middle east, diamonds from africa, labor from south america and asia, all at minimal expense. mazhar munir, who plays wasim khan the laborer turned mujaheddin, uses his childish, innocent face to convey beautifully all the doubt, fear, and desperation that lead to such a horrific decision. if only this entire film could be as starkly honest and affecting as these scenes.
many of the other performances in the film, however, come out flat; victims of cutting room floors and poor directing decisions. with attention divided between so many stories, each one felt like a dry stream drawn from a shallow river. clooney shows moments of fire as wronged c.i.a. man bob barnes, but mostly we are left with silent shots of a tired man who looks short on breath, and bares a tremendous resemblance to george clooney if he were to gain fifty pounds. matt damon is left with no room to show how he deals with the loss of his young son, and amanda peet, playing damon's wife, is given a woefully underwritten and underrepresented role. gaghan's choice of two of today's most boyishly charming actors in damon and clooney, who at 44 still seems to have the youthful energy of a 25 year old, to play such unglamorous characters might fill the seats, but it doesn't help the story. people want to see damon and clooney having fun and playing it loose, which is when they're at their best. to see them toiling and wearing away under accumulated pressures (and clooney under accumulated fat) draws the audiences attention away from the message of the film.
finally, 'syriana' comes off as wholly effective diatribe. the audience draws out of this unfocused, unfiltered picture some very uncomfortable truths. the most important truth is expressed through a fine performance from jeffrey wright as corporate lawyer bennett holliday. wright, an actor of breathtaking versatility, is the vehicle through which gaghan shows us the corruption and capitulation of the american government and like many of us, wright hides his exasperation and shock with a smirk and a shrug, because he grudgingly accepts what the rest of us give scant thought to: that whether we like it or not, oil is still king.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

we're on our way home

october 9th, 1940-december 8th, 1980
it never crossed my mind that he was also a libra. why not?
this still makes me sad.

when the man comes around

i do not sleep well anymore. this started about a week, exactly a week ago. thursday, december 1st, the day that splits my past and my future. on that day i heard a tap, tap, tapping on my door, our doorbell yet another victim of my dad's limited scope of what was necessary in a modern home (i.e. "i didn't have a doorbell growing up, so why do we need one now?" this can be expanded to other things as well, "i didn't have heating growing up, so why do we need it now?" or "a toaster? we didn't have toast growing up, so why can't you eat your bread cold?") i am amazed, at times, that he actually grew up in the same half of the century that i did.

my excitement grew. it was me who called a week earlier and made the appointment. it was me who stumbled across a deborah johnson, the best phone salesperson i've ever run into, who informed me of a spectacular deal on on-demand digital television (less than our normal service by $7.00, but more channels than i figured humanly possible to ever watch all of.)

or maybe not.

it was me who opened the door and let in the cable guy.

it took him 13 minutes to install the digital cable box and program the remote. i counted each second in my mind as i watched this fidgety, slight little man with a red hat ply his trade. he handed me the remote and started talking to me, but the words drifted away as i began to devise a plan. a wild, maniacal, twisted plot.

to watch everything on tv.

as i began to close the door on the cable man's face, he gave me a strange look. an adult puzzled by a child's fascination with the simplest of high-tech objects, the universal remote, as if i might put it in my mouth any moment and attempt to eat it as i would a banana. as if my simple mind couldn't grasp the complexities of digital cable, the awesome magnitude of the intercyberglobotech industry.

'you sure you don't have any questions?'

'no, thanks for everything.' i shut the door and held my breath, heady with the possibilities that stretched out in front of me.

fuck the intercyberglobotech industry. what's on hbo?

i made my way back downstairs. i left the lights off so that all that greeted me as i felt the carpet on my toes was the soft blue glow of the digital cable guide. i began thumbing through each page with the page down button, progressively processing the amount of time i'd have to spend in front of the magic box to fulfill my goal.

i started watching digital cable 7 days ago. it is true what people say about television. it's mostly shit, actually to quantify that, i'd say it's about 80 percent shit. the 20 percent that's not shit is divided as such: 13% is sports, which are nearly impenetrable (barring player salaries and at the very least on the playing field) from the vagaries of commercialism and capitalism. 4% belongs to hbo, which is a considerable amount for one channel. the other 3% belongs to the rest of television, the other 400 or so other channels.

the amazing thing about all this shit though; about all this crude, artless shit....i can't stop watching it. i try. i've been trying for 7 days now. but every time i leave the basement and come back to the light of the first floor, a part of me remains on the sofa, a faint imprint of my soul. it is this part of me that i convince myself i get back everytime i return to the wash of blue light.

tv is the great magician of our times. the houdini of the post-cold war world. we watch in hushed anticipation for its next great trick. deciding a presidential election, putting a man on the moon, the beatles, monday night football, mtv, playboy channel, pay-per-view, digital, on-demand.

on-demand. we are no longer slaves to our tv's. or at least that's what they want us to think. thursday nights spent watching the cosby show, monday dinner with archie and edith bunker, sunday evenings with the simpsons. we used to limit tv to the twilight hours, a way to fill in the monotony of darkness. george carlin said in a recent special that we never left the cave. he's right, it's just that our fire is the tv.

now television does on a daily basis what mankind has dreamt of and written about for years; manipulating time for its own benefit. you can watch anything, anytime, anywhere (well, almost) you want. imagine modern television as a drug, visual crack for our brains; highly addictive, and way more accessible than cocaine was in the 80's. we know its bad for us and we can't get enough of it.

seven days and still i can't say no. the military channel taught me how tanks are put together, and bobby flay outdueled iron chef sakai in international battle trout. eric idle sang a silly song about freedom and isaac mizrahi showed me how to arrange flowers.

i haven't slept soundly for seven days.

what's on hbo?