Hold on, everyone: I’m watching “Sex and the City” for the first time. The first season. So far it looks more dated than an Irene Dunne-Cary Grant comedy: long bangs on women and smoking in Manhattan bars!

Dennis Hopper R.I.P.

Not much to add to the tributes and obits I’ve read in the last couple of days.  My own experiences are a little different from Matos’. In high school I knew him for his gonzo turns as Marlon Brando’s addled hagiographer in Apocalypse Now and the coach in Hoosiers, two performances which look different on paper but are actually cut from the same cloth: there was a decency, a sweetness, in his acting, like he understood how easily the darkness can follow light. I haven’t seen it mentioned much, but this binarity got a full airing in 1987’s River’s Edge, in which he played a burned-out hippie who keeps a blow-up doll around the house, a lachrymose performance in a movie that required it (it’s aged badly).  Maybe it’s unfair to remark on how the Hopper legend revealed the shtick in his turn as the embodiment of pure id in Blue Velvet; it’s Dean Stockwell, another Sixties Survivor, who scares the hell out of me these days. So it’s his most perfunctory work that I remember most fondly now: his cackling villain in Speed, and an unforced, totally relaxed performance as Christian Slater’s dad in the ridiculous True Romance, in which his charm manages to momentarily distract villain Christopher Walken from doing his appointed duty.

It’s conceivable that Douglas Sirk might have cast Hopper in one of his fifties sudsters; the young Hopper had the creamy blandness that made his penchant for choosing wackos that much more believable. The idea is certainly more tantalizing to entertain than Easy Rider, which appalls me as movie and an ethos.

Take this, sister, may it serve you well: Janelle Monae

Except for a handful of comments fluttering through the Internets, I haven’t said much about Janelle Monae’s opus. The ArchAndroid is aptly titled: its cybernetic soul-rock hybrid is clever in a self-congratulatory way, in the manner of someone who wants to wow the audience with her range of interests. Heard in one sitting, the album is exhausting. “May this song reach your heart,” she wishes in her highest falsetto on “Neon Valley Street,” evoking the dreaded Alicia Keys, then thankfully undercutting the horror with an android interlude and mellotron solo. The Of Montreal track belongs on Kevin Barnes’ own scattershot albums. By the time the guitar crunch of “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” goes through its duly appointed paces, I got to thinking that Monae doesn’t yet have the personality to render her excellent lithe voice as anything other than a sonic referent behind the bass and drums somewhere. When she’s not being a show-off she’s persuasive, as on the one-two punch of “Locked Out” and “Faster,” or on the maxim-laden “Cold War.” If, as “Cold War” suggests, her weirdness is a fact with which she’s had to come to terms, then it’s a shrewd gesture to record a showboat album like The ArchAndroid: it’ll be that much easier for Monae to concentrate on one facet of her talent next time ’round.

Swing low

The late Lynn Redgrave got her only Best Actress nod for Georgy Girl, a piece of Swinging London juvenilia that, in the words of Celeste Holm in All About Eve, takes the prize for running, jumping, and standing gall. Even allowing for the changes of fashion that have rendered the film’s assumptions about overweight woman into a Hot Topic to which a modern audience can condescend, Georgy Girl still manages to offend every group which presumably flocked to it in 1966: teenagers, painted as the sum total of irreconcilable dualities (freakshow animals who snort for the amusement of their parents vs amoral scolds who can neither raise children nor show much compassion for the less beautiful); and the senescent squares attracted to the bacchanal but who can’t resist tut-tutting too. Incarnated by James Mason, the latter isn’t quite so onerous a garbage bag for the audience to carry, but even his considerable finesse can’t disguise how embarrassed and embarrassing he looks.

Silvio Narizzano shoots and cuts in the hyper, hip manner with which every young filmmaker infatuated with Jean-Luc Godard — from Richard Lester to Arthur Penn –toyed in the late sixties. Scenes aren’t allowed to play, as if doing so represented a kind of squareness. Snatched moments at a funeral exist so that Redgrave can make “unconsciously” gauche remarks about the deceased; the adults squirm; Narizzano, like a satisfied trainer giving his Labrador a biscuit, cuts to the next scene. We’re primed to think, Isn’t that fat homely girl adorable? It’s shocking to see a trim, shorn Alan Bates looking like a Tory staffer; for a while his mugging provides the only genuine relief, until Narizzano loses patience with Bates’ adult acting and reduces him to a crawling troglodyte, kicking his heels and grunting like Mischa Auer in My Man Godfrey. One plus: you only get to hear the horrible Seekers song twice, but since it’s got a hook-like-glue it doesn’t mean you’ll forget it.

“Matronly equals trustworthy”

Semiotics matters to Beltway insiders, as this profile on Elena Kagan’s wardrobe makes clear.

How discombobulated would folks be if a male nominee walked the Hill wearing a Thom Browne suit with trousers that ended at the ankles or if a woman strode purposefully down the marble corridors in a pair of platform Christian Louboutin heels and a Marni sack dress? There’d be nothing profoundly inappropriate with any of that other than the images wouldn’t square with the preconceived notion that sobriety equals intellect. Bland equals responsible. Matronly equals trustworthy.

I especially love when the reporter won’t risk getting disinvited to Sally Quinn’s Christmas party:

Ultimately, of course, on matters so personal, only the individual’s speaking up can truly make things clear.

Yet, while most nominees aim for a wardrobe that sends no wayward signals, it may be that Kagan would be just as happy if her clothes said whatever it is that everyone wants to hear.

But if they don’t, at least she will be presumed reliable and reassuring. Dowdy and dull. And very, very wise.

Album is Whatever

The vague, slightly evocative title is a clue. Heaven is Whenever is the Hold Steady’s weakest album. I won’t know until their next release whether the departure of Franz Nicolay, the band’s Mike Garson, has affected their chemistry and songwriting; but Tad Kubler hasn’t come up with any good riffs, and the rest of the band plays as if a giant wet towel smothered them. On “The Weekenders” they’re reduced to The Killers imitating the E Street Band, complete with “I remember”s and by-now rote allusions to reservoirs. Even Craig Finn’s nods to eighties post-punk classics on “We Can Get Together” sounds resigned, like he’s accepted he’s going to live in memories. If you’re going to allude to “Make No Sense At All” and the Psychedelic Furs’ “Heaven,” at least channel their energy.

Singles 5/19

Big Boi gets this week’s apology for underrating his single, which I’ve now road tested for nine days straight and haven’t gotten tired of. As for Justin, if he hired The National’s string section and drummer to play around with his patented production and songwriting mannerisms he’d cause a minor sensation. The lowest ranking single is by Hole’s former bassist, and it’s not terrible, just colorless. Bass players are bass players for a reason, unless you’re Geddy Lee. This means you, Peter Hook.

I: Cube – Falling (8)

Big Boi – Shutterbug (7)

Jamie Foxx ft. T.I. and Justin Timberlake – Winner (7)

Esmee Denters ft. Justin Timberlake – Love Dealer (6)

Melissa Auf der Maur – Out of Our Minds (4)