Monthly Archives: July 2012

At last

Good news. However, note John Cornyn’s qualification at the end of this excerpt:

“We’re not mere supplicants to the executive branch, we are a coequal branch of government,” Cornyn said during discussion of his amendment in the Senate committee hearing last week. “So it is insufficient to say pretty please, Mr. President, pretty please, Mr. Attorney General, will you please tell us the legal authority by which you claim the authority to kill American citizens abroad?” (Cornyn also noted that just because he wants to see the memo doesn’t mean he’d necessarily disagree with its contents.)

At a Ginuwine show:

Steven Soderbergh’s Channing Tatum vehicle Magic Mike is a thrilling if somewhat dialogue-light film set in a male strip club in Florida, chock-full of bared male body parts and shots of women reacting to their being unveiled. Much of the movie goes by in a series of montages and hip thrusts, but at one point, the swirling action both stops and becomes absolutely spellbinding: Tatum (upon whose stripper past the movie is based) takes the stage at Xquisite to Ginuwine’s glitchy, Timbaland-produced debut single “Pony.” This public performance actually doubles as a one-on-one love scene in a way; Tatum’s character’s romantic interest, played by the steely eyed Cody Horn, gets to see the dance unfold and gets appropriately intrigued. (With good reason; Tatum flexes an impressive array of the moves he learned while grinding away in the exotic-dancer salt mines.)

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And then it was time for “Pony,” its Timbaland-supplied squawk overtaking the sound system before the band joined in. Ginuwine urged the crowd to get up out of their seats and disembarked the stage, hopping onto one of the barriers between B.B. King’s inner and outer bowls. Women surrounded him, cameraphones and adoration and sing-alongs at the ready, and while he didn’t take his shirt off—though he had changed into a tee earlier in the evening—his reception was no less rapturous. The back-and-forth of the pleading chorus went on for a while, Ginuwine basking in the adulation and the audience basking in the way he was soaking in it; the whole exchange probably could have lasted half an hour, and nobody would have minded, save the people scheduled to play the late show.

My favorite things

Expanded editions of Sugar’s two albums and one EP get the reevaluations they deserve. Siding with Bob Christgau, Dan Weiss posits File Under: Easy Listening as their masterwork, and certainly Bob Mould made no stronger case for his pop mastery (imagine “Believe What You’re Saying” getting a Richard Marx production); but bassist David Barbe’s George Harrison move doesn’t surpass B-side “Mind is an Island” (it’s “Only a Northern Song” competing with “Old Brown Shoe”) and Grant Hart earned a dismissal more incisive than “Granny Cool” (it’s Grandpa Cool wearing a cardigan on the back cover of 1989’s Workbook). On the other hand, Beaster is an airtight case for the efficacy of an EP, especially when “JC Auto” and “Feeling Better” by themselves crush full length albums with chain-wrapped tires.

I explained briefly a few months ago what those records meant to an eighteen-year-old man for whom Sugar were, to use Eric Harvey’s analogy, the Wings to Husker Du’s Beatles — only imagine if Wings had released two albums’ worth of “Jet.”

“Pink flamingos and Tide boxes”

Before triumphing as the Beltway’s favorite bad girl (Poppy Bush, ever the gentleman, said he used to laugh out loud at how devastatingly she skewered him), Maureen Dowd was a reporter. The Awl remembers her pioneering AIDS coverage. It also links to a terrific NYT magazine story about Manhattan nightlife in 1984. I hope she didn’t make up the quotes; they’re better than what Bret Easton Ellis conceived for Less Than Zero, his take on ealry eighties hedonism set in L.A.

Ignoble savages: Beasts of the Southern Wild

The title could refer to either the extinct aurochs — boar-like creatures that six-year-old Hush Puppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) imagines will trample the earth once the ice caps melt — or the bedraggled dwellers of the Louisiana bayou who ignore warnings about an imminent hurricane and awaken to find flora and fauna under several feet of water but Their Spirits Unbroken. Meanwhile Hush Puppy’s father, slowly (but not quietly) dying of a blood ailment, vacillates between scolding and protecting her. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the rare films to dwell on topography for its own sake instead of the carapace under which incest and murder lurk in wait for actors looking for one-off Academy Award nominations. Alas, writer-director Benh Zeitlin loves the gators, cottonwoods, viscous mud, brown water, and caterpillars so much that the movie becomes a valentine for what to many of us is an absurd way to live. Of course there are people who munch on crawfish and drink High Life and laugh heartily through mud-streaked faces, but Zeitlin lingers on the merriment so long that his methods begin to look suspicious. He’s selling a Way of Life to blue state denizens. Often BOTSW looks like WPA-commissioned illustrations of the dangers of poor sanitation and not being connected to an electrical grid. The ponderous voice-over narration, a cross between Carlos Castaneda pensées and Terrence Malick portent, fails (as usual — when will directors learn?).

At the still point of this turning world is Hush Puppy, who thanks to Wallis is a discomfiting presence. Her hair a spiked, unkempt mass, a face as blank as Falconetti’s, she’s like the last survivor of a doomed race — too smart, in other words, for the jackanapes around her who deny her hospital care and food. Confining the movie to a child’s point of view lets Zeitlin off the hook for the wobbly narrative. Things happen without explanation. In a crucial scene Hush Puppy’s daddy (the good non-actor Dwight Henry) hisses that he can’t be moved from his hospital bed because the end is near; in the next he’s leading the group back to their hovel so that he can collapse again and the kids can swim towards a floating brothel island where Hush Puppy thinks she saw her dead mother. The brothel scene is well blocked, and I liked a moment between Hush Puppy and a dancer, who batters gator meat and dispenses advice from the hard knock life; but this is literally the way the last fifteen minutes of the movie unfold. Thanks to Zeitlin’s skill with oneiric textures and shrewd editing, it’s never dull and often beguiling; in frame after frame I wanted to know what the hell was going on.

Then the aurochs arrive.

Singles 7/27

It must have been dandy to be sixteen in 1996 when No Doubt, exploiting the infallible Rumours marketing strategy, unleashed airplay hit after hit from Tragic Kingdom, most notably “Don’t Speak,” the “Dreams” of my sister’s generation. Pop radio in early ’97 rested in an interzone as opaque and impenetrable as the one in which college radio resided during the Poppy Bush era before Kurt Cobain shook his golden locks: the boy bands were just passing Lou Pearlman’s height requirements; we were still months away from the ubiquity of “Fly,” “Semi-Charmed Life,” “MMMBop.” I got some fun figuring how many of the undergraduates I was about to teach for the first time had bought Brighten The Corners with their copies of Odelay at Sam Goody (none bought Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart”). A circuitous way of writing that apart from “A Simple Kind of Life” and “Hella Good” No Doubt didn’t move me. Even in their twenties the band sounded like cynics, a couple of albums away from an Eagles kind of rancidness. Gwen Stefani’s voice wasn’t lived in; she was trying too hard to have a good time. Planned evanescence is a joke anyway – on them.

Click on links for full reviews.

The xx – Angels (6)
Little Dragon – Sunshine (6)
My Name is Kay ft. Pusha T – Strangers (6)
Large Professor ft. Cormega, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano & Saigon – M.A.R.S. (5)
Usher ft. Rick Ross – Lemme See (4)
No Doubt – Settle Down (4)
Los Embajadores – Peso (4)
Shy’m – Et Alors (4)
Psy – Gangnam Style (3)
The Killers – Runaways (3)
Richard Hawley – Down in the Woods (3)
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra – Want it Back (3)
Matt and Kim – Let’s Go (2)