Singles 2/28

Credit Robyn for recognizing soundscapes as alluring as Neneh Cherry’s. I hope to review Blank Project next week, my favorite album this quarter. Speaking of, I gave Miranda Lambert too much. Country history can proffer myriad recollections of good times that ring about as true as Ronald Reagan’s WWII service (Merle Haggard was the king of them; this one is pretty good), and insofar as “Automatic” deserves a listen give the credit to Lambert’s lived-in vocal.

I can’t get away without mentioning the horror of the Tegan and Sara’s association with The Lonely Island and a five-part harmony that isn’t a Bryan Adams cover.

Click on links for full reviews.

Neneh Cherry ft. Robyn – Out of the Black (7)
Nicki Minaj – Lookin’ Ass Nigga (7)
Polly Scattergood – Subsequently Lost (7)
Kelis – Rumble (6)
Miranda Lambert – Automatic (6)
Lena Fayre – Love Burning Alive (6)
The Fray – Love Don’t Die (4)
Rascal Flatts – Rewind (4)
Pentatonix – Run to You (4)
Cash Cash ft. Bebe Rexha – Take Me Home (3)
Busy Signal – All In One (3)
Kelleigh Bannen – Famous (2)
Tegan and Sara ft. The Lonely Island – Everything is Awesome!!! (2)

AIDS vaccine: “We’re trying to get a magic bullet”

A possible breakthrough with an AIDS vaccine:

The vaccine developed by Stone and his team can prevent mice from becoming infected with HIV, he said, by targeting a specific receptor in the immune system to trigger a significant T-cell response to the virus.

The receptor is called CD40, and the vaccine uses a special form of the receptor’s natural binding protein to enable the immune system’s dendritic cells to signal the presence of HIV.

“We’re trying to get a magic bullet,” Stone said, “that can bring information about HIV to dendritic cells.”

Unlike standard vaccines, which use untargeted antigen to generate an immune system response, the approach developed by Stone and his team attaches an HIV antigen to the binding protein, which then generates the better immune response by targeting the antigen to dendritic cells.

Hey white boy — whatchoo doing in Africa: Captain Phillips

While it’s unfair to compare Captain Phillips to Gravity and All is Lost when it had the misfortune to open on the same weekend as the former and far outgrossed the latter, its elephantine approach to the white-guy-in-trouble trope should serve as a cautionary tale as sapient as Tom Hanks’ trying sweet reason on multinational pirates who happen to speak Somali. It has a back story. It has a supporting cast. It’s based on a real 2009 incident. It has underwater shots. Four false endings. I forgot my watch.

The first scene almost belted me out of my chair: Phillips and his wife (Catherine Keener with linguini hair) driving to port and deplorig how kids have changed. Like any men without women tale, director Paul Greengrass disposes of her quickly. Once shipboard, he lingers on moments of crew at work long enough to suggest routine, stuff getting done, of lives too busy to stop. How Greengrass suggests purpose with these cuts proves he’s Hollywood’s master of kinetics. Two skiffs full of fractious pirates give chase to the Maersk Alabama; thanks to Phillips’ phony radio call for support one of those skiffs disappears. But the second skiff, led by the wily Muse (Barkhad Abdi), gets on board thanks to a makeshift ladder, despite the Alabama’s firing water cannons and flares. The capture of this behemoth defies belief, so much so that I think I missed something. Muse wants to ransom the ship for several million dollars. When the crew revolt, the pirates force Phillips into a lifeboat.

Because a ship this size in a narrow stretch of sea carrying valuable cargo will never be ignored by rescue crews, Captain Phillips lacks any semblance of suspense (and, of course, it’s based on a true story given blanket coverage at the time). What drama lies in watching the white hero of this tale, played by Tom Hanks doing an excellent imitation of Tom Hanks in jeopardy. In his first moment of individuality after the wifely exchanges he writes her an email in his cabin, “Wonderful Tonight” unfurling from his computer speakers. When he struggles with a Boston accent it gives us a particular pain; it could be one of us wearing a bushy mustache in a school play; when terrible things happen to him, like being covered with the spattered blood of one of his captors, it has a special resonance. As for the Oscar-nominated Abdi he’s vivid and not much else. The cruel drollness of Greengrass’ approach means the audience realizing as the minutes tick that Third World terror tactics are no match for American firepower and ingenuity. Greengrass, director of Bloody Sunday and two Bourne films in which white bureaucrats scowled behind banks of expensive computers, understands the costs. Phillips doesn’t look like he’ll ever recover.

Mass hysteria!

This oral history of Ghostbusters finds the cast and makes, including the late Harold Ramis, still in a wise ass mood (has there been a more Aykroyd line than “People in the paranormal field loved it. It gave focus to their work”?). What a boys club though. Sigourney Weaver, channeling canine energy, gets cast anyway:

REITMAN: For the Dana character, I started doing auditions and meetings with young actresses, and I remember meeting Julia Roberts. I thought, “Wow, what a lovely person.”

Sigourney Weaver walked into my office. She had done Alien and The Year of Living Dangerously, really heavy stuff. She said, “I can be funny. I did comedy when I was at Yale Drama School.” And I’m not believing her at all.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I had to blow my own horn because I hadn’t really done a film comedy, but I had done many onstage.

REITMAN: [While doing the terror dog scene] she gets on my couch and starts panting like a dog. And I’m laughing because here’s this six-two, really beautiful, sexy woman, jumping around, doing this very funny stuff.

WEAVER: I wanted to show him that I was totally open to howling, screaming, and slobbering. I remember thinking afterwards that I may have frightened him a bit because I did tear into his cushions

Bill Murray doesn’t participate. I suspect he wants nothing to do with his former colleagues (he and Ramis hadn’t spoken in twenty years). But his absence adds to his glamour. Here’s loathsome superagent Michael Ovitz:

Bill and Dan were just legendary in the city. People would open restaurants for us two hours before they were supposed to, or they’d keep them open two hours after they were supposed to close. Suddenly, New York felt like a small town to me.

St. Vincent: A smile is more than showing teeth

She’s an original, creating a songbook out of the kind of compressed studio effects that would force lesser talents to fire the engineer. So she should reconsider someone besides John Congleton, whose work on Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness and Annie Clark’s other albums confirms that pouring his trademark electronic glaze over guitar tracks has outlived its novelty. Moreover, she’s becoming a chanteuse, like on the one that goes “I prefer your love to Jesus” over mellotron. Well, duh. This eponymous record is still plenty striking. “Digital Witness” crosses “Emotional Rescue” with Dear Science-era TV on the Radio; when the music opens in the chorus, especially on the line “Watch me jump right off the London Bridge,” it’s like an LED light in a dark room, Kate Bush taking her shoes off and throwing them in the lake. Otherwise Clark mimics Shirley Manson after Garbage’s context vanished (“Every Tear Disappears”). Still, fucking with her guitar compensates for staid rhythms. Former partner David Byrne didn’t learn it when he went solo.

There’s more to love than boy meets girl: Jimmy Somerville

Writing this essay on Jimmy Somerville, I realized he was a mediocrity who wrote and sang a fistful of great dance tracks. To learn that Bronski Beat and the Communards recorded music incommensurate with Somerville’s personal radicalism and the monikers he and his musical partners chose disappointed me: romantic vagaries set to big beats. The comparison with Pet Shop Boys struck me as reductive. Women rightly balk when (male) critics don’t resist the temptation of comparing a female band or singer-songwriter to another woman. Somerville’s affinities with hi-NRG and Italo disco are more interesting anyway.

Anti-gay florists serving gays: “It is the price of citizenship”

I haven’t posted about Arizona’s attempt to protect businesses who claim religious exceptions when serving gay and lesbians because the stupidity of columnists whose libertarian principles are as deep as birdbaths is a better target. Andrew Sullivan:

I would never want to coerce any fundamentalist to provide services for my wedding – or anything else for that matter – if it made them in any way uncomfortable. The idea of suing these businesses to force them to provide services they are clearly uncomfortable providing is anathema to me. I think it should be repellent to the gay rights movement as well.

My first thought yesterday: how privileged Sully is to live in a city with a plethora of florists, caterers, banquet halls, limo services, and bed and breakfasts; what about options for gay couples in rural Washington without money, who live in small towns where the opprobrium is suffocating?

A reader posted first:

I don’t want to come across as snarky, but do you think that maybe the fact that you live in one of the largest metropolitan regions in the world and have virtually unlimited alternative options for just about anything you’d want might make it easy for you to come to this opinion? Think about all the gay couples living in small towns, where the next closest florist isn’t interested in driving that far for a delivery. In fact, I believe you brought up a very similar scenario when it came to pharmacists in rural areas deciding they could refuse to dispense birth control to unmarried women on religious grounds.

If a florist doesn’t want to take the order of a gay couple, then the florist better lie about it.

Harold Ramis: “He made his own hats from felted fleece”

From the New York Times obit:

Mr. Ramis was multitalented: he was a skilled fencer and a ritual drummer, he spoke Greek to the owners of his local coffee shop and taught himself to ski by watching skiers on television. He made his own hats from felted fleece.

It could’ve been said by a Harold Ramis character. Watch the hairpin turn on the next quote, excerpted from an an excellent A/V Club interview conducted after Analyze This:

O: You mentioned that Groundhog Day won a comedy award, and that film will always be considered a comedy. But all those great Billy Wilder films, for instance, are also comedies with serious underpinnings, yet they’re considered classics bar none. Is it just that modern comedies have too much scatological humor and easy toilet jokes?

HR: Groundhog Day was pretty clean. It may have to do with some puritanical feeling that comedy is a forbidden pleasure in a certain way. They make you laugh, and laughter is somehow an inferior emotion to tragedy. Maybe that’s it. But in the real world, Groundhog Day got exactly the sort of reaction I would have hoped for: a really tremendous outpouring of support from what I call the spiritual community. People of every religion and spiritual discipline wrote me saying, “This movie expresses the philosophy of yoga better than any movie ever,” or the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Jesuits were writing me, Rabbis were preaching sermons on the High Holy Days about it, psychoanalysts were saying the movie is about psychoanalysis. So everyone got it, you know? It’s interesting that everyone tended to think that they got it exclusively. The Buddhists would say, “Well, no one else would understand it, but this a really Buddhist movie. You must be one of us.”

The philosophy of yoga. Sermons on the High Holy Days. Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

“Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to roast in the depths of a Sloar that day I can tell you!

David Denby’s review of Ghostbusters, which I don’t have in front of me, praised the cast for sounding like the New York hipsters they wanted to be and have never existed (Pauline Kael’s cranky notice, in which she consumes her word count complaining about the film’s budget, gets it wrong). Harold Ramis’ script is generous; each character gets a share of the zingers, including Annie Potts. Bill Murray was never more Bill Murray than in the delivery of “What about the Twinkie” (no question mark — that’s the key); it defines his approach to comedy.

Like most comedic talents Harold Ramis wasn’t immune to hackwork. In Baby Boom he plays a yuppie variant on Egon Spengler; he’s Egon as described in the Ghostbusters pitch. Multiplicity is a horrifying way to spend a snowed-in winter’s night. He loved performers, and would you reject the chance to work with Michael Keaton and Billy Crystal? I’m glad we all thought Groundhog Day was a classic — until Rushmore Bill Murray’s best according to respectable critics (Quick Change, Tootsie, Stripes…there’s competition). The wonder is how it finds a hundred twists on a one-joke scenario, how it turns Andie MacDowell, sipping sweet vermouth on the rocks, into an object of desire.

Ramis’ life was as strange as yours and mine. Read Tad Friend’s 2004 New Yorker profile. He devoted himself to an intense study of Buddhism. He came to predictable conclusions using novel formulas. From the profile:

One afternoon, Ramis and I had lunch at a tavern near his office. He began talking about another star of his early films, Chevy Chase. “Do you know the concept of proprioception, of how you know where you are and where you’re oriented?” he asked. “Chevy lost his sense of proprioception, lost touch with what he was projecting to people. It’s strange, but you couldn’t write Chevy as a character in a novel, because his whole attitude is just superiority: ‘I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.’ ”

There’s a Harold Ramis movie here too.

“Some low-income immigrants who live here legally to qualify for subsidies”

A development:

Florida lawmakers backing expansion of the state’s Medicaid program plan to mount a new argument this legislative session: That voting against extending the program would deprive low-income U.S. citizens of access to insurance that is available to some legal immigrants.

At issue is a little-noticed provision of the federal health law that allows some low-income immigrants who live here legally to qualify for subsidies to help them buy private insurance through online marketplaces. Poor U.S. citizens are not eligible for those subsidies because the law provided for an expansion of Medicaid to help them get coverage. A U.S. Supreme court ruling made this provision voluntary, and Florida was among two dozen states that opted out, leaving an estimated 760,000 state residents ineligible for either subsidies or Medicaid.

“It doesn’t matter where you are on the immigration issue . . . It’s a fairness issue,” said state Sen. Rene Garcia R-Hialeah, who has introduced a bill in the legislative session that begins March 4 to accept billions in federal dollars to extend coverage to hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

But in a state with a large foreign-born population, the immigration issue injects a political wild card into a debate that has largely centered on ideological differences.

Ya think? Mixed metaphor aside, the reporters suggest Floridians can expect a barrage of ads on the respectable side of xenophobia.