Monthly Archives: July 2016

Add and subtract and as a matter of fact: Best of 1982

ABC – The Lexicon of Love
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Wise Guys
Duran Duran – Rio
Roxy Music – Avalon
New Order – 1981-1982
George Clinton – Computer Games
The English Beat – Special Beat Service
Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights
Prince – 1999
Lou Reed – The Blue Mask
Kate Bush – The Dreaming
The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now
Yaz – Upstairs at Eric’s
Evelyn King – Get Loose
Imagination – In the Heat of the Night
Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement
Fleetwood Mac – Mirage
Robert Plant – Pictures at Eleven
Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love
Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
Donna Summer – Donna Summer
Siouxsie and the Banshees – A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
X – Under the Big Black Sun
Warren Zevon – The Envoy
Rush – Signals

Singles 7/29

Notes:

– Boy, have I missed Danny Brown.

– Boy, have I missed Britney Spears. Ignore G-Eazy, as I am wont to do these days with vestigial rapping (see: Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q’s “All Hands on Deck”).

– I suspected 2014’s “Quarterback” was a fluke.

Click on links for full reviews.

Danny Brown – When It Rain (8)
Gepe – Punto Final (7)
Metronomy – Night Owl (7)
Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy – Make Me… (6)
Ayumi Hamasaki – Mad World (6)
Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons w/ Logic & Ty Dolla $ign ft. X Ambassadors – Sucker for Pain (5)
Miriam Bryant – Black Car (5)
Jonas Blue ft. JP Cooper – Perfect Strangers (4)
Kira Isabella – I’m So Over Getting Over You (4)
Katy Perry – Rise (3)
Drake ft. Popcaan – Controlla (3)

To doubt me is absurd: Best albums of 1981

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Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk
Marvin Gaye – In Our Lifetime
The Human League – Dare!
The Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat
Prince – Controversy
Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Trust
Luther Vandross – Never Too Much
Merle Haggard – Big City
Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing
Funkadelic – The Electric Spanking of War Babies
Yoko Ono – Season of Glass
The English Beat – Wha’ppen?
X – Wild Gift
The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
Rosanne Cash – Seven Year Ache
Earth, Wind & Fire – Raise!
Phil Collins – Face Value
The db’s – Stands For Decibels
The Clash – Sandinista!
Teena Marie – It Must Be Magic
David Byrne – Songs From the Broadway Production of “The Catherine Wheel”
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
Lindsey Buckingham – Law and Order
ABBA – The Visitors
Duran Duran – Duran Duran

Check, please! ‘Cafe Society’ needs more time in the oven

As he demonstrated in 2012’s To Rome with Love, Jesse Eisenberg is the best cast of Woody Allen alter egos. Garrulous and conceding nothing to audience sympathy, he has Allen’s verbal facility and none of the writer-director’s weaknesses as an actor. Cafe Society reunites Eisenberg with Kristen Stewart, the object of affection from 2009’s Adventureland for an innocuous divertissement set in 1930s Hollywood about a jeweler’s son falling in love with his uncle’s girlfriend. In 2016 “innocuous” is the best thing I can say about an Allen comedy, and if it rises to this level of skill at all it’s in large part due to Eisenberg and Stewart.

Steve Carell plays the uncle, superagent Phil, a kind of proto-Michael Ovitz who can’t construct a sentence without mentioning that he just got off the phone with Gary Cooper or had lunch with Joan Crawford. Reluctant to be pressed into service for the sake of Brooklyn Jewish relatives whom he has spent his life avoiding, Phil gives the naive Bobby (Eisenberg) token support: invitations to brunch, nonsense job as his courier, that sort of thing. To acclimatize him to the heady air, Phil hooks him up with Vonnie (Stewart) as a tour guide. During casual lunches at Mexican restaurants Bobby falls for Vonnie; she gently rebuffs him, reminding him she’s got a boyfriend, “a journalist.” Phil, who as usual can’t seem to leave his wife, discovers his own feelings with Vonnie run stronger than he anticipated: he wants to marry her. Shattered, Bobby returns to New York to work for his older brother Ben (Corey Stoll), a gangster who cheerfully buries rivals under several pounds of cement when they cross him. After a while the nightclub he helps run becomes New York’s it place, where the elite meet and the martinis are dry.

As busy as a lunch rush, Cafe Society includes cutaways to and stop-overs at the bickering Jewish family, the most memorable of whom is Rose, played by Jeannie Berlin as a cross between Elaine May in Allen’s Small Town Crooks and Alvy Singer’s mom in Annie Hall. Self-cannibalizing is Woody’s metier; add Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and her Sisters, and Manhattan to the list. And when he suspects the purple-haired biddies in the audience have fallen asleep he sticks a piece of curdled wit in a character’s mouth like, “Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but the examined one is no bargain.” All that’s needed is Bobby’s visit to a old windbag philosopher or rabbi, preferably blind (there’s a young philosopher in the movie, and I’m not sure Allen wants us to giggle at him). Vittorio Stotaro lights the Hollywood scenes like photos from Vanity Fair or Country Life, with an emphasis on aquas and whites, and he succeeds; Cafe Society looks crisp, the images have a glow. But if a writer’s going to title a film Cafe Society then he better write dialogue worthy of it, and the cafe scenes don’t come until more than halfway through the picture anyway. Although he keeps the thing moving at a decent clip, Allen’s lost much of his rhythm. Those family exchanges are like sitcom scenes awaiting laugh tracks. Carell fares worse. Decent at playing self-deluded fools, he merely looks foolish; it might have something to do with giving CPR to lines like “Dare I kiss you?”

If Cafe Society is a fly speck above recent Woody fare like Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and the interminable Blue Jasmine, credit Eisenberg and Stewart. With her self-contained melancholy, hooded expression, and skill with throwing away lines, Stewart can deflect any undue emoting hurled at her. She’s too modern in manner and speech for Cafe Society, which is appropriate: Woody Allen is too archaic in manner and speech.

Where’s my sandy beach? Best albums of 1980

Pretenders – Pretenders
Prince – Dirty Mind
Change – The Glow of Love
Captain Beefheart – Doc at the Radar Station
Steely Dan – Gaucho
XTC – Black Sea
Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
Diana Ross – diana
The Rolling Stones – Emotional Rescue
The Clash – London Calling
The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms
The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It
David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
The Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs
Gang Of Four – Entertainment!
Chic – Real People
Daryl Hall and John Oates – Voices
Joy Division – Closer
George Benson – Give Me the Night
Teena Marie – Irons in the Fire
Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel (Melt)
Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July
Chaka Khan – Naughty
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Kaleidoscope
Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy!
The B-52s – Wild Planet

The bat shit furor of ‘The Fury’

If nothing else, The Fury satisfied a craving that had been gnawing at audiences since the early sixties: what was the best way to kill John Cassavetes? Revealing the manner of his death would count as a spoiler, but I’ll say that the screen’s go-to man for piss-ant sourness gets a sendoff worthy of him. I wish I’d been in a theatre to watch it.

Released in the spring of 1978, The Fury was the apogee of a subcategory of disaster pictures in which ordinary men and women discover psychic powers and screw up the lives, often inadvertently, of their loved ones. The Medusa Touch, of course, but also Carrie, the Brian De Palma hit that made a star out of Sissy Spacek and showed the world the best way to fuck with a prom. In The Fury, Kirk Douglas plays Peter Sandza, a former CIA spook in search of Robin, the son kidnapped by a colleague named Ben Childress for the purpose of training him as part of a proto-X Men group of psychic warriors. But Childress is no Professor Xavier—to establish control, he orders that these kids kill their own families. Instead of paraplegia, he’s missing an arm; worse, the socket where the arm should be still hurts. Thanks to fellow psychic Gillian Bellaver, played by Amy Irving, who works at a more benign clinic, Sandza is on to the scheme (I should note that Irving, after being the mean girl in De Palma’s earlier film, finally gets to play Carrie)

But none of this horse pucky matters. What does is De Palma’s control over the stuff of teen exploitation melodramas and slasher flicks; he can’t resist mucking the distance between subject and object, observing and participating. In a scene similar in tone to the opening of Carrie, De Palma’s camera follows Amy Irving down the Sunset Strip, never taking its lens off her ass, sheathed in cut-off jorts. And De Palma takes his pleasures where he finds them—hetero- and homoerotic. In the first scene, Kirk Douglas and his onscreen son, both of whom are in excellent physical shape, wrestle on the sand while, again, the camera, panting, holds them in extreme close-up. How I long for an exegesis by the late lamented critic Robin Wood, who was alert to charged moments like this. Surely there are film majors who have argued that The Fury is the story of a young man in sexual crisis, bereft of his father and fighting the one-armed advances of another.

If cinema has any resonance in 2016, if it draws devotees of Marvel comic adaptations and of Olivier Assayas, it’s due to our healthy, edifying fascination with attractive bodies in rest and motion. As lurid as a pink rose in summer, The Fury is a splendid follow-up to Carrie and what I consider De Palma’s best pictures, 1980’s Dressed to Kill and 1981’s Blow Out. If it’s no masterpiece, blame a car chase that stops the movie cold and a bunch of aging actors thinking they’re delivering Academy Award speeches. But it has plenty of nail-biter moments—there are few images more terrifying than Kirk Douglas with his shirt off. And it’s got that ending, what critic Pauline Kael called the most spectacular send-off for a movie villain history. It’ll blow you away.

Thank you.

DNC, Day 4: Love trumps (!) hate?

11:34. A lawyer in spirit if not heart, Clinton isn’t a natural nor should she be — she’s married to the Black Hole of Empathy; her boss was the best presidential orator of his generation. Again, I can say nothing to the thousands of women in the crowd who adored it and her. She should be president, not Donald Trump. She has a left flank watching her every move, the same way the right did George H.W. Bush in 1988. I can’t remember the last time this happened — 1972? 1948?

11:17. It just hit me: what other presidential forebears can Clinton use? Obama can look at Bill, Reagan, JFK, FDR, William Jennings Bryan, Henry Clay, and what have you. Who can Hillary study?

11:14. The Israel, NATO, and climate change references have taken place in a hundred words.

11:07. I can’t remember another presidential nominee mentioning a rival so late in a speech like Clinton just did regarding student debt.

11:06. “Our economy isn’t working the way it should because our democracy isn’t working the way it should.”

11:03. “I believe in science!” she yells. We have to say this in 2016, not 1926.

10:57. I realize I’m kinda sick of criticizing her. All these dudes like me criticizing her. The women in the audience are overjoyed. And they’re right to be overjoyed.

10:53. Most commentators are men. They expect PASSION. No American woman’s ever been in Hillary Clinton’s position.

10:41. Ooof. Painful. She can’t stop a predictable Powerpoint 101 sing-song. When the crowd chants her name, she doesn’t even pause — she talks past them. About Trump she actually pronounced the clause thusly, “ISN’T SHE FOH-GET-TING THE POLICE OFFICERS?”

10:35. Bernie Sanders looks wary if not afraid of what his supporters might do. A “progressive platform into real change for America” is a phrase I never thought I’d hear a Clinton say — or a Democrat for that matter.

10:33. What’s up with her stresses?

10:28. Hillary looks nervous. Again, it’s appropriate. OF all the thousands of words I’ve written about the Clintons, let me allow myself this moment of pathos, What the fuck must she be thinking?

10:24. The most humane moments I’ve seen of Hillary Clinton happened last night when it looked obvious to me that she was clearly, powerfully moved by Obama’s speech; in response, she approached him slowly and lay her cheek against his lapel and closed her eyes. I can’t imagine any moment in American history in which formal rivals closed ranks so intimately.

10:22. “President Bush said what do you need?” “Twenty billion dollars.” “You got it.” Bipartisanship.

10:21. Clinton’s mom sounds formidable.

10:15. She does have an infectious laugh; it has something to do with her liking a good stiff drink.

10:15. Of course Hillary’s gonna be president — Morgan Freeman’s doing the voice-over.

10:14. Chelsea reminds me of Margaret Thatcher or Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings: “Look at me and tremble, motherfuckers.”

10:11. Mr Gingrich said we will bury you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It would be such a beautiful thing to do
If the Clintons read to their children too

10:08. “I never had to worry about a safe neighborhood. They taught me to care about what happens in the world.” Chelsea Clinton sounds like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing talking about the Peace Corps.

10:07. “When [Hillary Clinton] went to France to examine their child care system” is an odd sentence.

10:06. The Clintons sure love autobiography.

10:03. In twenty-four years of mild acquaintance, I’ve never heard Chelsea Clinton speak.

9:59. Cutaways show Bill Clinton and Tim Kaine deep in conversation, presumably about replacing Katy Perry with Jessie Ware for 2020’s convention.

9:56. Well, this performance should please the Human Rights Campaign gays.

9:54. “I don’t have a formal education. But I have a voice,” Katy Perry warns the crowd before reducing them to pebbles with her singing. She says something about Hillary Clinton dresses in her closet and Iowa.

9:52. Sorry, y’all. I was introducing The Fury at a De Palma film festival. I watched Xavier Becerra, forming part of what MSNBC commentator Joy Reid calls without irony the “extravagant display of patriotism” seen this evening. This includes a Pakistani citizen whose son died in service. “Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?” Khizr Khan asks the crowd of Trump, and I can hear the gasp.