25 January 2009

Famous people talked to me? NYFF edition.

So here are some New York Film Festival flashbacks, when I got to talk to Steven Soderbergh and Mickey Rourke as part of the Festival's superawesome press set-up.

Everyone knows that I sometimes have a tumultuous relationship with my corporate overlords, so you can imagine my delight and surprise at having some material actually available on the big ol' website. So enjoy...

22 January 2009

I've Celine that face before.

So, an excerpt from my exigesis on last week's Celine Dion show got used in the Nashville Scene in their "The Spin" music gossip column, and you can read it here.

But there's more fun to be had on that front, y'all. Without further ado, here's my unedited thoughts on l'Affaire Dion.

Dion and on.

You know that feeling, that “I’m gonna sit in this car outside of this son of a bitch’s house with this bottle of Boone’s Farm until he realizes that we’re meant to be together” feeling? Well, Céline Dion does too, and even the most die-hard ironist had to bow down before the ‘wake up and love me’ passionate desperation of “To Love You More,” the 1996 sometime hit that she used to close the ‘Here’s the Hits’ opening portion of her show at the Sommet Center. We wanted some diva moments, and Canada’s most endearing export since Edith Prickley delivered in full.

Never anything less than completely committed to the songs, which she nurtures to maturity using melisma and Intellabeams, she nonetheless spends her between-song patter as a goofy spaz who loves nothing more than making silly faces or sincerely asking the audience’s permission to perform songs that people’d gleefully shelled out dollars to hear in the first place. If she weren’t so completely genuine, it would seem like Gena Rowlands-in-Opening Night madness, and yet you come away from the Taking Chances tour with the kind of respect normally afforded to civil engineers or a really adventurous chef.

Her commitment, especially during the ‘didn’t see that coming’ James Brown medley, her fits of floor-writhing ecstasy during her Andrea Bocelli duet “The Prayer,” and during a fierce barrel through her 1995 Francophone career-definer “Pour Que Tu M’Aimes Encore,” is unquestionable. It’s weird, though, how so many of her songs could be seen as other artists’. She’s had a gift for much of her career for taking others’ almost-theres and minor hits and making them into something major and epic.

“The Power of Love,” written and initially recorded by Jennifer Rush but then also a big pop hit for Laura Branigan, is now Celine’s. Her Jim Steinman collaboration was originally a minor UK flash for the producer’s attempted girl group Pandora’s Box. Tonight’s show opened with “I Drove All Night,” which was recorded by both Roy Orbison and (definitvely) Cyndi Lauper. And we also got a cover of Heart’s “Alone.” Similarly, we had Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” and a take on the Phil Spector/Tina Turner classic “River Deep, Mountain High.” That Dion is not a songwriter (often) is not up for a debate. But it’s fascinating that she takes the same approach to pop music as her fans do, finding the songs that speak to her and giving them voice as she sees it.

What she excels at are songs where there is some distancing factor; not to say some form of irony or dramatic device, but more where she incarnates a character in the song who is at a remove from song’s object. Perhaps a remembrance, a crippling regret, a dramatic shift between indicative and subjunctive tenses; these are the hallmarks of the truly exceptional Dion offering.

She shines as the outsider, whether as the shunted one who wants “To Love You More,” or the narratrix of the so-devastating-they-couldn’t-even-translate-it-into-English/’What would Bible Belt America think of this” “Le Fils du Superman,” or, in the shimmering, 60s girl-group coulda been “I Love You,” from 1996, where the subject and object of the song’s profound love don’t even get to speak to one another directly until the bridge.

And then, of course, there’s that Titanic song. And that’s the key to Céline Dion. You can’t approach her or her songs ironically (Oh, if only she’d recorded a theme song for Revolutionary Road…). That’s why The Mattoid’s cover of “My Heart Will Go On” seems like such a great idea in the abstract, then just becomes painful in the concrete. You have to give props to a woman who ties herself to the vicissitudes of pop music without hesitation. At times, that means feeling a bit like you’re at a show in Blanche and Baby Jane’s living room, but it’s unquestionably worth it.

Why does the heart go on? It’s a grammatically awkward and lyrically inconclusive song, and there’s not a single other big ticket diva who could tackle it and make it work. It’s not in their personae as singers to allow that much uncertainty into their work, and Dion thrives on precisely that.

When you listen to “Pour que Tu m’Aimes Encore,” or even its English version “If That’s What It Takes,” there’s an almost submissive streak in the lyrics, and that’s what allows her voice to thrive. Divas by the dozens use their voice to let you know who calls the shots, and Dion, with just an occasional shift in phrasing, says that’s not always the case. It’s why the only enduring ballad that Mariah Carey has ever recorded is “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” where she uses her silky (and hence almost completely unused) lower register for the first two thirds of the song. There’s a dangerous sincerity there that practically defines Céline Dion’s best work.

She has the rigid and fierce articulation of a drag queen, which is meant as a complement. Gestures carry a lot of meaning across, especially when dealing with as polyglot a fanbase as Dion’s. I’d love to see one of her shows in France, or Belgium, or Québec; it’s no secret I adore her Francophone material, and her whole policy of only performing one song in French at U.S. shows I find somewhat of a shortchanging. The glittery black bell bottoms, the toreador dancers, the extended Chrysler dancer remix that opens the show, even the ceaseless thanking of the audience. You feel like that’s just how she is, and she’d be doing it even if millions of people worldwide weren’t there to see it.

That joy and that drive, that’s rarer than unicorns or decent Vandy parking. Sincerity, even strapped to the hood of a Jim Steinman roadster like “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” punches through even the thickest of Lithium and Zoloft hazes, and it’s no surprise that the near twenty thousand faces filing out after the show were moved. I went with two pregnant women and an angel-faced vixen whose name was, in fact, Love, and we felt it for the rest of the night, the four of us.

"We're going to need a special locker for the hat."

Bow to Re-Re's hat. I mean, it really is something almost magical.

18 January 2009

At the movies: My Bloody Valentine 3D.

Call it another example of Polar Express syndrome. That film, viewed simply and in two dimensions, is borderline unwatchable. In 3D, it’s worth seeing if just for its use of physical space and imaginative sense of movement. Most films are improved by the addition of that extra dimension, even if it only makes a passable film into something interesting. As a regular, two-dimensional offering, My Bloody Valentine is yet another remake of an 80s semi-classic (and while countless reviews of this new version refer to the 1981 original as being minor, poorly-made, and even badly-shot, don’t you believe it for a second- there’s a grace of camera to that version that few slashers could touch) that, while light years ahead of messes like the remakes of The Fog, Prom Night, and April Fool’s Day, still doesn’t understand what its originator did right.

It’s got one big, movie-derailing problem that is handled dishonestly and in as stupidly Scooby-Doo a fashion as possible, and the three leads all seem way too young to be dealing with the ‘real life’ issues of their characters. That said, My Bloody Valentine 3D is an absolute joy. Stepping up and giving the audience real fear, fake blood, and a pickaxe-wielding psycho with some unresolved issues, this film is gloriously stupid and filled with the violence, nudity, sex, and pokey-things-which-actually-do-damage that 3D cinema has been needing. This movie opens with three consecutive massacres, and that’s just the first ten or so minutes. It has none of the subtlety, subtext, or gorgeous camerawork of its progenitor, but it delivers the kind of unironic jolts that horror movie fans and thrillseekers have been needing for what seems like decades.

At the movies: Defiance.

After the 1941 Nazi invasion of Byelorussia results in the deaths and deportations of over fifty thousand people, the brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski must evade death squads and capture in the forests they have spent their whole lives learning and living in. Over time, they provide a refuge for Jews escaping the SS death machine, finding their own place and community in the process.

Daniel Craig, refining his Munich credentials and helping drive a Jews-with-guns film, again takes that little-used cinematic archetype and makes it his own. Similarly, here’s a WWII film that tells a different story than what we as audiences and observers of history are used to, and director Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall) is allowed to make another little-told tale of war come alive.

Zwick follows his Glory template here, and it still works. It seems disrespectful to ask for a bit more leavening humor (the line “we’re accountants” is dark humor at its finest), but touches like that allow more life into what, at times, feels a bit bound. The three brothers are each fascinating personae, and each of the lead actors comes at things from a different place; I find Bell’s Asael’s arc to be the most wrenching, but there’s nothing to stop viewers from finding their own way inside the film. Like the Bielskis' community, there are many different ways of achieving a similar goal.

17 January 2009

At the movies: The Wrestler.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was one of the biggest names in Professional Wrestling during its late-80s heyday. But the intervening decades have been hard on The Ram, now reduced to autograph shows, ritualized bloodletting at small venues, and doing time behind a deli counter. Going nowhere slowly, with an estranged daughter and a nebulous relationship with exotic dancer Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), The Ram is feeling the hurt- of life.

Deafening praise has followed Mickey Rourke's staggering acheivement in this film since its premiere at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, and that's only increased with his Best Actor win at the Golden Globes last week. Comeback of the Year, people have been saying, and they're pretty much right: Rourke is vaulting out of his time spent in direct-to-video efforts and cashing empty paychecks with this heart-filled tale of redemption and violence.

Everything you've heard is true. Rourke is dynamite, inhabiting the wounded skin of Randy Robinson like someone who has been equally beaten down by life. Tomei is just as good, and director Darren Aronofsky has rebounded from his catastrophic 2006 The Fountain with his most engaging and accessible film. The script could have been
a movie of the week in the wrong hands, and Rourke and crew elevate it into a transcendentalist masterpiece of physical memory.

At the movies: Che.

Part One gives revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara the cinemascope biopic treatment, tracking the Cuban revolution he and Fidel Castro engineered against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Part Two, a more intimate and raw affair, explores Guevara's abortive Bolivian campaign.

Together, they allow director Steven Soderbergh to turn his scientific eye on the methodologies of a movement, and the end result is as hypnotic and weird a history lesson as one could hope for.

Benicio del Toro won the Best Actor at 2008's Cannes Film Festival with his portrayal of Che, even as countless ink was spilled about how uncommercial and odd the undertaking was (two films totalling four and a quarter hours, dealing with a controversial public figure, in a language other than English). But now, several months later, following remarkable success in its December Academy Award-qualifying run, Che becomes even more an object of mystery and surprise acclaim and appeal.

There's a certain ambivalence to Soderbergh's directorial eye, and it oddly makes him the perfect man for the story of Ernesto Guevara. Part One's procedural approach to building a political movement hits all the big ticket beats, with tanks and triumphant speechery, but Part Two's handheld detailing of the collapse of Che's movement is where all the good stuff is. It's got that weird 'going crazy, besieged in the jungle' feel of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, and with an exquisite supporting performance from Run Lola Run and The Bourne Identity's Franka Potente.

At the movies: Revolutionary Road.

Kate and Leo, back again!

Kate working, for the first time, onscreen with her husband, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition)!

A classic American novel served up raw and bloody for a nation coming to terms with its own legacy of expectations!

It's as refined a recipe for Oscar bait as anyone could hope for. Based on the acclaimed novel of suburban secrets and '50s frustration, Revolutionary Road reunites Titanic costars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as April and Frank Wheeler, who've found each other, suburban bliss is picturesque Connecticut, and a near-bottomless well of seething resentment from which to draw all sorts of hurtful and destructive acts.

Adultery, secret abortions, and using the children as pawns are just the starter course for this feast of misery. Revolutionary Road aims big; not only an indictment of domestic culture in the 50s, but also an attack on the Age of Titanic. It's no iceberg that tears apart our notion of idyllic cinematic love this time, but rather alienation, resentment, and even-then antiquated gender roles.

Sadly, it's such an unpleasant experience that it dilutes its own anger and frustration, and only Michael Shannon (Bug, Let's Go To Prison), as ECT survivor and ideological loose cannon John Givings, breaks through and detonates the film's hermetically sealed interiors from within in his two scenes. His is the voice that remains long after the film has ended. His are the words that define what
we've witnessed.

At the movies: Gran Torino.

Clint Eastwood is back in what could unironically be called Angry Grandpa: The Movie. His Walt Kowalski, a recent widower with unappreciative offspring, Korean War trauma, and habits of confusing racist invective for terms of endearment and growling at things which displease him, is a bizarre fusion of Dirty Harry, Archie Bunker, and Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge character Sgt. Highway.

Originally rumored to be a new Dirty Harry movie, Gran Torino has surfaced with a great deal of acclaim for Eastwood and a good deal of slackjawed disbelief at the film's script, which serves as an interactive history of American racism (including slurs you haven't heard since the last James Ellroy novel) and which peppers its 'men coming-of-age' narrative with gang violence and glimpses into the Asian immigrant experience.

In what he says may be his final performance as an actor, Eastwood is staggeringly good. The script is pretty terrible, and I worry what the result would have been if someone without Eastwood's charisma and cinematic history had tried to bring Walt to life and then gradually be won over by his Hmong neighbors. Gran Torino, for all its faults, is a distinctive mess, and it's like nothing else out there.

At the movies: Repo! The Genetic Opera.

In the not-too-distant future, an outbreak of organ failure has allowed the shadowy GeneCo corporation to make a killing providing artificial organs for the people. But if you miss a payment, GeneCo sends out its Repo Man (Anthony Stewart Head, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer), and your organs are repossessed in a splashingly gory fashion.

An adaptation of a theatrical piece, Repo! is grungy, imaginative, and like no musical in years. But its studio (see also The Midnight Meat Train) gave it the most perfunctory of releases, expecting it to die off. But its small engagements sold out, with people already dressing like characters, learning the songs, and organizing the first national Cult Film of the aughts, and the word spread slowly.

So is Nashville ready for this rather marvelous work? Director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saws II-IV) has a signature look, and it serves the tone of the songs and atmosphere. The cast, which spans the exceptional Head, former Andrew Lloyd Webber muse Sarah Brightman, Paul Sorvino, Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy, and Paris Hilton, is game across the board, and the songs are unique and may do for goth trappings, leather, and surgical fetishes what Hedwig and The Angry Inch did for guy-liner and sexual ambiguity. Regardless, the rock musical flourishes.

At the movies: Valkyrie.

Based on the real-life story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a ranking German Army official who led a secret group (including Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, and Terrence Stamp) to plot the assassination of Hitler, Valkyrie is a World War II film quite unlike anything that has come before it.

Trash was being talked about this film before it had even begun production, with the "Tom Cruise Nazi" movie becoming something of a punchline. But then people actually started seeing the film, and tunes started changing. Director Bryan Singer knows how to construct a good visual story, and we get a reunion of Carice van Houten and Halina Reijn from Black Book as well.

The big problem with this film is a historical one. We know that Stauffenberg and his collaboratiors sadly did not succeed in assassinating Adolf Hitler, so that messes with any heroic rush or adventurous moments that we're given by this film. That said, Bryan Singer follows up the exceptional Superman Returns with an engrossing thriller that gets at some provocative issues while providing an abundance of good performances.

At the movies: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the tale of a man who is born as an old man and whose body, as it grows older, becomes physically younger. With this unique perspective, Button is able to view the triumphs and tragedies of life in a way that no one else can.

After years of making adventurous films that pushed narrative and technical envelopes, it appears that David Fincher has decided to swing mainstream, and in the process, he's racking up countless critics' awards and praise with effusive comparisons to Forrest Gump and Big Fish.

Sadly, those comparisons are apt, as this Curious Case is stuffed to the gills with vague platitudes and what sounds like wisdom if you don't listen too hard. Brad Pitt gives 110% in the titular role, but so much digital work is involved in his performance it creates a vast disconnect with the audience. I'm happy that David Fincher is getting commercial respect, but let's hope his next film aims for a bit more than, ultimately, twang-y blather.

At the movies: Doubt.

In adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, John Patrick Shanley (the masterful Joe Versus the Volcano) gives us the acting steel cage match of 2008: in this corner, Meryl Streep as the tough-as-nails nun who takes no crap, and in the other corner, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the progressive priest with a secret. Grab your rosaries and some popcorn, because sparks will fly- this is the Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla of Oscar bait.

With its central Hoffman/Streep showdown, its addressing of issues of sexual impropriety amongst the clergy, and its focused and claustrophobic use of the central church school setting, Doubt is primed for Oscar gold. Already legendary character actress Amy Adams (Enchanted, Drop Dead Gorgeous) also shines as the voice of steadfast decency, and Viola Davis, always a mark of quality, takes a two-scene cameo and makes it an indelible portrait.

It's Acting with a capital A here, folks, with Streep tearing into her role with a steely presence at times reminiscent of The Blues Brothers' Mother Superior- it's hard to believe how ebullient she was in Mamma Mia! In comparison to this. She hits around eighty-five percent of the time, but when she misses (that is, the very end), it's a doozy. Theatre buffs and anyone who likes to see acting titans battle shouldn't miss this.

At the movies: Frost/Nixon.

Here's the backstory and intricate machinations that resulted in British journalist David Frost securing the first in-depth interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Built around screenwriter Peter Morgan's stage play, Frost/Nixon gives us Michael Sheen (The Queen) as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon and lets the tension drive the proceedings. Presidential power versus freedom of the press, and the winner gets to cash the check and reap the whirlwind.

Much like Doubt, another stage success making its cinematic bow this week, Frost/Nixon is an opportunity to watch two great actors spar. Unlike Doubt, you've got the original Broadway stars of the play recreating their roles, and the end result is a great study in conversation and nuance. But some attention must be drawn to the way the film diminishes the direct strengths of the play by burying the proceedings in framing devices and documentary talking heads to give historical context to who Nixon was.

It's very odd to have a film that seems determined to cover its bases with an audience that likely doesn't care about the downfall of Richard Nixon. One could come into Frost/Nixon knowing nothing about Tricky Dick and leave it reasonably informed, such is the degree that Director Ron Howard couches the film in history. But when it sets itself on the historic Frost/Nixon interviews, it's an
electrifying experience.

At the movies: The Reader.

In 1958, when Michael Berg was fifteen, he had a brief but passionate affair with an older woman whose only demand was that he read to her before they made love. Less than a decade later and now a law student, Michael finds that his onetime lover is on trial for war crimes and that she had been a guard at Auschwitz. Much angst and soul searching ensues.

As do questions of atonement, forgiveness, and misplaced erotic longing. So we've got a big budget film that gets into some very provocative moral questions, as well as an effort with several jaw-dropping change-ups throughout its runtime. As an erotic coming-of-age tale, a legal procedural, a testament to the shame of illiteracy, and as an illustration of Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil, The Reader tries to be all things to all people, which is impossible.

As a provocative film about moral responsibility and how decisions can reverberate throughout our lives, The Reader is fairly successful and genuinely unsettling, and its central performances are effective and useful.

16 January 2009

Alternate endings that could shake the world. 1: Pineapple Express.

Because I truly love Pineapple Express. WARNING: Do not click on this link if you haven't seen Pineapple Express or can't handle blunted-out love.

14 January 2009

A few things about Celine Dion.

So, here's the pick that ran in the Nashville Scene, which appeared exactly as I wrote it.

A big-ticket platinum superstar decides to play Nashville, and so little ink has been spilled? Does Celine Dion merit that little notice? We're talking about the woman who defined the sound of love for the Titanic age (incidentally, the age that ends when Revolutionary Road hits local theatres next weekend and all those Kate and Leo-inspired romances implode accordingly), a Québeçoise wonder whose "River Deep, Mountain High" on David Letterman made Phil Spector sit up and take notice, the voice who raises hipster hackles even while articulating the most secret fantasies of that secret place where MOR, easy listening, and Broadway lie and rut in fits of ecstasy and Junior High-pure simile… Her Vegas spectacle was a beautiful collision between Cirque du Soleil artsy and Sinatra-style big room showmanship, so God only knows what her Taking Chances tour will bring us when it settles into the Sommet Center; diva moments and big emotions, though, are a must, and color us all the more delighted for it.

Now here's the pick that ran in Metromix that I had done.

"A singer and occasional songwriter for more than three quarters of her life, it's hard to think of a time before there was Céline Dion. Just under two decades after her English-language breakthrough (the one-two punch of "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" and her featured solo on the charity recording "Voices That Care"), and (arguably) the world's most famous Canadian has been sitting, refined, at the top of her music, publishing, and fragrance empire."

So here's the unedited piece I submitted to Metromix. Note: this is not anyone's fault; I just didn't know it was only supposed to be 150 words. Oh well.

A singer and occasional songwriter for more than three quarters of her life, it's hard to think of a time before there was Céline Dion. Just under two decades after her English-language breakthrough (the one-two punch of "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" and her featured solo on the charity recording "Voices That Care"), and (arguably) the world's most famous Canadian has been sitting, refined, at the top of her music, publishing, and fragrance empire.

She could have gracefully retired after ruling the world for a good portion of the late 90s ("My Heart Will Go On" still dominating call-in request shows, karaoke throwdowns, and the live sets of Nashville's own avant-rock throatsinger The Mattoid), and she did take a step out of the limelight for two years to help her husband/manager/lifelong figure of mystery René Angélil recover from cancer and to give birth to her first child René-Charles.

There's never been a Québeçoise crossover on this level before (Two hundred million albums sold worldwide, still counting), and it's that veneer of otherness that has provided the forty year-old diva with a rather unique position amongst the world's big-ticket vocalists. It's impossible to imagine a Beyoncé, a Rihanna, or even a Barbra Streisand who'd make an international breakthrough with a song like "Ziggy (Un Garçon pas comme les Autres)," where the heroine pines for a distant gay boy (and sings, in its jawdropping video, in a locker room with many naked dudes), just as it seems impossible to approach Dion, the icon, in any ironic interpretation. Ana Gasteyer's inspired impression of the singer impressed Dion enough to have the SNL comedienne appear at her New York shows that year, and with a grace and winningly Gallic sense of humor, she simply absorbs criticism and refracts a sincere joy at the twists and turns of her life and career.

She is genuine even at her most artificial, a consummate entertainer as only the youngest of fourteen siblings could be, and gifted with a crystalline laser of a voice. A humanitarian (international spokeswoman for Cystic Fibrosis awareness, advocate for Hurricane Katrina refugees), global pop star (on the level of Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and her idol Barbra Streisand), and one of the few personalities who is equally at home with Max Martin's glistening Swedish pop ("That's The Way It Is") and Jim Steinman's Wagnerian rock epics ("It's All Coming Back To Me Now"), Dion is the opposite of auteur, diving into the heart of a song and reshaping herself to fit it.

Dion has that Karen Carpenter gift, able to soothe even when singing of unimaginable sadness, and it's this skill that has kept her safely adored in the Adult Contemporary set. Detours into lullabies (Miracle, her collaboration with artist Anne Geddes), chart-topping circuit collaborations with Tony Moran ("To Love You More") and Thunderpuss ("I Want You To Need Me")), R&B ("I'm Your Angel," with R. Kelly), and a rockier sound (last year's Taking Chances, with its collaborations with Linda Perry and Ben Moody) have found her stretching her legs, but she's always most at home with a beltable melody and a tale of some form of superhuman love.

Even the most skeptical of Dion detractors find themselves taken aback by much of her French-language material (particularly in her stirring takes on the songs of Luc Plamondon, Canada's most acclaimed French lyricist), with its dejected cynicism ("Le Monde est Stone"), tragic children ("Le Fils de Superman"), and dead-hearted tycoons ("Les Blues du Businessman"), and her 1998 album S'il Suffisaît d'Aimer stands as one of the classics of modern Francophone pop.

So now, her Taking Chances tour brings her to Nashville for the first time since her banner year of 1997, a decade-plus span that saw her "A New Day…" spectacle break countless Las Vegas attendance records, the birth of a child, cancer in the family, her beloved father's death, and a sea change in the economics of the music industry. Any one of those events could make or break another artist's presence in our collective consciousness; but there's a breezy consistency, a reassurance in Celine Dion. What with Springsteen's show last summer and now this appearance, it appears that the A-List acts are finally deciding to include Nashville in their itineraries again. As hearts do, so divas go on…

Celine Dion appears Tuesday, January 13th, at the Sommet Center.

And for those of y'all (meaning all of y'all) who want to see the video for Ziggy... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osiTZxgpxGY

It is doubtless NSFW.

08 January 2009

Accomplishments, if you can call them that, and a grand frustration.

So, I did some things in 2008.

I was Crispin Glover's photo elf.

I got to see Xanadu on Broadway.

I had a political theory proven right within thirty minutes of McCain's concession speech.

I've made a successful go of not having channels or the Internet in my home.

I finally lost the Christmas spirit completely.

I read all of the Dune books.

I designed curricula for three different possible Cinema Studies classes.

I had two of my photographs published in an international publication (Remix Magazine, December 2008 issue).

I invested locally in two start-up businesses.

I got my certification as a sexually healthy human being (which everyone should do).

I learned how to drive a stick shift.

I survived (barely) the scuttling of All The Rage.

I created this blog.

I saw Bette Midler in Las Vegas.

I had an amazing interview/ongoing adventure with Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin.

I learned that Caesar's Pizza really is the best in Nashville.

I read all the Harry Potter books.

I soldiered on after my house flooded.

I went to the one local wedding I was invited to, but still bear some grumbly rage at the six or seven I was not invited to.

I added Naproxen and Flexeril to my pharmacopia because of freaky biofeedback in my arms.

I saw three hundred and eighty-nine films.

I bid farewell to Constacia, my 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix, and welcomed Brangwen, my 1990 Saab 900.

I lost my weight loss mojo.

I read all the Sookie Stackhouse books.

I never missed a scheduled work shift.

I'm apparently being added to a decently prestigious survey of critics (More on this as it develops).

And despite all this, I still haven't been able to finish the first Twilight book. I've been trying since the day I saw the movie, and I'm still a hundred and fifty or so pages from the end. I've never had this happen with a book before, and I'm utterly flummoxed. I'll say this, though, for Stephenie Meyer; she's the first author who made me think that her book could have its own drinking game, and here's how you do it: everytime Edward says "tell me what you're thinking," you take a drink. Though it's not my fault if you die of alcohol poisioning before anything happens in the book, which you will.

2008 in Music.

BEST OF 2008

01 Blank Dogs/On Two Sides
02 Grace Jones/Hurricane
03 Kanye West/808s and Heartbreak
04 Wendy & Lisa/White Flags of Winter Chimneys
05 TV on the Radio/Dear Science
06 Ladyhawke
07 Girl Talk/Feed the Animals
08 m83/Saturdays=Youth
09 Lula/The Underground Sound of Portugal and Me
10 Ben Folds/Way to Normal
11 Janelle Monáe/Metropolis: The Chase Suite
12 Lindstrøm/Where You Go I Go Too
13 P!nk/Funhouse
14 Kleerup
15 Cut Copy/In Ghost Colours


01 Divide & Kreate: Kanye West – Love Lockdown & The Knife – Silent Shout. West's Autotune exorcisms never sounded so perfect as when put up against The Knife's nervy icescapes. Absolute perfection.

02 Cut Copy: Lifelike – So Electric & Fleetwood Mac – Never Forget. From the Australians' masterful So Cosmic mix, this is the kind of inspired pairing of disparate elements that made Girl Talk famous and makes even the most jaded disco denizen pitch a tent and weep a shiny, glittery tear.

03 DJ Earworm: Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone & Depeche Mode – Photographic (Rex the Dog Dubb). There's so much inspiration here that I shudder to think at what we'll get next. There's some key-changing stuff going on here as well, moving beyond mashuppery and into production elements, and damn it's a fine piece of work.

04 Torero BP: P!nk – So What & Guru Josh Project – Infinity. Short, sweet, and to the point. This takes two great pop tracks and makes them into something more than the sum of its parts- which should be the goal of any quality mashup. Well done.

05 DJ Earworm: Lady Gaga – Just Dance & New Order – Confusion et al. Near-exhaustive in its use of countless themed samples, but this actually works better and suits the vibe of Lady Gaga's track better than any of its official mixes.


01 Interpol – The Heinrich Maneuver (Phones). Like nothing either Phones or Interpol have done before, an electronic skirmish between quavering indie angst and deepest electrohouse expanses.

02 Bodies without Organs – Barcelona (Oscar Holter). Who'd have thought that Swedish pop at its most glistening could be so effortlessly turned into aggro Bodymusic? Holter's Ebb-y synths set off Martin Rolinski's vocals magnificently.

03 Kylie Minogue – Wow! (CSS). Pop glory, goofy and still timeless.

04 Sam Taylor-Wood – I'm in Love with a German Film Star (Mark Reeder). Finally, a retro-80s mix that sounds like it could actually have been popular in the 80s. Moody, propulsive, and smoothly energetic.

05 Kreesha Turner – Don't Call Me Baby (Digital Dog). Retro-pop turned dancefloor dominator by the careful application of exquisite synth programs. The diva house anthem of the year.

06 MGMT – Kids (Soulwax, Pet Shop Boys). Versatile for dancefloor kinesis and introspective disco moments with this pair of mixes, MGMT justified the hype with this enveloping anthem.

07 Hercules and Love Affair – You Belong (Riton Rerub). The spirit of Inner City and late-80s house steams out of this mix's grooves, percolating and pummeling with velvet snare hits.

08 Alphabeat – Boyfriend (Pete Hammond). The Remix comeback of the year, with ex-PWLer Hammond taking his sequences for Bananarama's "I Can't Help It" and making twenty years of dancefloor trends collapse in a glorious storm of handclaps and synth bells.

09 Britney Spears – Break the Ice (Doug Grayson). There was no better combination of Ms. Spears' breathy coo and hard-hitting programming; slight glitchy undertones that highlight what was great about the original production, while at the same time crafting a new context for its soundscapes.

10 Robyn – Be Mine (Ocelot). When this mix gets going, cutting up, resampling, and reweaving Robyn's vocal into a tidal wave of emotional uncertainty, it has the kind of power that few tracks ever really achieve- and it's all thanks to having a strong melody to play with.

11 Moby – Live for Tomorrow (Tocadisco). Part of the onslaught of stellar Moby mixes in '08, this is simultaneously progressive and nervous, with itchy sounds and the kind of boom-boom that worked on countless kinds of floors.

12 Da Groove Doctors featuring Tommie Nibbs – All We Need is Love (Out of Office). Passionate soul singing and stellar keyboard programming add up for this big hands-in-the-air track. Vocalist Nibbs (along with songwriter Duane Harden) provide the kind of passionate vocals that play so well against icy waves of keyboards, and the Out of Office crew take something good and then make it spectacular.

13 Sharleen Spiteri – All The Times I Cried (Eazy). Former Texas vocalist makes good with this twitchy floorfiller, and the synth stabs provide a provocative contrast with her rock-solid contralto.

14 Björk and Antony – The Dull Flame of Desire (Modeselektor Remix for Girls). As experimental a dancefloor pairing as one could want, with an appropriately out-there clubversion for Modeselektor. I find Antony's voice more at home with these icy digital beds of sound than with some of his more analog endeavors of the past year, but it's always a delight to have his ethereal voice kick it in properly hedonistic strobelit fashion.

15 Joey Chicago – Jane. As grand a filtered mix of Jefferson Starship's "Jane" as one could hope for. Not an official mix, to be sure, but representative of the kind of creativity that more White Label-makers should use in their track selection.


01 TV on the Radio – Family Tree
02 Lady Gaga - Paparazzi
03 Madonna - Heartbeat
04 John Legend featuring Andre 3000 – Green Light
05 Ladyhawke - Magic
06 m83 – Kim & Jessie
07 Big P.O.P.E. featuring Wale – Don't Go
08 Lindstrøm – Grand Ideas
09 Girls Aloud – The Loving Kind
10 Stars - Barricade
11 Alphabeat – Fantastic 6
12 P!nk – Please Don't Leave Me
13 Ben Folds – Lovesick Diagnosis
14 Snoop Dogg – Sensual Seduction
15 Jordan Lehning – You Don't Even Know Her
16 of Montreal – St. Exquisite's Confessions
17 Wendy & Lisa - Invisible
18 Glasvegas - Geraldine
19 Jennifer Hudson – If This Isn't Love
20 Usher featuring Young Jeezy – Love in this Club
21 Grace Jones – Williams Blood
22 The Killers - Human
23 Rex the Dog – Maximize '08
24 Goldfrapp – A&E
25 Helicopter Girl – Alien for Breakfast

02 January 2009

14. PTP.

2008 in Film: The Worst.

1 Righteous Kill
2 Star Wars: The Clone Wars
3 The Foot Fist Way
4 Mirrors
5 Quarantine

2008 in Film: The Best.

01 Rachel Getting Married
02 Wall-E
03 Synecdoche, New York
04 Let the Right One In (Lat den Rätte komma in)
05 Make-Out with Violence
06 The Headless Woman (La Mujer sin Cabeza)
07 Forgetting Sarah Marshall
08 [REC]
09 My Winnipeg
10 Phantom Love

Honorable Mention: Christmas on Mars, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Guerilla, Happy-Go-Lucky, Inside (A L'Interieur), The Midnight Meat Train, Paranoid Park, Pineapple Express, The Strangers, You The Living (Du Levande)

Actor: Sean Penn (Milk), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Actress: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky)

Supporting Actor: Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

Supporting Actress: Misty Upham (Frozen River), Dianne Wiest (Synecdoche, NY)

Director: Steve McQueen (Hunger)

Original Screenplay: Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

Adapted Screenplay: Tomas Alfredson and John Ajdve Lindqvist (Let The Right One In)

Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes (Afterschool), Christopher Soos (Phantom Love), Peter Sova (The Strangers)

Documentary: One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story

Music Video: Mylene Farmer's "Degeneration," Grace Jones' "Corporate Cannibal"

Coming in 2009 and worthy of attention: All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (hopefully), The Class (Entre les Murs), Martyrs, Summer Hours (L'Heure d'Ete), three different 3D R-Rated horror films (My Bloody Valentine, Piranha, and Final Destination 4), and David Cronenberg's first book.

01 January 2009

A big smile, a lot of laughs: "Shall we begin?"

A chat with Lisa Coleman. A hell of a way to start off 2009, with one of the most brilliant people in the music bizness.