Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" Pretty much the swan song for this pair, though they've never entirely gone away, certainly not as solo acts, where Garfunkel has perhaps acquitted himself best as a decent if too infrequent film actor, among other achievements, and Simon has proved to be a durable and sometimes great if occasionally effete and overly self-involved singer/songwriter. This album is patchy, more or less their Let It Be, a pastiche (popular move for the times, evidently, meaning 1970), but when it hits its stride it swells into something magnificent, as on the title song or "The Boxer," memorable hits of our lifetimes, so to speak. (I'm really giving away the whole boomer store here, but so be it.) It also spawned a couple more in the goofy throwaway "Cecilia" and the reliable "El Condor Pasa" (the Peruvian folk tune covered and covered and covered elsewhere and everywhere). By the time of its release I couldn't allow myself to take much advantage of the pleasures, too caught up in the intricacies of high school posturing, except for what streamed from the radio. But that was all right. The hits remain pretty much the best of what's here, and, as with oh say "It's Too Late" or "Help Me" or even "Stairway to Heaven," radio stations of the time were generous with them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sounds of Silence (1966)

"The Sound of Silence" Of all the albums I acquired as a result of joining a record club in approximately 1966, empowered by paperboy profits—a bunch of Gary Lewises, Cher's first solo, The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, a live Johnny Rivers set, others now forgotten, perhaps for the best—this is the one that sounds absolutely as fresh and vibrant as ever. I didn't even particularly like it at the time, beyond the hyperventilating dramatics of "Richard Cory" and "I Am a Rock." But all things in good time, right: out of a lifetime of mystification, suddenly an understanding of the role of Art Garfunkel, the tenor of his voice and the harmonies he brings to bear with Paul Simon, ever the auteur. The production and performances are brisk, proficient and gentle. The melodies are delicate and lovely. There's even an instrumental here, "Anji," and it works fine, though likely by reason of shrewd track sequencing. The lyrics, sure, they've pretty much all been in the oven too long, emanating from someone who may have taken his college classes on early 19th-century Brit poetics a bit too seriously (just guessing here). But songs such as "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," "I Am a Rock," even "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'," retain an urgency and appeal that just won't fade. Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that sentimental me finds a virtual trove of memories from song to song here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Border Trilogy (1992-1998)

All the Pretty Horses (1992); The Crossing (1994); Cities of the Plain (1998)

All the Pretty Horses features John Grady Cole as its main character. The Crossing features Billy Parham. Cities on the Plain features both. All three are set in mid-20th century southern Texas and New Mexico and northern Mexico, which seems to be the most obvious element tying them together as a trilogy, hence its name. There's also the stoicism, but that seems to be a constant in Cormac McCarthy's oeuvre. All the Pretty Horses is arguably the best, a fully realized classic romance of star-crossed love and its various dooms, with a stirring respect and abiding passion for the rhythms of the life that the land provided in its times. For me, The Crossing—certainly the first half and every bit of the story involving the wolf and the momentum it provided as far as I could ride it—contains some of McCarthy's most memorable and affecting writing, images and action and language striking like thunderbolts, or even like the nuclear detonation that closes the novel, a surprising, apt, powerful, unforgettable moment, nicely done. (No one writes better last pages, even last paragraphs, than McCarthy.) Both these novels work essentially fine as standalones, and rank with his best. Only Cities of the Plain, reportedly intended as a screenplay and adapted from same (and it shows), relies in any way on the foregoing, and perhaps too much at that, though I wouldn't say that's the problem here. Composed almost entirely, and mechanically, of alternating dialogue, which too often goes deep into the Spanish weeds and loses a monoglot such as myself (I was able to bear up under McCarthy's ongoing conceit of its untranslated use in the first two novels, their contexts providing much of the meaning, though not all), with empty frenetic action, it's as close as I've seen McCarthy approach yet to using violence as slapstick shtick (though haven't yet read either No Country for Old Men or The Road), and it's the one here that I think you can skip. But those first two are your basic McCarthy essentials.

In case it's not at the library (which it almost certainly will be ... the edition I'm pointing to is a nice Everyman's volume but n.b., cheaper paperbacks are definitely out there if you're looking for your own copies).

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

Another rock opera, and I must now confess a predilection, guilty and otherwise, for the gentle, heady, prog-inflected bombast of Genesis during the period when Peter Gabriel was participating in the adventure (and incidentally teaching Phil Collins how to sing, for which I may yet never forgive him). All bursting with English faerie lore, spritely spirit, and swoony orchestrations, the constructions are often lovely to behold, and certainly a comfort to live with. I enjoy them most when it's winter and there is snow on the ground, which I suppose must say more than I'd like to intend about the substance of their music (and no, I'm not in jacket and slippers smoking a pipe in this picture, or at least not a calabash). The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, perhaps because of its throughline (as weak as any of these rock operas), perhaps because set in New York City and starring a Latino, perhaps because Brian Eno is involved, perhaps because it marks the end of Gabriel's association, or perhaps just by some good fortune of timing, an accident of consensus, somehow seems to be the one album of theirs that bears the most enduring significance. But that's something you'd have to decide for yourself. To me, it's a good way in if you plan on any travel with these guys.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alex Chilton: Time Draws Nigh

Last weekend I went to see a movie at the downtown Olympia arthouse, which even on a Saturday night was hardly packed—I counted eight of us in total. We were there to see 35 Shots of Rum, and I happened to be the first one in, habitually early to everything as usual. The Capitol Theater is a nicely maintained old barn of a space that also books music. I've seen Jonathan Richman there twice, and Sleater-Kinney many years ago, in 1996, before I lived here. Sitting in the dark with my popcorn I noticed that the music playing was my favorite Big Star album, Third (I've covered it previously). Then, as if God and the universe itself were poking me to get my attention—more likely the college kids putting in their volunteer hours intuitively grasped the historical moment I had been avoiding—the reality of the death of Alex Chilton began to set in. It hurts me to think about. Bursting into the spotlight with "The Letter" when he was just 16, he was eternally youthful in everything he did. I came to his work late, in the mid-'80s, although obviously I knew the hits of the Box Tops ("Neon Rainbow" is the one I like best there). But Third, with its unique presence marked by a hollow, wracking pain that is nonetheless somehow uplifting, with its cover of the Velvet Underground song "Femme Fatale" and its bleak Christmas carol candidate "Jesus Christ" and most particularly its ode to an inescapable bottomless misery with "Nightime," reached me at a point in my life when it was exactly what I needed to hear, all of it, every day. I hated my life in that moment, and I got away from the worst of it within the year, but that album has traveled with me everywhere I've been since, a companion that has been there for me when I need it. It's important to me, and so was Alex Chilton. I'm sorry that he's gone, and I hope he's found a better place.

That's My Bush! (2001)

USA, TV series (Comedy Central)
Creators: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Carrie Quinn Dolin, Kurt Fuller, Marcia Wallace, Kristen Miller, John D'Aquino

Some things you should know if you're going to take my word that this is worth tracking down. First, while I have some appreciation for animated sitcoms—I love "The Simpsons," for example (as who doesn't?)—my preference is for real people and blocking and the three-camera setup and all that, which this basically is. I even appreciate the sound of laughter, canned or otherwise. Second, I have never developed a taste for "South Park," whose creators are behind this (and I'm afraid my excuse is that "the voices are too scratchy," but I do understand that's lame and fully intend one day to give it the fair chance I keep hearing it deserves). As for "That's My Bush!"—there are only eight episodes total to this brilliant Comedy Central sitcom parody. Each and every one is pure gold, spot-on and very funny, ripping off the likes of Jackie Gleason, "Father Knows Best," "Andy Griffith," "Dennis the Menace," "Mr. Ed," "Bewitched," and many more, all at once and repeatedly and in any number of refreshing, surprising ways. (There are even more or less animated characters showing up too, such as an antiabortion leader, with and without scratchy voices.) The thing to remember, this far out from those early days of the Bush administration, is that this is and always was intended more as a hopelessly loving parody of the classic sitcom form itself than derision aimed at the Bush administration, for the sake of which it was discontinued without looking back approximately one minute following Bush's public reading of My Pet Goat to a classroom of children in Sarasota, Florida. In that way it is also a fascinating document of the brief sliver of time when the ineptitude and unwarranted arrogance of Bush, Cheney & crew were still things that could be coped with by laughing (if one could overlook or momentarily forget December 12, 2000).

(For those following along, this concludes my list of my favorite movies of 2009, some of which were not movies and most of which were not released in 2009, though seen by me for the first time then. We now return to something that I'd like to think of as normal programming, with a stepped-up schedule of music along with "the usual" book club Sundays and "the new" "movie" Fridays, according to the limits of my stamina.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence (2003)

USA, 180 minutes (DVD), documentary
Directors: Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese
Photography: Tony C. Jannelli, Clyde W. Smith

This pleasant journey to a mythical land where we all agree, at least in principle on the major points, manages a few surprises here and there but for the most part it's an exercise in preaching to the choir, sketching in the broad outlines of the Hollywood film industry from the late '60s—more or less beginning with Bonnie and Clyde—through the '70s. And ayup, no doubt about it, they sure knew how to make 'em back then: The Godfather, M*A*S*H, Little Big Man, The Last Picture Show, Last Tango in Paris, The Exorcist, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, Young Frankenstein, Chinatown, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall, Apocalypse Now, on and on. Nevertheless, it's a remarkably fast three hours, peppered through with some of the greatest things you've ever forgotten (and never forgotten). I finally had to go running for a notebook and pen and make liberal use of the pause button to get down all the titles it made me think I want to see again—or for the first time, and this is supposed to be an era I know. The interviews alone are worth the price of admission: Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Julie Christie, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin, Robert Redford, Paul Schrader, and many more. A good time guaranteed for anyone who appreciates the period.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tommy (1969)

"We're Not Gonna Take It" Probably the first album I ever lusted after and eventually acquired solely on the basis of reading the overheated recommendations of a rock critic, the beginning of a lifelong habit for better or worse—I think in this case it must have been Nik Cohn's Rock from the Beginning. I admit that at first I found the vaunted "rock opera" a bit disappointing—when hasn't that happened as a result of the overheated recommendations of a rock critic? But over the years it has held up surprisingly well. Often under the charge of furiously strummed acoustic guitar and sweet harmonies, with Keith Moon's spastic and majestic drumming practically submerged in the mix, it's not nearly the noisy proto-metal headbanger you might expect from all the hoopla, endless live versions, and abominable Ken Russell movie. Poised just before the band basically raised the curtain on recorded versions of exactly that with the vastly more assaultive Live at Leeds, this sounds practically like a folk exercise in this day and age and is effectively their transition point from the goofy Kinks wannabe popfare of Sell Out and the like. And its moment is a lovely one. Calling it an "opera" in any kind of way at all is your basic misnomer, of course, in spite of its "Overture" (5:21) and "Underture" (10:09). But so what? It got my attention anyway, pretensions and all. And if I rarely take a listen to it any longer, doing without for years and even decades at a stretch, that only underlines the surprise and pleasure over how good it still sounds.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

USA, 99 minutes
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Photography: Peter Deming
Cast: Lorna Raver, Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee, Molly Cheek

I enjoyed seeing Sam Raimi working in the horror genre again—he has to console himself somehow for getting robbed of the Spiderman franchise, right?—and I get the impression he must have enjoyed it himself too because there are a lot of nice touches here along the way. My personal favorite happens to be a goat at a séance, which is very funny. Be sure to watch for that. Lorna Raver is absolutely inspired as Sylvia Ganush, the old Gypsy woman who throws a curse. Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, the overly ambitious bank employee who turns Ganush down for an extension on her overdue mortgage payments and thereby earns that curse, is adequate-plus as the youthful female tabula rasa over which all the abuse gets written. And there's plenty of chills and surprises right down the line. CGI is way overplayed, but when doesn't that happen nowadays anyway? But maybe I'm too old for the kind of heartlessness that finishes this one off? I know it's a time-honored tradition in some of the best horror movies to end on a gut-punch downbeat that also feels like a throwaway (i.e., Night of the Living Dead), so it's not as if it hasn't been done before. But come on, have a heart. Some interesting points here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

USA, 91 minutes
Director: Christine Jeffs
Writer: Megan Holley
Photography: John Toon
Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Paul Dooley

A pleasant and engaging dramedy of a struggling broken family in Albuquerque trying to get along, featuring an ingeniously unpleasant concept—the two sisters one day start a business cleaning up crime scenes. The premise is preposterous, of course. No organization that depends on such services, namely police departments and insurance companies, is going to let just anyone do the work. But never mind that. Comedy alternates with gross-outs, including one repulsive and touching scene straight out of "Hoarders," as the movie slowly drifts from promising into cornball territory, exploring the pains of the young women whose mother committed suicide when they were still girls. I particularly didn't see the need for imaginary CB radio conversations with said mother, but overall the whole thing is sweet and affecting enough. I think what raises it a notch or two more are the performances of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Adams is solid as a single mother and the type of person no doubt known by many of us, one who never quite made it past the pressures and competitions of high school, and now, a minimum-wage housecleaner, finds herself driven to a series of poor decisions and fits of pathological lying in a never-ending attempt to win the respect of her former classmates. Emily Blunt makes a nice turn as the disaffected, eternally cynical and sarcastic younger sister, a variety of klutzy punk-rock goth chick who can never manage to do anything right. Lots of good chemistry throughout, and Alan Arkin as the failure dad is fine as always.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Roman by Polanski (1984)

As a good American, I am genuinely torn about this whole thing with Roman Polanski. On the one hand, there's no doubt that he committed a crime, and a serious one at that, and arguably got away with it. But on the other hand I respect, admire, and love his movies so much (especially Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, The Tenant, and at least two made after the crime, Bitter Moon and Death and the Maiden), and believe they are significant and important enough that I want very badly to look the other way. I'll own that because it's an awful lot of great movies from just one artist, two of which would likely never have been made if the mob outside with the torches and pitchforks had anything to say about it. (There's also the issue, which I note in passing, raised by William Faulkner on John Keats: “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”) Then there's the serious and generally underreported problem, explored at some length in the 2008 HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, with the presiding judge in the case, who was removed from it for various ethical improprieties after Polanski had fled the country; they were not eccentric tics of interpretation, but serious breaches. Additionally, I think sexual predation of children is too often a grossly misunderstood crime, and certainly one abused on a regular basis in order to manipulate inflamed passions. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, because it does—and, in this particular case, did—but there are exceptions, which I sometimes think are probably more like the rule, and which in any event certainly mean that the extra mile always needs to be gone to not give the mob what it wants. All this said, Polanski's memoir adds still another level of complexity to the story by fleshing out the uniquely remarkable context of his life: his parents taken away by Nazis when he was just 5 years old, left at that age to fend for himself in the Polish countryside; as a youth, surviving and eventually escaping the oppressions of the Soviet-sphere Communist regime that followed World War II in Poland; and of course the well-known fate of his first wife Sharon Tate, who, two weeks short of giving birth to their first child, was slaughtered by the Manson group. More generally, Polanski's account contributes a lot to an understanding of the life that has shaped the sensibility that has driven an undeniably impressive body of work. So if tending toward a sense that splitting the difference here and just letting Polanski continue with his life and work as the best possible course of justice for everyone, all things considered, with Polanski simply required to endure the public approbation he has and certainly will from now on—if that makes me an apologist, then, well, I'm sorry.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Old Joy (2006)

USA, 76 minutes
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Photography: Peter Sillen
Original music: Yo La Tengo
Cast: Daniel London, Will Oldham

Kurt, played by Will Oldham, and Mark, played by Daniel London, are both in their 30s, old friends from college. Mark is married with a newborn infant and living in Portland, Oregon. Kurt has remained a lost and wandering soul. They have not seen one another for awhile. One day Kurt calls Mark and asks if he'd like to spend the weekend in the mountains camping—he knows of a great hot spring. Mark and his wife figure it would be OK for him to get away. So off go the two old chums, stopping on the way out of town for Kurt to get some pot, which Mark politely declines throughout. Their conversation along the way is desultory and keeps missing the connections. They stop at a restaurant to eat and get directions. They get lost anyway. They find a place to camp. They find the hot spring—which does appear quite lovely. They return to Portland. Say good-bye. Resume their lives once again. I hope I haven't given too much away. The one thing I can't give away is how or why it works so well. But it does. It's allusive and sad and ultimately quite beautiful, particularly in its final scenes, which offer no answers beyond an overwhelming and almost shatteringly wistful emptiness.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

UK, 98 minutes, silent
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Marie Belloc Lowndes, Eliot Stannard, Alfred Hitchcock
Photography: Gaetano di Ventimiglia, Hal Young
Cast: Ivor Novello, June, Malcolm Keen, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney

Very few silent movies that you see nowadays, particularly those with the greatest reputations, are ever actually silent—some, such as Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, with its score written by Chaplin himself, never were. And when you do happen to see one, the silence becomes positively intrusive, engendering a distracting kind of anxiety, which has to say something for how much music (leaving aside dialogue) contributes to the action of films, or at least our understanding of them now, and also makes one wonder about how the various live accompaniments back in the day colored the perceptions of a single film as it traveled from place to place. This Hitchcock silent, which I saw with its 1999 scoring, is no exception. Even if the music is a bit repetitive and not always synched perfectly to the action, it's charming enough and soothing for me just to have it there. I suppose this is all somewhat off the point. The Lodger is clunky as only a silent film from a director still learning his craft could be. At the same time, it's not hard to recognize the Hitchcock touches that would continue all the way to Psycho and beyond: screaming, terrified dames; a brutal serial killer who roams the streets of London knifing his victims (he strikes on Tuesdays); suspicion, anxiety, mistaken identities, questionable motivations, lust, jealousy, and a cameo by the director. The print I saw, transferred to a DVD for a circa 2004 product, was doubtless restored to some extent but remains old and damaged, losing detail to the point where occasionally faces are hard to make out. But it's worth seeing for anyone even casually interested in Alfred Hitchcock.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Blood Meridian (1985)

This remarkable novel tends to be typically identified as Cormac McCarthy's best, at least to date, and certainly it's my first choice, one of those very special books that is not only worth rereading but actually seems to get only better and better every time through. My first time I found it a bit difficult—the dense and allusive language, the murky plot points, the march forward across quintessential 19th-century American West landscapes and experience, overlaid by a skein of repulsive yet seductively beautiful horror, and the opaqueness of its ostensible main character, known only as "the kid." Another tour through let me see more of what McCarthy is doing, and incidentally made evident that, for me anyway, the real main character here is the ubiquitous, malovently charming, and always unsettling Judge Holden, who simply appears everywhere that matters. Him and the landscape of history. Wrestling. Alternatively titled "The Evening Redness in the West," which I think tells us more about McCarthy's intentions regarding bloodshed than sunsets, this tells a hallucinatory version of the story of America and its self-declared manifest destiny, detailing the violence, brutality, and casual cruelties of the usurpation and occupation of the far side of the North American continent, with a muscular language pulsing with hypnotic rhythms. The action often grows positively unworldly, as with one arduous trek across a desolate stretch of mountainous, boulder-strewn desert, and the whole thing feels like a dream that someone else is having, and probably would like to wake up from.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

USA, 106 minutes, documentary 
Director/writer/narrator: Alex Gibney 
Photography: Maryse Alberti, Greg Andracke 

Another decent documentary looking at the excesses of the Bush years in terms of its foreign policy, and another one already dated by developments that keep emerging (or that don't, but in which the stalling has advanced the story, to the degree it has been advanced, which is not nearly enough, as public concerns about it sadly sink into the sunset of his economic calamity). Focusing on the cancer of torture, a/k/a "harsh interrogation tactics" and the like by apologists, the unofficial official policy for which most likely started in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay but didn't really enter public consciousness until Abu Ghraib, this documentary examines the disappearance of a young Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar and his subsequent mysterious death at Bagram in 2002, relentlessly uncovering the horrific details as it burrows deeper and deeper for the information. Among them: Dilawar was beaten so badly that his legs were essentially pulped while he was still alive. All follow-up investigation has so far shown that he was guilty of nothing, but merely caught up in unfortunate circumstances; in the wrong place at the wrong time, as they say. U.S. government response: "oh no we dit-ten" alternating with "ooops." These things are important—this information has to get out. But they are formidably depressing too, and so, for better or worse, is this documentary.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Happy Trails (1969)

"When You Love" This one came tumbling through my life almost accidentally, an album vaguely recommended by someone somewhere and that I heard later creasing the background of a party (as I recall, and I don't well), weird live takes on Bo Diddley strained through a San Francisco hippie filter. At the time I was too easily charmed by the crowd noises and extemporaneity of live albums and hence drawn first to the section labeled "Where You Love." Later I heard the album again at a friend's, late at night, in the basement of his parent's house. We had to get up early for school the next day. That's when John Cipollina's brilliant guitar clarified itself, a thing raw and poised and urgent and probing and just about completely riveting every moment it is present. The section labeled "When You Love" quickly entered my short list of favored solos, guitar and otherwise, headed by Miles Davis on "Pharoah's Dance" and Duane Allman on the At Fillmore East "You Don't Love Me" and "Whipping Post." I have to say it still ranks high, although I'm not presently prepared to offer a more comprehensive ranking. That will have to be a project for another time.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

USA/Germany, 153 minutes
Director/writer: Quentin Tarantino
Photography: Robert Richardson
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard

I hear that Quentin Tarantino recently took to the lectern—one would like to imagine him pounding it with passion, red-faced and perspiring, but God probably doesn't love us that much—to make the case for himself as an official Auteur of the Cinema, as of approximately exactly the release of this outlandish World War II fantasy. OK, whatever. To me, that was obvious enough from Pulp Fiction (and fairly probable even with Reservoir Dogs), and I was ready to toss him up into the canon then and certainly am now. Maybe I have a lower bar. Or maybe the whole thing is a joke. But the point is that, at bottom, Tarantino operates at far more serious levels than just surface-gliding referential cinematics. Ironically, cynically, irreverently—yes, obviously. Even overbearingly. But undeniably tackling them. Consider, as just one example, the varying fates of the believer and non-believer characters in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's movies are rich with narrative and character and human interaction, and always steeped (arguably too much, as with this one) in an encyclopedic embrace of film traditions. I was prepared for my first disappointment here, dubious about a translation of Sergio Leone's spaghetti-western revenge syntax for the Holocaust story that willfully, even merrily, sets itself to trampling widely agreed-on sacred territory, basically making shit up as it goes along even as it attempts to co-opt sympathies via blatant manipulation. He just about pulls off the whole thing too—his only mistake is almost an incidental one, which unfortunately compounds itself: casting the overly smug Brad Pitt, who steps all over himself and the story and everybody else too in a crassly hambone performance. I could also do without the elaborate plot points and heavy-handed referents of the narrative climax, which take up the last hour or so. But watching Tarantino's movies is so monumentally entertaining and satisfying that I found myself (as usual) forgiving even his ridiculous excesses. This is overall not one of his best, it may even be his least, but when it's good it's very, very good. And, yes, he's an auteur. Let's close the book on that one now.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Computer World (1981)

"Computer Love" Kraftwerk gets off the train and opts for the keyboard just in time for the dawn of the era of personal computing. The result is practically the last thing anyone expected from electronic music at the time (or even now): simple, warm, and lovely, almost unimaginably beautiful at points, wistful and poignant, with moments of dry humor to keep it real. The machines, you might say, are providing the way in to our collective humanity, and here Kraftwerk demonstrates the practical applications. I listened to this first, when it was new, on one of those old cassette recorder/players the size of a kleenex box. No hi fi at the time. But even then the stunning beauty was entirely there. That's the level they are operating on here, and well, and still. And while it's certainly arguable that others have bettered this since, you'll notice that they are all standing on the shoulders of it.