Friday, December 29, 2006

Why Something's Gotta Give Is A Piece Of Shit

A friend of mine just reminded me about what is likely my least favorite film of all-time: Nancy Meyers' insulting, stereotype-laden and (worst of all) internally-inconsistent Something's Gotta Give.

What a piece of shit.  It's been a couple years, but its taste is still rancid on my tongue, as if recalling a mouthful of month-old compost (without leaves).  Rarely is a movie about relationships so eye-bleedingly implausible and imbecilic.  I never hate movies as much as I hate this one.  It takes a special film to make me react this violently, and it earns every F-bomb I hurl its way.

Why, you ask?

  1. The failed aspirations.  It tries to be a tale of fuck-ups finding each other (a la As Good As It Gets), focusing on the woeful tale of the middle-aged, unmarried female.  It fails so spectacularly to say anything, other than "it sucks to be middle-aged," and even that came across loud and clear without me having to sit through 2+ hours of crap.
  2. Entirely implausible characters.  Your romantic leads are a music executive and a writer.  Your objects of desire are a young doctor who's into older men, and a young woman so disposable that I can't even remember what her deal is.  Who cares?!?  They can all go fuck themselves.
  3. The writer/director's utter contempt for the male gender.  This is obvious to anyone within the first thirty seconds of film, and the rest of the film shows little in the way of sympathy towards any of her male characters except for Keanu Reeves' doctor, who is so vapid in his lust for Diane Keaton that to reward his character with virtue is an insult to anyone who scores higher than 12 on an IQ test.
  4. The judgmental, condescending gender lecture.  Listen, lady... Keaton is the biggest schmuck in your movie, and you chose her to be your voice of reason?  She fucked herself up, and fucked Jack Nicholson over for no good reason.  She is unqualified to teach me how to sort my fucking sock drawer, let alone the vagaries of mature relationships.  I will not accept any film with such a nudnik as its emotional center.
  5. The ending.  One of the worst, most asinine endings in the history of Hollywood endings.  The situation arises stupidly, extends itself even more stupidly, and resolves itself in the most fantastically implausible manner that it renders the entire film a total fucking waste of everyone's time.  Why bother with two hours of Nicholson's character being stubborn if you're gonna have him miraculously learn all his lessons over the span of a minute and a half?  Need I even mention that Keaton's character didn't learn ANYTHING in the process?  Oh, I forgot, she's a woman, so she's perfect, and God forbid I say otherwise.
  6. Worst of all, the fact that it masquerades as an incisive dramedy, deigning to speak to real-world issues, when in fact it's nothing more than a scattered, imbalanced smorgasbord of mean-spirited complaints about men.

But despite my best efforts to deny it any educational success whatsoever, Something's Gotta Give did teach me what it's like for women to watch male-oriented films.  It would be very easy for me to reach that conclusion based on surface elements, such as the contempt, the condescension, and the schoolmarm tone towards all men.  But I actually believe this to be true based on a clever trick in its story structure: it follows the rules of a guy movie, but with the gender roles reversed.

  1. It's the women who are forgiven for all their flaws, foibles, and generally idiotic behavior (Keaton).
  2. It's the men who are one-dimensional, unpredictable and inconsistent in their characters (Nicholson), if they're so lucky to have more character than a piece of ass (Keanu).
  3. The man is judged to be at fault when the third-act conflict is resolved.  The man comes to the woman in the end, not the other way around. 

What's more is that women don't even notice.  It's the reverse of what women must think while watching the romantic arc of your average guy movie (Dodgeball, Super Troopers) unfold.  Kate and her friend, with whom I watched this piece of shit, just thought it was another innocuous, cheesy girl movie.  They saw none of the condescension and such that I'd just endured.  Same movie, totally different reactions.  Of course, when Kate and another friend reacted violently to Sideways' depiction of jerkiness-as-male-bonding, it was the same story in reverse... they were livid, and I thought "huh?"

So I've decided, after some thought, and in spite of some very basic story/character problems in the screenplay, that the film at least makes a point.  Too bad that the point is made in the same manner as a dog owner correcting his/her dog's piss-puddle in the living room... rubbing our noses in it.  It says something about the quality of the filmmaker as a person, and goes a long way towards explaining why the movie as a whole is such a failure.  Anyone who's watched Michael Moore over the past three years can tell you that being completely fucking wrong in the opposite direction is not the solution to the world's problems, just as Something's Gotta Give does nothing for gender equity.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays

In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share my favorite Dick in a Box link thus far, from kottke.org, summarizing the high point of the video.  Verrr niiiiiiiiiiice.  The bottom of the post links to several tribute videos, which I presume are also entertaining.  Sure, I may not have clicked on the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head version yet, seeing as I'm at work, but I can't believe that won't be worth a look.

Honorable mention goes to Wikipedia, but only because the header of the article reads "SNL Digital Shorts (redirected from Dick in a Box)", which I find perversely entertaining.

Dishonorable mention goes to Busted Tees, if only because a t-shirt was the natural next step in the cultural progression.  The fact that they're already back-ordered by two weeks, when the video hasn't even existed for one week, troubles me.  Is that what happens to our nation's inside jokes?  We pummel them to death inside of a week because we're racing each other to see who make money off of it before everyone else?  This country is crazier than a dick in a box.


Annotated Rubies

Dan Bejar, full-time Destroyer mastermind and part-time New Pornographer, writes songs tailor-made for wiki-based documentation.  He deals in turns of phrase and clever quotes more than overt themes and stories; as such, nobody in the known universe has any friggin idea what's going on in any of his songs (including Bejar, I'd imagine).  Still, some of us would like to find some degree of meaning in the lyrics, whatever degree actually exists.  In brief, I'm intrigued by his ideas, and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

Luckily, there's the fan-maintained Destroyer wiki: almost every noteworthy reference, explained, catalogued, and summarized.  I haven't gone much further than the Destroyer's Rubies section, but I found it entertaining enough.  And the notion of a Bejar wiki is kinda funny in and of itself... he's so obtuse, we need a web-based non-linear documentation platform just to keep track of what the hell he's on about.  As someone who gets the joke, I thought it was fun.

(Fun aside: the link comes courtesy of Marathonpacks' excellent year-end list.  The author gets huge props for the following line, during his review of Danielson's Ships:

"The thing that sucked about Illinoise... was that, for all of his innocent, construction-paper pretensions, I still got the feeling that Sufjan just wanted to fuck my girlfriend."

Hehe.  Yeah, I bet Suf's quite the tomcat.  "Well, sure,
all things go, all things go... but all things come too.  The power of Christ compels you!!!")

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Favorite Songs of 2006

Realized I ought to do one of these too.  Heed the usual wishy-washy claims, wherein I'm merely summarizing what works for me, totally subjective level, blah blah blah.

Also worth noting is that I don't listen to radio.  KEXP once in a while, but that's it.  Point being that I'm not getting music outside of an album context, so I don't really get into single songs without grabbing the album too.  So this list may look strikingly similar to yesterday's.

Without further ado:

Top 10
10. The Rapture - Whoo! Alright - Yeah... Uh-Huh
9. Robert Randolph & The Family Band - Ain't Nothing Wrong With That
8. Neko Case - Star Witness
7. Thom Yorke - Black Swan
6. Midlake - Roscoe
5. The Decemberists - The Island
4. Hot Chip - Boy From School
3. Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day
2. TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me
1. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy

Next 10, In Alphabetical Order
Basement Jaxx - Hey You
Ben Harper - Morning Yearning
Calexico - Yours and Mine
Elbow - Forget Myself
The Flaming Lips - Free Radicals
Ben Folds - Bruised
The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations
OutKast - Morris Brown
The Raconteurs - Steady As She Goes
Sufjan Stevens - Adlai

And Just Because I Want To
Andy Samberg & Justin Timberlake - Dick In A Box (arguably NSFW)
Spank Rock - Lindsay Lohan's Revenge (definitely NSFW)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Favorite Albums of 2006

Everyone else does it, so I'm doing it too.  I haven't listened to every album out there, so I won't pretend that these are the best albums.  Besides, there's plenty of candidates out there that are "better" than lots of the ones I picked (Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood comes to mind) but which just aren't my style.  And then there's all that subjective horseshit that comes into play when you talk about "best."  So I've instead assembled my ten favorite albums of the year.  Those come later.

First, I make no bones about saying what the worst albums of the year are.

Worst Album Of The Year
Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
No contest.  After several tries, I remain entirely confused by Yellow House's critical success.  It's a boring, meandering, unremarkable turd.  Even their idea (beautiful lo-fi pop) is a piece of shit, never mind the fact that they failed to execute it.  Since when did Beach Boys harmonies become the indie scene's top priority?  This band sucks.

Put it this way.  Car trouble caused them to miss a gig here in DC. opening for TVOTR, back in October.  Their absence on that night ranks as one of the luckiest things that happened to me all year.

Album Diss Jeff Is Most Likely To Regret
Joanna Newsom - Ys
What a uniformly frustrating album.  I don't have as much rancor for this as I do for Grizzly Bear, but the people going nuts about it are way, way off-base.  Again, when did the lo-fi crowd become experts on "beautiful" music?  Of course it's beautiful next to the four-track crap you listen to all day.  Take away that phony-baloney faux-Bjork affectation, and she's chamber music.  And if I read one more review praising Van Dyke Parks and his pointless, distracting, non sequitur string arrangements, I'm going to buy a cello just so I can smack him in the chops with it.

At the same time, it's not an ineffective album.  I get why her music affects people.  And I appreciate the talent on display.  She's got this magical, "Peter And The Wolf" thing going on... you can imagine yourself floating around in Narnia with talking rabbits and squirrels and shit.  It's more a matter of whether I feel I'm missing out on something.  Which I don't.  She may slap together something praiseworthy later on.  This isn't it.

Dishonorable Mention
Jurassic 5 - Feedback
I got your feedback right here: Cut Chemist was your sound.  His skills allowed us to forgive your corny rhymes.  If you can't get him back, spare us the derivative Black Eyed Peas crap.  Depressing.

Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Because Even Though I Pretend Not To Care What You Think, Really I Do, Because I'm A Complete Fucking Douchebag Who's Manipulating The Grass-Roots Publicity System To His Advantage Instead Of Making Music Good Enough To Speak For Itself
These guys are fuckin' fakes.  Except their drummer.  That guy's a fucking demon.  I'll grant them that.

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - So Divided
...And you will know them by the trail of stupid horn and string arrangements.  I have no idea what the point of this album is.  It's neither as ingenious as Source Tags & Codes nor as mainstream-fabulous as the unfairly savaged Worlds Apart.  And it rocks a lot less than either of them.  There's good stuff here and there, but why bother?  If I want piano rock, I'll listen to Ben Folds' scattershot Supersunnyspeedgraphic for a few minutes, not your heavy ode to whatever indignant shit just upset you.  It's a shame that Pitchfork chose to hatchet Worlds Apart when they could have torn So Divided a new one instead.

Top Five Disappointing Follow-Ups That Are Merely OK
None of these are bad albums, but they are notable turns for the worse.

1. The Streets
- The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living
It's not that bad, but he makes the dip to irrelevance with this.  His whole thing is that he's gritty and evocative!  This is just a bunch of whining.

2. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
I've made my feelings abundantly clear on this.

3. OutKast - Idlewild
They get a mulligan for this, since it's not supposed to be a proper album, and they were clearly focusing on the movie more than the songs.  But lackluster nonetheless, with the blazing exception of "Morris Brown."  God-damn.

4. Guster - Ganging Up On The Sun
Keep It Together is one of my desert-island albums.  This has none of the bounce, and little of the charm.  Not worthwhile.

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Stadium Arcadium
So instead of just giving us one carbon copy of By The Way, they gave us two carbon copies at once?  They could have saved the second disc for 2010 and called it San Francisco Disco or something. 

Partial Credit
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Great stuff.  They're not a "special" band, nor are any of them individually that brilliant.  But they make a nice sound, and Van Occupanther is a mellow, pleasant, and highly likable album.  That said, the excellent lead track "Roscoe" elevates the rest of the album to relevance.  Without "Roscoe," I doubt the rest of the album would be noteworthy.  Still, I really like it.

Thom Yorke - The Eraser
"Black Swan" is one of my favorite tunes of the year.  If it were more radio-friendly (its chorus doesn't just contain an F-bomb, it balances upon it) it could have made a significant impact on above-ground pop.  But that's more a problem with the radio scene than the song.  The rest of this loop-fest of a solo project I can do without.  All the songs are pretty much the same format, with eight misses surrounding the lone hit.  At the very least, Yorke gets props for not subjecting us to any of this for the upcoming Radiohead album.  But for my money, "Black Swan" is indispensable on its own.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - Colorblind
I'm no fan of the blues or gospel, but RRFB is one of those cases where a musician's genius transcends his genre (or genres).  The songs are little more than constructs for showcasing his singular musical ability with the Sacred Steel, but this is a group whose collective talent renders the songwriting process unnecessary.  Give them a riff, and they will burn it into the ground.  On Colorblind's up-tempo numbers, specifically "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That" and "Deliver Me," the band comes as close as possible to reproducing their legendary live energy (and irrepressible joy) in the studio.  Unfortunately, the studio albums also subject us to a series of disposable, cookie-cutter ballads that have more in common with The Jets (or, less flatteringly, Franklin Comes Alive!) than Robert Johnson.  It's their prerogative, but I think they'd do well to stop wasting their massive talent on that garbage.

Ben Folds - Supersunnyspeedgraphic
Re-worked versions of songs from the EPs he threw together from 2003-04.  More a collection of songs than an album.  I give partial credit because the best songs were in pretty good shape as they were, making this LP kind of unnecessary.  But I still like a lot of it.  And I like it better than Songs for Silverman.

Honorable Mention
Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
Speaking of penetration (hey-ooo)... the ass-and-boobs obsession on display here is equally awe-inspiring.  He makes 2 Live Crew look like a bunch of whiny Morrissey-style asexuals.  And the beats are as filthy figuratively as the lyrics are filthy literally; you're immediately transported into a car full of people driving home from the club at 4 AM.  Unfortunately, I can't discuss this album without using a lot of "buts."  Spank is a compelling MC, and pretty talented... but he trips over that fine line between "ribald" and "perverted" a bit too often for my taste.  I enjoy listening to it... but I feel like I need a shower and a shot of Pepto afterwards.  It's a fun album... but how can I love an album that I'm ashamed to listen to in public?  You get the idea.  I think he should call his next album "NSFW," just so everyone's clear.

LCD Soundsystem - 45:33
This Nike-commissioned 46-minute concept track is further evidence that James Murphy is better suited to long-form tracks, like 45:33 and "Beat Connection," than the shorter efforts such as those found on the self-titled LP from last year.  He can fill an extended track to the brim with ideas and variations, such that it avoids monotony and entertains from start to finish; in that sense, short tracks don't really allow him to do what he does best.  The upcoming Sound of Silver, a collection of longer tracks that will certainly appear on any list I make next year, supports this theory.  But in the meantime, 45:33 is pretty sweet.

Elbow - Leaders Of The Free World
I really liked this album.  They've caught some flak for emulating Coldplay, but I think Elbow's rollicking take on the sound is much more fun.  The title track, lead track "Station Approach," and best track "Forget Myself" are brilliant.

10 Favorite Albums Of 2006
10. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Rubies is catchy and appealing in an ADD kind of way.  But the ADD thing prevents it from affecting me much... it's enough of an achievement just to keep up with Dan Bejar, let alone connect with him.  Still, there's plenty to like, even if it's not all that penetrating.  And I do have to stand in awe of Bejar's maniacal poetry.

9. The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love
They're the disco version of !!!... less funk and techno, more high-hats and cowbell.  "Whoo, Alright..." is an amazing song.  If there's a weakness to this album, it's that their sound feels very small and unassuming, despite the boisterousness of the songs themselves. Another case of "if they ever manage to capture their live presence in the studio..." syndrome.  But Pieces is still a fun listen.

8. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
Most underrated album of the year.  It's not as mind-blowing as Yoshimi or The Soft Bulletin, maybe, but for all that those records are brilliant, they are equally inconsistent.  The Lips don't have to redefine themselves and their music every time out.  Mystics is no slouch.

7. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
The most relevant album of the year, and certainly the pop album that will identify 2006.  But it didn't have much staying power with me.  When I get my fill of candy, I usually don't want much more.  But anything that makes Cee-Lo Green a superstar is worthy of inclusion.

6. The Roots - Game Theory
Still at the top of their game, and still pumping out criminally underrated music.  Game Theory is the kind of focused effort that makes you wonder why it took them so long to figure out that 15-minute spoken-word soliloquies don't play so well with general audiences.  I listen to Game Theory and wonder what could have been, had Things Fall Apart or Phrenology been this tight.

5. Calexico - Garden Ruin
Another great, straight-ahead rock album.  This one, however, comes from a band that had previously been more interested in evoking Mexican mariachi music than rocking out.  That stuff is okay and all, but I'm glad they toned down the expansive multicultural thing this time around.  Garden Ruin is deep, mature, and rich... still clearly grounded in the Southwest, but without the ersatz bandito stuff.  It's an extension of what they accomplished with Iron & Wine last year on the excellent In The Reins EP.

4. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
Between this album and Sam's Town, accusing bands of ripping off Springsteen has become the new vogue in music criticism.  It used to be "this guy thinks he's the new Dylan, but he's so not."  Now it's The Boss.  Please.  Since when is it a crime to follow in a tradition?  Bar rock is simple and derivative in its nature, but that simplicity is what makes it so much fun.  Besides, they get extra brownie points for being the first NYC band to buck the Joy Division/Interpol/Franz Ferdinand trend in indie pop.  And you know what?  Good for them.

3. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
TVOTR are as relevant and important as it gets.  The only valid comparison Cookie Mountain inspires in my mind is to Radiohead.  That's how big they are.  Tunde Adebimpe is a major vocal talent, and their sound is one of a kind.  Ultimately, though, I think they have better songs in them.  I eagerly await those songs, because they'll fucking blow everyone away.

2. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
I only recently stopped listening to it on a regular basis; it came out in February.  It's absolutely brilliant stuff.  If something this good had come from an unknown band, one that hadn't released If You're Feeling Sinister and didn't have the "they're so different now" stigma attached to them, The Life Pursuit would have been a runaway success.  Instead, it carries the extra baggage of having to accept B&S for what it is... which I could give a shit about.  I, for one, welcome our new chamber-twee overlords.

1. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
I cannot, and have not, shut up about how much I love this album.  The songs are simple, but simple in a "making it look easy" kind of way.  I'm not hedging with this one... this is both my favorite and the best.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Borat Lands Golden Globe Nod, Travels To Iran

This is no shock, since the Globes are more concerned about reflecting celebrity than emphasizing their own dignity, but Sacha Baron Cohen got a Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) nod for Borat.  In a perfect world, he'd follow that up with an Oscar nod, if only because nobody has ever pulled off what he has.  It's possible, given how weak a year it appears to be for Best Actor.

That's not what got me to post, though.  This is.

STATEMENT FROM SACHA BARON COHEN
ON BEHALF OF RECEIVING TWO GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS FOR

BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN; FILM NOMINATED FOR BEST COMEDY OR MUSICAL; BARON COHEN NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTOR

“I am extremely honored. I’m very proud as well for my fellow writers as well as our director Larry Charles, and our producer Jay Roach, and am very thankful for the HFPA’s belief and acknowledgment of our film. I have been trying to let Borat know this great news but for the last 4 hours both of Kazakhstan’s telephones have been engaged. Eventually, Premier Nazarbayev answered and said he would pass on the message as soon as Borat returned from Iran, where he is guest of honor at the Holocaust Denial Conference.”

Excellent.  It's stuff like this, the stuff that happens when he's not on the job, that makes Cohen's work resonate even more.  By continuing the subversiveness in his free time, he cements Borat's place in reality all the more.  He'd lose the is-it-real-or-not power of the premise if he discussed his show and the movie like it's just his job, just show business, to say nothing of losing the cultural/sociological weight it carries.  And in turn, because his characters are so plausible, he's able to take his character and shove it into ridiculous real-life situations like the conference in Iran.  Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gotcha, Bitch!

Most of this article is about the bait car program in northern Virginia.  Basically, the cops rig up commonly-stolen cars with hidden cameras and trackers, and nail anyone who drives off inside about four minutes.  Out of 73 activations, they've made 56 arrests, each of whom has pled guilty once they arrive in court due to the unmistakable video evidence.  Nothing special, just a good Metro section report.

Then this happens.

In one Loudoun incident that has become infamous among area police departments, a man stole a bait vehicle and was able to drive it from Leesburg to Southeast Washington because of technical difficulties. Police eventually got the suspect, minutes after the camera caught him smoking crack and masturbating. He had spent part of his ride urinating in a soda can, then drinking his urine to try to quell a case of the hiccups. He also vomited twice.

I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for this...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Jeff Loves Midlake



It's been a while since I listened to a new band and loved them instantly. I've been into a lot of growers lately, like TV On The Radio and Tapes 'n Tapes. So I am pleased to report that Midlake had me at hello. I heard lead track "Roscoe" on Gorilla vs. Bear. Loved it. I immediately went and grabbed The Trials of Van Occupanther. Loved it.

Van Occupanther is a throwback record, filled with mellow 70's-style AM pop. Soft piano, calmly pulsing bass lines, flute lines, and plenty of high hats. Nothing controversial, just a time-worn style. You can imagine pretty much any of these songs as the theme to some old sitcom about a wacky office. It's pure soft rock, in the spirit of Christine McVie's work in Fleetwood Mac, or the softer work of Elton John and Billy Joel.

(Hilariously, Van Occupanther is precisely the kind of music about which Joel famously said, "pardon my French, but lite rock sounds like soft cock." Yes, that's Billy "The Longest Time" Joel said that. Really. That's one of my favorite quotes ever. I'm thrilled that I found it online, and that my grandchildren will someday read it. Seriously. Try to imagine a recording of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin performing "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" in three-part harmony... with that, you're starting to approach the level of irony inflicted upon you by Billy Joel and his soft-cock quote. Almost.)

Aaaaaanyway, Midlake is pretty sweet. Is the album revolutionary? No. Is it cool? Decidedly not. But I'm a sucker for great piano pop, and that's what it is.