News and Notes
Album - I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, Yo La Tengo
Movie - L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson
Book - Believers, Charles Baxter
TV Show - Sessions at West 54th, PBS
Web Site - Internet Movie Database
Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack, Volume 2
Baz Lurhrmann's hyper-modernized version of Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers was a two-hour exercise in sensory overload. As Romeo and Juliet, DiCaprio and Danes had to compete with hyperkinetic camera work, overloaded imagery, a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles setting...and a delicious soundtrack. Skip Volume 1 (the usual collection of singles) and head straight to Volume 2, where you can feast your ears on Craig Armstrong's lush score, sampled snippets of Radiohead, interwoven snatches of dialogue, and Quindon Tarver's remix of Prince's "When Doves Cry."
Tell Me a Riddle
"For forty-seven years they had been married. How deep back the stubborn, gnarled roots of the quarrel reached, no one could say -- but only now, when tending to the needs of others no longer shackled them together, the roots swelled up visible, split the earth between them, and the tearing shook even to the children, long since grown."
--from "Tell Me a Riddle"
Eat Drink Man Woman
Before breaking into the ranks of indie uber-directors with Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, Ang Lee produced a trio of films set in his native Taiwan. This is the third and best of them, featuring an amazing performance by Sihung Lung as a father trying to deal with his estranged daughters. While the film is a feast for the eyes and ears, it ultimately succeeds on the strength of its emotional heart.
They Might Be Giants
They got their name from a movie starring George C. Scott. They feature uptempo tunes, quirky lyrics, and a wide variety of instrumentation. (Accordion anyone?) They pack 19 rocking pop songs into 38 minutes, with titles like "Youth Culture Killed My Dog," "Hotel Detective (She Was A)," "Toddler Hiway," and "Alienation's For the Rich." What else could you ask for?
Fridays on HBO
The comic duo behind Mr. Show have created a modern rarity: a genuinely funny sketch comedy show. By resisting the usual pat cynicism, Odenkirk and Cross manage to create free-flowing bits that rise well above the ordinary. Cable lets them get away with the dirty stuff, and they never overplay the joke.
"One of the most beloved composers in the history of music, Johannes Brahms was perhaps the greatest symphonist to emerge after Beethoven. The composer of music of virtually every format except opera -- from chamber works to symphonies to concertos to choral pieces -- Brahms combined mastery of counterpoint with a lush and evocative harmonic sense to create music of incredible lyricism, vibrance and beauty."
Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
"But back to the Kunkel business. I can't get it out of my mind. I keep seeing Jim's face, lit red by taillights, in the long moments before the lines snapped taut, while Bill Nixon tried and retried to start his fume-spewing, out-of-tune Celica. It was all so profoundly uncomfortable; there was nothing to do but toe the grass and stare up at the stars in the sky, and listen to that revving and choking, and, of course, to Jim Kunkel, trussed, bound, spread out and spread-eagle on his belly, weeping. Heavy nylon test, the kind sport fishermen around here use to haul in tarpon, radiated from Jim's wrists and ankles, ran across grass and Jim's beautiful Japanese rock garden to the back bumpers of cars poised to travel different directions. I wanted to tell Jim it would be over quickly, that it wouldn't hurt. In fact I suspected otherwise."
Laconte has brought us bizarre little films such as Monsieur Hire and The Hairdresser's Husband. Last year Ridicule, the story of a provincial yet quick-witted do-gooder in 18th-century Versailles, earned him the French equivalent to the Oscar for Best Director. Despite a fairly tame plotline, the movie succeeds on the strength of its theme: the currency of wit and wordplay in a world that has forgotten about accomplishment.
Stating the Obvious
There is a practice in the publishing world derisely known as "logrolling," where authors offer effusive praise for the works of their friends who also happen to be writers. And while it's often viewed as some kind of artistic collusion, what most people don't realize is that writers usually seek out the friendship of writers for whose work they would gladly offer effusive praise. All of this is to say that the fact that Michael Sippey's words have appeared in the Media Nugget shouldn't keep you from trusting us when we say: "Sippey's one of the best writers the Net has to offer." Okay, don't take our word for it, just read his site, Stating the Obvious, which is updated regularly each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Before hooking up with The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock fronted the Soft Boys and presided over the creation of some amazing albums. The best is probably Underwater Moonlight, which represents the emergence of Hitchcock as a gifted songwriter well able to go beyond simple homages to Syd Barrett. Classics from this session include "Insanely Jealous" and "Tonight."
Touch of Evil
This may not be Welles' best, but the opening scene alone should put this movie at the top of any list of classic noir. Charlton Heston as a Mexican (yes, Mexican) narcotics investigator is just a bonus. Welles himself plays an obese and corrupt Texas cop, and Janet Leigh is wonderfully innocent as Heston's American bride. Welles set out to make the ultimate B-movie and with the combination of pulp-novel plot, camp dialogue, and sleazy locales, he inevitably succeeded.
Subtitled "A Silicon Valley Adventure," Kaplan's book chronicles the trials, tribulations, and eventual termination of GO Corporation, a late-eighties entry into the nascent pen computing arena. The story is fascinating, with its insider view of high-tech inspiration, venture capital, and skirmishes with everyone's favorite billionaire software mogul.
The God of Small Things
Told through the eyes (and ears, and imaginations, and emotions) of 7-year-old twins, this Booker Prize-winning novel is at once haunting and dreamlike. As the narrative builds towards the Event that will change everything, the children learn about family, culture, and the laws that govern who may be loved.
So what if it turns out that Michael Stipe really wasn't singing anything that profound. His intoxicating mumble and the band's distinctive sound launched "alternative music" irrevocably into the mainstream. The entire album bears up well under the ravages of time, and "Sitting Still," "Catapult," and "Perfect Circle" still ring true.
It was already dark, and would soon be night.
Gusev, a discharged soldier, sat up in his hammock and said softly: "Pavel Ivanich, are you listening to me? At Suchan there was a soldier who said a big fish came smack against his ship and tore a hole in the bottom."
He was addressing a rather nondescript individual known to everyone in sick bay as Pavel Ivanich, but there was no answer: the man seemed not to have heard.
Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight
The first-person shooter has come a long way since Wolfenstein 3D, but let's face it -- there's still a long way to go. Jedi Knight is a big step up from the current slew of Doom sequels, providing both great single-player gameplay and sophisticated multiplayer options. The kicker is the introduction of the lightsaber as a weapon, shield, and back-up light source. It's a welcome relief from the usual guns, grenades, and rocket launchers.
"Anton watched a patch of leaves pull away from the bank and eddy out into the middle of the stream. He squinted, turning the leaves into a brown jacket, his own, floating toward him as he stood above, watching. There was a small rock directly beneath where he stood. If he could make the leaves float toward the rock, touch it, he would have the picture of his own dead body, face down, floating there beneath him. Drowned. He concentrated hard, willing the patch of leaves to drift toward him. But the leaves caught for a moment against a branch and spun into a full circle, trailing behind them a dark green patch, slimy, changing the shape of everything. Then suddenly, for no reason, the leaves broke free of the branch and came to rest on a rock. Anton smiled. Perfect. The back of his head was just visible above the water, the dark brown jacket moved in the stream, washed by it, easily, and Anton inhaled the cold water deeply. Drowned. Dead."
The end of the Cold War has lowered the curtain on a frightening fifty-year struggle for ballistic superiority. Of course, the direct and indirect results of the U.S.-Soviet arms race include much of today's technology. (The Internet, for example.) In this engrossing history, T.A. Heppenheimer chronicles the events leading to the most dramatic use of high-powered missiles -- manned space flight. From the Nazi rocketeers to Sputnik to the Apollo moon landing, the book presents the people and politics behind the accomplishments, including a great deal of recently declassified information on the Soviet space program and its main architect, Sergei Korolev.
This is the keystone to the last nine years of rock and roll. Mrs. John Murphy is now Kim Deal. Black Francis in now Frank Black. And the Pixies are, of course, no more. Still, the sound lives on in this album. "Gigantic" was the breakthrough. Other standouts include "Break My Body" and "Vamos." This record is a classic example of everything coming together just right.
Play It As It Lays
What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.
Another example, one which springs to mind because Mrs. Burstein saw a pygmy rattler in the artichoke garden this morning and has been intractable since: I never ask about snakes. Why should Shalimar attract kraits. Why should a coral snake need two glands of neurotoxic poison to survive while a king snake, so similarly marked, needs none. Where is the Darwinian logic there. You might ask that. I never would, not any more. I recall an incident reported no long ago in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner: two honeymooners, natives of Detroit, found dead in their Scout camper near Boca Raton, a coral snake still coiled in the thermal blanket. Why? Unless you are prepared to take the long view, there is no satisfactory "answer" to such questions.
Joe Jackson has experimented with a lot of musical forms in his career with varying degrees of success, but the roots of his art lie here. Short, fast pop stories fused with Jackson's trademark humor. The band is tight and the songs are classic. Includes "Got the Time," "Fools in Love," and the radio standard "Is She Really Going Out With Him?"
Derek Powazek is best known for The Fray, his black and purple home for personal narrative and bleeding-edge story design. But his latest creation, Kvetch, is more than just a place for listless webheads to post complaints, rants and laments in real time. Kvetch is the future of the web -- continuously streaming soundbite-sized chunks of user-generated content. It's a brilliant move for Powazek: no pain-in-the-ass writers to deal with, no ongoing design for multiple browsers on multiple platforms. Just an initial push from Powazek was all it took to put this perpetual content machine (and ad server) in motion.
The Carpentered Hen
Before becoming the grand old man of the American novel, John Updike was the 22-year-old manchild of American light verse.
To An Usherette
Ah, come with me,
And we shall rather happy be.
I know a modest luncheonette
Where, for a little, one can get
A choplet, baby Lima beans,
And, segmented, two tangerines.
Le coup de grâce,
My petty lass,
Will be a demi-demitasse
Within a serviette conveyed
By weazened waiters, underpaid,
Who mincingly might grant us spoons
While a combo tinkles trivial tunes.
Ah, with me come,
Ma faible femme,
And I shall say I love you some.
Dear Mr. Cole
Jazz guitarist Pizzarelli and his trio (Benny Green on piano, Christian McBride on bass) offer an 18-song love letter to Nat King Cole. You'll recognize most, if not all of these classic tunes. From "Little Girl" to "Route 66," Pizzarelli's smooth, swingin' vocal style holds up ably in comparision to Cole's unforgettable voice.
London 0 Hull 4
Before heading one of the strangest bands of the 90's (The Beautiful South), P.D. Heaton and a few of his mates created some of the most infectious pop tunes of the 80's. Straight out of the "white soul" school, Heaton's voice is an unforgettable marvel, and the working class lyrics add bite to what might otherwise be trite. Highlights include "Happy Hour," "Sheep," and the Lloyd Charmers classic "I'll Be Your Shelter."
Wearing Dad's Head
I go along a dirt road. By a rude fence I see two dark-haired men, in white shirts, standing and weeping. I am hungry. I sit by the side of the road in the coarse, opulent grass and undo the bundle of the red-checked kerchief. While I eat, I watch the grieving pair, who stand very erect and silent as the tears drip down their cheeks. Their hands don't stir from their sides. They are brothers, I decide. "It's a shame they don't have a guitar or other stringed instrument," I think, "to elevate their sorrow into art. But alas, this is a poor country."
Remember those classic educational films where the narrator walks right into the process he or she is trying to explain? Well, here's a similar piece of work -- a book about comics told completely in comics. Of course, it's not just the novelty that makes this book succeed. McCloud's insights into the history, methods, and meaning of cartoon art are deeply engrossing. Whether you're a hard-core collector of X-Men or just the occasional reader of Beetle Bailey, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Understanding Comics.
What's Up Matador
Since the demise of SST, there's only been a single powerhouse indie record label, and that's Matador. Their roster reads likes a who's who of 90's college radio: Pavement, Bettie Serveert, Guided by Voices, Helium, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion,and a whole heckuvalot more. This double-CD gives you 44 select album cuts and unreleased singles from 29 bands, all for around 7 bucks. Pavement's cover of "Killing Moon" alone is worth that price.
The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien's magical trilogy remains among the most influential and enduring fantasy-adventures ever published. A classic battle of good against evil, it is adorned with endearing characters, a spellbinding setting, true valor, humor, and a clarity that is often lacking in modern life.
In danger of becoming lost treasure, the books of Wright Morris are often difficult to find, but always worth the search. Foremost among his more than 30 works are The Field of Vision, Plains Song, Ceremony in Lone Tree, and Collected Stories 1948-1986. Books of his photographs are also available, capturing in images the American Mid-West so beautifully evoked in his novels and stories.