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03.09.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW


1. MOVIE The Watchman (2009)
This adaptation is extremely long and convoluted and so faithful to the book that you almost feel like you’re reading along with it, and yet, thanks to the able and, I hate this adjective but it’s fitting, visionary directing of Zack Snyder, this two hour and forty-five minute opus is actually fascinating. This is clear starting with the title sequence, so artfully done in slow motion, with 1940’s photograph poses, funny and smart and set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The soundtrack truly kept me going, the hilarious use of Leonard Cohen’s original recording of “Hallelujah,” the darkly fitting use of Nat King Cole’s nostalgic “Unforgettable,” and my favorite, Philip Glass’ “Pruit Igoe & Prophecies.” Add some excellent gory violence (real gut wrenching bloody fun scenes), all the conspiracy, apocalyptic notions, and very timely themes of terrorism and fear, the intelligent use of slow-mo and other comic-book-turned-movie clichés and you actually have something quite intelligent and worthy of a viewing.

2. ALBUM All I Ever Wanted Kelly Clarkson
It would be unfair of me to call this a return to form because I didn’t think the last album was a bad departure, but this does have the hook heavy, happy beats and breakup themes that made Breakaway such a huge success. The title track is a rocking ditty with yowls that are reminiscent of other powerful female vocalists, especially P!nk and a middle section where it all goes quiet, you can already imagine people singing along on the dance floor. “Already Gone” brings Clarkson into her power ballad best, synth strings backing her up along with a steady and driving beat that is hugely catchy. “I Want You” is an interesting change for Clarkson, embracing that British pop that has crossed the seas in the form of Lily Allen and The Ting Tings. I don’t hear a whole host of singles like her last series of hits (although “Long Shot” might prove me wrong), but her unique voice in a sea of redundancy is quite welcome any time.

3. ALBUM Welcome to Mali Amadou & Mariam
This album opens so completely different than previous works that you simply must sit up as Mariam talks over the hypnotic dreamlike production heard on “Sabali.” As the album moves on, the couple covers more familiar territory of striking drum and percussive combinations mixed with guitar riffs and beautiful African melodies. But there is new territory being charted here, especially with the hints of jazz in “Magossa,” both horns and organs, the retro rhythm switch-ups in “Djama,” and the English language drum and string heavy “I Follow You.” But it is songs like “Campgnon De La Vie” and “Bozos” that make me start to bust a move while I sit and listen, with that unstoppable spirit and love of music that this couple create, all coming through the repeated melodies, strong production values and everything else they do to elevate world music beyond a formula.

4. FOOD Sapori Trattoria
This Italian restaurant in Chicago offers up some yummy classics with a twist at decent prices. To start, there is a wonderfully fresh Caprese salad with excellent fresh mozzarella, although it could use a bit more basil garnish to be perfect. I highly recommend the mushroom risotto that comes out on a humongous platter and easily is shared between two, balancing the earthiness of the shrooms with the salt of the broth and rich Parmesan flavors. The stuffed pasta options, including pumpkin and lobster, are filled with hearty, creamy flavor. On Tuesdays you can sample from a tapas style menu, giving you a wide range of things to taste. Pair it with one of their affordable and tasty wines and finish it off with a massive slice of tiramisu and you have a complete, filling and faultless meal.

5. MOVIE The Last Emperor (1987)
This Bertolucci epic is definitely strange but amazingly gorgeous. Using flashbacks, the story of Empreror Pu Yi unfolds from becoming a three-year-old emperor of China to becoming a prisoner of a communist regime. The true history itself is worth telling this story, but the true interest comes in the hard to believe transformation from ritualistic society to modern life during one extraordinary man’s lifetime. Bertolucci’s visual acumen does a fantastic job contrasting what happens within the walls of the Forbidden City with the changing climate outside. The young emperor seeing his legions for the first time is captured against that glorious yellow cloth, the first sexual encounter with his chosen bride is captured in the deepest of reds, your eyes become overwhelmed in the beauty. Once you can forgive the fact that the movie is in English (seriously, why cast Chinese actors that can barely speak English and then have them speak English?), you get sucked into the rich cultural textures, the human struggle to grow up in any situation, and the shock we all go through when the childhood world we know suddenly crumbles around us.

6. ALBUM Cyclone Neko Case
This is another stunning entry into a growing and sonically impressive canon for this unique and vocally gifted artist. As usual, it is that voice, that crystal clear otherworldly voice that elevates all of the music, but this time Case’s songs have a bit more energy and upbeat flavor, accompanied by great back up singers with a more retro sound. “People Got a Lot of Nerve” has a great rock vibe, in “The Pharaohs,” the walking bass is accompanied by the complex strumming of a mandolin and riffs from a rock organ. I especially like the swirling acoustic guitar, and vocally challenging “Vengeance is Sleeping” and the ‘70s sounding “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” with its use of minor chords and vocal counterpoint that is almost ABBA-like. I could really do without the thirty-two minute final track, “Marais La Nuit,” which is just the sounds of crickets, but other than that misstep, the album is a success from start to finish.

7. BOOK Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
This was one of the most enjoyable “between” books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t help but feel like all six hundred and fifty pages were just an extended setup for what comes in the final book (which I haven’t read yet, so please, keep mum on the details). The sixth book is filled with the familiar Potterisms that I’ve come to know and love, the relationships, the school, the magic, etc. But Rowling’s genius is turning all of it on its head and taking what was once familiar and beloved and making it scary and dangerous. You willingly follow Harry on his latest adventure, the stakes becoming unbearable all along the way, raising questions of why we lionize certain people and turn them into heroes. Do we need these people to exist or do we create them because we exist? I just hope the movie can do this one justice.

8. AIRLINE jetBlue
I think it is a sad statement on how the world is turning that I actually get overjoyed and ecstatic about an airline that makes me feel like travel is easy, and yet here I am, adding it to my top ten list. Let’s start with the free snack, yes, you get to eat on this airline! Security was a breeze, without making me feel like a terrorist was being let through. Everyone smiled and made me actually feel like they wanted to make my trip enjoyable. And then there are the 100 channels of XM satellite radio and 36 channels of Direct TV. I had a baby next to me on one flight and despite some crying here and there, I could have cared less because my stomach was full and my brain sufficiently inoculated by multimedia. Is this really so much to ask from every other airline?

9. GALLERY Brian Leo is Every Soldier in the World at the Leo Kesting Gallery
Bright colors, familiar images, and pop culture confront you from the large canvases on display as you enter this Meat Packing District Gallery. There’s a large canvas with the Google logo in the center surrounded by amorphous blobs that on closer inspection are clearly sex organs and sexual acts, a wonderfully droll commentary on our use of the Internet. Another favorite is “Cat with Dust Buster,” confronting sexual proclivities through a humorous interaction between a feline and the household object against a neon orange background. On the upper level of the gallery is a huge collection of smaller canvases that combine into an overwhelming continuation of commentary on images that we see everyday but often fail to take in or really confront.

10. TV America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 12
This is the ultimate guilty pleasure, from the inane chatter of the girls to the “goddess of fierce” Tyra herself in ridiculous costume and preaching the gospel of “modeling through life.” The combination truly works, between Mr. and Mrs. Jay providing equal parts guidance and bitchy commentary about the girls, and the ever more attractive photographer Nigel Barker picking early favorites from the smaller, rather than his larger, brain. This crop of girls is completely indistinguishable from all other cycles, there’s the catty girl, the sympathy inducing survivor girl, the plus size girl, the slightly overaged girl. Throw in a few competitions on runways and in front of cameras and you have yourself an hour of delicious TV that goes down way too smooth.

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