8.03.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW
Broken iPod edition…
1. MOVIE Funny People (2009)
Before I say anything nice about this movie, Judd Apatow, please find yourself an editor that will make your movies a watchable, logical length. Yes, your actors are funny, but humorous improv can only occupy so much of the movie before my bladder explodes. Now that I’ve taken care of that, this movie is filled with flawed beautiful characters that make you both laugh and cry. Adam Sandler continues to demonstrate the actor behind the comic who can use his surprisingly successful career to turn in a lived-in human performance that is quite captivating. Seth Rogan is amiable as the wide-eyed sidekick given the chance to change his life, although he can’t get past his aw-shucks adorable exterior to become a full-fledged actor. Once stripped of all the excess, there is an interesting film here that takes bromance to a whole new level, from a cloying albeit accurate concept to a real demonstration of the importance of surrounding yourself with good people as much in life as when you face death.
2. WEBSITE In B Flat
This is quite possibly the coolest website I’ve seen in quite a long time (despite what I might have said about other websites in this column these past few weeks). You should really just click the link above and experience it for yourself, but I’ll give a little preview. Imagine you had every instrument at your command, playing just the right melody, and at any moment you can command that instrument to play, creating the most awesome mood piece imaginable. Now imagine if that weren’t some ridiculous computer program, but rather real people doing real things on real instruments on YouTube. That’s what this is! You control when each person starts, which instruments play, how loud each instrument is, when each person starts over again, and improbably, it all sounds amazing all the time. Serious fun and serious art.
3. WEBSITE Pandora
So indeed my iPod broke this week, and as I’m sure my weekly readers can understand, this is tantamount to the worst day of my life. But interestingly, it has forced me to change my listening habits and music flow, which has resulted in some happy surprises. Not the least of which is rediscovering Pandora, the music genome project, in which you do unlock Pandora’s box of music (because all you end up doing is buying more music). This was a college staple for study music, but going back to it, what a fantastic idea to type in a favorite song and artist and have the program choose new music for you from that one suggestion. The site has become more advanced over the years, now allowing you to add additional artists to create more variety. There are still some funky choices being made (no computer is perfect) but if you’re looking for modern classical along the lines of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, this thing can expose you to a whole new world.
4. SOUNDTRACK (500) Days of Summer
Yes, I’ve already raved about the movie and said it had a great soundtrack, well a week later of listening to Hall & Oates “You Make My Dream,” I still want to take to the streets dancing. It’s lots of indie music that finds that wonderful place between happy and sad, much like the film, coming from excellent bands like Doves, The Temper Trap (awesome guitar opening in the likes of Reich’s “Guitar Phase”) and the Australian led Wolfmother. Of course there’s The Smiths and a She & Him cover of The Smiths, two fantastic tracks from Regina Spektor (both previously released) and a sweet tune from an old Carla Bruni album. Wow, even just writing out that list, I now need to go and listen to it again… the perfect set of summer jams for a summer in which it never stops raining in NYC.
5. ALBUM Empty Sky Elton John
This is one odd Elton John album, his first album in fact, released in the UK in ‘69, not released in the US till ‘75 (and always a source of contention in my household because I love it and my brother hates it). It is filled with equal parts baroque riffs and Bob Dylan-esque lyrics. “Val-Hala” takes the harpsichord to new places, John’s voice slurring together in what is a beautiful meandering minor melody. Turning over to southern rock, he nails the hook on “Western Ford Gateway.” You can hear the strains of what will become “Tiny Dancer” in the sweet “Lady What’s Tomorrow” and the influence of Simon & Garfunkel on “The Scaffold.” But the strongest song is also it’s lone hit, “Skyline Pigeon,” which demonstrated John’s unbelievable composition skills that has kept his career strong throughout the decades.
6. ALBUM A Piece of What You Need Teddy Thompson
The son of folk-rockers Richard and Linda Thompson has put together an amazing countrified pop album for his fourth solo release. “What’s This?!!” rocks out with an amazing constant drum that gets into your soul with Thompson’s uniquely engaging voice floating over and finally breaking into a psychedelic interlude that has you jamming. The first single from the album, “In My Arms,” goes back to a Beatles beat, demonstrating major influences from Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers (also evidenced by a hidden cover of their “The Price of Love” on the last track) and contains an awesome pop organ solo mixed with hand claps and a cowboy yowl. “Turning the Gun on Myself” brings the album down with a piano heavy piece reminiscent of Randy Newman, if Newman could actually sing. All in all, an excellently listenable album from this “second generation” act.
7. ALBUM Mi Sueno Ibrahim Ferrer
In my musical shuffle, I found this release from earlier this year of the late great Ferrer, famed Afro-Cuban singer most known in the US for his work with the Buena Vista Social Club. His voice is husky and filled with character as he makes his way through fantastic jazzed up Latin tunes. He slows down and sexes up Quizas Quizas, a tune heard everywhere from Doris Day’s famous cover, to Sara Montiel’s classic to the opening credits of the BBC’s Coupling. “Cada Noche Un Amor” sounds like it could have come directly out of a ‘60s bossa nova jazz club, making you just want to get up and sway your hips about the place. An excellent CD to set the perfect mood for an evening of fine food and wine.
8. ALBUM Travesias Susana Baca
Continuing down this vibe, there’s Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca, who has always been one of my favorites for the beautiful lush modern orchestration of extremely poetic tunes. Mix all that with her unique sweet rasp of a voice and you have imported perfection. This, her 8th album, doesn’t have the same bite and ties to her roots, but she still pulls together an amazing set, especially with rich tracks like “Guillermina” which recalls her work on Eco de Sombras, and the haunting “Luna Rossa” flecked with violins over the usual Latin drumming. In a completely odd turn that demonstrates an up to date musical taste for this 65 year old, she covers Damien Rice’s “Volcano.” Singing both in English and Spanish, it’s fascinatingly faithful and yet completely unrecognizable to the original, all despite significantly similar vocal styles.
9. FOOD West Bank Café
This in-the-know pre-theater standby is much better than what results from most establishments receiving that title. If you can overcome the cruelty, the veal Milanese is delectable, matched with dill flecked fingerling potatoes and sitting atop of a lemon dressing and crème fraiche sauce. While I don’t believe in ordering chicken from a menu (because you make that at home!) the oven roasted chicken is tender and the skin scrumptious. And in a total shock, the uber-simple spaghetti and meatballs is quite fine, apparently, as our overly enthusiastic waiter explained, because of the combination of meats used to make the balls and then cooking them in the sauce. If you’ve saved room for dessert, you can’t go wrong with the chocolate mousse or cheesecake, but there is a rumor that the butterscotch parfait will “change your life.” I have yet to find out, but will, I’m sure, shortly…
10. MOVIE The Collector (2009)
Torture porn might not be for everyone, but if you enjoy watching people get eviscerated, clamped to death by bear traps and just about every other horrific possible and unlikely death, then you’ll love this little trifle. The opening is plodding and poorly edited, but once you get into the house of terror that becomes the wacky centerpiece of this gore-fest, the fun really begins. Not a perfectly honed piece, there is still much to enjoy in sweeping inventive camera angles, beautifully lit torture devices that gleam with magnificence and destruction, and an excellent sense of how to get a squeamish audience to the point of queasiness. And in the grand tradition of serial killer horror films, this guy is both smart in creating his devices, unbelievable human when it comes to combat and, of course, like the best baddie, Michael Meyers, indestructible. If you have the stomach for it see it for some interesting creative choices and some cinematography to die for… sorry, I had to.