Posts from December 2004
Finally, and apologies for lateness which was caused by a fire at my workplace. (I did not start the fire. It was always burning since the world was turning.)
FT TOP 100 FILMS
1: SPY KIDS
Martin Skidmore says:
This list was put together in the last pub of a pub crawl exactly one year ago, between Christmas and New Year. We started at #100, someone nominating a film they wanted in the list. It required a second, and was in unless vetoed by a majority of the eight or ten participants. By the time we got to the top, people were vetoing nearly anything. Traditionally canonical films got particularly negative reactions (my favourite film, Seven Samurai, is a rare art film anywhere near the top). The #1 slot intensified all these reactions, and we were all struggling to find something that might make it.
I’d had a rotten Christmas. I had a week and a half off, but had been ill with a particularly virulent flu starting before then. This was my first day out, the first time I’d seen anyone I knew, in I think eleven days. I’d also had Sky installed, complete with the movie package (there are 13 channels), a couple of weeks before. I spent a lot of time sitting miserably in front of the TV. I watched loads of films for the first time. I wasn’t sure whether I cared to watch Spy Kids, but the director, whose earliest work I’d loved, made it seem worth a shot. It was the best film I saw in that holiday period.
It’s not my favourite film ever, but with the prevailing critical tendency to favour things that wear their art on their sleeves, and the inclination to only accept popular entertainments as art well after their widespread cultural moment has passed, as well as the difficulty in convincing many people that things produced for children can be as great art as those produced for adults (it took books as astonishingly, undeniably great as Pullman’s to make the breakthrough in the literary world), I am pleased that we ended up with a modern film aimed at a young audience with no overt artistic aspirations as our number one (also I admit that it felt like some sort of trivial game-win to have my nomination at the top). Entertainment this good, this kinetic and jolly and funny and exciting, is very hard to make, and is horribly underappreciated.
I think I’ll leave it to someone else to address the film more directly and specifically – the Greatest Film Ever As Proven By Science* deserves more than one voice extolling it.
*science here = a bunch of drunks, obv
Pete Baran says:
Perhaps you might expect Spy Kids to top this list if it was being done with a bunch of twelve year olds. (Thirteen year olds really start liking films rated 15 by the BBFC). But no-one under twenty was sitting around that table in the Head Of Steam on the 30th December last year. It is a pub after all. So why was Spy Kids chosen as the best film of all time.
Oddly most of its challengers which were being flung thick and fast at the crowd got vetoed because people had not seen them. Spy Kids managed to survive this trial of fire, which when you consider the age of the film and the age of the participants is probably significant. Spy Kids is, for all the valorisation, a kids film. Yet a kids film which most of us had seen, and enjoyed. Certainly when I saw it I wished I was a kid again. We cannot regain our lost youth, but we can imagine how a younger version of ourselves would enjoy something. And we can enjoy it that way ourselves.
Robert Rodriguez, in crafting a kids film he (and his kids) would want to see hit the jackpot. Don’t talk down, but equally do not try and make the kids too adult. Consider that the end of the world is as serious to a ten year old as being bullied at school. In getting the family dynamic right to start off with, we then feel for the kids when they first fight to survive, and then get to rescue their parents. Think upon this years biggest hit: The Incredibles. Seen that plot before? For retired superheroes read retired super-spies: Spy Kids did this storyline four years ago. In gloriously day-glo live action and with the kids firmly up from and centre.
And about that day-glo. It is odd that in this list of misfit films and populist favourites that the number one film stands out as being by the director who has best claim to being a auteur these days. I doubt he would claim it of course (a good sign that) but if we are looking at someone with control, Robert Rodriguez has that in spades. Pretty much everything you see or hear in Spy Kids has come out of Rodriguez’s head. He directs, produces, writes, does the special effects, writes the music, probably makes the sandwiches. And it shows. There is no focus group blandness here. The family are Hispanic (get that from a major studio?), Juni suffers from serious night-time incontinence: all little touches that would not play in a Disney film. That he turned out three of these films in three years (Spy Kids 2 is as good: only 3 is weak) is both testament to his work ethic and creativity. And you know he is only going to get better.
The triumph of Spy Kids on this poll can be seen as a triumph for the little guy, albeit a little guy with big ideas. But most importantly this film is not here because it is by an independent auteur. Biskind’s Low Down And Dirty Pictures barely mentions Spy Kids, yet the films are probably the most profitable bankrolled by Miramax. You have to take kids films seriously, especially when they are this good. But kids films do not mean Disney, do not necessarily mean anodyne and can be great films in their own right. Spy Kids is.
We don’t often talk about covermount CDs here, and I suppose most of them aren’t worth a lot of attention, but I have one here that made me go out and buy a few albums by the people on it, so I think it’s worth highlighting here.
The free magazine with it is Hip Hop Connection, which is not much of a bonus, though it is an improving mag, with some decent writing here and there (I liked their Eminem review, for instance). But when you only pay £3.25 for a CD, you can hardly complain if the attached mag isn’t too great. The point is the music, and here it’s from two closely related (in that the owners are brothers) labels, and the artistes are at least partly shared. Psycho+Logical belongs to Necro, and as you might guess from the name, he is very into horror – this is the hip hop equivalent of Scandinavian death metal or some such, all horror movie quotes and dramatic, scary music. There seem to be some associations with Slipknot and Anthrax. Frankly it’s pretty laughable lyrically, and I’m not sure why I like it here and not in metal – probably just because I love hip hop and dislike heavy metal, and find this strong and forceful rather than lumbering.
It was the Uncle Howie half that made me buy some CDs, though, especially by Non Phixion – though most of the other tracks here are by the members of that group, producer and label owner Ill Bill, Goretex, Sabac. They’re white Jewish guys from NYC, and although there are still Death Rap aspects, they sound kind of like the Wu. That’s what hooked me, I guess – I’m generally more interested in hip hop for the sound than the rhymes, and rarely pay that much attention to the lyrics, unless they grab my attention and convince me I should. Here it’s the sinister and potent beats that grabbed my interest, kind of hungrier post-RZA style, and I can firmly recommend Non Phixion’s The Green CD (and the earlier The Future Is Now sounds about as good), which is going straight into my 2004 top ten. If you like NYC hip hop, this sampler is very much worth trying, for the price of a CD single.
Not much needs saying about this. It’s from 1951-53. It was brought to my attention by Dom Passantino, but originally rediscovered by RealInMemphis.co.uk. Note the second match on the bill…
Being back home means being back in front of the telly again for the first time in a little while. Also, because it’s Christmas it also means looking at the listings in the Radio Times, which throws up a few depressing tidbits, such as the fact that someone at Channel Four wants a battering for giving us an ENTIRE SODDING EVENING FOR FUCK’S SAKES of Avid Merrion-related programming, as well as an entire week whereby at least one programme a night is hosted byJimmy Carr. The real value, evidently, is tomorrow morning on Channel 5:
11:30 – How To Be A Property Developer
Heather & Jayne fall out with their builder.
A Long Hot Summer by Masta Ace
Most of my albums of the year are ones where I’ve seen plenty of discussion about them on I Love Music – Streets, Big And Rich, Smile, Tom Waits, Dizzee and so on. I just did a search on this album title, and found no threads, and three single-digit-posts ones on the artiste.
He’s been around a long time, and it’s partly because he has announced that he isn’t making any more records that makes me want to mark this, but it’s mostly because I think this is a really tremendous album. It’s one of the most lyrically interesting hip hop albums I’ve heard in a long time – mature and intelligent in ways that don’t lose strength and freshness, thoughtful and rather wistful, lovely and tuneful but with musical muscle backing it up – it sort of puts me in mind of the Wu if the RZA were looking for beauty rather than sinister force in his music, if you can imagine such a thing. He also has terrific flow: his big influence on Eminem is well documented, though Eminem has I think surpassed him in this regard, but they aren’t far apart in style or standard, except Ace is much less of a comedian.
It’s the lyrics that are the great strength here, setting this above just about any genuine hip hop record this year (well, maybe excepting Ghostface’s Pretty Toney Album). It’s the words of a mature and honest man who’s been at this for a long time, fairly successfully without ever being a superstar, and wants to tell us all about it, a kind of musical autobiography that seems to be saying a lot of new things, while not abandoning the staples of hip hop, the girls and money and bragging and so on. It’s full of strong and original rhymes. I’m sure it’s one of the albums of 2004 that I’ll be going back to regularly in years to come.
Mark S’ excellent experiments in cooking (see the post directly below this post) — especially his adventures in gingerbread-making and theories about raisins — remind me greatly of J.J. Thomson’s slightly bonkers
Mark S’ excellent experiments in cooking (see the post directly below this post) — especially his adventures in gingerbread-making and theories about raisins — remind me greatly of J.J. Thomson’s slightly bonkers “plum pudding” model of the atom, which was always the atomic model I had the most fondness for. Boring old Rutherford and his ‘gold foil’ experiments (gold foil with NO CHOCOLATE INSIDE, i might add!) and the others never came up with an atomic model that was NEARLY as pleasing as Thomson’s.
Happy holidays, everyone, and eat lots of positively-charged pudding!
THE DADDINO FAMILY TREASURY OF CHRISTMASES PAST
Today I’d like to share with a recipe that’s been a feature of Daddino family Christmases for decades:
1 lage watermelon
1 46-ounce can (about 6 cups) red Hawaiian fruit punch
1 6-ounce can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen pineapple juice concentrate
6 cups cold water
1 1-pint 12-ounce bottle (3 1/2 cups) ginger ale, chilled
Stand watermelon on end; cut thin slice off bottom to make it level. Cut top third off melon. Using cup as guide, trace scallops around top outside edge of melon. Carve scalloped edge, following pattern. Scoop out fruit, serve later. Chill melon shell.
Combine Hawaiian fruit punch, fruit juice concentrates, and water. Pour ice in melon bowl. Resting bottle in rim of melon, carefully pour ginger ale down side; mix with up-and-down motion. Float orange and lime slices. Twine melon with ivy leaves, holding with toothpicks. Makes 30 to 35 servings.
In mid-sixties cookbook it comes from (it shall remain nameless because it’s by an enormous copyright-hungry American recipe cartel), it’s one of two recipes that have been flagged as being really good…the other being Lemon Mayonnaise. Which sounds ick. And even though I have fond recollections of it, the punch is probably ick, too, as it mixes juice, juice simulacra and soda in a carnaval of high-fructose corn syrupy goodness. But who are we, oh dezinens of 2004, to judge, seeing as people drink Snapple Juice Drinks willingly? And that there are recipes for similar punches all over the net using raspberry sherbert, and I hate sherbert. Further, equally upsetting revelation: on a trip to the e-fecking-normous chain supermarket yesterday, I noticed Minute Maid no longer comes in 6-oz. of juice concentrate, only 12-oz. cans (which is fine as the family’s doubling the recipe this year) and 1-pint 12-oz bottles of ginger ale have also gone the way of all flesh, replaced by larger (and smaller) sizes. The moral: Americans are PIGGIER than EVER.
Incidentally, we never made this punch with the melon (or the ivy). Melons really aren’t in season this time of year, and besides, hollowing one out for punch is a really thankless task, isn’t it?
THE DADDINO FAMILY TREASURY OF CHRISTMASES PAST
I’m wearing one ugly fucking t-shirt: batik (again), blue, a non-licensed Snoopy carrying balloons, extra-clingy to show off my complete lack of physique. Plus I have to wear glasses now. It all started the day my grandparents come to school and notice I can’t read things printed on the blackboard without getting up from my chair and squinting. (Was my teacher completely oblivious to this? My parents?) It’s funny, I don’t really remember having sight problems at a young age. I don’t remember the world as blurry. In fact, I can remember being able to read storefronts and road signs glasses-free I probably wouldn’t be able to read now. So I’m assuming my vision must’ve taken a massive nose-dive from the mid to late seventies, then kept getting steadily worse to the point where, by the late eighties, other glasses wearers would look through my own pair and say to me “LIKE OHMYGOD YOU’RE SO BLIND!” (On the other hand, if I had crappy vision even as a young child, my glasslessness would serve a very convenient scapegoat on which to blame my initial and subsequent ineptitude at sports.)
Those blue flares were the family’s earliest tree ornaments, appearing in the photos documenting the first Christmas my parents spent together as a married couple. They were glass bulbs, some shaped like a fat teardrop, the others (perhaps purchased later) bulging in the middle and tapered at the ends. Alone on a tree save for garlands of silver tinsel, they made for an elegantally minimalist tree for an elegantly minimalist apartment, as compared to the embroidered patchwork craziness that comes from putting several decades’ worth of Xmas purchases on the unruly branches of a real pine. In January 1973 they’re put in the attic (as close to Gothic as you can get in my house, only accessible via small holes in my brothers’ closet’s ceilings and opened not much more than twice a year) and don’t come down again until 1979, by which time these thin glass things have had a good thirteen years of minute expansion and contraction with the extremes of Long Island summers and winters, evidenced by the slight crackle patterns in their blue paint. So almost from the minute we put them on the tree, they shattered POP! POP! POP!, one every hour or so, leaving a mess of blue and silver shards on the tree, on the presents, on the carpet for my mom to clean up, again and again and again. Thinking it was the Christmas lights doing them in, we tried re-positioning them on the tree but it didn’t make one damned bit of difference. In a final fit of masochism, we placed the remaining few on next year’s tree.
POP FACTOR: 760 CONTROVERSY RATING: 187
This one has it all!*
- Classy Cocktail Kylie but with added good song!
- Smooth and modish production
- Genuinely good lyrics (“I don’t believe I’d fall in love just topass the time”)
- Great whispering bits!
- Middle eight that gets the moves going on the office party dancefloor (as proven last Friday, cheers Ms Minogue)
- A proper ending, and quite an arch one too.
*except a good singer. Oh well. 8 (Tom Ewing)
One of the greatest singles of the year. Unlike a certain other single recently reviewed by the Square Table, this is immediate (without kitsch), fluid (without limpness), and permanent (without obnoxiousness). And the lyrics (“I don’t believe I’d love somebody just to pass the time / but I believe in you”) are great too. 10 + JOKER (Atnevon)
As opposed to her asensual dreams of late, Kylie has slipped back into the lush orgasmic universe with “I Believe In You.” A Moroder-synth-throb produced by Jake Shears and Babydaddy from the Scissor Sisters, this is a song dedicated to Pop religion: Kylie and the listener are willing to believe the dream. The endless repetition and the robotic synth beat are enchanting. It all feels remote and alluring at the same time. This is “I feel love” for the 21st century, a coke-filled fantasy you can’t escape. 8 (stevienixed)
So light perfect for day dreaming. Treads the space inbetween “Spinning Around” and “Slow” perfectly and although throughly constant in pace it never bores or drags. Could have been so easily spoilt by over complication but thankfully isn’t. Kylie has left the dancefloor people. 8 (Paul Thomas)
It feels Kylie-by-numbers from the word go, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Scissor Sisters turn in quite a decent string-laden tech-disco production complete with fiddles (so hot right now!) adorning the middle eight and ending nicely. Kylie’s breathy chorus almost operatic were only her voice capable of such grandeur (I’m quite glad it isn’t I think), but it’s well conceived, and concealed. It illustrates the difference between laziness and effortlessness pretty well, as despite the ‘knocked out sharpish’ feeling I can’t help but get from it, there are some sublime moments that strike me as as perfect as anything from the cream of her earlier work. 8 (SteveM)
K is for Kyle and K-hole and that’s just being redundant. This is what the girl in that old “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” album cover must have felt like: oily and beautiful and swimming in soft soft white. Not many songs make me want to turn on the iTunes visualizer to “watch along” but that’s exactly what this one did. Couldn’t be more vapid and dreamy and that’s just fine. But listen, could I just touch you? I mean, to make sure you’re real and stuff? 7 (forksclovetofu)
Like an old pair of shoes, new Kylie singles these days are pretty comfortable and reliable. She may misfire now and then, but we believe in her! The only complaint I have about this collaboration with the Scissor Sisters is that her voice overpowers the shiny synth hook in the chorus, when it should be the other way around. Otherwise, business as usual. 7 (Michael F. Gill)
We take Kylie for granted now, but who thought, nearly twenty years back when she had a hit with ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, that she had any chance of a long and successful music career? Anyway, this is another good single, sweet and pretty, with a slightly mournful almost-’80s electro beat (maybe that’s what made me think back to her ’80s stuff, though obviously she didn’t sound like this then), which doesn’t entirely match the very positive lyric. It’s a nice tune, and the production layering is very attractive. A drawback is that her voice doesn’t really get the expressiveness it reaches for in parts, but I don’t think that turns out to be very costly to the overall success. I dislike the silly noise on the ‘joker’s always smiling’ line (exactly the kind of moment of aural humour that Shadow Morton always got perfectly right), but otherwise I like this. 7 (Martin Skidmore)
The Product has been perfected over many years, but the visible seams and stiches on the music (and body) spoil the effect almost totally. Here, the [half-]track is merely an 80s pastiche that sound uncomfortably similar to New Order played at +16 (tightly sequenced bassline / nervous singing / vague melancholy / crap lyrics written on a napkin). It’s merely a langorous electronic backdrop for another identikit sexy video, the vocals slow and breathy to allow Kylie to sashay leggily around red-mouthed in shot without breaking her couplets. Despite a rather lovely arcing melody in the chorus (they’ve have around ten years to perfect pop kylie of course- a ludicrous amount of time), it’s as ersatz as the photoshopped girls in a glossy men’s mag. Summoning up enthusiasm for it is like trying to arouse yourself staring at the Girls Of FHM 2004. 3 (Derek Walmsley)
Miike again - surprisingly, Izo doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact since its UK premiere a few months ago. Unsurprisingly, it made quite the impact on me. Difficult, though not for the reasons one would have expected. The almost pathologically disgusting set-pieces of Miike films past are relatively sparse, with the fractured time-travelling anti-narrative and the relentless but far from flamboyant swordplay providing the bones of the viewer’s endurance. With Izo, Miike proves himself a deft collagist both literally (stock footage) and metaphysicaly. It seems almost misguided to talk of Miike’s best or worst films, intent as he seems on showing us his improvement as a filmaker in increments. His rapidly multiplying body of work is an exhilariting alternative to the cinematic equivalent of the perfectly planned and crafted ten track album; daring me to tentatively suggest his films as moving away from – or moving toward being able to be read as moving away from – the 2 hour-odd motion picture as a finished piece of work, as definitive. The finished film as unfinished, reflexive, a beginning rather than an end? Eager to get his or her ideas on celluloid, a filmaker uses the film primarily as vessel and means to explore and project tangents and possibilities, viewing the festival circuit premieres not as measuress of success or failure, but unpredictable and productive group critiques? Isn’t this romantic but exciting notion pretty selfish? It seems a nigh impossible balancing act, perhaps managed by Miike in a partly illusory fashion – I’d be interested to see how I’d analyse any sudden dips in quality, though if Gozu or Izo are anything to go by, the concern is purely academic.