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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Sorry if I drool over her work again but Ann Powers really deserves the praise.  She’s doing some of her best work ever for the L.A. Times now.  But a recent piece of hers about Sinead O’Connor made the wonder about the whole idea of the “guilty pleasure.”


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Justice
† Medley [MP3]
     


D.A.N.C.E. [MP3]
     


Spank Rock vs. Justice
Thunderous Bumps [MP3]
     


“As the mainstream dance artists of yesteryear become more and more involved with making “important” music, the throne of Dance Floor Dominance lies wide open (with Justice and Simian Mobile Disco both making triumphant runs for the crown).  In the end, Justice has the stronger record over Simian Mobile Disco, but such a statement is dangerously close to splitting hairs: both albums are fantastic, but their individual achievements are undermined by what these artists are representing: a complete overhaul of modern dance music that’s taking Big Beat back to its roots.”—Evan Sawdey, PopMatters review [8/10]


Blitzen Trapper
Sci-Fi Kid (Principal Participant ‘Kingswood’ Remix) [MP3]
     


Country Caravan (live at KVRX) [MP3]
     


“Blitzen Trapper, you romance my senses. Your mélange of homespun ballads and raucous anthems amuses and delights. It is as though you’ve written the soundtrack to some vivid western picaresque. We traipse merrily from snowboarding exhibition to drug-induced hallucination. Here, an excursion with a brash country maiden. There, a slow wagon-ride to Paw Trapper’s lodge. What joyful adventures! Though I may not understand you, I pay homage to your musical wit. Good show.”—Tyler Womack, PopMatters review [7/10]


The Stanley Brothers
Rabbit in a Log [MP3]
     


Dock Boggs
Down South Blues [MP3]
     


Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has released Virginia Roots as a digital-only compilation in conjunction with the 41st annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  The compilation highlights artists from Virginia this year as it’s the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia settlement.  Watch for an upcoming review of this intruiging collection by Justin Cober-Lake on PopMatters very soon.  In the meantime, check out the classic bluegrass of the Stanley Brothers. Buy at: URGE or Zune.


Yacht
The Summer Song” (feat. Claire L. Evans) [MP3]
     


It’s Coming to Get You” (Eats Tapes Remix) [MP3]
     



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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2007

India is a massive, crowded country of hustle and grind.  With so many people, competitive drive isn’t just inevitable, it’s admirable.  Indian audiences look up to stars who they believe exemplify the rugged warrior virtues that spell success: lithe, statuesque Amitabh Bachan, brawny Sanjay Dutt, or Salman Khan.  It’s rare that someone comes along who represents the average Indian, and is loved for it.  India doesn’t usually have the wistful admiration for the reticent, yearning everyman. But if the country had their own versions of Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, they’d probably be very close to Dilip Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, and Shahrukh Khan.


For connoisseurs of Indian cinema, in terms of acting, there’s B.D.K. and A.D.K. - before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar.  In 1949, he gave an intense, anguished breakthrough performance as the unrelenting love interest of Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz.  Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, he was one of the leading stars, and the only one who was respected for his genuine acting talent. In character and career path, Kumar resembles Laurence Olivier, an urbane tragedian with an occasional penchant for light comedy, as well as Humphrey Bogart—someone wounded by life, cynical, but still rising to the occasion.  His greatest performance, as the defiant prince Salim in Mughal-E-Azam (1960), brought together his fascination with history, his theatrical desire to inhabit a great historical character, and his nuanced, vitalizing performance. It is one of the greatest Indian movies with the archetypal dilemma of all Indian heroes at the center - the choice of pride vs. duty.


Naseeruddin Shah is the great maverick of Indian stars. He’s so off-beat and unconventional in his choices, that he’s not even your traditional star.  Sharp-eyed and wiry, he resembles Jack Lemmon in the ‘60s, full of nervy energy and mordant wit.  He’s best known to international audiences as the resilient patriarch of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001).  In the ‘70s he collaborated with art film directors like Shyam Benegal, Shekhar Kapur, and Muzzaffir Ali in contemplative pieces, like Junoon (1978), Masoom (1983), and Umrao Jaan (1981).  In Umrao Jaan, Shah proved his sublime gift for character-acting by taking a minor role, that of a brothel-madam’s son and indolent pimp, Gauhar Mirza, and transforming him into an unforgettable comic portrait of ineffectual dandyism (the scene where he tries to pass off Umrao Jaan’s poetry is his own is marvelous in its feigned pomposity).  Shah continues to show off his skill year after year in films like The Great New Wonderful (2005), director Danny Leiner’s bittersweet series of vignettes about New Yorkers coping with their lives in the wake of 9/11, and in an enigmatic portrayal of a shady Bihari politician in Vishal Bhardwaj’s take on Othello, Omkara (2007).


Shahrukh Khan’s reputation precedes him. He’s huge. His celebrity is at level with Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor at the time of their Andy Warhol silkscreen portraits: movie actor as cultural icon. Swarms of people gather at his shows, his movies, and whenever he is hosting an event.  How did someone whose appeal is that he’s an accessible, everyguy grow into a superstar? Something similar happened to Tom Hanks, yet few people want to mob him when he’s in public.  People have to be literally restrained when Shahrukh walks by, and not just teens, but middle-aged women and men as well. Shahrukh’s movies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had him as an awkward, yearning teen.  Early on he showed great range in playing both heroes and villains.  His relentless stalker in Yash Chopra’s Darr (1993) was a disarmingly poignant portrayal of a morally repugnant character, not unlike Peter Lorre’s child-murderer in M


His affability and gift for musical performance shot him up the ranks to being one of the most versatile, bankable actors. In 1998, two movies made him the most popular star in Indian commercial cinema, the deliriously inane, but wildly popular Badshaah and Karan Johar’s endearingly schmaltzy Parent Trap send-up, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. His popularity grew, and in recent years he’s shown a gift for nuanced acting in films like Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer-Zaara (2004), Swades (2004) and Don (2005). He’s one of India’s most well-rounded stars, a thoughtful actor as well as a great dancer and performer, but most important, he’s someone Indians identify with intimately; he could be the teasing neighbor, or the winsome cousin, or a protective brother. Watching him talk to his awe-struck fans on the game show he hosts on his off-season from making movies, Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ) is really quite amazing: he’s unusually giving and open for someone so famous, and the audience responds with unabashed enthusiasm and gratitude. In spite of all Shahrukh’s celebrity, he’s never forgotten from where he came.



Dilip Kumar, early ‘50s



Naseeruddin Shah



Shahrukh Khan in Swades, 2004


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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2007
by Carla Meyer

A critic’s expertise only goes so far. I cannot say, for instance, whether a giant crane seems to meet OSHA safety standards before it goes haywire and smashes into a high-rise in “Spider-Man 3.” But I can tell you that the gruff newspaper editor played by J.K. Simmons in that movie is only a few degrees removed from bosses I’ve had.


And that Jennifer Westfeldt in “Kissing Jessica Stein” makes a more believable copy editor than Drew Barrymore in “Never Been Kissed,” even though she doesn’t edit much copy on screen. It’s a personality thing.


I note the nuances because I work in the same business as the characters. And frankly, any nuances are welcome, since most reporters are portrayed as vultures sweeping in and out of the frame.


Journalists have always been popular as movie characters. The attraction between the film and news businesses is obvious. Both focus on telling stories. Both entail huge egos, accusations of getting it wrong, ethical dilemmas and, on occasion, spurts of brilliance and demonstrations of true moral fortitude.


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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2007

I’m just finishing a review of Jack Dann’s The Man Who Melted, out in a reissue from Pyr. Writing the review has had me thinking about genre fiction I’d like to see come back into print.


If I could bring a title back into print, it would be two by Sterling E. Lanier Hiero’s Journey (1974) and The Unforsaken Hiero (1985).  (Ok, that’s technically two titles, but the books are short, and it’s the same series . . . .)  These post-apocalyptic works, set in a North America ravaged by nuclear weapons, portray a warrior-priest’s struggle to incorporate science, religion, and new mental powers in the fight to maintain civilization.  Lanier handles the psychology of this character, and his telepathic bonds with animals of varying levels of sentience, masterfully. 


Growing up, I read borrowed copies of these books dozens of times, and when I found some battered copies at a laundromat-cum-used-books store in Atlanta almost 10 years ago, I was giddy for weeks.


Lanier died on June 28th.  Beyond his own fiction, his sculptures of the Tolkien characters ensure his legacy for fans of science fiction and fantasy.  I was sorry to learn of his death.  (I’m also weirdly irritated that he doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry—the true measure of reputation these days . . . . Cryptomundo has an interesting take on his life, though.)


Update: HTML glitches fixed.


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