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Here’s the scene: a fully decorated Christmas tree, a crackling fireplace flickering in the reflection of a champagne glass, red and white stockings and candy canes over the mantel,  a smile from the one you love. Luther Vandross sets the mood with “Please Come Home for Christmas”, followed by Faith Evans jamming to “Santa Baby” and Marvin Gaye with “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”. Slow Jams for Christmas is a joyous, slow-cooking romance-fest that works out very much like an R&B mixtape. It’s quite a treat: 20 songs on a single disc representing five decades of music, from the ‘60s (Nancy Wilson’s “What Are You Doing For New Year’s Eve?”) and ‘70s (“This Christmas” by the Whispers) to 2005 (“Merry Christmas, Darling” by Vanessa Williams). It’s probably the type of album you’d see advertised on a late night infomercial (“Order now, and we’ll throw in this champagne bottle opener!”). But the artists are the draw, with recordings of disparate styles and voices pulled together in a “One Christmas Under a Groove” sort of way. Dianne Reeves absolutely nails “Christmas Time is Here”. Other highlights are Boyz II Men’s ever-popular “Let It Snow”, which plays well year round, as well as Babyface’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight/The First Noel”. Toward the middle, the soul vibe dominates, culminating in selections from Al Green, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and Freddie Jackson at the back end. Sweet and marvelous.

Contemporary comics anthologies like the Chris Ware-edited Best American Comics 2007 offer a tempting number of opportunities to make sweeping statements about the nascence of the medium, the prospect of the graphic novel ascending as the new art form of the 21st century, and the possibilities lying before its preeminent artists. Yet Ware’s anthology lends itself better to this kind of self-indulgence than most. More than any other comics anthology compiled thus far, it feels like a genuine effort to craft a truly comprehensive picture of comics as they are today, with a gentle nudging towards the various directions they could possibly go.

Every once in a while, a true gem is unearthed from the mines of musical history. This debut is one such excavation, though archaeologists might have trouble dating the contents which, on first hearing, seem to be the aural equivalent of retro-futurist designs done on an Etch-a-Sketch. Originally released in 1980, the album is conjured from a slim palette and adheres to a stripped-to-the-bone ideal of sound, yet it is close to perfection. It is hard to recall any other album to which the terms “pastoral” and “neon” could be simultaneously applied.

How do you arrange your books?

Kate Holden’s piece in this Saturday’s Age asks the question: Can you fall in love with a man through the contents of his bookshelves? Following a visit to the Alexandre Yersin Museum in Vietnam and perusing the French-Swiss doctor’s stacks, she answers positively, and sets about dissecting her own shelves, and what they might say about her.

I want visitors to think I am smart. Or indeed, to prove that I am smart. Tasteful. Erudite and eclectic. All this manifested in the concrete evidence of the books I’ve read: the range of subjects; the impressive editions, the glorious colourful bindings. I had a moment of enthusiasm a few months ago when I was procrastinating from writing a, well, a newspaper column, and collected all my orange Penguins into a beautiful if ochreous slab of mid-20th century cleverness. It was not unknown, I went on to mutter, that I had deliberately placed certain books in more visible cases — or even on eye-level shelves — in order to best array the quality of my collection.

So, of course, this had me thinking – am I a conscientious shelver like Kate? Are my books arranged deliberately? What does it say about me that I, like Kate, hide my trade-size pop-thrillers in the darkest part of the shelf, while Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine takes pride of place in the living room alongside a large range of similarly-themed works?

The more I pondered, the more I realized that while there’s an element of the show-off in my arrangements, such conceit is really just for me. The smart books are at eye-level in the center of the living room to remind me what I’ve read, and what I’ve learned. Does it make me look smart to visitors? Possibly, but, to be honest, I find most visitors are more into my partner’s DVD collection than my books. He’s the coolest guy in the world because of his Fly special edition and his Star Wars prints; I’m hardly Mrs Awesome because I’ve dog-earned the works of David M. Rorvik.

More from Kate:

There had been times, I confessed sheepishly, when I’d had second thoughts and jumped up from the couch to adjust the display to even more advantageous effect. Some people gather their collections by subject; size of volume; author; Dewey decimal system; haphazardry; or have no books at all. I group mine by affection: most beautiful editions together, then the most beloved novels ...

I can’t say I’ve ever jumped off the couch to better arrange my books for prying eyes, but I get what Kate means. It’s as though we organize out books in such a way that makes the book the star, that makes the titles stand out. I wonder if I’m not subconsciously offering David M. Rorvik a comeback through his placement on my shelves. “Who’s that guy?” you want your visitor to ask. “Well,” you’ll say, “sit back, and let me tell you about the human robot…”

Or then there’s the chance your visitor might say, “Oh! David M. Rorvik – I love that crazy old guy!” and you have a coffee, a sleepover, and a friend for life. It hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t get that many visitors.

I might not be as calculated as Kate in my shelf-arranging, but I admit to desiring a similar amount of crazed control. I can tell when a volume is out of place in a single glance. I can stare at my shelves for hours wondering if this should go in travel lit, or if that should be over in anthropology, or even if I should finally put together a separate shelf for my collection of non-fic Pulitzer Prize winners. Is Sophie’s World correctly placed over there? Should The L-Shaped Room go back over here? Do I really need that Leonard Maltin movie guide from 1994? But, it’s an ever-evolving thing, the bookshelf. Never complete, never perfect.

So, as Kate suggests, it’s bookshelf as symbol of self. Our best airs go in front, no matter where we are, no matter who we interact with. Our dark sides hide in the shadows next to the James Patterson trade paperbacks, while the worldly, wonderful, and weird parts grab the spotlight, next to Rorvik on my shelf and Thucydides on Kate’s.

So, what was hiding in Yersin’s dark corners? Now there’s a question.

 

 

 

Film criticism is flawed in dozens of different ways. While there is no reliable aesthetic consensus among opinions, fans and scholars like to imply (or demand) one. And since each and every review comes down to a matter of taste, finding a harmony between all those varying personal perspectives is a fool’s paradise. Still, because greatness appears to be so easy to agree upon (even with the occasional naysayer, films like Citizen Kane and Casablanca still get almost universal kudos), readers insist that failure fulfill the same concrete criteria. Yet for every hopeless flop, there are objective arguments both pro and con. Take the Summer splat Who’s Your Caddy? An overview of the Rotten Tomatoes tracking indicates this supposed spoof earned an appalling 8% approval rating. That means, of the so-called professionals who decided to review it (and that number is also shockingly small), over 90% found it unacceptable. All of which begs the question – are they right? Oddly enough, no.

That doesn’t mean our story is something significant, mind you. When rap impresario Christopher “C-Note” Hawkins returns to his South Carolina hometown to join the snooty local country club, he butts heads with president and resident bigot Mr. Cummings. At first, his attempts at membership are rebuffed. But when C-Note buys a local mansion (and with it, property rights to the 17th hole), the club must make a deal. They decide to let the media mogul in, but on one condition. He must pass the probationary period without a single significant violation of the rules. In the meantime, Cummings hires some local hitmen, conspires with a haughty female attorney, and basically does everything in his money-based power to keep the ‘undesirable element’ out of his club. Naturally, C-Note’s genuineness, plus his secret familial agenda, helps him survive this ridiculous redneck hazing. Still, it all comes down to a head to head contest on the links. The winner stays. The loser goes.

Who’s Your Caddy? (new to DVD from Dimension Films and Genuis Products) is not the worst film of 2007, but it definitely is one of the most underdeveloped. What wants to be a sly urban Caddysack (though the constant comparisons to the marginal ‘80s entertainment is tenuous at best – more on this later) ends up being a collection of scattered scatology mixed with some decent interaction between the cast members. One of the best things director Don Michael Paul does is allow for and exploit a free flowing level of camaraderie between his actors. Outkast member Big Boi (aka Antwan Andre Patton) may not be the best musician turned movie star on the planet, but his casual mannerism with professional performers Faizon Love, Finesse Mitchell, and Chase Tatum has a real aura of fellowship and fun. Granted, we never do learn much about these purposely placed posse members. They are mere sidekicks, fleshed out by their frequently illustrated proclivities (horniness, weed loving, thug life living) without probing deeper into personality.

Even C-Note suffers from being a single element narrative device. Though Patton does manage to make him more than just a brother with an agenda, the script constantly reminds us that, no matter how winning or wise he may be, our hero is hankering for a little passive payback. The motive for this move – something to do with his late father, a record course score, and Cummings’ countermanding of its legitimacy – may have worked better within a dramatic setting. Here, the ‘doing it for dad’ element never carries the emotional payoff it promises. Even when Hawkins is delivering an inspirational, last act pep talk to fire up his troops, the premise is problematic. Seems there would be better ways for a multimillionaire media giant to take the air out of an old fashioned stuffed shirt other than beating him at 18 holes. Yet this is indicative of Who’s Your Caddy? ’s main flaw. We could care less about the reasons for C-Note’s vendetta. We just want more raunch and revelry.

Yet again, the movie fails to accommodate. There is a single scene where Love, Mitchell, and Tatum are standing butt naked (literally) in the clubhouse locker room. As his cohorts primp and preen, Jon Favreau’s favorite riffs on sexuality, body types, penis size, and clear cultural distinctions. Sure, it may all sound like a lackluster night on Evening at the Improv, but Love is so convincing, and the rest of the movie so wanting, that we’ll take what we can get. Indeed, there are moments of calculated crudity all throughout Who’s Your Caddy? that fail to make us smile. When Love lets out the world’s longest fart right before Cummings tees off, it’s so obvious as to be boring. Similarly, Mitchell is a pot loving loser who – thanks to PC thuggery – must have had much of his material trimmed. This means a brownie joke loses its luster, and a sequence where he feeds herb to a polo pony also misses the mark.

Some things do work, if only moderately. While it may have taken her a tenure on The View to learn that the world is actually round, Ms. Flat Earth Sherri Sheperd is actually quite winning as C-Note’s trash talking assistant. Her moments with the always interesting Terry Crews crackle with energy. Similarly, when Paul takes things down a notch to have C-Note visit his mother, the interaction between Patton and Jenifer Lewis has a nice amount of authenticity. Yet for every facet that finds its mark, Who’s Your Caddy? presents performers and personalities that simply lie there, DOA. This is a film that thinks dwarf gangsters are the height of originality - and hilarity – and anyone who still thinks Andy Milonakis is a misunderstood genius will realize his true limits after watching him here. He’s an unfunny void. Similarly, a well known name in urban comedy like Bruce Bruce is given nothing to do, and let’s not even question what skilled actors like Tamala Jones, James Avery, and Jim Piddock are doing here. Slumming for a paycheck, perhaps?

And then there’s Jeffrey Jones. The one time Tim Burton tent pole, able to lift any scene with a single shift of his rubbery face, has gone from winner to sinner in the eyes of the public. All the good work he did in the ‘80s and ‘90s was washed away amid scandal and alleged sex crimes. Now a bloated, bungling shadow of his former self, Jones is reduced to a Confederate cad here. Though he never uses epithets or racial vulgarities (it is up to Love to translate his comments into N-word nastiness), he’s pompous without a purpose, prejudiced as a matter of screenplay predestination. For those who love to toss the Caddyshack claim about, one need remember that Ted Knight’s jaundiced Judge Smails was more than just a superficial villain. He was dimensionalized to the point of perfection. Here, Jones is just the butt of several jibes – and most of them are unfunny at best.

And about that 1980 links lunacy? Who’s Your Caddy? is not some manner of ghetto update of that celebrated farce. In fact, it has much more in common with the crappy 1988 sequel starring Jackie Mason. Caddy actually betters that pointless update in many significant ways. If Paul had simply had more faith in his filmmaking, and allowed Patton and his costars room to improvise and gel, we’d have a much better movie. Even with the added content provided on the DVD (deleted scenes, minor making-of EPK, an intriguing audio commentary), we see a production constantly hemmed in by expectations and industry standards/mandates. What many thought would be an African American Airplane! ended up sinking in a sodden cinematic sand trap. There is the core for an interesting fish out of water tale here, a comedy of clashing cultures where new world hip-hop meets Southern conservative white repression, but Who’s You Caddy? is not it. It’s just a mindless amusement that should have been better.

//Blogs

The Best and Worst Films of Spring 2015

// Short Ends and Leader

"January through April is a time typically made up of award season leftovers, pre-summer spectacle, and more than a few throwaways. Here are PopMatters' choices for the best and worst of the last four months.

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