Saturday, November 24, 2007

beta on the newsstand

Like Travistan, Liz Phair, Zaireeka, and NYC Ghosts and Flowers, it's Web 0.0 at Vibe and Paste for me. This month, the former has my review of DJ Rekha's Basement Bhangra mixtape, while the latter has these DVD reviews (posting both October and November here), as well as my first foray to "Unglued," the jokey last page of the mag. Note: These are the unedited drafts I filed, so they may read slightly different than the newsstand.

Days of Heaven
Gorgeous American classic from reclusive director Malick gets Criterion treatment
It’s a shame that with only four titles in his thirty-plus year career, Terrence Malick didn’t use some of that time to make nature documentaries, though it could be argued that American classics like 1973’s Badlands and 1978’s Days of Heaven double as such. In all of his films, humanity is shown as diminished figures moving amid boundless landscapes, the elements, and the immense mechanisms of industry. Lingering shots of bird flocks and animal packs juxtapose with scenes of shadowy men dancing around bonfires or else battling the frenzy of a wildfire. Even the story’s love triangle between Gere, Adams, and Shepard shares celluloid with close-ups of gamecocks and locusts. Cinematographer Néstor Almendros won an Academy for his work here and contributes an essay in this restored edition, expertly capturing in the light of the "magic hour" that mythic flat of Texas (actually Alberta, Canada) and all the creatures that traverse the beatific but unforgiving landscape.

Ace in the Hole
**** 1/2
Acerbic Wilder pic anticipates the feeding frenzy of the media circus
Apropos that as director Billy Wilder’s 1951 scathing media critique (and commercial flop) Ace in the Hole gets its long-neglected release on DVD, so too does that circus stir again for Paris Hilton. Or is that Tom Cruise? Or perhaps that fellow trapped down a mine? Either way, Kirk Douglas’s chiseled (and washed up) newshound Chuck Tatum sniffs out such a personal tragedy, one sure to swell into a Pulitzer. That is, if his subject doesn’t get rescued too quick. While his previous Sunset Boulevard revealed the shadowy pall behind Hollywood glitz, Wilder predicts (and indicts) the stranglehold of the spectacle on public consciousness. What with the crisp camera work of Lang –sharply capturing both the accumulating media madness and the barren desert surrounding-- and Wilder’s straight razor-like slashes of dialogue, no one is absolved. The aggrieved widow awaits her payout, the sheriff angles for re-election, while the audience…well, we too become complicit as witnesses.

Day Watch

*** 1/2
Second entry in this eye-popping but head-scratching Russian trilogy
Even if you’ve caught 2005’s Night Watch, the first entry in this box office-breaking Russian trilogy, Day Watch will confound your senses all over again. It’s kin to its Hollywood counterparts, denoting an eternal struggle between good and evil. Like Lord of the Rings, it’s an ancient battle, like The Matrix, the movie hinges on the thin line between illusion and reality, and like Star Wars, the precious balance hinges on a powerful youth who has turned towards darkness. Shape-shifters, witches, and vampires abound in a struggle now tempered with magic and bureaucratic red tape. Sergei Trofimov’s camera is actively present with vertiginous zooms and CGI scenes that beggar belief. Yet there is still so much left unanswered after two hours: a purgatorial realm called The Gloom, a yo-yo that destroys the world, the Chalk of Fate. Day Watch inhabits that unenviable expository middle chapter, stuck between that initial charge and the looming final battle of mankind.

Deep Roots Music 1: Revival/ Ranking Sounds
MVD Visual
Roots of Jamaican music are dug up in this fascinating document
When it comes to films of Jamaican music, there’s a holy trinity: 1972’s The Harder They Come, 1978’s Rockers, and 1982’s Countryman. While these three tucked the island’s indigenous music into rather cursory stories, this early 80s documentary shot by filmmaker Howard Johnson (in the wake of Bob Marley’s untimely passing) presents an eye-opening account of how this tiny island’s music became a worldwide phenomenon. Much like American blues, Jamaican music was rooted in slavery, and the film details how tribal (and social) dances evolved into calypso and ska, noting how this music took ideas from American soul and jazz in the process. Johnson also investigates how political change spurned musical evolution. It’s the scenes of street musicians and Rastafarian drumming intertwined with footage of Count Ossie, a teenaged Jimmy Cliff, and a Jack Ruby soundclash that exposes these deep roots though.

Wild Style (25th Anniversary Edition)

These are the breaks
PS 1’s recent “Lee” Quiñones’s exhibit was a tribute to how he boosted old funk records, an act that verged on the Promethean, stealing holy fire (in this case, drum breaks) to fuel 70s block parties. But Quiñones remains best known for his turn as graffiti artist Zoro in the epochal early hip-hop document, Wild Style, which spread hip-hop around the world and is now celebrating its 25th anniversary in his two-disc edition. Set amongst the burnt out buildings and rubble piles of the Bronx, beauty and art pushed through the squalor, in the form of b-boy acts like DJing, tagging trains, and trading battle rhymes. The stilted love story between Zoro and Pink is but a blank wall on which to record early masters like Busy Bee, Cold Crush Brothers, and Grandmaster Flash, as well as hint at how hip-hop (unlike most folk art) has always been about the Benjamins.

The iPhone Shuffle

It was with baited breath that Mac obsessives such as myself anticipated last month’s press conference with Steve Jobs as he announced a slew of new Apple products. And while it was a relief to know that I could finally make Al Green’s “Call Me” my new ringtone (for yet another 99 cents), I can’t help but admit that I was a bit crestfallen that I couldn’t make my New Text Message announcement be Ringo shouting “I got blisters on my fingers!”

Okay, so the Beatles still aren’t on iTunes, and while I really don’t care to have Starbucks icon suddenly appear inside my pocket every two blocks (unless they can figure out the wi-fi technology and have my phone spray a Frappucino into my mouth) there were plenty of exciting new microprocessing tchotchkes coming down the pike, like the cheaper iPhones. Not that I would pay $599 --much less $399-- for such a device. I needed something much cheaper than that. And while sites like Gizmodo and the like didn’t include it in their round-up of the new iPod Touch and iPod Nano, the greatest device that Apple had to offer was the “economy” version of their iPhone, the iPhone Shuffle.

Priced to move at only $99, I ordered mine right away, and I have to admit, this little device has changed my life. For one, it has reduced pocket bulk like you wouldn’t believe. Whereas my previous cell phone was one of those lumpy “candy bar” types, the new iPhone Shuffle --much like the previous model-- is about the size of a stick of chewing gum. Granted, so far it’s been sort of difficult to both hear and talk into it at the same time, but I’m getting used to it.

What I haven’t been able to adjust to is the fact that not only are all of my mp3s shuffled (so that I never know just if it’s Sly & the Family Stone or Sunn O))) or Britney Spears coming up next in my earbuds), but I have no idea who is calling me, much less who I’m calling. And let me tell you, that first billing cycle was a doozy.

Looking it over, here were some of the incoming/ outgoing calls made over that first week:

Monday - Stepfather 7:16 pm
Well, I had meant to call my mother to tell her about my new cell phone, but I guess this is close enough. We awkwardly talk about the weather and whether or not the Dallas Cowboys have a shot to win it all this year.

Tuesday - Grandma Beta 6:04 am
It’s a little bit too early in the morning to talk to my grandmother down on the farm, but her dementia dovetails with my hangover nicely. She asks every five minutes if I’m coming to visit her (even though I was there last month) and I mumble incoherently each and every time.

Grandma Beta 6:19 am
Since that previous phone call has already been forgotten, my grandmother now asks me every two minutes when I’m coming down to see her. I try in vain to remind her that I was there last month, then decide to swing the conversation towards talk about the Cowboys.

Nicole 8:53 pm

Thought it was this girl I met the other night at the Bowery Ballroom after we swapped cell numbers and spit, but in fact it’s my ex-girlfriend. Oh man, really not in the mood to talk about her needs and my inability to communicate right now. Pretend I have an incoming call and hang up on her.

Wednesday - Leah 6:37 pm
I had intended to call my ex-girlfriend about going to see King of Kong at the IFC, but instead a call gets routed to my “overly dramatic” friend, who spends the next three hours re-enacting every phone call she and her boyfriend have been making in the midst of their extended six-month break up. Can’t get in a word edge-wise about my own relationship problems. So much for making that movie with Nicole. Apple engineers to figure out how to have music playing in the other earbud during such conversations.

Stepfather 10:57 pm
Meant to call and apologize to Nicole, but I dialed this number again. This time around, my stepfather didn’t sound too thrilled about the Cowboys.

Thursday - Telemarketer 9:39pm
Asks me if I want to refinance my home, which is a 100 sq. ft. railway apartment in Brooklyn. Realize that the iPhone Shuffle is so affordable because they sell the phone numbers to call banks.

Telemarketer 9:43 pm
Asks me about auto insurance. Mention the whole “I live in Brooklyn” thing again.

Telemarketer 9:44 pm
Asks if I want to buy Microsoft Windows Vista for best price on the web. Mention the whole “I live in Brooklyn (which means I own a Mac)” thing once again.

Telemarketer 9:46pm

Asks me if I want to enhance my what? Then quickly blurts out: “I law mist slip butter rule meat open ray minute pytqueb lord be soup under committee horse needle Brooklyn.”

Friday - Paste Offices 12:22pm

My editor calls, sweating the deadline I missed last week. Man, I wish I could screen these sorts of calls. I promise that I’ll turn in that think piece about how Chris Martin is the new Bob Dylan.

Nicole 2:29am
Wow, what a coincidence. My iPhone Shuffle drunk-dialed my ex-girlfriend. Technology sure is funny.