Thursday, December 24, 2009

My favourite films of 2009

I've got a music post slow cooking on the back-burner, but for now here's my annual top 15 films. For 2009, that is, because I did 2008 last year, and 2007 the year before that. I'm chronological like that.

1. Sugar: If you like indie dramas and/or baseball movies, you'll really, really love Sugar. The story of a dirt poor Dominican (Algenis Perez Soto) climbing his way up the minor league ladder in search of fame and fortune, this feature from writer/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (the pair responsible for the equally fine Half Nelson in 2006) neither asks the viewer to suspend disbelief nor relies on mawkish sentimentality to make its point. Just about perfect.

2. The Hurt Locker: Director Kathryn Bigelow puts it all together in this superb, old-fashioned character study about a bomb disposal expert (Jeremy Renner) who lives life on the edge in occupied Baghdad. My dark horse Oscar pick for Best Picture.

3. Precious: With the names Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry attached as executive producers, I figured Precious would be a slick piece of Hollywood uplift. Wrong. It's a gritty, realistic drama that ends just when you're ready to see what happens next. The ensemble cast of the year is highlighted by Mo'Nique's performance as an abusive, but all too human, mother.

4. The Men Who Stare at Goats: The year's most subversive comedy, with a great performance from Jeff Bridges as a hippie bringing New Age enlightenment to the United States Army.

5. The Cove: This gut-wrenching documentary takes a look at a particularly unpleasant practice: the slaughter of dolphins for 'scientific research' and school lunch meat in Japan. Manipulative, but moving and unsettling.

6. In the Loop: A take no prisoners British comedy examining the lies and distortions adopted by the body politic in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A bitterly funny and thoroughly depressing analysis of how government works.

7. Black Dynamite: Unfortunately and unfairly condemned to the midnight movie circuit, Black Dynamite tickles funny bones that have lain dormant since 1988's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. If you grew up watching 'blaxploitation' films, you'll bust a gut watching Black Dynamite, which deftly and profanely parodies the genre to thrilling effect.

8. Capitalism: A Love Story: It's easy to pick fault with Michael Moore, but there's no other filmmaker who can effectively critique The System and still sell a ton of tickets.

9. Gomorra: It's rather confusing at times (at least for Anglophones), but Gomorra is a powerful indictment of the consensual relationship between organized crime, big business, and government in contemporary Italy.

10. Up: There's nothing wrong with a little Pixar, and Up's underlying message--that a great white explorer could also be a bad guy--is most welcome.

11. Coraline: Want to give the kiddies a good fright? Rent Coraline and turn all the lights off. The little buggers will be hiding under the blankets in no time.

12. The Road: Want to give yourself a good fright? Go and watch The Road, still in cinemas. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and with a score by Nick Cave, this is hands down the most depressing film of the year, and as bleak a vision as you are ever likely to see on film.

13. The Informant!: Steven Soderbergh's shaggy dog tale about a man who just can't seem to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth isn't perfect, but you gotta check out Matt Damon's moustache.

14. Zombieland: An indie road movie deftly marketed as a splatter film. Bill Murray offers the most surprising performance of the year.

15. Avatar: Even if you don't care for the story, this is the most visually impressive film of the year. Must be seen in 3-D to be appreciated, though.


GAMER. This appalling 'future shock' thriller inexplicably got some good reviews when it came out, causing our family to purchase three tickets to see it. Refunds were not available.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sorry I've been gone for a bit. I'm hoping to update the blog on a more regular basis--say, every other week. But no promises!

Anyway, Judeo-Christianity inspired me to get the blog going again. No, I didn't get in touch with my spiritual side (in fact, I don't have a spiritual side, which leaves me in the awkward position of being comprised of ONLY ONE SIDE) or find Jesus. Wait, I did find Jesus...he's under the settee, with Saddam's WMD and Obama's Change We Can Believe In...oh, sorry, that's just some loose change.

It's all Moses fault. I recently picked up a copy of the 1974 soundtrack LP, released by RCA Victor to accompany the television mini-series Moses the Lawgiver (starring Burt Lancaster as the Man in Sack), which I'm pretty sure I watched when it first aired because, well, because I spent virtually every non-school hour I could spare in front of the boob tube. And in 1974, the only shows on TV were Wide World of Sports, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Happy Days, Moses the Lawgiver, and Bad Ronald. Oh, and Lamp Unto My Feet, but that was on on Sunday morning, so I never watched it.

Anyway, this particular soundtrack features a score composed by a gentleman named Ennio Morricone, with an orchestra conducted by a gentleman named Bruno Nicolai, and with vocals by a gentlewoman named Gianna Spagnolo. You've probably heard of the fellas, but you may not know Ms. Spagnolo, at least not by name. You've probably heard her, though, because this is the woman Morricone and many other Italian composers hired when they needed something a accompany their score. If you've heard the astonishing theme song from Sergio Corbucci's 1966 western Navajo Joe, you've heard Gianna, who I don't believe ever received a single screen credit for ANY of her amazing body of work.

Anyway, back to Moses. This is, quite simply, amongst Morricone's best. If you happen across a copy of this LP in your local record emporium--and I don't think it's a particularly rare item--grab it, and don't let that annoying young clerk with the eyeball ring and the Hello Kitty tee-shirt shame you into putting it back in the rack. It's that good, and if it helps you get back in touch with that ol' time religion, well all the better. Me, I'm going to go and covet my neighbor's oxen. See you in a week or two.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


It's been two months since I last posted on the blog. Judging from the traffic around here, you haven't been missing me much, and I only bother posting when something--usually something musical--really strikes a chord with me. And so it was today, when I popped a little record on the old turntable entitled Budgerigar Man by Don Crown, released in 1970 on the fabulous Orange label.

I'd picked this one up on spec after hearing a brief snippet of the disc, and it didn't disappoint. It's well orchestrated, 'Fading Yellow'-style pop with a patina of post-psychedelic fairy dust. All well and good, even if the lyrics are a bit ropey--'Budgerigars are my friends/you may laugh/but they understand me'--but name a performer from the late sixties who didn't embarrass themselves once in a while word-wise.

Having spun the disc a few times, it was time to go online to see if there was any further information about this dangerously rare record obviously produced by some LSD-addled post graduate genius. Ah, Don Crown--perhaps he died tragically in 1973 in a frozen Earls Court bedsit, his hand clutching the final 5p he was going to deposit into the pay heater, or perhaps he had long since retired to a yurt deep in the Scottish Highlands.

Um, no.

Don Crown is on Facebook. Don Crown is on MySpace. Don Crown has his own website. In fact, Don Crown is all over the entire bloody internet, preaching budgie love to any who will listen. In fact, according to the latest news at, Don recently appeared on Radio London, entertains children with his amazing trained budgies, and wrote a special song for Jake Goody.

Don Crown has a picture of the Queen on his MySpace page. Right next to the animated Union Jack.

So, no, Don didn't go the way of Syd, or Nick Drake, or even Cat Stevens. He's just a nice elderly gent who likes parakeets. A lot.

Oh, and as you can see, I've sort of figured out how to post an image with the letters going in the right--or if you are the non-judgmental sort, legible--direction. Now if I can only figure out how to make 'em look pretty.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Take a look at this picture and ask yourself: was there ever a prettier man than Luther Ingram? This snap adorns the back of Ingram's 1971 Koko LP I've Been Here All the Time, which, for those more accustomed to the singer's 'slow jam' hits of the 1980s will come as a most pleasant surprise. Though the album does include some slower numbers (which are very good, by the way), the highlight is definitely the closing number Ghetto Train, a chugging dance floor number that tells the story of a working class man's daily commute.

Within a year of cutting this album, Luther Ingram would be on his way to stardom via the number one R and B hit, If Loving You Is Wrong ( I Don't Want to be Right), and the hits kept coming--to lesser and lesser effect--into the late 1980s.

Luther died in 2007 at the age of 69. He probably didn't look as good then as he did here, but this is how I'll always think of him.

Postscript: Apparently Luther was also responsible for the Northern Soul stomper Exus Trek, a track I've loved for years. Somehow I never realized that 'The Luther Ingram Orchestra' was, well, Luther Ingram. More fool me, but it's further proof that there was more to Luther than smouldering ballads.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I love a morose Christmas song (two weeks late and $600 short)

Go on, admit it...there's nothing quite like a Yuletide song written in a minor key to get you blubbing into your egg nog. Whether it's Wham!'s Last Christmas (' Last Christmas/I gave you my heart/but the very next day you gave it away') or The Skyliner's achingly beautiful You're My Christmas Present (which features relatively upbeat lyrics soaking in the most melancholic minor key arrangement you could imagine), these heart-tuggers are my holiday listening A-Team. Nothing against Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis, mind ('It's Christmas time in Hollis, Queens/Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens'), but I prefer to get all soppy during the holidays.

So here I am in January 2009, and I just discovered my new favourite Christmas song.

It's by a group called Change of Pace, who released their one and only LP on Stone Lady Records in 1971. The four guys in COP were apparently Vietnam vets (the album's called Bring My Buddies Back; the title track is a blatant re-write of Freda Payne's classic Bring the Boys Home), so they presumably knew heartbreak first hand. The album consists primarily of soft soul ballads ala The Spinners, but it's none the worse for that and is well worth your time of day should you stumble upon a copy. The highlight for me, however, is Side 2, track 2, Yule Tide Love, an old-fashioned, deeply heartfelt doo-wop number that had me running for the Kleenex as soon as it started. It's replete with the best elements of the style: a spare arrangement built upon a simple four note piano riff, beautiful, cleanly delivered lead vocals by front man Doug Green, and straightforward lyrics clearly written from the heart:

'Well Christmas is here, New Year's is near
Shine down Oh! star above.
For this year I'll see on my Christmas tree
Your heart right there all wrapped up for me
It's all that I know we're close this year
God bless you I love you so

Merry Christmas my dear
Happy New Year I found my love

My dear, Christmas comes but once a year
A present for you and a present for me.
My New Year's resolution comes straight from
My heart, my fondest prayer is that we'll never part.

These children of the '40s and '50s, many of whom grew up singing on the street corner, found themselves poured into the crucible of Vietnam and then excreted back onto the mean streets from whence they came by an uncaring Uncle Sam. Yule Tide Love is an attempt to regain lost innocence; the yearning for simpler and better days is palpable. It's a moving paean to true love set during the time of year when 'peace on Earth/good will t'ward man' is supposed to be the order of the day. It's a tissue of lies, of course, but no matter how many times the cruel truth is revealed--whether by 1972's Christmas bombings of North Vietnam or the 2008 post-Christmas assault on the Gaza Ghetto--we still hope (and perhaps pray) that this year, things will be different. Perhaps that's why I always get a bit maudlin in late December.

At any rate, the album has recently had a CD reissue, or you can pop over to GEMM and pick up a vinyl original for $600. It's a good album overall, but there'll be one reason I'll be pulling it out for another spin come December 2009. I'd love to know where the Change of Pace fellas are today--guys, get in touch if you read this--and remember: Happy Christmas, War Is Over, If You Want It.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims