Thursday

Ephemera
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Genevieve Koski ponders shopping malls as future "nostalgia objects," while writing on "mallpisodes"--that is, TV episodes set inside malls.

Adam Cook had an interesting exchange with Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Locarno.

Alex Pappademas reflects on the legacy of Tony Scott.

Conor Maynard's "Can't Say No" has grown on me.

And, finally, this is too batshit insane not to pass along.

Tuesday

Top 10 Underappreciated Singles of the Past 10 Years


The list below is aimed less toward "hidden gems" that barely anyone has heard (e.g., say, "Weather the Weather" by Natalie Rose LeBrecht, which is singularly odd and sort of great, for what it's worth, but not what this particular list is about), and more toward tracks by known entities that were critically and/or popularly slept-on, whether wholly or by comparison to other singles by that artist; or, in other cases, were well-received upon their release, but, for whatever reason(s), are no longer mentioned by reviewers and/or fans. That second criterion inevitably tips the scales in favor of less recent singles, since it's too hard to tell how stuff from the past couple years will fare over time. If that sounds convoluted, what follows should basically explain my vague "methodology."


10. Lil Wayne - "Prom Queen"
It might not warrant placement on Weezy's best-of compilation, except perhaps as a bonus track curiosity, but it's better than you remember.


09. Rachel Stevens - "Some Girls"
I debated including about a half-dozen different Girls Aloud songs, but I honestly have no clue how favorably GA's best work (most of Sound of the Underground, pretty much all of What Will the Neighbours Say?, about half of Chemistry) is viewed in Britain these days. The same is true of Rachel Stevens' "Some Girls," but its one-off brilliance landed it a spot here anyway, and at the expense of GA and their formidable catalogue of classics.


08. Lil Flip - "Game Over"
I can't remember the last time I heard this mentioned by anyone, but I popped in an old Source comp the other day and, what do you know, this is still terrific. The beat's so spare and the hook is insanely simple, it's like this hypnotic crunk monolith.


07. Gretchen Wilson - "When I Think About Cheatin'" and "One of the Boys"
"Redneck Woman," of course, will always be Gretchen Wilson's calling card, the same way "Achy Breaky Heart" will be the only song cited in Billy Ray Cyrus' obituary. But both of these are better. The former is one of the most elegant, affectingly straightforward country ballads of the past decade; the latter is a poignant tomboy's anthem with an easy, assured twang and, in its refrain, a lyrical twist that sweetly subverts the title of the song and her third album.


06. Miley Cyrus - "Start All Over"
Despite the stab at awkward, inarticulate adolescence ("my best friend Leslie says that she's just being Miley"), "See You Again" was the point-of-no-return-to-Hannah-Montana (even if Miley and/or Disney tried to play it off otherwise). Edgily assertive musically and in terms of delivery, if not lyrics per se, it was, for better or worse, Miley's plunge into/embrace of (adult) celebrity culture--a move confirmed by "Party in the U.S.A.," which self-consciously positioned Miley alongside Britney and Jay-Z. By contrast, "Start All Over," nearly as good as "See You Again" and better than "Party in the U.S.A.," is one for the kiddoes: angsty like acne, giddy like the giggles, and inexhaustibly infectious.


05. Britney Spears - "Everytime"
Post-Blackout, some perceptive reviewers have begun to recognize Britney's genius, but that appreciation has only extended backward so far as "Toxic" and her other big, undeniable, dancey singles are concerned. Those who suggest that Britney should just steer clear of ballads because her talents lie elsewhere (as I have been tempted to, on occasion) should reconsider "Everytime," her most arrestingly unadorned moment on record, and especially Brit's superbly tender rendition of it on SNL (linked above, until it inevitably gets deleted again).


04. The Game - "Put You on the Game"
Timbaland and Danja went all-in for this funereal stutter-stomp that remains the Game's finest moment (a vulnerable 50 Cent stole "Hate It or Love It"). Over such a vintage beat, Game's boasts can't help but sound convincing, and he's funny, too, kind of: "If I got a problem with a bitch, I let Eve do it."


03.Kelly Osbourne - "One Word"
Wow! Remember this? I went all crazy with superlatives on it back in '05--and I don't think I was wrong. It's a Euro-dance pop parody that isn't a parody at all because it's so in love, in precisely equal measure, with the sexiness and the silliness of that fundamentally sexy-silly form.


02. Nina Sky - "Move Ya Body"
Right, everyone liked this just fine when it came out eight years ago, but who's talking about it or playing it in 2012? Why? Is it less awesome? (Listen again.) No. It is not. And that "can you feel the beat within my heart?/can't you see that you must be a part/of that beat in my heart?" bit at 2:10 remains sublime.


01. Jordin Sparks - "Tattoo"
The fact that I've been listening obsessively to this lately probably accounts at least partly for the ranking, but, really...this one of the great power-pop ballads of all time! It's our "Take My Breath Away" or "What About Love?"; we're just too dumb or cynical or fickle to recognize perfection when it comes our way. And as much as I love Carrie, Kelly, and especially Adam, this is the one song from an American Idol contestant that we preserve in a time-capsule from the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Library of Congress needs to get on this.

On the page, "Tattoo" is banal, a love song that in lesser hands would be pedestrian and entirely generic. But the production by Stargate has this thrumming, soaring bounce to it that sounds, at once, warm and wistful, and Jordin sings every note like she completely and totally means it. From 2:52-2:58, she sings, "Ooohhhhhhhhhhh," which she might even mean just a little bit more.
Ghost Stories

Recent viewings:

Black Death As someone with more than a glancing interest in the Middle Ages, I was curious and skeptical about this 2010 horror movie from Christopher Smith (who made a nasty, scary little horror flick called Creep back in 2004), much as I was about Game of Thrones (TV show, not the books) prior to diving in headfirst. Despite the appearance of Sean Bean (who I'm pretty sure lives somewhere in medieval Europe when he's not working) and Carice van Houten as a world-weary knight and pagan sorceress, respectively, and certain aesthetic similarities, Black Death is a different animal from Game of Thrones (which offers a different smorgasbord of pleasures). For one, it's not fantasy, a point it reinforces by de-mysticizing, and boldly undermining, its horror conceits in a way that feels both historically plausible and organic within the narrative. And it's much smaller in scope, like a sliver of the fourteenth-century preserved on film, not a Tolkien-esque medievalist epic. This is not to say that the film is "historically accurate" (whatever that actually means...), but like Nicholas Winding Refn's superb Valhalla Rising, it is imbued by the everyday affects of visceral griminess and extreme religiosity in a way that registers as largely credible. (John Boorman's underrated Excalibur did this, too, and few other films, Hollywood or otherwise, have succeeded nearly so well in this measure.) It also feels appropriate that Black Death's protagonist is not actually Bean's knight, but a monk, overeducated and underexperienced, who questions his faith as rigorously as any Bergman hero. The denouement is as perverse as it is haunting--again, rather like that of Valhalla Rising, though these conclusions themselves are otherwise dissimilar--dramatically recoloring and qualitatively elevating all that preceded it.

The Innkeepers Not as wholly successful as Ti West's previous film, the thoroughly terrific House of the Devil, this follow-up is still quite enjoyable, if not ultimately all that scary. Though maybe that's the point. It's a horror movie for people who want to live their lives inside a horror movie--in this case, a pair of twentysomethings (the pitch-perfect Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) working at a supposedly haunted inn that looks like the one Lorelai managed in the earlier seasons of Gilmore Girls. In this regard, The Innkeepers can't help but feel personal given what we know of West from his oeuvre; where House of the Devil wore its affection for the genre in pastiche form, this one opts for a kinder, gentler, less aggressively post-modern variation on the Scream route. When all the talk and portent finally turn to real danger and ostensible scares, it almost feels beside the point or somewhat perfunctory.

The Woman in Black This is surprisingly, quietly quite fine, and such a pleasant antidote to the kind of loud, frenetic, in-your-face filmmaking that seems so ubiquitous and dominant of late (the kind of the thing that Mike Archibald rightly bemoaned in our Dark Knight Rises chat). Daniel Radcliffe still probably can't act, but he's so perfectly cast that this point is neither here nor there. As a pale, bookish, sad-sack young widower in Victorian/Edwardian England (the precise time-period is unclear and also probably moot), Radcliffe is precisely as good as the props and costumes and locations that surround him in a determinedly old-fashioned ghost story that does almost everything that you expect and hope such a film will do. Really, it's like director James Watkins was working from an expertly compiled checklist of all the specific ingredients that the English haunted mansion movie should contain, and then diligently complied top to bottom. This is not backhanded praise. Far too many horror films fail to deliver what you actually want out of them, whether through squandering a good premise, under-utilizing chilly atmosphere, neglecting to build suspense, or missing the mark on the best potential scares. Or the most common bad habit in recent years (blame J-Horror): adding twist after twist after twist, then spending the last twenty minutes over-explaining said twists. That The Woman in Black avoids all of these traps is commendable. It's not groundbreaking or even especially memorable, but it's elegant as hell without feeling wooden; and entirely satisfying in its unironic straightforwardness and uncommon formal fidelity.

Saturday

Like You Always Used To Do