Archive for January, 2009

2666

January 28, 2009

 

listen carefully to what I have to say, comrade.  Im going to explain what the third leg of the human table is.

"Then Boris Yeltsin looked at Amalfitano with curiosity, as if it were Amalfitano who had invaded his dream, not the other way around. And he said: listen carefully to what I have to say, comrade. I'm going to explain what the third leg of the human table is."

So I just finished 2666 a few days ago, and I liked it quite a bit, although I still can’t answer the question I was asked by everyone who saw me reading it–namely: “what’s it about?”  In this way, and a few others, it reminded me of V. by Thomas Pynchon, another book I finished knowing that I’d need to read again before drawing any conclusions from what I’d just read.  Both books have fragmented, globe-spanning narratives that seem to somehow cohere in the end without revealing too much.  I’m sure that there’s more to be discovered than I picked up on in my first reading, and would like to give both books a careful rereading, but I think they both offer a lot to the casual reader too.  With 2666 in particular I was impressed with the ending, which manages to be an actual ending and provide some closure without bringing too many threads together or feeling in any way forced.

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Ten Things About Notorious

January 17, 2009

 

Not really worth the trouble

Not really worth the trouble

So I went with my younger brother to go see Notorious last night.  I thought it was pretty bad, and I’d lowered my expectations before going in.  Here are ten things I thought about it.

 

1.  The basic arc of the movie where Biggie reconciles all of his troubled relationships shortly before dying seemed totally false and unnatural.  I haven’t read Cheo Coker’s biography, so for all I know it could be true, but even if it is the movie didn’t sell it at all.

2.  Furthermore, the idea that Biggie decided to stop rapping about hustling on his second album is just factually wrong.  Life After Death is the album with “Somebody’s Got to Die,” “N****z Bleed,” and “Ten Crack Commandments” on it.  To soundtrack Biggie’s claim that he wasn’t going to talk about street life anymore with “Sky’s the Limit”–pretty much the only song like that on the album–is totally dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of any viewer who’s actually listened to Biggie’s music.

3.  If you watched this movie with no knowledge of rap music, you’d think that nobody was rapping in the 90s except for Biggie, Tupac, Junior Mafia, and maybe a few West Coast acts.  This is a shame because one of the great things about New York rap in that era is the way that Biggie, the Wu, Nas, etc. were all kind of competing and also like using each other’s ideas.  I didn’t expect the movie to go into real rap nerd territory or anything, but some recreation of the early 90s “scene” would have added some verisimilitude.

4.  A good general rule might be that you shouldn’t make a biopic about anyone whose mom is still around to co-produce it.  No disrespect to Voletta Wallace, I just think that having someone that close to the subject of the film involved that much will, in the end, not help.  Could you say, “actually Mrs. Wallace, I think we need to portray your son as more of a dick in this scene?”  I know I couldn’t.

5.  Gravy’s not too good.  The parts he shines in most are the parts where he’s actually performing music, which makes sense because he’s a rapper.  He does a pretty good Biggie voice.  Other than that, it’s a pretty weak performance, although it kind of works if you figure that Biggie probably would have given a similar performance if he were forced to act in a lame biopic about himself.

6.  The music scenes in general are just better than the rest of the movie.  The next best parts are the parts where the compelling parts of Biggie’s biography (most of them) aren’t obscured or made into cliches by how bad the movie is (rarely).

7.  I don’t know whether it would be worse watching this as a Biggie fan or not.  On the one hand, the disappointment is probably worse for me because I’m actually invested in Biggie and his legacy.  On the other hand, who wants to watch a bad movie about someone they don’t even care about?

8.  I think the movie greatly overstates Puff Daddy’s role in Biggie’s music, if not his life.  There’s no mention of anybody who made music for Biggie.  If you look at the credits on Ready to Die, Puff didn’t make that many of the beats and all the ones he did he co-produced.  He was the executive producer, sure, but not mentioning at least like Easy Mo Bee or Premier seems like a sin of omission.

9.  They should make a biopic about Pimp C.  I know this contradicts the rule I’m trying to establish in number 4, but Mama Wes is cool and seems to have a pretty well-rounded image of her son without too many illusions (check out the interview with her on the excellent Damage Control tribute radio show), so I’m willing to let it slide.  I have no idea of who would be capable of playing Pimp C, but if it were done right, it could be a great movie.

10.  So, yeah, bottom line, you’d probably be better off saving your money and spending a few hours watching Biggie videos.

Kickoff/My Favorite Album From Last Year

January 15, 2009

So I didn’t really get this thing started when I’d wanted to.  Oh well.  I thought I’d try to get an actual start to this blog by talking about a few of the albums I liked from last year.  It may be already too late for anyone to care about records from last year, but it seems like as good a thing to talk about as anything else.  It’s also not a very comprehensive list for a variety of reasons–I was out of the country for half of the year, and broke for most of the rest, so my new music consumption was a lot less avid than usual.

All that said, I do have what I think is a pretty definitive album of the year: Young Jeezy’s The Recession.  I feel kind of funny naming it the album of the year, because I don’t really think it’s  better or even much than his last album (which I liked a lot) in any sort of objective way.  I guess it’s a little tighter, more consistent, but I don’t think anyone listens to Jeezy albums for consistency anyway.  The reason that I got into The Recession so much more than The Inspiration is just that it fit into 2008 way better for me than The Inspiration did for 2006.  To be fair, I think it’s more a case of everybody catching up to Jeezy than the other way around, because, like I said, he didn’t really change anything.  And it’s not the whole “it’s a recession and my album’s called The Recession” angle, which was kind of dumb, but rather the more subtle contrast Jeezy creates between his “uplifting” get-money persona and the bleak and depressing character of the beats and pretty much everything on the album.

I remember that when I first started hearing Jeezy I thought he was kind of cool but wasn’t really feeling his whole “motivational” persona.  I really hated the song “My Hood” when it came out, and still think it’s pretty weak, precisely because it is built only around the motivational bit.  What I realized when his second album came out is that by his beat selection and the relentlessness with which he sticks to his subject matter, he’s totally undercutting all the supposedly triumphant things he’s rapping about.  I can’t imagine that anyone who listens to him very carefully thinks he’s actually glamorizing drug dealing.  Does The Recession make it sound fun to sell crack?  I don’t think so.

What I like most about this contrast is that he never explicitly calls attention to it (he’s “way too intelligent to play up [his] intelligence”).  Kanye (who I like a lot regardless), for example, will just hit you over the head with how “contradictory” his character is, reminding you constantly that he has both a Benz AND a backpack.  Jeezy never makes it that big a deal he just layers his weird brand of money talk over really visceral bits about the recession and monstrous beats.

The reason that this stuff hits so hard right now is that I think it totally reflects the political climate. You’ve got basically everyone acknowledging just how messed up everything is–the economy, international politics, etc.–but you’ve got a charismatic guy who seems to be super-competent (and Jeezy definitely presents himself as a competent businessman/hustler if not a very distinguished rapper) taking over and somehow, that makes a lot of people pretty optimistic.  So The Recession is my album of the year because in ten years when I want to remember what 2008 was like, this will be the record I put on.  Plus the beats are great.