Saturday, October 30, 2004


who brought the party dip?

Pop Life has been crazy busy:

First, I caught an advance of Zhang Yimou's upcoming House of Flying Daggers, a kung fu meets love triangle period flick from the same director behind this year's Hero. Here's the skinny:
    Some folks had told me this film was superior to Hero, a movie that I liked visually but wasn't as impressed by in other areas. Alas, HoFD wasn't that dramatically better than Hero and in some key areas, it's far less entertaining. Don't get me wrong, HoFD has some great moments, mostly revolving around the said "flying daggers" (if this film had been all flying daggers, all the time, it would have been the hotness). However, it's also a blubbering torrent of melodrama, with most of the principal characters (especially Zhang Ziyi) spending at least half the film with dramatic tears rolling down their cheeks.

    I mean, I get it, there is PATHOS here, but it's so heavy-handed, it makes Hero's ponderous moments seem cartoonish in comparison. I hate to say it, but it's easier to stomach a bunch of sword-wielding folk debating the future of the nation-state than listening to these characters profess their undying love for another before advancing on them with blades. Maybe it's a script-issue or acting problem but I appreciate Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so much more now. Ang Lee (Hulk-aside) is a genius of subtlety and so was Zhang Zimou...but not here.

Then, I cruised by Remix Hotel down at The W. As one might expect, it was a geeked out sausage fest attended by many people dressed in full urban DJ wear, complete with the free Technics dogtags they were handing out. I wandered around the various rooms and here's some conclusions:
  • Pioneer's DVD Turntable is the greatest toy you'd never actually use, made all the worse by a $2,500 sticker price. But damn, was it fun to try out.
  • Denon's entry into the CD turntable market, the S5000 is cool for its small size and the fact that its has an actively spinning platter but the construction did feel a little cheap and it's also strange that the platter spins at 45 instead of 33 1/3rd. Also, $900? I don't think so.
  • The most interesting piece of new technology that we saw was Tascam's TT-M1 "Magic CD Scratch Controller". It attaches to any turntable and uses a tracking wheel that gets fed back to a CD turntable. In other words, it allows you to use your normal turntable to control your CD turntable. That might seem like an extra gizmo you don't really need but after you play around with it, you realize how incredible cool it is, especially when it only costs $100. Alas, right now, it only works with Tascam's CDX series as well as Vestax's CDX (all of which are rather inferior CDJs) but if Denon, Numark and Pioneer were smart, they'd start making their next gen of CDJs to be compatible. This is a brilliantly simple and effective tool. (Shout out to DJ Icewater for holding it down for Vestax and Korg)

On Friday night, S and I went to see Ray.
    What worked: for music geeks like me, the film spends a good deal of time reviewing Ray's historical encounters with various musicians and business heads, including a teenage Quincy Jones, bluesman Lowell Fulsom and Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler (two of the most important label figures in soul history). The film also dramatizes Ray's creative process, though one suspects they took some liberties with that: the movie suggests that Ray invented "What I'd Say," on the fly when he had to fill time in at a gig. Or that he came up with "Hit the Road, Jack" when one of his mistresses threatened to leave him. Maybe it went down like that, who knows? That said, the musical numbers in the film worked well and in some ways, the film's best when you think of it as just one long music video.

    What didn't work: The film uses his long-time heroin addiction as a narrative arc and juxtaposes that against flashbacks of his youth, living in rural North Florida. Without getting too detailed about it, neither is dramatically effective, especially the flashbacks which come off as preciously maudlin more than anything else. And I don't mean to belittle anyone's addiction to smack but what famous pop musician of the 20th century WASN'T hooked on horse? At least Ray lived to tell the tale, unlike Charlie Parker or Chet Baker. I just didn't find his addiction interesting compared to other struggles he lived through.

    What really didn't work: This movie desperately needed a third act and Ray kicking his heroin habit just couldn't serve that purpose. The film also has an all-too fast elegy tacked on the end to commemorate the fact that he passed away this year but I really would have liked to see more. I understand that Ray was never meant to be a eulogy: he was very much alive and well during the film's production and therefore, this wasn't intended to be a tribute film but you would have thought they'd done more considering the remarkable timing between the movie's release and the singer's death.

    Bottomline: Enjoyable in many moments but never coheres as a complete film. Overly sentimental in all the wrong ways. Might still nab Jamie Foxx (who was good) an Oscar nod but the movie won't. What I appreciated most though was just a reminder of how completely amazing his music was. I know that's stating the obvious but really, truly, his songs were incredible. I'm going to devote an upcoming Soul Sides post to his earliest recordings on Swingtime in the late 1940s.