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Entries in alex carnevale (151)

Thursday
Dec242009

In Which The House Is A Mess But It's Ours

Material Boy

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Family Man

dir. Brett Ratner

125 minutes

Great directors make bad movies all the time, so why shouldn't bad directors occasionally make a good movie by virtue of simple chance? So it was with Brett Ratner's 2000 effort The Family Man, a masterful Christmas movie jam-packed with every cliché Brett and his casting director could think of.

"I spent all our money on hohos and houses in malaysia"This is not to say that The Family Man is anywhere near perfect. In a genre where Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell's abortion of a movie gets replayed more often than another flat Charlie Brown Christmas special, The Family Man actually has something to say about Jesus' big day. (Christ that kid is such a bummer; he's the male equivalent of the Jersey Shore grenade.)

someone cast this guy in a buddy comedy with the situationThe first problem with The Family Man is that the protagonist is named Jack and his love interest is named Kate. Although Lost had yet to be created, a little foresight would have been appropriate. Likewise with Tom Brady's two sons by different mothers that he inconceivably named Jack and Ben, this name game is downright unsettling. (Just as in Lost, Ben is the one who is half-Brazilian.)

"which super bowl do you think dad played better in?"Originally titled The Luck of the Dreidel, The Family Man isn't the first Christmas movie to be written and directed by Jews, and it damn sure won't be the last. The chosen people generally craft the most moving eulogies for Christmas because they fundamentally understand longing for an event that they will never be able to fully enjoy.

"do you really want to be a hitman for the rest of your life?" "wrong movie"Jack Campbell is portrayed by Nicolas Cage somewhere in between the follically relevant days of Moonstruck and the I-hope-I-don't-get-my-wig-stuck-in-Mount-Rushmore madness of National Treasure. Campbell is a greed obsessed automaton who gave up his one chance at true love when he decided to go to London for business school and leave Kate (Tea Leoni) behind. This was ostensibly the right decision until an angel played by Don Cheadle tells him it's not and magically transports him to a new reality. The magical Bagger Vance-Jar Jar Binks-Yoda African-American character is profoundly embarassing and yet somehow reassuring.

"who do you work for?" "stringer bell, duh"There's a lot of important analysis to be done by either Deleuze or Foucault depending on if one of them is still alive about what all this means, but that analysis will be as little remembered the hackeyed It's A Wonderful Life-esque setup. It's what follows that makes The Family Man more than the sum of its Jews. Jack Campbell is magically transported to an alternate reality where he never visited that sinful financial capital of England. Instead his world has been completely flipped upside down! He lives - gasp - one hour away in New Jersey!

Unlike Jack from Lost, new Jack is a dedicated husband and father to two children...and it turns out it's not all that great to marry your first love. Really wish someone had screened this movie for Tiger Woods. The Family Man gets a lot of mileage about how horrifying suburban living is. For example, it turns out the other Jack Campbell's best friend in suburbia is Jeremy Piven. (That fellow is known for being so country.) For his part, Piven was probably bouncing powder by the baleful during this shoot, because he reprises his entire performance from Grosse Pointe Blank verbatim.

"and then your limo outruns the apocalypse!"Instead of being a high-powered Wall Street executive, Campbell is a car salesman for his father-in-law's dealership. He runs the entire dealership, and from the number of employees and customers we observe, he seems to be doing quite well for himself. Yes, Hollywood's idea of a slumming it is a car salesman who probably takes in seven figures. Considering that by all accounts Cage was chalked up and buying homes in every time zone during this period, we can't blame him for not getting the details right. Had we known future screenings of this movie would be this ironic, The Family Man would have probably deserved an Oscar nomination.

the less money you have, the better sex is because you can't afford birth controlThat's because Ratner gets everything else right. The comic timing is brilliant and the script more than keeps up; Cage's winsome desperation is ideal for this role of a dick we learn to feel empathy for. Jack Campbell tries to dig himself out from his poverty-stricken, two car garage existence so he can give his family all the things he can't when he's selling marked-up foreign automobiles at exorbitant prices. Then, unexpectedly, he starts to enjoy his new life.

Jack wows his real boss in an alternate universe with his heady ideas about the financial industry. This juxtaposition is made all the more enjoyable now that we know that executive would kill for a successful car dealership like former NFL player Brad Benson runs in New Jersey. It's truly an amazing feat for Hollywood to misunderstand the world this badly. But hey, the best movies are based on tweaking the most common fantasies. Campbell's remorseless Howard-Roark style doesn't look like very much fun, but neither does a family you never have enough time to see and a wife who's too tired to fulfill you sexually.

What's unique about The Family Man is that it destroys both fantasies. The message of Grosse Pointe Blank, The Family Man, and virtually every other project Jeremy Piven has appeared in is that too much work makes Jack a dull boy, but also that the work sets you free. Both films deserve to be remade starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris, and both films are ambiguous about what sort of life is actually best. When white males allow stereotypical ethnic traits into their world (anti-Christmas moneylending, African-American mysticism) they learn what will allow them to improve their old world, not survive in a new one.

When Jack Campbell snaps back to the 'real' world, he finds that in his absence Kate also became a financially-obsessed automaton, and she changed her name to Mary Rambin and adjusted her date of birth by ten years. One semester abroad can really change people. He finds her as she's moving her entire business to Paris, and instead of just feeling happy for her, he decides to reruin her life. No wonder Mary is so screwed up.

Christmas is a holiday with flaws. The build-up is extensive, costly, and aesthetically gauche, and the hype never fully pays off. Christmas Eve is all chills and anticipation and Christmas morning is a flat rejoinder to the excitement, like pressing on a soap bubble and watching it pop. We can never enjoy life as much as we'd like to, because it's more important to find what's wrong with our lives and fix it than to take it as it comes.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here. He twitters here.

"My Grey Overcoat" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)

"The Highway" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)

"The Apple Tree" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)

Monday
Dec142009

In Which We'll Be Home For Christmas

The Week in Review

We have entered the giving holiday season here at This Recording. I thought it was a dirty little secret that Santa gave Jewish children coal in their stockings, but it turned out my mother was just screwing with me all those years. Things rarely seem as hilarious at the time, and Jackie Kennedy's last happy holiday moments with her husband weren't all shits and giggles. At least there was little in the way of porn stars back then.

kennedy christmas card for 1962In the haze of Christmas morning, I also believed Jesus was a satanic elf for a brief period in the late 1980s. Times were hard, our idea of Christmas was relatively inflexible and included a menorah largely for giggles. For a country like ours to survive this difficult period, we must avoid playing jokes on our Jewish sons, and harken back to the Christmas of olde.

Enjoy our week of holiday-based content:

The wonders of depression-era dating according to Meredith Chamberlain...

We unveiled the top 20 albums of the year...

Ray Zhong on Jason Reitman's Up in the Air...

Almie Rose on the promiscuous, sex positive Grace Kelly...

William Gass' letter for the ages...

All the vampires left New York...

Eleanor Morrow on the films of Yasujiro Ozu...

The aging oeuvre of Nancy Meyers...

The story of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud...

The young auteurs of You Won't Miss Me...

Tao Lin discussed Thomas Bernhard...

Rufus Wainwright's iTunes playlist...

Elaine de Kooning remembered Mark Rothko...

Bob Dylan met John Lennon...

You can catch up on past Week in Reviews here.

"The Children" - Yeasayer (mp3)

"Madder Red" - Yeasayer (mp3)

"I Remember" - Yeasayer (mp3)

harry truman taking a christmas break in independence

Thursday
Dec102009

In Which These Are The 20 Best Albums of 2009

The Top 20 Albums of 2009

by ALEX CARNEVALE

By every measure the most important release of this or any other calendar year is the three-disc retrospective of Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. In what follows, however, we have confined our selections to original albums released or leaked in the year 2009. Also, we are happy to note that the Grizzly Bear (18 weeks on the Billboard 100) and Animal Collective albums released this year have achieved sufficient notoriety. Please enjoy the best albums of 2009:

20. Adam Franklin, Spent Bullets

Former Swervedriver vocalist Franklin's second album is a shoegaze classic, an album that could have been released in any of the past four decades and still be understood and enjoyed.

"Two Dollar Dress" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

"It Hurts To See You Go" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

"Autumn Leaf" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

19. Bad Veins, Bad Veins

Benjamin Davis and Sebastien Schultz's project achieved early acclaim after a few shows, but their mature self-titled effort is a masterpiece of songwriting.

"You Kill" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"Falling Tide" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"Gold and Warm" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"The Lie" — Bad Veins (mp3)

18. Mewithoutyou, It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All A Dream! It's Alright

The Weiss brothers tribute to Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, It's All Crazy! is a wild, rollicking record before it turns around for haunting paeans to Woody Guthrie and other more musical inspirations. Weiss' voice is a constantly flexible tool, swinging up for choruses and down to grovel at the altar of something mysterious. A wonderful, impeccably well-rounded 45 minutes of music. 

"A Stick, A Carrot and String" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

"Bullet to Binary (Pt. 2)" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

"Fig with Bellyache" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

17. Girls, Album

This San Francisco collective's unexpected debut is a synthesis of 50s and 60s influences flaunted opportunistically.

"Morning Light" - Girls (mp3)

"Summertime" - Girls (mp3)

"Lauren Marie" - Girls (mp3)

16. Lisa Hannigan, Sea Sew

Since moving away from collaborator Damien Rice, Hannigan's music has taken on a delightful hopping twinge. Her music with Rice was sorrowful and rich. She hasn't lost the mournful beauty, but she added a sustaining optimism on the most consistently rewarding record of 2009.

"Courting Blues" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"Lille" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"I Don't Know" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"Keep It All" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

15. Paleo, Pedestrian Crossing

David Andrew Strackany's become a prolific producer, but he's also a brilliant songwriter and shows as much on this album, which he began in 2005. Of Pedestrian Crossing, he writes: "a little bit of a Frankenstein, a product of meticulous, almost scientific, arrangement and editing techniques. For better or worse, I'll never make a record this way ever again."

"Too Poor" - Paleo (mp3)

14. Handsome Furs, Face Control

Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry are basically New Order but better in every detail. Their second album is every bit as delightful as their first.

"Legal Tender" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

"Evangeline" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

"Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

13. The Boy Least Likely To, The Laws of the Playground

Pete Cobbs and Jof Owen's followup to the critically acclaimed The Best Party Ever is pure pop without apologies or insinuations.

"The Boy Least Likely To Is A Machine" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

"The Boy With Two Hearts" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

"I Box Up All The Butterflies" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

12. Volcano Choir, Unmap

Maybe the greatest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Bart Starr, Justin Vernon's collaboration with Collections of Colonies of Bees is another fun jaunt from an artist unafraid of experimentation or collaboration.

"Island, IS" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Cool Knowledge" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Youology" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

11. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Up From Below

Rollicking, breathless, and multi-instrumental fun to enjoy with your friends and lovers in a safe and orderly setting that holds some kind of underlying fascination or obsession for you. Alex Ebert's voice is a flexible instrument that cycles through country, folk, and rock'n'roll too fast to keep up and still enjoy the music.

"Desert Song" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

"Jade" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

"Home" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

10. Jóhann Jóhannsson, And in the endless pause there came the sound of bees

After releasing last year's masterpiece Fordlândia, Jóhann Jóhannsson proved he could make rewarding and complex music about nearly any subject, given that the album was about a rubber plant. bees has all the austerity you'd expect from a composer of film scores, mingled into a pleasing hybrid form with his command of other genres.

"Inside the Pods" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

"Escape" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

"End (Snowing)" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

9. La Roux, La Roux

Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid's magical project brings the glory of synth pop into new interstices of how far dance music has come since the 1980s. 

"Fascination" - La Roux (mp3)

"As If By Magic" - La Roux (mp3)

"Bulletproof" - La Roux (mp3)

8. Beach House, Teen Dream

It was too difficult to make a follow-up to the imaginative shoegaze pop of 2008's Devotion, but Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand do one better: they manage to improve the alternately smooth and rough landscapes of their songwriting on Teen Dream.

“10 Mile Stereo” - Beach House (mp3)

"Norway" - Beach House (mp3)

7. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Organized around a consistent and penetrable aesthetic that is remarkably joyful.

"Rome" - Phoenix (mp3)

"Girlfriend" - Phoenix (mp3)

"Lisztomania" - Phoenix (mp3)

6. The Antlers, Hospice

Peter Silberman's death project features a massive, swirling unforgettable soundscape. He's among the best lyricists working today, and his use of what seems like "found" sound but really isn't adds to the eerieness of his aesthetic. Hospice is the perfect headphones album and the saddest thing I've ever heard.

"Kettering" - The Antlers (mp3)

"Bear" - The Antlers (mp3)

"Thirteen" - The Antlers (mp3)

5. Miike Snow, Miike Snow

Andrew Wyatt's collaboration with producers Bloodshy and Avant resulted in this masterful first album, replete with incredibly catchy hooks and Wyatt's buoyant, glimmering vocals. A treasure.

"Animal" - Miike Snow (mp3)

"Plastic Jungle" - Miike Snow (mp3)

"Song for No One" - Miike Snow (mp3)

4. AA Bondy, When The Devil's Loose

Formerly of the band Verbana, Bondy's incredible sophomore album is filled with folk music for now, with enduring themes and beautiful melodies. The title track itself is as close to perfect as a song can get.

"False River" - AA Bondy (mp3)

"On the Moon" - AA Bondy (mp3)

"The Coal Hits The Fire" - AA Bondy (mp3)

3. Alela Diane, To Be Still

Haunting singer-songwriter stuff that gets all the little details right. Diane's voice, by itself or in tandem with others, sounds like Karen Dalton if she were actually focused on singing melodically.

"Age Old Blue" - Alela Diane (mp3)

"Take Us Back" - Alela Diane (mp3)

"To Be Still" - Alela Diane (mp3)

2. The-Dream, Love vs. Money

The 31 year old Terius Nash's producing career has recently paired him with the like of Katy Perry. He's vowed to give up his solo career after next year's follow-up to this year's R&B/hip-hop classic. The man who wrote "Umbrella" has a lot more tricks than that in his bag.

"Rockin' That Shit" — The-Dream (mp3)

"Love vs. Money" — The-Dream (mp3)

"Walkin' On the Moon" — The-Dream ft. Kanye West (mp3)

1. These United States, Everything Touches Everything

Jesse Elliott's constantly touring band of D.C. area musicians made an insta-classic with 2008's A Picture of the Two of Us At The Gates To The Garden of Eden. After last year's Crimes, the band brought the energy of their live performances to their songwriting. Instead of a lo-fi masterpiece, they made a studio album worthy of the name.

"I Want You To Keep Everything" - These United States (mp3)

"Everything Touches Everything" - These United States (mp3)

"The Secret Door" - These United States (mp3)

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.

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