Not that the interweb needs another post of this nature right now, but Amy Winehouse's Back to Black is still very much making my head explode with its heavily righteous holy-fucking-shit amazingness. I mean, I liked the groovy throwback quality of "Ain't No Other Man" as much as the next person, but kittens, this is how an album's worth of blindingly white-hot retro-infused contemporary R&B/soul is done. Hell, she's even inspired me to revisit Ghostface's Fishscale, thanks to the ridiculously exciting verse he spits on the alternate take of "You Know I'm No Good" (which also appeared late last year on his More Fish). What kind of fuckery is this, indeed. Highly recommended.
Finally got around to checking out The Last King of Scotland this weekend; it's much better than I thought it would be. As my previous snarky remark about The Devil Wears Prada would indicate, I generally don't go in for descent-into-madness films, but this one worked for me for some reason. There's some infelicitous editing/imagery in one of the inevitable "oh god, what have I done??" sequences (voices and images literally swirling around a despondent and drunk James McAvoy's head), and I couldn't shake the creepy feeling at the end that, before I realized what had happened, I was suddenly watching just another action movie where the African men are scary and menacing and attemping, with great relish, to physically harm the anerable little white man who will inevitably escape to the bosom of freedom in the West after his little Dark Continental adventure. But, for the most part, it does some nice stuff with narrativizing the shifting dynamics of power plays between countries, cultures, sexes, political parties, families of origin vs. families of choice, and urban vs. rural lifestyles. And, not that all descent-into-madness films need be compared to Training Day, but as with Ethan Hawke in that movie, I think much of the reason Forest Whitaker ended up with the Oscar is because of the work McAvoy is doing opposite him, making him look good. He's much more than just a blank slate waiting to absorb the corruption around him; his own spiky little agenda locks into the jagged edges of power and hedonism that he suddenly finds himself surrounded by, and he deftly inhabits some of the more repugnant stereotypes of the Westerner visiting an African country in a way that they come off as both specific character traits and broader archetypes. I was definitely impressed.
Less impressive, though enjoyable in its own way, was The Namesake. I've never read the novel and don't know as much of Mira Nair's work as I wish I did, but the evocative preview totally suckered me in. The film, though, is strangely linear. It seems it would have been natural to play with time a bit, just to goose that sense of history repeating itself with significant variations along the way, as well as to give the narrative some extra (and much needed) dramatic heft. The plot (as such) meanders in a way that keeps it from achieving the coveted "the more specific, the more universal" quality that it was definitely aiming for. Like, the big reveal about why Nikolai Gogol was chosen as "the namesake" turns out to be...hold your breath...a train crash. Just a train crash. No Nazis aboard the train, no terrorists laying explosives down along the tracks, no cherubic urchins accidentally stumbling into the path of the engine's headlight. I kept waiting for the father's speech to crescendo loud enough that we could hear some subtext folded in there, but there was nothing. The accident wasn't doing any additional dramatic work in the context of the story. Sure sometimes a train crash really is just a train crash, but then it's just a sad thing that happened to somebody and not an intellectually or emotionally engaging inciting incident that's the supposed raison d'etre of a major novel or movie. Shrug. At any rate, Irfan Khan is subtly charistmatic and slyly, magnetically sexy as the Ganguli patriarch, and, though Kal Penn struggles a bit with the heavier emotions, he's still really cute and really fun to watch. His body language in the scenes while he's still a teenager totally gives away his background in broad physical comedy; he's effortlessly funny with just one exasperated roll of his eyes.
Oh, yeah, and Daydream Nation this summer, anyone?