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January 13, 2010

See: The Hurt Locker

Katheryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker follows the fortunes of a tight-knit bomb squad as they near the end of their rotation in Iraq. That they're tight-knit is a necessity of their job and of their situation; left to their own devices, it's hard to imagine the three men would be nodding acquaintances, let alone trust each other with their lives day in and day out.

It's a tense film, full of suspense, that seemingly paradoxically lets each scene unfold at its own pace. There's not much dialogue, but there doesn't need to be. We learn about the characters through their reactions and interactions. Bigelow shot nearly two hundred hours of footage for the film, and one can imagine how that may have allowed the actors the room to fully inhabit their characters, as well as allowed the editors the ability to create the experiential feeling of the film.

Mark Boal, the screnwriter, was himself embedded with a bomb squad in Iraq, the his screenplay has the ring of authenticity. He's also confident enough to let his material stand. Where lesser films might become mawkish or underline the emotional underpinnings of certain scenes (hello, Good Morning Vietnam) The Hurt Locker leaves us with ambiguities, even during emotionally climactic scenes. It's a thorougly engrossing film, fully realized.

By eugene at 10:15 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,
Photograph from monochrome.

This morning the NYTimes alterted me to New York's Winter Jazzfest, going on this weekend. I wonder how packed the Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa sets will be on Saturday. Iyer's Historicity was one of my favorite albums last year (it topped a lot of top jazz album lists), and I've enjoyed Mahanthappa's Kinsmen for a while. I'll have to give Apti another spin.

By eugene at 9:22 AM | Leave a comment | Tags: ,

January 7, 2010

New work: Tokyo Cyberpunk

I just heard today that the above book cover I designed for Palgrave Macmillan was approved. It's going to print metallic silver with day glow orange. I'm thinking of a matte finish, but we'll see what the budget allows. Here's a bit of description from the jacket request form:

Engaging some of the most canonical and thought-provoking anime, manga, and science fiction films, Tokyo Cyberpunk offers insightful analysis of Japanese visual culture. Stephen Brown draws new conclusions about the cultural flow of art, as well as important technological issues of the day. Penetrating and nuanced, this book makes a major contribution to the debate about what it means to be human in a posthuman world.

The illustration comes from a stock agency. Unfortunately, there's no artist information.

By eugene at 9:32 PM | 8 comments | Tags: , ,

January 1, 2010

Up! Up! Up!

Australian artist Pogo is an inventive musician known for sampling the audio and video from a single film to create new pieces of music. He composed Upular "using chords, bass notes and vocal samples from the Disney Pixar film Up." See more of his videos on his YouTube channel or stream his tracks from his MySpace page. Albums can be downloaded at I've been listening to them all night.

I couldn't imagine a more joyful or inventive way to ring in the new year than the above video. Up was definitely one of my favorite films of 2009. Happy 2010 everyone! May your decade be filled with glorious adventures!

By eugene at 1:13 AM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,

December 31, 2009

Favorite recordings 2009

Antony and the Johnsons-The Crying Light
I have yet to encounter an Antony album I haven't liked, and their third full-length record is no exception. Beginning with Antony's plaintive vocals, accompanied by his piano and a cello, the album unfolds with beautifully sparse arrangements in support of plaintive melodies. At times, the album comes across almost like Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call, but with greater fragility. This year I also had the opportunity to see Antony and the Johnsons perform live. The band was tight and played magnificently, shedding new light on the material. I could barely believe my ears.

Au Revoir Simone-Still Night, Still Light
Still Night, Still Light captivates me with its occasional strange shifts in key and harmony, and the dreamy pop tunes that preside over the recording. While this Brooklyn-based, Casio-centric synthpop trio has delivered a melancholy album, the overall downcast pallor is leavened by occasional bursts of energy that leaven the proceedings and propel the album forward.

Ella Fitzgerald-Twelve Nights in Hollywood
I tend to fall on the Billie Holiday side of the Holiday/Fitzgerald divide, but there's something about her energy and exuberance that wins me over during the holidays. This new live recording sees her in fine form, as she makes her way through a series of standards on these loose 1960 and 1961 club dates. She sounds amazing; her vocal lines are incredibly agile and rhythmic timing is impeccable.

JJ-JJ N° 2
An enigmatic Swedish duo, JJ's bubbling synths and delicate harmonies conjure references to everyone from Paul Simon and Toto to Lil' Wayne and the Cowboy Junkies with a dash of the Postal Service. And that's a poor description. When I returned to New York from China, these 27 minutes of music were all I could handle. It was the soundtrack of my decompression and re-emergence into the city.

Lady Gaga-The Fame
I came late to Lady Gaga but once I heard the album I couldn't stop. It's been a while since I've been so taken with a pop/dance record, and while I may not like a song when I first hear it, she always manages to blow open a song with the chorus so that I want to be completely encompassed by it.

Major Lazer-Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do
In the absence of a genre-hopping tropical infused album by the likes of, say, MIA, Diplo teams with Switch to bring forth Major Lazer, a genre-hopping reggae-infused album by an alter ego who "a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. He supposedly fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket powered skateboard." Sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.

Pastels/Tenniscoats-Two Sunsets
A collaboration between a band from Glasgow and one from Tenniscoats, the album emerged when the Tenniscoats suggested the two bands book some time in Glasgow to see what might happen. It's a pastoral album that feels like summer sunlight collected for a frigid winter afternoon. I shudder at the comparison (and the somewhat cheesy turn of phrase), but here something has definitely been found in translation.

Roll Deep-Street Anthems
A collection of sides from the grime/hip hop collective that brought us Dizzie Rascal, this compilation collects the hits that demonstrate why they're considered the forefathers of the grime scene. As fresh as it must have sounded when it first emerged onto the scene, the music continues to sound fresh, and it's great to have this record to look back on the development of this subgenre of music.

Vijay Iyer-Historicity
I wasn't immediately taken by this recording of Iyer's piano trio, but as I found myself returning to it again and again for his interpretations of recent pop songs (MIA's "Galang"), 70's hits (Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother"), Broadway tunes ("Somewhere"), and Andrew Hill ("Smoke Stack"). A muscular player, Iyer demonstrates his understanding of a wide range of music and musical styles on this record, and he's a pianist I'll be following in years to come.

Pink Mountaintops-Outside Love
The Raveonettes-In & Out of Control
Crystal Stilts-Crystal Stilts
I'm a sucker for bands with a strong kinship to the Jesus & Mary Chain, and this year posted the above three albums that scratched this itch. The Pink Mountaintops tackle the walls of sound from a country bent, the Raveonettes emphasize the 60s girl group aspect, and the Crystal Stilts (on their EP) from the stanpoint of a lo-fi echo-chamber.

By eugene at 12:34 AM | 4 comments | Tags:

December 30, 2009

Favorite iPhone apps of 2009

Sadly, a much smaller list of apps than the games list. I guess I'm not as productive on my iPhone as I could be . . .

A beautifully designed app to keep track of lists of things to do. A free version allows for three lists, but I quickly realized I needed more. In addition to lists of things to do, I have lists of cheeses to try, wines I like, galleries to visit, things to blog. . . . I never thought I liked keeping lists as much as it turns out I do.

All the information from the Internet Movie Database in a handy app that loads quickly and efficiently. Oddly, I had trouble locating running times the other night. The addition of a web browser (so you wouldn't have to leave the app for Safari when reading reviews) would make this all the better.

Pandora Radio
Although I've had the app for a while, it wasn't until Christmas rolled around that I started using it. It's great for creating those specialized radio stations of music you love to listen to, but don't necessarily want to collect.
All the lastest runway images from New York, London, Milan, and Paris in the palm of your hand. An indispensible way to keep up on the latest shows and trends, all with the flick of a finger.

By eugene at 4:16 PM | 3 comments | Tags:

December 30, 2009

Favorite iPhone games of 2009

I don't buy that many apps in general, so this isn't pulled from an exhaustive list of games I've played. These are just games I stumbled upon, bought for one reason or other, and found myself returning to again and again as I sat in hotel rooms or stayed up past my bedtime on school nights. The list leans heavily on sports-related games, though I'm not sure why...

Baseball Superstars 2009
Play as a pitcher, batter, or a full team as you work your way through season after season in this "cute" baseball game. A 2010 edition is out, but I haven't tried it.

Bejeweled 2
The game that keeps me up at night. A classic match three gems game with great sound effects, my only initial gripe was the lack of integration with Facebook's Blitz version. Once that was rectified, I find I can't stop playing this as I keep trying to top my friends' scores (sometimes to no avail).

Dance Dance Revolution S
I love DDR. At first it seemed impossible that such an immersive game could be made to work on the iPhone, but this version a great job of it.

The Deep Pinball
I love pinball games and I remember playing Night Mission pinball for hours on my Apple IIe (though I could never top the scores my mother posted). On the iPhone, this is my pinball machine of choice.

Fans of 1942 will be right at home with this vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. Using the tilt sensor on the phone, you control a figher plane to destroy the enemy's secret weapon prototypes.

Fastlane Street Racing
While no longer my go-to driving game (that honor goes to Real Racing, mentioned below), I have to give props to Fastlane as my first racing game addiction. It was also the first time I saw the potential for gaming on the device. The only problem was how difficult it was to advance to the next levels. Still, I appreciated it for the beautiful way in which it rendered the landscape and for the accuracy of the physics.

Real Racing
This is the game that took over from Fastlane Street Racing for me. Slightly less challenging game play, but with a greater number of cars and tracks, this is the game that keeps me attuned to the race track.

Real Soccer 2010
A fantastic 3D soccer game, made all the better with a multiplayer option across wifi. The 2010 update makes the game that much more fluid, and actually alters the weather and lighting conditions during season play.

Homerun Battle 3D
Don't feel like pitching or fielding? This game focuses on swinging for the fences. Build up your player as you hit more homers. The option to play against people from around the world is a bonus.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour
Current personal woes notwithstanding, this golf game impressed me with the rendering of the courses and the smoothness with which I could control my player's swing. Once I got the hang of the game, however, it became a lot less challenging. Still, it's a good way to get to the links without leaving your home.

By eugene at 1:40 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: ,

December 29, 2009

Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event

Two weeks ago a friend invited me to see La Danse, a documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet by Frederick Wiseman. Unfortunately, I had plans that evening, and the film closed before I had the chance to see it. She later told me that the film was wonderful, but seemed to lack editing. She said it was as if the director wanted to include everything.

Her invitation and comments me of Tacita Dean's Craneway Event, a 16mm film about a site-specific dance created by Merce Cunningham. Another friend had invited me to see the work at the Danspace project in New York. Dean follows the dancers as they prepare, make, and rehearse the piece under the watchful eye of Cunningham, who is never far from the frame. It's at once a documentary on the process of creating the dance, a record of the dance itself, and a reimaging of the dance as her own work through her choices of what to reveal and where she places her focus.

To Dean's credit, watching her film reminded me of my first encounter with Cunningham's choreography. I was in college and secured a ticket to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. I was fairly unfamiliar with modern dance, and unprepared for what I encountered. The work was slow, and I had to force myself to concentrate on the work before me. It wasn't until much later that I realized its beauty. Dean's film didn't take so long to resonate with me, as I admired the way in which she constructed her shots and sequences, and the way in which she framed the action and nonaction. It had been a long time since I had encountered Cunningham's work, and I was glad for this document of it. Sadly, the film marks Cunningham's last appearance on film.

By eugene at 10:26 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: ,

As part of a recent profile in the New Yorker, the magazine has posted a slide show of Hadid's new building, the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, just outside of Rome. It's her largest building completed to building to date, and opened last month before any art was installed.

I first learned of Hadid when the Guggenheim staged a retrospective of her work in 2006. I was initially captivated by her paintings, in which she tries to represent the sum of each building in an abstract manner. As I continued up the ramp I became more and more entranced by her work after viewing models and watching video walkthroughs and interviews. For the BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, I was particularly struck by the way in which she brought the blue colllar production line through the white collar office space. In an interview, one office worker spoke of how wonderful it was to be so connected to what the company was building. Her job was no longer abstract.

Then, she seemed to have few completed projects, and was just beginning to get more. I'm excited to see that she has so many projects underway, and I'm glad to see her so recognized. I can't wait to actually inhabit one of her buildings myself.

More can be learned at her studio's site.

By eugene at 7:18 PM | Leave a comment | Tags:

December 27, 2009

See: Tulpan

Sergei Dvortsevoy's narrative film debut opens a window onto the lives of a family living on the Kazakh steppe. Asa, fresh from a stint with the Russian navy, attempts to assimilate back to the land. He lives with his sister and her husband and their three children in their yurt. He's out of place; when we first see him he's in his sailor's uniform attempting to woo Tulpan, the only single woman in the area. The dry desert spreads out around them; sandstorms rage off and on. It's an inhospitable place, made no more hospitable by the contentious relationship he has with his brother-in-law.

A documentary filmmaker, Dvortsevoy is unafraid to let the camera linger, and Jolanta Dylewska, his cinematographer, is adept at capturing the action as it unfolds. Some of the best scenes occur as characters move in and out of frame, performing their daily tasks. A woman churns milk, the men herd sheep, the children sing and listen to the radio and pretend to ride horses. The rhythm of their existence is the rhythm of the film, and the film develops according to their lives. It's a keenly observed film, and I was captivated both by the characters and the landscape they inhabit.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

By eugene at 7:24 PM | Leave a comment | Tags: , ,