Best of 2003: Lost In Translation
This still hasn't gone on general release in the UK yet. Grr. When the distributor finally decides to get a move on, go and see this, a beautiful character piece focussing on two people who can never be together, and their travels in the mysterious and contradictory city of Tokyo. I defy anyone to not have a tear welling up as The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" plays over the film's final sequence…
Reports that the current terror alert is due to intelligence murmurs about a man clad in red who claims to have access to every home in America and promises to give the children "a surprise" this Christmas remain unconfirmed at this time.
This weekend, if nothing else, proved that Saddam Hussein was something of an idiot. You can indeed be a dictator of a Middle East country, have a history of opposition to Israel, a list of human rights abuses, confirmed links to various terror organisations, and even have a fully active nuclear weapons programme, but still be called a "statesman", and welcomed back into the international community. He should be kicking himself.
(oh, and by the way, have any of you heard these rumours that seem to be going around; that the Kurds captured Saddam Hussein, drugged him, and called in the Americans? Making his capture something of a PR stunt? Would look rather bad for the Bush Administration if it was true, I suppose…)
Best of 2003: The Crew — Christopher Priest
It was A Black Book. Only it wasn't, of course, but it had a black character and it was written by a black man. That was enough to doom this inventive comic which could have been Marvel's answer to DC's popular "Losers" if only they had given it a little more time. Or promoted it. Or let Priest promote it himself. Now that Marvel's "trade anything that moves" program has been flung out of the window along with Bill Jemas, this series will probably never see a trade collection, which is a great shame. If you're looking for an action-adventure full of twists and turns, start going through the quarter-bins and find this gem (see also: Xer0, The Ray, Steel #34-#52, Quantum & Woody, and Black Panther).
Best of 2003: Joss Stone — The Soul Sessions
In a world of Pop Idols, Academies, autotuners and backing tapes , this album is something special. "I only meant to love you." - the first line of the album is delivered with no accompaniment, just the bare sound of a 16-year-old pouring her heart and soul into the Joe Simon classic "The Chokin' Kind". Yes, it's a short album, and yes it's all covers. But the covers aren't the usual standards, and the one song that you're likely to recognise, The White Stripes' "Fell In Love With A Girl" has been disassembled beyond all recognition, transformed into a soulful groove. This is an album that makes you remember that the music world is not just what Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, and Lou Pearlman dictate to us…
- Al Green — I Can't Stop
One of the standout memories of 1999's Glastonbury was Al Green's set on a Sunday afternoon. When he came out on stage, the sky was foreboding and full of grey. by the time he had finished "Let's Stay Together", the sun had chased the clouds away, leaving us with a glorious Sunday afternoon with a legend. This is the title track from his new album, a reunion with Willie Mitchell, the producer for much of his 1970s output.
- Electrelane — Going Out Again
Handclaps! Wailing synths! And more besides!
Best of 2003: 24 Hour Party People (DVD)
It's a great film to begin with, but what elevates the DVD into "must-buy" status is the Tony Wilson commentary, where he spends the whole film talking about the inaccuaracies and complaining how the scriptwriters made him an idiot. It's really funny. As it's a Factory product, the design is impeccable, including a virtual map of Manchester and a fascinating look at Peter Saville's design work. I haven't watched the video commentary yet (featuring members of New Order and Miranda Sawyer), but I'm sure it's good 8-).
This is the greatest site on the Internet today. Pepper spray bombs? Tasers with laser sights? Knives cunningly concealed as lipstick? A CIA-approved ice scraper? It has it all. Plus child safety gear. Buy a loved one a Defense Stocking this Christmas!
Although abolishing the region code system won't automatically mean the end of staggered release dates, a "hurrah!" goes to the head of Blockbuster for calling for an end to the silly practice of preventing people from watching DVDs that they had the misfortune of buying in a different country.
Best of 2003: Sean Paul — Get Busy
This is the other song included due to memories rather than quality. In this case, it's not an amazing track to listen to, but it's not meant for that. This is a record for dancing, and doing anything else with it is a waste of time and effort. In April and May, you could not go into a club in Chapel Hill and avoid this track. It was everywhere. And we danced. 8-)
It begins in a way you least expect. The battles are as spectacular as usual, but there are a few bits of dodgy CGI. The elimination of Saruman is a bit of a blow, but the battles make you forget about all that. Those of you who feared that Arwen was going to swamp the trilogy will be happy, and those of you who wanted certain endings will be also. Minas Tirith looks incredible. It is as good, if not better than the first two films, although there's a few gaps which will no doubt be filled in when the 4+ hour version is released next year.
If you see this early in the day, you will have a group of annoying kids sitting in front of you, who will spend the entire length of the film talking/throwing sweets/jumping on bottles/listening to music on their personal stereos. A Special Place in Hell is reserved for these people. Oh, and Orlando Bloom has attracted a cheering section. There may also be people who wear elven cloaks.
Best of 2003: Russian Ark
It's a 96-minute, continuous-take journey through the Russian State Hermitage Museum, where – oi! Come back! It's not what it sounds, it's not –. Okay, it's an incredibly pretentious film starring a 19th century French aristocrat travelling through over 200 years of Russian history whilst complaining about anything and everything. But it's so beautifully shot and choreographed that I think you need to see it, at least once.
I tell a lie. This is the geekiest page on the Internet. At least for this week.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha. ha. May this signal the beginning of the end for Pop Idol. Please.
Download this. Listen. Experience Joy.
Best of 2003: Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Or Mallrats: Quentin Tarantino Edition. Death! Swords! Slicing! Quips! Obscure retro references! Bill remains steadfastly unkilled at the end! Blood! Japanese Schoolgirls with maces! Swords! The Crazy 88's! The 5,6,7,8s! RZA! There's actually not much more to say about this film except that it's a fun b-movie, and that I'm looking forward to Part 2, where I'm assured that Bill Will Be Killed.
Meanwhile, a bug has been found in Ultima Online which allows players to rack up millions of gold pieces easily. So what, you say? Well, for a start, the various MMORPGs are beginning to resemble nation-states. Last month, the Gaming Open Market opened its doors for trading. This is a currency trading site that allows players to exchange currency between the different gaming systems, or to convert into US dollars. This bug will likely cause the value of the UO Gold Piece to drop considerably against the dollar, and could set off a hyper-inflationary rise in prices in the game itself. This in turn could lead to increased migration from the UO to a world that has a more stable currency, like The Sims Online, for example.
I've never been enticed by the MMORPG, as in order to get anywhere, you need to put in ten or more hours of game time each day. Which seems a little excessive to me. But it is interesting to see the problems that are occurring as this genre develops…
Best of 2003: Kingdom of Fear — Hunter S. Thompson
A rather depressing book, to be honest. HST is getting old, and all the venom he's spurted over the years has come to nothing. They gave Nixon an full-honours funeral, praising his name, and the current Administration fills Hunter with a new sort of Fear: a relentless, unending rule of The New Stupid. The book tells the story of a law suit that a woman filed against Thompson a few years back, but mostly this is a collection of random thoughts and rantings from a man who has seen it happen before. They didn't listen to him then, and they probably won't listen to him now…
Operation: Red Dawn?!?!
What exactly was going through their minds? "This is possibly one of the most important missions we've undertaken since the end of May, so naturally we'll name it after a cheesy 1980s film" (incidentally, check out the review on the IMDb; it's quite amusing). At first, I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the press briefing continued and the Lieutenant General talked about how the troops had split into two "Wolverine" squads, I realised the horrible truth: someone had put thought into this. A lot of thought. Somewhere deep in the Pentagon is a person with far too much time on his hands (or her hands). Was it a deliberate attempt to equate Saddam Hussein and his supporters with Patrick Swayze and a host of Brat Packers? The world has a right to know…
Best of 2003: Panjabi MC — Mundian To Bach Ke
The first of two songs chosen more for the memories they evoke rather than the quality of the song itself (although I do like this; if someone told you the concept of this record, you'd dismiss it out-of-hand, but when you hear the mix of Knight Rider and Bhangra, it just seems to fit perfectly); this one reminds me of the Easter weekend spent at the Outer Banks when a drunk Shafaq showed us how Bhangra dancing is really done, and an amusing drunken acappella version from this September 8-).
(note: doing these things manually is best avoided...)
Best of 2003: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 7
It was always going to be a difficult season. And yes, parts of it didn't work; the main storyline dragged on somewhat; Caleb should have been introduced much earlier in the season. But episodes like "Storyteller", "Lies My Parents Told Me", and the heart-wrenching "Conversations With Dead People" showed that the writers were still able to produce fantastic television. The finale, "Chosen", ended too quickly, but it was a powerful hour, combining tragic loss, bunnies, the ultimate redemption of a character long lost, the amusing fate of Sunnydale, and an ending that promises that the story has only just begun. Yay for Joss Whedon!