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Weekly Mishmash: September 19-25

album_basiaBasia – Clear Horizon: The Best of Basia. Basia was another one of those singers I’ve always been curious about but never truly checked out, a big part of her attraction coming from being part of the ’80s “sophisti-pop” movement and all. The 1998 comp Clear Horizon was a good introduction, with tracks that span her first three albums from 1987-94, a pair of casually sung live tracks, a 1996 single (“Angels Blush” b/w “Waters Of March”) and two then-new cuts. She certainly was an odd duck, at least when first arriving on the scene. I can vividly remember hearing “Time And Tide” for the first time — it was the Fall of ’87 and I was driving to classes my first semester in college. Despite running late that morning, I felt compelled to sit in the car and hear the entire song — who the heck is this nasal-voiced lady with the beautiful song? The combo of brittle synth production and bossa nova stylings seemed pretty bizarre back then, but it’s actually worked in Basia’s favor over the years as her voice has mellowed and she (along with collaborator Danny White) has settled into a more adult, jazzy groove. The most blatantly Bossa Nova tunes in this set are my favorites, 1994’s sweetly endearing “Third Time Lucky” and her version of the Brazilian standard “Waters of March.” Stevie Wonder cover “Until You Come Back To Me”, a semi-hit from 1990, is the only standout omission — the track’s badly dated, quasi hip-hop percussion would have really stood out in these surroundings, however. As a supplement, I also downloaded Basia’s appearances on Peter White’s gorgeous “Just Another Day” and Spyro Gyra’s “Springtime Laughter.” Sophisticated pop, indeed.

Food, Inc. (2008). An eye-opener, even if much of the info in this feature length exposé of the nefarious U.S. food industry has already been covered in other documentaries. What sets the Oscar-nominated Food, Inc. apart from the rest is its super-slick presentation. From the clever opening credits, with the film’s personnel incorporated into faux food labels in a supermarket, we knew we were in for Michael Moore-esque muckraking infotainment. But, despite the flashiness, does it truly get its point across? I’d say yes. The filmmakers included powerful (and stomach churning) footage that even our jaded eyes blanched at. It also covers myriad subjects in an eloquent way. Most Americans still live in blissful ignorance when it comes to subjects like the FDA’s uselessness or the evil ways of Monsanto. More importantly, these are issues that affect us directly in our own physical well-being. It truly is a fascinating look at how lax government standards and the incentive of producing vast quantities of cheap food have led to an epidemic. The feel-good text running prior to the end credits was something of a cop out (I had a similar reaction to An Inconvenient Truth). Other than that, this is a powerful film that especially resonates during these mid-term election days.
Nana (2005). Meandering but ultimately worthwhile Japanese drama, adapted from the popular manga of the same name. This film concerns two young women with the same name who meet by chance on a snowbound rail car. Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima) is the sulky lead singer of a goth/punk band, while the über perky Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki) is trying to find a job — and herself — so she can marry her high school sweetheart. Although the two initially seem to share little in common, their differences bring out the best in each other when the pair become roommates. This is an appealing film which takes a refreshingly dry, realistic approach to a plot which might read “bad sitcom” on first perusal. Although it sags in the middle and contains a few extraneous song performances, the appealing leads and a satisfying conclusion put it slightly into the “winner” category. Unlike say, the Death Note movies, this isn’t a cut-and-dried manga adaptation. That works in this film’s favor.
The September Issue (2008). This was another wicked good documentary, chronicling famously icy Vogue editor Anna Wintour as she prepares the brick-like September 2007 issue for publication. Wintour is presented as a haughty yet somehow sweet and endearing woman, one having little in common with the cartoonish editrix played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (although it’s amusing that the office layouts at Vogue and in Prada are virtually identical). She seems all business, coolly overseeing layouts and tossing out slaved-over photos like so many ashes from a cigarette. As always suspected, most of the real work is done by a phalanx of support staff. Cheif among whom is creative editor Grace Coddington, who gets almost as much screen time as Wintour. The filmmakers closely follow Coddington as she prepares an elaborate photo shoot of fashions inspired by Brassai’s images of Parisian women in the 1920s — in these scenes, the grind and occasional magic of magazine production comes alive. A flame haired former model, the straight-talking Coddington is a refreshing change from Wintour and editor at large André Leon Talley (who always seemed like a fakey schmoozer to me; this film didn’t change my opinion one iota). It’s interesting how she represents the old guard of fashion as pure visual spectacle, with no interest in the celebrity worshipping angle to fashion coverage that Wintour helped create. On the other hand, the process of how they managed to make the inelegant and sloppy actress Sienna Miller into a stunning cover girl was worth a feature length doc in itself. Great viewing.

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