Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lonesome Jim

What do you get when you pair Ben Affleck’s younger brother with quirky actor-cum-director Steve Buscemi? Unfortunately, not much.

Lonesome Jim
tracks the life of a not-very-loveable loser (Casey Affleck) as he returns to his parents and their small town after striking out in the big bad city of New York. He’s in his late 20s and has no prospects for a career, romance, or home of his own, so he’s resigned hope and crawled into the safe confines of his parents’ home. The only small solace he finds there is his even more hapless older brother who is already in his 30s, divorced with sole custody of two kids, and barely making more than minimum wage.

Jim fancies himself to be a writer, although there’s no evidence of any actual output aside from his morbid fascination with famous authors who committed suicide. He spends his days moping around the house pitying himself until his parents line up a job for him at their company, further proving his inadequacy to make his way on his own. The only bright spot in his mundane existence is a cute local nurse (Liv Tyler) who takes a fancy to him.

Tyler is having a strange career lately as an Affleck love interest, moving directly from Ben’s small-town salvation in Jersey Girl to Casey’s small-town salvation here. As expected, she’s not particularly effective aside from providing some attractive scenery in an otherwise unappealing cast.

The film was shot entirely on digital, and it shows, with notable graininess throughout and an extremely low-budget feel. That’s not a problem if the material is strong, in fact it could enhance the realism of certain projects, but here it just comes off as an unfortunate cost-cutting measure.

The biggest fault of this film is its total pointlessness. Jim is such a self-absorbed loser that the audience can’t build up any empathy for him, so the final payoff or lack thereof is entirely inconsequential. Sure, his story is probably close to reality for many adults still living in their parents’ basements, but there’s no spark to the film’s situations that imparts any wisdom, humor, or emotional response.

It seems like lines are inserted in the script to elicit occasional laughter, but Affleck’s listless delivery and Buscemi’s confusing direction waste all opportunities and leave viewers wondering if they were just imagining that there was supposed to be some humor. I didn’t realize they were consciously trying to be funny until I noticed the description on the DVD cover, “a comedy from Steve Buscemi”. It’s a shame because the material seems to be a good fit for Buscemi’s sensibilities, particularly his apparent fondness for the foibles of the common man. He has proven to be a worthwhile director in the past with Trees Lounge and occasional work on The Sopranos, but here he falls flat.

In spite of its inadequacies, I didn’t entirely dislike film. Even though it’s completely unmemorable, it’s not an unpleasant way to spend some movie time. That lack of emotional response works both ways: viewers won't find anything too disagreeable or too exciting, leaving them with a bland, middle-of-the-road film. Better luck next time, Buscemi.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Surviving Eden

Dennis is an overweight, introverted loser whose life is turned upside down when his best friend enters him as a contestant in the latest reality tv show craze called Surviving Eden. The film follows him from his humble beginnings through his rise to instant stardom and his full 15 minutes of fame, along the way skewering the Hollywood publicity machine and especially the reality show genre that so easily creates and discards its stars.

The film is shot in the style of a mockumentary, opening with Dennis’s pre-celebrity life as a complete nobody whose only friends are his protective mother (Conchata Ferrell) and his annoying roommate, Sterno (Peter Dinklage). Fittingly, Dennis is played by virtual unknown Michael Panes, making it easy for the audience to identify with him as a new celebrity.

When the producers of the hit Survivor clone Surviving Eden receive his audition tape from Sterno, they’re instantly intrigued by the idea of casting such an unlikely contestant, especially when they learn that his submission was a prank. Dennis isn’t sure why he agrees to appear on the show, although he harbors hope of meeting a nice girl since he isn’t making any progress in his regular life. Of course he goes on to win the show and loses all of his excess weight along the way, setting up his entry into the world of instant celebrity.

The cast is rounded out with strong supporting characters including SNL alum Cheri Oteri as a manipulative, crazed contestant, legendary director John Landis as the production company’s psychologist, and Sam Robards and Jane Lynch as the slick, slimy show producers. Robards and Lynch especially play characters that couldn’t exist anywhere else but Hollywood, flaunting their coke use, low budget economic model that maximizes profits for themselves, and engaging in heated diatribes about ridiculous topics such as the predilection of their show’s host for wearing flak jackets in every show.

The film delights in blasting the machinations of fame and wealth, such as the idiotic fashion and poses forced on Dennis for magazine photo shoots, his attempt to extend his fame via another show about his life following his win (shades of Flavor of Love), and especially the uncanny ability of Hollywood to chew up and spit out its star creations. The film loses steam as Dennis enters the downward spiral of fame, getting so ridiculous at times that it erases much of the goodwill built up by its strong first half. Still, the concept is so ripe for satire that there are plenty of laughs throughout the film for both fans and detractors of reality shows, and it wraps up happily as Dennis’s fondest wish comes true.

Surviving Eden is in limited theatrical release starting in NY August 25th, followed by Chicago beginning September 1st, and Austin and LA beginning September 8th. Check the film’s website for additional locations.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Idlewild arrives as a bit of a curiosity, especially in light of the talent behind it. The principal draws are the two members of hip-hop super duo Outkast, Andre “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, extremely talented musical artists but not particularly known for their acting chops. Accomplished music video director Bryan Barber is a largely unknown quantity in his first theatrical outing as writer/director. The rest of the cast is peppered with familiar faces, but none so powerful or prominent to carry the film on their own.

And then there’s the concept of the film. This is no hip-hop autobiography like 8 Mile or a shameless attempt by its stars to cash acting paychecks in any available project (I’m looking at you, LL Cool J). Instead, it’s a wholly unexpected trip to the Deep South circa the Prohibition era, complete with its fashion, pastimes, and music. Surprisingly, it’s not really a musical, although many musical performances are included. Instead, it attempts to throw in a little pinch of everything including romance, gangster life, comedy, “a star is born” story, action, coming of age, and drama. It’s almost as if Barber wants to create his own catch-all category, the musical rom/com/dram. The weight of these genre collisions drags the production down a notch and occasionally causes some plot whiplash, but ultimately adds up to an enjoyable mess.

Benjamin and Patton play lifelong friends who have traveled distinctly different paths throughout their lives but still maintain one constant that ties them together: music. Fittingly, that arrangement neatly parallels the real-life relationship of the stars as they have increasingly grown apart and followed different interests as their careers have progressed, fueling ongoing speculation that Outkast doesn’t really exist anymore as they’re both operating on their own at this point. It’s a telling sign that the stars barely appear on screen together as they both follow independent story arcs throughout the film.

Their paths intersect at the local nightclub called The Church, an incredibly large and public venue attracting a clientele who seem completely oblivious to Prohibition. Rooster (Patton) is a star musical attraction at the club, in addition to chief hooch procurer and eventual owner. Percival (Benjamin) is the club’s subdued, somewhat shy piano player with talent to burn and an overbearing dad to keep him in check.

As the film progresses, Rooster finds himself in deep trouble with his wife (Malinda Williams) and the new local gangster boss (Terrence Howard), so his primary concerns become winning back his family while managing to keep himself alive, all while maintaining a running comedic dialogue with his talking whiskey flask. He’s a philandering, scheming, lovable rogue and he is brought to life shockingly well by the novice actor, Patton. He suffers through one of the clumsiest cliché scenes shortly before his final showdown when he comes to the aid of a poor widow (Cicely Tyson) and receives a thick Bible from her for his efforts. Take a wild guess what happens when he later gets shot. Luckily, this also sets up the film’s strongest action sequence, allowing him to get into a bruising brawl, shootout, and car chase.

Meanwhile, Percival finds himself falling in love with the new diva of the club while simultaneously attempting to maintain his relationship and employment with his stoic father (Ben Vereen) at their mortuary business. Percival’s mother died long ago, and his father’s heart died along with her, forcing Percival to bury his own dreams and emotions until they are awakened by the new singer (Paula Patton). Benjamin’s performance is understated to the point of near invisibility, never approaching the promise he has shown in past efforts such as Four Brothers. However, Paula Patton is the film’s greatest revelation, seemingly coming from nowhere to light up the screen with a luminous, star-making performance.

As for the music, it’s a mixed bag and not at all what most viewers will expect. Although Outkast released a new album called Idlewild in conjuction with the film, it’s mostly different than the songs used in the film and should not be mistaken as a direct soundtrack. In fact, three of the most prominent performances in the movie are songs from Outkast’s previous album, which might have been a good idea when it was filmed two years ago but seriously deflates the excitement level now. Of the new songs in the film, they could best be described as hip-hop meets Cab Calloway, a fitting compromise for the talent and film setting. The best use of new material doesn’t occur until the film concludes with Andre 3000’s performance of PJ and Rooster, an elaborate production number over the end credits that would make Busby Berkeley proud.

Although Benjamin and Patton are the stars, this is ultimately Barber’s creative vision and he has worked hard to inject some flair into the proceedings. The opening credits are especially commendable as they bring to life historical photos and add in subtle hip-hop scratching effects, instantly setting the scene while keeping some modern flavor. There’s also some impressive variable speed camera work during an initial dance number, and a few other CGI tricks that are hit (talking flask) or miss (choreographed clocks) in effectiveness. The film looks great too, with superb cinematography and costumes. His downfall is attempting to shoot the moon with his first effort, throwing in far too many elements rather than narrowing his focus to one or two strong stories. While he keeps things moving at a nice clip throughout the film, it runs a bit long with so much ground to cover and suffers as a result. It’s an entertaining production well worth viewing, but it falls short of classic status.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Worst Week Of My Life - The Complete First Season

Howard is getting married to his lovely fiancée in a week, but first he has to survive the chaos leading up the marriage. His future in-laws are extremely uptight and all of his efforts to impress them end in disaster. Meanwhile, his own parents are bawdy, free spirits, polar opposites of the in-laws. Sounds exactly like the recipe for the wildly successful Meet The Parents and its train-wreck sequel, Meet The Fockers, but instead it’s a BBC sitcom series making its US dvd debut this month.

Each episode follows Howard through one day of the week leading up to his wedding. The first episode focuses on his initial introduction to his future in-laws at their immaculate estate (basically Meet The Parents), while the second episode introduces Howard’s randy father and future stepmother (a la Meet The Fockers). There’s also a psycho stalker ex-girlfriend, a moody younger sister-in-law, and the requisite family pet, all determined to make Howard’s week as difficult as possible. Once all of the players are introduced, they’re set free to play off each other in a delightful comedy of errors. Those countless errors include Howard’s future stepmother’s demonstration of her lap-dancing technique, Howard’s accidental murder of the family pet, and Howard’s groping of his future mother-in-law during a visit to the wrong bedroom.

The creators assembled a talented cast perfectly matched to their roles, especially Geoffrey Whitehead as the stern but somewhat bemused father of the bride and Ben Miller as the harried, maniacal groom. Although the plot seems so derivative of the US movies, the format of one episode for each day of the week is a brilliant touch that adds to the enjoyment and comedic tension. The first two episodes are the most uncomfortable and hilarious, but the remaining five keep the comedy at a suitably high level. The only glaring flaw is the ex-girlfriend subplot that is carried much too far into the surreal, temporarily threatening to undermine the rest of the series before reaching suitable resolution.

While British imports sometimes suffer from dodgy production values, unintelligible lines, or humor that just doesn’t translate, this series is a high-quality gem guaranteed to generate laughs. The concept may be derivative, but it’s a story that is always ripe for comedy in any country.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Manderlay was almost completely overlooked and unsupported during its miniscule US theatrical release early this year, even though it’s the follow-up to writer/director Lars von Trier’s somewhat well-regarded Dogville. While that’s usually a sign of a weak film not worthy of release, Manderlay proves to be a hidden gem that deserves to be discovered on dvd.

Picking up directly after the events in Dogville, Manderlay follows returning heroine Grace as she travels through the Deep South in the 1930s with her shady father and his associates. When they come across the isolated Manderlay plantation, Grace discovers a cause for her to champion, much to the dismay of her father. As it turns out, the plantation has continued the practice of slavery 70 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and Grace makes it her mission to educate and liberate the slaves. She soon discovers that she has far more to learn from the slaves than they do from her, leading to some surprising results to her liberation experiment.

While the film is a continuation of von Trier’s “USALand of Opportunities” trilogy (projected to conclude with Wasington), the principal recurring characters are not played by the same actors who originated the roles in Dogville. This may be the biggest negative perception about the film, as Dogville’s impressive Nicole Kidman is replaced by relative newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard in the lead role. To confuse matters further, new characters are played by returning actors who had different roles in Dogville, including Lauren Bacall, Chloe Sevigny, and long-time von Trier favorite Udo Kier. The sole constant is John Hurt, once again participating as the narrator.

Surprisingly, Howard holds her own in the huge footsteps left behind by Kidman, contributing a mesmerizing and wholly believable performance as the deeply conflicted Grace. The entire movie rests squarely on her shoulders as the other players move strictly in her orbit with far smaller roles. In comparison to Kidman’s occasional histrionics, Howard delivers a more understated performance that gives her character the strong center of balance necessary to anchor the cast. The only misstep in her character development occurs during an ill-advised tryst near the end of the film, and is entirely the fault of von Trier. The severity of the sequence is arguably necessary to push Grace to her inevitable breaking point, but von Trier could have handled it with far more class to avoid shaking unsuspecting viewers out of the narrative flow.

As in Dogville, the entire film is shot on a bare soundstage with only a few props to suggest the surrounding area. Most buildings are represented by lines on the floor, and non-existent doors are conveyed through pantomime when encountered. Although the staging sounds like a hokey and pretentious idea, it expertly fosters complete focus on the performances and ultimately adds to the film’s strength.

The film is a biting and insightful indictment of our country’s history of slavery, but it’s also no stretch to view this as von Trier’s slap against our ongoing modern foreign policy as we constantly attempt to interfere where we’re neither welcome nor knowledgeable. While von Trier has never visited the US, his outsider perspective is keenly attuned to our reality as he holds up a mirror to our faults, resulting in every aspect of the plot ringing true. Although it will never have the high profile afforded Dogville, Manderlay is the stronger film and well worth seeking out.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Eccodek - More Africa In Us

Eccodek is the brainchild of Toronto-based producer and musician Andrew McPherson. While his new cd bears a note to retailers advising them to file under “electronica/dub/world music”, it’s a bit of a misrepresentation of the actual content. Of the three categories, More Africa In Us is closest to the broad umbrella of world music, mostly due to vocal samples of African singers that give it a tinge of the exotic. It follows the cut-and-paste ethos of dub, although that description generally suggests a connection to bass-heavy reggae music that is not evident here. The electronica label is completely misleading as all of the tracks are based on organic instruments with only sparse application of electronic sound processing effects.

The album takes its name from an old Brian Eno interview in Wired magazine where he lamented about the soullessness of the computers he used for making music, saying that there was not enough Africa in them. Eccodek’s intent was to make a fast, loose recording without much thought attached to the outcome, just letting the music take control and hopefully coaxing some soul out of the recording machinery in the process. Sounds good in theory, but the end result is a generally uninteresting voyage through plodding instrumental loops that repeat over and over again with no progression. Fast forward through almost any track and you’ll be unable to tell any difference from beginning, middle or end, another hallmark of dub but not a recipe for listening pleasure. The African vocals fare no better as they’re not full performances, just samples of vocal snippets/phrases that are repeated over and over ad nauseam. The generic nature of the music coupled with its world music leanings makes it suitable for background soundtrack use in environments such as yoga studios, but taken on its own strength it quickly becomes a tedious exercise.

While the cd is making its US debut this August, it was recorded three years ago in Canada. Since then, Eccodek has recorded another full cd that reveals McPherson moving in a more interesting direction with greater reliance on performance than loops in both instrumentals and vocals. Eccodek has a full live touring ensemble that will be appearing at the Santa Monica Pier on August 24th in support of the US release of More Africa In Us, and will hopefully share some of the new material as well.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Knife - Silent Shout

The Knife are a brother and sister electronica duo from Sweden who place their emphasis firmly on experimentation rather than mainstream success.

They share vocal duties throughout their third album, sometimes solo, sometimes backing each other up, but almost invariably running their voices through different effects processors with the result that we’re never quite exposed to their true voices. It’s interesting but somewhat off-putting as it gives the impression that they’re hiding behind their computers rather than really sharing themselves with their listeners.

Although highly distinctive in its own right, their music brings to mind the works of other electronic trailblazers, making a discussion of their tracks somewhat easier to frame. The leadoff title track is possibly the most commercial and hardest to compare, featuring multiple synthesizer tracks anchored by a driving beat and the heavily modulated voices of both siblings. Neverland sounds like something left over from the earliest days of Depeche Mode’s catalog, around the era of A Broken Frame, a minimalist techno melody over a basic beat with some echo and vocal effects that sound pleasingly dated. The Captain starts off as a moody instrumental piece before picking up the pace with rhythm and a keyboard track that also borrows from the Depeche back catalog, nearer the Music for the Masses era. We Share Our Mother’s Health is somewhat similar to early NIN. Na Na Na begins with a sole keyboard track eerily similar to Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer before continuing in a mellow Royksopp direction.

Marble House has perhaps the least manipulated vocals and bears some likeness to early Bjork solo work. Like a Pen borders on the electro/acid house of early 808 State with a bouncy beat and catchy vocal that would work well as a single. From Off To On sounds like a lost Boards of Canada track with a plaintive vocal duet. Forest Families starts off with an insistent keyboard track that seems ready to morph into a trance stormer at any time, simmering and flirting on the edge of the dancefloor. Drop a beat under this one and it’s ready to enter the crates of Paul Van Dyk and Tiesto in clubs around the world. One Hit sounds closest to PJ Harvey’s quirky old standard Down By The Water. Still Light closes out the album on a dreamy, languorous note as the siblings share vocals over a sparse electronic background, bearing no suitable comparisons.

In spite of the prevailing sense of deja vu, the album succeeds simply because its composition is such a rarity in today’s marketplace. They’re seemingly emulating past masters but they’re referencing the early works when those artists were the most experimental. As a result, Silent Shout is indie electronica that resists commercialization, sounding like the artists are really just making the music for their own enjoyment. It’s a grower that gets better and more interesting with every spin.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bring It On: All Or Nothing

Once in a while, the Caballero likes to put aside his high-brow indie dramas and foreign flicks and have a little mindless movie fun. When the Snobs office was offered an advance copy of the latest direct-to-video Bring It On adventure, my guilty pleasure alarm went off and I leapt at the opportunity. Hey, I’m a red-blooded American Snob and I like watching cheerleaders, what can I say? The clinchers that added to the appeal were a co-starring role by Beyonce’s younger, less bootylicious sister Solange Knowles-Smith, and an appearance by pop tart sensation Rihanna.

For those of you keeping track, this is the third Bring It On movie. For those not keeping track, Bring It On was originally a theatrical release about rival cheerleading squads starring Kirsten Dunst. The basic premise of that first release is repeated here: rich, mostly white, upper-class cheerleading squad faces off against poor, inner city squad for the championship. This time around, the big prize is a chance to back up Rihanna in a music video. This choice allows the filmmakers to incorporate more street dancing into the choreography mix since the final routines don’t have to adhere to the rules of whatever governing body oversees cheer competitions.

Hayden Panettiere leads the cast as the spunky head cheerleader at an exclusive coastal high school in Southern California. Although far from a household name, she has an extensive resume including a role in NBC’s upcoming fall series Heroes and an early appearance as Princess Dot’s voice in A Bug's Life. She’s very convincing in her role, and she adds great physicality to it with an arsenal of impressive dance moves. Sadly, Knowles-Smith isn’t quite as effective, seeming a bit wooden and not entirely convincing as the tough, angry foil. That's not entirely a knock on her, she just seems too nice to pull off the constant rage required of her role.

The movie gets off to a rocky start with an extended dream sequence that causes more confusion than interest. Eventually, the real story kicks into gear and shows Panettiere’s character being forced to leave her cheerleading squad and high school behind when her dad loses his job and has to move the family to the lower rent district in the ‘hood. This sets up a fish-out-of-water story for Panetierre as she’s forced to adapt to the inner city life. Unfortunately, this also sets up some truly groan-inducing moments such as her first arrival in her new school’s parking lot (in convertible VW, natch) where she immediately encounters a rainbow coalition of stereotypical students break dancing and hitting switches in their lowriders.

Luckily, the film manages to rise above its occasional racial insensitivity with a warm-hearted tale of finding common ground and binding together to reach a shared goal. The script packs some snappy dialogue good for a few laughs, and the cast does double duty as actors and cheerleaders, showing off some impressive moves and routines between reciting their lines. Yes, those energetic routines alone are worth the price of…um, rental or purchase.

The dvd packs a few extras including the requisite bloopers reel, behind the scenes production footage, and a unique segment that lets viewers learn step-by-step a full dance routine with one of the primary choreographers and a handful of the cast members. Expect to see that routine in cheer routines at homecoming games everywhere this fall.

While the direct-to-dvd market is usually suspect in quality, the latest Bring It On entry proves that the format can work when placed in the right hands. It’s far from essential viewing, but it's a pleasant diversion that delivers exactly what it advertises, which is more than most theatrical releases can muster.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Descent

The Descent is a visceral thrill ride that gets maximum mileage out of its innovative concept. As the latest entry in the recent glut of low budget horror films crowding our cineplexes, it is virtually guaranteed to make a profit regardless of its quality, but thankfully it is well above the norm.

The film follows the adventures of six girlfriends who meet once a year for an extreme sports trip. Their most recent trip ended in personal tragedy for one of the participants, resulting in some discomfort in their relationships as they reconvene for some spelunking in the Appalachians.

As the girls venture further underground, they find themselves in smaller and darker tunnels and eventually experience a cave-in that leaves them trapped and completely shut off from their entry route. Unfortunately, they’re in unexplored caverns and are forced to press on ever deeper in the hopes of finding an alternate way out.

This is an effective setup for the rest of the story that could have easily been followed to its conclusion as they banded together to rescue themselves…but then it wouldn’t have been much of a horror movie. Instead, the film introduces some creepy creatures living underground that are none too happy about their home being invaded by a bunch of girls. This turns the movie into something along the lines of Aliens underground as the girls are mercilessly hunted by blood-thirsty, sightless Gollums while they struggle to escape.

The premise is fairly simple, but also refreshingly original and brilliantly executed, gradually ratcheting up the tension level all the way to the end. Writer/director Neil Marshall has populated the film with tough, resourceful girls rather than resorting to bimbo stereotypes spouting jokey dialogue. While the dialogue isn’t particularly memorable or abundant, it’s a serviceable script that never gets in the way of the impending, percolating dread. The actresses uniformly contribute effective performances, especially Shauna Macdonald as she changes from a fragile innocent to a completely terrifying force of nature.

It's encouraging to see such an original take on what could have been typical genre fodder. The unlikely and not entirely welcome introduction of the creatures diverts the movie from its initial basis in reality, but doesn't derail it from reaching a satisfying conclusion. This detour also allows for some delectable scenery chewing as the hunted girls transform into ferocious hunters. It's a strong calling card for emerging talent Neil Marshall, but most importantly, it's thrilling escapism that should keep viewers away from caverns for the rest of their days.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited

I’ll readily admit that I had absolutely no familiarity with the work of Serge Gainsbourg before listening to this new tribute compilation. A quick Wikipedia visit got me up to speed a bit, but many listeners will likely be drawn to this compilation by the guest artists rather than the subject. The artist list is simply remarkable, including such disparate but esteemed names as Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, Michael Stipe, Tricky, and Marc Almond. The best part: their contributions are actually worthwhile and add up to a cohesive, compelling listening experience. I have no point of reference for how these new tracks stack up against Gainsbourg’s original compositions, but they stand just fine on their own merits.

Gainsbourg was a French artist who achieved success in his homeland as a solo recording artist, a film composer, as well as an actor, director, and poet. His recordings crossed many genres including rock, pop, reggae, and even hip hop, so it’s fitting that there’s so much variety in the artists assembled here.

The cd gets off to a rollicking start with Franz Ferdinand’s fiery A Song for Sorry Angel, then moves into a downtempo mode that carries through most of the rest of the compilation, starting with Cat Power and Karen Ellson’s plaintive cover of I Love You (Me Either). Jarvis Cocker from Pulp collaborates with Kid Loco on I Just Came to Tell You I’m Going, a track that never really develops into anything memorable but doesn’t fall off the tracks either.

One of the highlights of the cd is the re-emergence of trip hop legends Portishead after a far too long absence, and they show no signs of rust on the brief but potent Requiem for Anna, sequencing nicely into Brian Molko, Faultline and Francoise Hardy with more shades of trip hop on Requiem for a Jerk. Michael Stipe’s track L’Hotel is an interesting curiosity, basically a monologue recited over a simple piano and drum track with some strings and guitar gradually layered in as the song progresses. It’s about as far removed from R.E.M. as imaginable, and it works very well.

Fellow trip hop alum Tricky contributes Au Revior Emmanuel with his typical mellow yet sinister approach, fusing his latest female muse’s vocals over his dense and twisted production. Next up is a fun pairing of Marianne Faithfull’s world-weary vocals with Sly and Robbie’s reggae production on Lola R. for Ever, a seemingly bad idea that ends up as a surprising success.

After perhaps the only throwaway track from lesser-known artists Gonzales, Feist and Dani, Soft Cell veteran Marc Almond gets some crunchy electro production from Trash Palace on Boy Toy, followed by Placebo’s less effective electronic stylings on The Ballad of Melody Nelson. Next up, the Rakes push the tempo back up with their post punk approach to Just A Man With A Job. Another high point of the cd is the contribution from The Kills, I Call It Art, a minimalist, downtempo song with a haunting vocal that begs for instant replay. The cd wraps up nicely with Carla Bruni’s Those Little Things, a sweet low-key track with Bruni accompanied by acoustic guitar.

The producers behind this compilation deserve much praise for assembling such a stellar line-up of artists and eliciting such effective performances from them. The cd is a delight, and unlike most compilations, can best be enjoyed by listening to it in full rather than skipping to key tracks. In short, it’s a superb tribute to the work of Monsieur Gainsbourg that is likely to win him and its contributors new legions of fans.