Thursday, March 29, 2007

Number 54

Today seemed like a good day to add to my all time favorite CD list and today's disc is from one of my all time favorite bands. Number 54 is:

Yes - Close To The Edge (1972)

Considered by many music critics to be the definitive highpoint of Yes. Close to the Edge features three songs. The songs are written in the style of classical compositions where there are movements within an overarching theme. Classic Yes' sound gels here, the disparte influences of art rock, classical music, jazz, folk and hippie dippy psychedelics merge with beauty and power. The title track clocks in at 18+ minutes with it's dizzying array of all things Yes. Back in the days of vinyl this song took up an entire album side. The song begins as a shimmering, psychedelic rush before moving to a lumbering beat until the middle. The middle section moves quietly with haunting harmonies and Rick Wakeman's grandiose organ blasts. The climactic finale rushes through frantic solos to the big finish. The first of Yes' epic "masterworks", the song is a highlight of their career. Amazingly, in the eight Yes concerts I've attended I've never heard this song live.

The second song I've heard at every Yes concert I've attended and that's "And You And I". The song alternates between folky Hobbit style hoedowns and slowly building musical themes. One of the songs that helped defined their early tag as "space rock", "And You And I" is a moving piece of music with no literal meaning. It does what Yes does best, express pure emotion without making sense.

Then final song, "Siberian Khatru" is an upbeat, surging piece that closes the album in fine style. If you like Yes, this is one of THE discs to have with all members at their peak. Jon Anderson at his spaced out hippie best, Chris Squires strong melodic bass lines, Rick Wakeman's bombastic classical styled synth playing, Steve Howe's fussy angular guitar parts and Bill Bruford's unpredictably jazzy drumming. Creatively, Yes would never top this disc.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Movie Roundup pt 2

I've managed to fit in a few quality films lately so I thought it would be a good time to make a sequel to the previous post. Movies that for the most part, didn't suck:

The Rules of the Game (1939) was made by French director Jean Renoir about a decadent weekend at a wealthy estate. A sharp satire of society, the movie takes a bemused look at the French idle rich and the people who work for them. All of the characters scheme and lie to pursue their hearts desire but all must obey the rules of society and propriety. Most of the movie flies by at a rapid pace to allow the viewer to vicariously enjoy their pithy vapid existence. But the movie builds up to a sobering conclusion that places an exclamation point on its meaning: no matter what anyone wants all have to play their prescribed part in society.

Hoop Dreams (1994) is a documentary that follows the lives of two inner city kids who aspire to be NBA players. Dreams follows two incredibly talented young teens as they deal with peer pressure, poverty, drugs, teen pregnancy, talent scouts and career threatening injuries. It was educational to watch these players lives, being scouted and negotiating with junior high and high schools just like in college or pro basketball. All of the hopes of the person and his family rides entirely on his ability to win basketball games. Meanwhile, the surrounding elements of their lives cave in around them. In the movie's most memorable sequence, a boy shows off his basketball skills while his father buys drugs on the same playground before his eyes. Hoop Dreams starts off slow but is a moving film about the pressure placed on both young atheletes and American families living in poverty.

V for Vendetta (2006) is a futuristic sci fi film about a masked terrorist taking on a totalitarian British government. V revels in its pulpy comic beginnings with it's zippy camera work, dark atmosphere and outsider's viewpoint. The film is effective as a thrill ride and cautionary tale, yet it all seemed storyboarded to death. Even with all it's anarchic rage and Nazi zealot symbolism, V for Vendetta comes off It tries hard to point out how the modern wave of conservatism can be transformed into state sponsored bigotry. Despite this, V for Vendetta was unrelatable to me-a movie that entertains but exists in a vacuum of it's own construction.

Another American Idol followup, Chris Sligh finally was given the boot after a few weeks of poor performances (his "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" was anything but magic). He was ejected a little later than I predicted, but not that much farther. I thought Haley Scarnato would be let go while watching the show, but I guess bringing Sexy back (She butchered "True Colors" but wore an tight dress with a bare cutout in the back) trumps Chubby back these days. Faux rocker Gina Glocksen gave the strongest performance with her version of The Pretender's "I'll Stand By You". Guest coach / performer Gwen Stefani gave useful tips abouit staying on the beat and gained some much needed pr for her recent CD. And the Malakar Express continues to roll on, rooster head mohawk and all.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Movie Roundup, AI and RTZ

Lately there hasn't been too much of interest on the movie front, so I've watched a handful of movies I normally wouldn't bother with when I have been tired and wanted to see some tv. I've come across some surprises amid the junk, here's a brief roundup of them:

Something New (2006) is a pleasant, straightforward film about interracial romance. The movie is about a high powered executive woman who falls for her scruffy landscaper. New maintains a friendly pace with the right amount of humor and social commentary where it gently makes its points without losing focus. The two actors have good chemestry and come across as real people. New also benefits from being seen on TV versus a movie theater because it has a bit of a TV Movie feel.

Poseidon (2006) once again proves if you put director Wolfgang Peterson near water, you get a harrowing claustophobic picture. Peterson (Das Boot, A Perfect Storm) once again pours on the digital waterworks in this decent remake of the 70's disaster flick. Everything is effective but forgettable. Don't go out of your way to see it, but if it's on you'll be entertained.

Into The Blue (2006) shows sunnier weather must be on the way for all these water movies to be on the air. Blue is a hokey mess about deep sea divers getting entangled in drug running and buried treasure while in the Bahamas. Even Jessica Alba in a bikini can't save this garbage.

Tamara (2005) is a gloriously bad horror movie about a wiccan geek girl who is accidentally killed in a high school prank and comes back to life for vengence. Everything in the movie is bad to the point it's funny and I loved the old school effects in a modern movie. Not much digital in digital effects, the special effects include the old plastic-pipe-at-the-side-of-the-mouth-to-similate-vomit trick, blatantly laytex body parts smothered in fake blood and lots of sugar glass. If you enjoy movies that are unintentionally bad, this is for you.

An American Idol update, I was once again proven wrong as Stephanie Edwards was ejected. Edwards was strong in the early going but became boring. All of the other Idols stepped up their game, some in unexpected ways. Haley Scarnato is being out Disneyed by 17 year old Jordin Sparks, so Scarnato made a move for Antonella's fan base by showing lots of skin. Phil Stacey stayed away from his low vocal range , Blake Lewis "Blakefied" another song well and Chris Sligh played a song with its original arrangement.

But the stand out was Sanjaya Malakar. Malakar unleashed his inner Michael Jackson, dumping his whispery reticence of past performances for a shouting, unbridled feyness on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me". Think the King of Pop performing "Dirty Diana" and you'll get the picture. If Sanjaya had one glove on and moonwalked it would have been like the ultimate tribute. In one performance, Sanjaya has crossed that line from awful bad to hilariously bad so I am now rooting for another week of the Malakar Express.

My only complaint from this week was the lack of musical variety. For the most part, they played only songs from The Zombies, Shirley Bassey or David Lee Roth. How can the judges slam contestants for song choice with such limited options? Meanwhile, 60's oldie Lulu kicked everyone's ass with a stirring rendition of her classic hit "To Sir With Love". The raspy belter worked her song with a passion and blew away any previous guest performance on the show ever. Good stuff!

In tribute to Brad Delp, I've been playing the CD RTZ - Return To Zero (1991) which was a band he formed with ex-Boston guitarist Barry Gordreau. Some of the disc is generic rock, but the highpoints recall classic Boston. "Face The Music" is a strident rock anthem and "All You Got" should be on the soundtrack of every sports bar in America. Best of all, Delp delivers his best vocal ever on the power ballad "Until Your Love Comes Back Around". Delp, not held down by the relentless vocal multi tracking of an actual Boston song, shows the full range of his voice to great effect. I think this disc is out of print but if you come across it, pick it up!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ninja Warrior

After a week of sad news in the media, it was nice to see something fun on tv. This weekend, the G4 Network has run a marathon on it's series Ninja Warrior. Apparently, Ninja Warrior (or Viking or Sasuke or whatever other name it's run under in different countries) is a television show that has been running in Japan for a decade or so. It is a full on obstacle course challenge very reminiscent of MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge on Spike TV) where hordes of Japanese (and a few non Japanese) race against time and risk falling into murky muddy water. It took a second to get over the non MXC elements (the sophomoric sexual innuendo of the dubbed commentators is missed and emphasis on contestants who crash and burn are not focused on here) but I found it very addicting after an hour.

The obstacle courses featured in this show easily surpasses anything featured on American TV. If this show tried to exist in the United States, it would be safety law suited to death. The courses are long and in some cases several stories high (they include jumping off trampolines and swinging on chains, jumping and bracing yourself between two walls with no support underneath, lifting heavy walls and more). There are three or four courses in a row to pass in order to win and each series the courses are changed to keep anyone from fully learning it. I think only two people have won in the history of the show!

I really liked the attitude of most of the losers on this show as well. When a loser would be interviewed, the reason given was usually just plain personal failure. No excuses about the producers being unfair, dark hidden childhood trauma or God's will. You lost 'cause you lost. I really respect that.

Now that I've seen a few episodes, I've determined this must be the American Idol of Japan. Many people train on their personal time and create mini obstacle courses in their backyard to prepare for the show. People from all walks of life come in, have a brief video profile and often compete in their work clothes. If they lose, they will lose in fantastic fashion falling off a rolling log or taking a long jump into a lake after missing the bar. If they win even a single round, they have a claim to fame. I found myself rooting for these guys as they got into the later stages as if it were live television.

So, catch this show while you can. If it's like MXC the American version will edit together all of the good stuff for the first season and serve up the leftovers later. Also like MXC, it will probably get old fast so have fun watching it!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Random Bits

Well, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show went by this weekend. After years of wanting to watch this show, I finally caught it and...could have done without it. This was by far the most bizarre awards show I've seen, one where the point was to honor a really small part of each artist in the most backhanded way possible.

The opening was a tribute to Ahmet Ertigun via a performance by Aretha Franklin. Lady Soul gave it her best and the one of a kind soulfulness shone in her set. But, she is clearly not feeling well needing assistance getting to the stage and running out of breath before the big note at the end of her song. Still, her tribute seemed heartfelt.

Other bits went on almost uniformly too long. The Ronettes were inducted with Ronnie Spector thanking herself throughout her speech and song set. Meanwhile, the now blacklisted Phil Spector had his role downplayed somewhere behind the recording engineer and the janitor. Grandmaster Flash was inducted and though the performance was a nostalgic exercise in 80's rap, rap just ain't my thing. Patti Smith was also never a favorite of mine, I'll never get the amount of cred she gets though her rendition of the Stone's "Gimmie Shelter" wasn't bad.

All of this built up to the anti-climax: the induction of Van Halen. Sadly, since their announced induction and supposed reunion tour was planned it all fell apart. After weeks of mystery and rehab, only former members Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar showed up. They gave nice speeches, but were then inducted by Velvet Revolver. David Lee Roth reportedly didn't show because Velvet Revolver refused to play "Jump" with him. They offered to play other non keyboard songs because they didn't have a keyboard player. So, a band supposedly playing tribute to Van Halen refuses to play their biggest hit because they can't find a keyboard player in a room literaly full of musicians. That's lame. Revolver gave a half assed speech and then proceeded to murder Van Halen's music to a ridiculous level. Proving that any song can be stripped of it's melody, groove or anything remotely listenable, Velvet Revolver played "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and "Runaround" with downtuned guitars and droning vocals. It was so bad I thought I was watching a South Park parody of a rock band. The performance and lack of respect pretty much made me a non-fan of Velvet Revolver.

With VH out of the picture, the big prize went to REM. Reunited with drummer Bill Berry for the occassion, REM sounded pretty good running through classics like "Begin the Begin", "Gardening at Night" and "Man on the Moon". Except Michael Stipe's apparent bordom nearly took the fun away making the performance seem like a chore. It wasn't until Patti Smith came out to jam that Stipe seemed to wake up and care about the show.

If it weren't for an emphasis on past highlights (Prince jamming on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and U2 teaming up with Springsteen on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For") it would have been a total waste of time.

In other bits, Brandon Rogers was voted off American Idol much earlier than I predicted. I guess forgetting the words midsong and bad dancing will do that. Though Phil Stacey may still prove a prediction right for me, he gave a good performance and still found himself in the bottom three. I still can't believe Chris Sleigh proved me wrong, I've never heard a more forced song on AI before his insistance that "Endless Love"s lyrics be sung to the instrumentation and melody of Coldplay's "Clocks".

R&B continues to make a comeback with some decent tunes courtesy of Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone. Aguilera's "Candyman" comes across 40's style like the Andrew Sisters in heat. A fun song that borrows a little from "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Stone looks to 70's funk/soul and turns in a gem with "Tell Me About It". R&B with a hook, powerful singing and no scat rapping. What a novel idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

American Idol and the Black Keys

American Idol goes into this week with it's final twelve and so far the competition has been mildly exciting. Certain trends pop up from year to year and this season has so far brought undertalented guys, clueless song choices and beat boxing. Still, despite the lack of charisma from any of the performers there's time for start generating some excitement. Part of the fun of the show is to give opinion and guess the eliminations on the performers, so here's my shot at it in order of when I think they'll go:

1. Chris Sligh-This guy is really funny, in that geeky Dungeons and Dragons kind of way. Unlike most singers in this competition, he understands the meaning of lyrics and tries to say something. The problems for him are obscure song choices and a John Popperish stage presence. And being John Popper is not what you want to be right now. Unless speeding around carrying drugs and guns for no apparent reason is your thing. And I can't see this guy excelling at Diana Ross week.

2. Phil Stacey- Another guy leaves, this time mainly for cosmetic appearance. Stacey has a strong, soaring voice but he looks like Michael Stipe after a month long fast. Plus, his low range isn't that good. It's a good thing he's got some back story during the audition rounds with his newborn child but that's only going to go so far.

3. Jordin Sparks - Sparks has a good voice and an open, peppy personality. The problem is vocally she works the same R&B territory as other, stronger contestants and she is not going to be able to out perky Haley Scarnato. Also, her youth will lead to the audience saying "She's young, she'll always have another chance." Her performance of Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" was a surprise, if she does more to define herself differently she may last longer.

4. Gina Clocksen - The rocker grrrl showed her true colors last week with a faithful rendition of Evanescence's "Call Me When You're Sober". But, as theme weeks come up will she adapt the music to her or adapt to the music? It will probably be the latter after a few weeks and the goth girl vote won't outlast the pop voters.

5. SanJaya Malakar - The Jon Stevens of this season will ride the preteen girl and Grandma vote past more talented competitors. Malakar has potential but has been too intimidated to give a decent performance. He's going to have to rely on his big smile, genuinely nice personality and Breck girl hair to continue.

6. Lakisha Jones - Jones' fiery performances and big soulful voice has given this season the few shots of oomph it's needed (I heard last week's "I Have Nothing" in a different room that the TV so I only heard it and I liked her better than Whitney Houston). But, history will repeat itself and Jones will receive the Jennifer Hudson treatment with an early dismissal. It will be unfair, but it will probably happen.

7. Blake Lewis - the human beat box bit should run dry about now. Though Lewis has shown range with his effective rendition of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" the rest of his choices point in more of a reggae / trip hop direction. America's tolerance of those musical genres is limited (there's a reason you don't hear Jamiroqui or 311 anymore). At least there's hope that if they revive the Police Academy movies Lewis can replace the guy that makes sound effects with his mouth.

8. Haley Scarnato - Scarnato benefits from sticking to her own musical agenda: middle of the road balladry and Disneyfied pop. While her performances are competent, she has never wowed me. I think she will go farther than her talent justifies due to her ability to carve a MOR niche amid her predominantly R & B competition.

9. Brandon Rogers - A great voice that almost merits the smugness that goes with it, Roger's problem is figuring out what to do with it. His song choices have been scatter shot as if he's experimenting with different approaches ("Time After Time" anybody?). His looks and voice will take him towards the top but viewers will lose their patience with his lack of direction when it becomes crunch time.

10. Stephanie Edwards - She's been accused of copycat vocals of whomever she's covered, but of the remaining performers only Edwards has the ego needed to truly command the stage. Her attitude is "All eyes on me" and she makes the most out of her strong yet pliable voice. Like Rogers, her lack of musical identity will make her adaptable but catch up with her in the end.

11. Chris Richardson - I read one website refer to him as "Justin Timberfake". That pretty much sums it up because I don't see what the big deal is about this guy. He's earned pretty strong support from the judges and audience so far which means it's me that's missing the point. I expect Richardson to "Rock Your Body" all the way to the runner up position.

12. Melinda Doolittle - That leaves Gladys Knight, um, I mean Melinda Doolittle as the winner. Doolittle has a big voice and comes alive during performances in contrast to her shyness in interview segments. What really sets Doolittle apart is her vocal control, she has shown greater control over her instrument than most performers from any season. Of course, American Idol has a pattern of sending expected winners home (Latoya London, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aiken to name a few) and that could become Doolittle's undoing.

Well, place your bets because the finals get underway starting Tuesday. The lack of a dominating performer should make this horse race interesting but expect Taylor Hicks like sales for the winner.
On a more random note, lately I've been hearing a lot of the Black Keys' Rubber Factory (2004) album in commercials. Rubber Factory is a strong album of modern blues rock done in a sort of White Stripes format (they're a duo conisisting of a singer/guitarist and a drummer). They differ from the Stripes in that they tilt towards a classic rock direction. I first heard them on a Paste magazine sampler for the song "10 AM Automatic". I loved that song, with it's Bad Company style blues stomp in the verse and Hendrix style slyness in the chorus. The CD is uniformly good and I began to hear "The Desperate Man" in Victoria Secret's commercials. Recently, I heard "Girl Is On My Mind" in another Victoria Secret's commercial and the slow beat of "When The Lights Go Down" in a commercial for Black Snake Moan. If you like classic rock and want to hear a fresh take on it, I recommend this disc.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The voice of Boston

In the late 70's and early 80's, many bands were characterized as "faceless" meaning they did not have individual performers who stood out. Of this category of bands, there were three bands that formed a sort of "Holy Trinity" of Arena Rock: Journey, Foreigner and Boston. According to their critics, these bands were not meant to be enjoyed as performers or musicians but as a brand name. Like Levi's for Jeans or Kleenex for tissue paper.

Yesterday, Brad Delp who sang most of the lead vocals for Boston passed away. Though I never met him, or many other musicians for that matter, I am still saddened by his death. Boston has long been one of my favorite rock bands. Brad Delp was a big part of the reason why I liked their music. Though music critics derided Delp's singing (I read one review that referred to his vocals as "bionic yelping") the fact was his multi octave vocals had soul. Delp's voice had emotion and a sense of joy in everything he sang, whether it was with Boston or other bands. Even on sad songs, Delp's voice carried a sense of hope.

Delp's impact on Boston's music became evident when he was replaced as Boston's singer in the mid 90's. Boston still sounded sharp and technically impressive, but came across more mechanical with other singers. To me, Brad Delp will always be that frizzy haired tambourine shaking guy who can sing with power and elation. A good guy looking for a good time. Brad Delp may not be known at face value to much of the general public, but the voice of Boston that brought excitement and happiness to millions of rock music fans in songs such as "More Than A Feeling" and "Amanda" is gone. He will be missed.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Anniversary Time

Today is my wife and I's (is that grammatically correct?) Thirteenth wedding anniversary. It's been thirteen wonderful years of marriage. We celebrated by taking in a Japanese Tea Garden with it's splendidly structured topiary and peaceful zen gardens. It was a nice shot of culture, a peaceful walk and visually pleasing. I'll probably upload some pictures to illustrate what was there. Afterwards, we had dinner at a fancy restaurant in Berkeley with great food and a stunning view of San Francisco across the bay at night. I really am happy to be with my wife and enjoy every day with her!

Now for a media edition of my anniversary things I tried to think of things that reminded me of our relationship. The first thing that pops into my mind every year is the Little River Band's "Happy Anniversary". Which is funny because lyrically I think it's about a breakup but the only part that sticks in my head is "Happy Anniversary Baby/Got you on (mind)".

Anywho, the tune that probably is the closest to "our" song is Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" because we both love the poetry of it. It's a great song about leaving a dead end life to take a chance at a better future. We both had those lyrics memorized for the longest time. My wife probably still knows it, I on the other hand am not great with lyrics. But that line about haunting dusty beach roads in burned out Chevrolets is still one of the best similes I've ever heard. If you have a choice of the many versions of the song to check out, I recommend the live version on the first disc of Live 1975-1985 (1986). It doesn't have the studio version's big crescendo at the end allowing for greater intimacy and clearer enunciation of the words.

"Our" movie would be Sleepless In Seattle (1993) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It's probably many couples favorite movie as it is lushly romantic and stands as a penultimate "chick" flick. One of our early dates was to this movie and we felt very close after seeing it. Looking back, there really isn't a better date movie because it is about the idealization of romance complete with picturesque shots of fireworks and old love songs. "When I Fall In Love" was a favorite song for us as well and one of the few times I'll admit to liking a Celine Dion song.

"Our" tv show would be either Star Trek (1967-1969) or MASH (1972-1983). Both shows are about the aspirations of humanity though in different settings and styles. I've discussed Star Trek before, so this time I'll focus on MASH. I have to admit, I wasn't that into MASH before getting married. I didn't have anything against it, just didn't interest me. My wife is a big MASH fan and can name the entire episode plot line the second she sees the program. MASH was about the adventures of the 4077th surgical unit led by surgeon Hawkeye Pierce. Pierce, played by Alan Alda, was the ultimate '70's "sensitive guy". He could use a pickup line to hook any girl but then cry about the the atrocities of war, 'cause he's a guy but he feels stuff. The show also had an irreverent take on the military that was in line with anti Vietnam sentiment of the time (though MASH is set in the Korean War). Now having seen just about every MASH episode, I can say it deserves its status as an all time classic show. We have the complete collection on DVD so we can watch it without the clumsy laugh track.

Well, it's almost the end of the day so I'm going to sign off. Anniversary is almost over, so I'll say Happy Anniversary!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Number 55

Continuing my countdown of my all time favorite CDs (so I'll always have something to write about) is Number 55:

Matthew Sweet - 100% Fun (1995)

I became a fan of Matthew Sweet after his excellent Girlfriend Cd (1991). I loved the sugary, catchy choruses balanced against the crunching alt rock guitars and downbeat lyrics. By the mid 90's, Rock music was dead-the Grunge boom was drying up and overrun by Country pop and Gangsta Rap. One of the casualties seemed to be Matthew Sweet, his followup to Girlfriend was the murky Altered Beast (1993) that failed to move him ahead commercially or creatively.

But in 1995 Sweet released 100% Fun, an album that featured tight song writing and punchy production thanks to producer Brendan O'Brien. O'Brien's production brought focus to the albums sound, all instruments sound clean and do not waste any notes in performance. To add to this, Sweet delivers a strong set of songs and shows a willingness to be front-and-center in performance.

The lead single, "Sick of Myself" brought back everything that was great about Sweet. The heavy guitar hook, lifting melodic chorus with "sad guy" lyrics and jagged guitar solos called attention on the radio. "We're the Same" was the followup single, an almost happy song that recalled jangly 60's power pop. Elsewhere, other elements of Sweet's sound was shown to good effect. The Brian Wilsonish "Not When I Need It" is a personal favorite of mine. Countryish ballads like "I Almost Forgot" and sci fi epics such as "Smog Moon" are also highlights.

While 100% Fun lacks the overarching lyrical theme or musical freshness of Girlfriend it makes up in song craft and committed performance. The album lives up to it's title and provided a musical oasis of tuneful rock music in 1995.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Match Point

There are some movies that are great but you never want to see them again. Woody Allen's Match Point (2005) is one of those movies. To start with, I have to admit to not being the biggest Woody Allen fan. I have been bored by many of his movies, even classic ones like Annie Hall (1977). Giving credit where its due, Allen is an idiosyncratic director with insight and feel for personal relationships. The problem with having a distinct style is fans consider it genius while nonfans find it self indulgent. I'm in the latter with Woody Allen, his chattering neurotic diologues and intellectual self torture gets annoying after a few minutes. This isn't to say I've never liked any of his movies, Stardust Memories (1980) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1987) were enjoyable. He just isn't my cup of tea.

But, none of that has to do with how I feel about Match Point. Point chronicles the social climbing and love affairs of a second level Tennis pro who decides to leave the sport. Chris Wilton, played with calculated deviousness by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, falls in with a wealthy family while teaching Tennis at a club. The family takes Wilton in and in a flash he is married to the daughter representing the sterotypical "perfect" woman (atttractive, intellectual, emotionally balanced, sensitive and supportive) and the "perfect" job (high level corporate position with a car and driver no less). Despite this, Wilton can't keep his eyes or hands off his brother-in-law's finacee', Nola (played with jaded glamour and smoky intrigue by Scarlett Johanssen). Wilton connects with Nola's lower class beginnings and strength of will leading to a steamy affair.

Naturally, the two worlds of the "real" Chris Wilton and the "perfect" Chris Wilton collide with both disasterous and wonderous results. Set in London, Allen seems rejuvinated as a filmmaker. Here, he sheds or tones down most of his expected mannerisms (New York culture and scenery, rambling speeches about the human condition, martyr complex) and cuts to the bone. Restraint is shown, the tone of the film plays out as an Operatic tragedy (plenty of allusions to this in the movie) but does not fully condemn the character. Best of all, Woody Allen himself is not in the movie.

Woody Allen is someone who was worshipped in cinema until his personal life made him a social pariah or at least a running punch line. In some ways, the Chris Wilton character reflects this. But Match Point trancends Allen himself, he has made a film that shows the attraction of ambition, fire of desire and coldness of manipulation with an unswerving eye. Nothing graphic happens on screen yet I found myself looking away from it like a horror movie. Allen has made a tragedy with honest emotional impact. Game, Set and Match.