Friday, December 14, 2007

New Look Against My Will

It's been more than 3 years since I've done any kind of web publishing and I'm just overwhelmed trying to fix the spacing on this blog.

(I was never much good at XML anyway!)

Somehow my header bar got stretched and the picture of Joy Division in the snow also got stretched so if anyone can please explain to me how this happened, I'd be eternally grateful.

As for now, the pic is gone, new fonts for the heck of it, and some other minor tweaks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Because of Her with Grace Chang

I may be too lazy to be a good blogger BUT I was inspired by YTSL's post on the films of Wong Tin Lam to dig a DVD off my shelf that had been sitting there for almost two years (!).

So, I finally watched the Panorama DVD of Because of Her with Grace Chang and, while the DVD is one of the worst I've seen in some time (looks like a widescreen print that was cut to fit a standard TV; the top of the screen in some scenes is chopped off; colors actually flash in another!), the film is quite engaging and Grace Chang is delightful.

On the surface, the film is like Blue Skies with Peter Chen and Cheng Pei Pei: both concern the backstage dramas, and romances, of a musical troupe, and both use the musical productions that the troupe performs to accentuate, and reflect, the emotions of the main characters.

Needless to say, the Cathay production of Because of Her (1963) does not have quite the budget of the later Shaw production (perhaps a better treatment on DVD would have allowed a viewer such as myself to see more of the production values in the musical numbers).

However, the direction was assured and Grace Chang is far more natural as a performer than someone like Linda Lin Dai, in my opinion.

The scene where she revs up the tempo of a song during her audition into a rock beat is simply fantastic. I was hooked from that point on.

And the direction is good for the time -- there are a few nearly wordless sequences that work perfectly -- the scene after the producer/conductor proposes to Meixin (Grace Chang) is very touching as she thinks he expects her to sleep with him and he simply gathers his blanket and pillow to retire to another room like a gentleman. Grace's expressions convey a range of emotions in a matter of seconds: shock to resignation to admiration. I think in some ways scenes like this are better than the larger budgeted productions of the Shaw Brothers at the same time.

The musical numbers are sometimes silly -- the angels and devils one, in particular, and the dancers carrying John F. Kennedy posters in another -- but Grace Chang gives it her all and stands out from the crowd in every number.

Wong Tin Lam went on to father Wong Jing and is best known for his roles in films such as Election.

As soon as I catch up on my unopened Shaw DVDs, I think I'll catch up on more of the Cathay re-issues and I hope the DVDs are of better quality than this one.

But, at the rate I'm going, I may not get to them for a few more years! Ha!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Puffy Amiyumi CD!

I finally got my Puffy Amiyumi CD in the mail from YesAsia (side-note: I LOVE YesAsia BUT why did this CD with regular First Class shipping take longer than the free shipping I usually get when I order over $25 worth of DVDs?) and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Puffy's new album, Honeycreeper, has a slightly harder sound than their last few albums -- seemed that way to me -- and guitars buzz on a few tracks harder than in the past -- lead single, "Oriental Diamond," opens with a rockabilly riff worthy of mid-1990's-era Morrissey.

Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish is not on the album but there are contributions from The Merrymakers, Rooney, and Butch Walker.

You can order the Korean version of the CD here as it is almost half the price of the Japanese edition.

The video for "Oriental Diamond" is below...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Royle Family

I feel like an anthropolgist watching it, but The Royle Family remains one of my favorite sitcoms ever. Part of me watches the show as some kind of representation of Northern England, specifically Manchester.

And it is.

And another part of me simply enjoys it and relates to it in very universal ways.

But what started out as a kind of gimmick -- each episode in almost real time as the family watches TV together in their home in Manchester -- turned into a touching and very real experience.

Simply: I went from laughing at the family to laughing with them.

And I suppose -- I hope -- that in class-conscious England, millions more did the same thing.

The original The Office failed (a bit) in its second season for this same reason; the first season was scary and funny-but-painful with David Brent being an idiot worth lampooning; The second season humanized Brent and -- while a great sitcom still light years better than many American shows -- the show suffered in my opinion.

I enjoyed laughing atBrent in Series 1 but didn't particularly want to laugh with him in Series 2 (though I did enjoy it).

The old rule of thumb about illustrating the universal through specificity is exemplified perfectly in the best Royle Family episodes. These half-hours take uniquely Mancunian characters and make them recognizable to this Yank in America.

The show never sold out by pandering to a wide audience and, yet, I think that most people could enjoy it (though some of the accented dialogue stumps even this Anglophile -- thank goodness for subtitles).

Which leads me to The Queen of Sheba.

After 3 series of 6 episodes each, along with some Christmas specials, the Royle Family returned in 2006 for an hour-long finale.

This special episode was the first thing I watched yesterday after receiving my reasonably priced UK box set (thank goodness for all region DVD players).

You can order it here.

At first, the fact that The Queen of Sheba does not take place in real time -- dissolves are used, some scenes obviously not taking place on the same day -- and that the episode is the first one to have major scenes outside the Royle home, was hard to get used to.

But I thought the episode was the perfect way for the show to end -- it works well by itself when viewed outside the other 3 seasons -- and it had emotional resonance for me.

I do not think that this episode will hold up for repeat viewings in the same way that many of the other episodes do. But, I could not have envisioned a better way for the show to end. It felt like this family had grown in believable ways with only one joke seeming too obvious (involving Cheryl's date -- hysterically funny but it felt a touch too obvious and unlikely next to the rest of the show's usual realism)

And the scenes with Geoffrey Hughes as Twiggy and Jessica Stevenson as Cheryl near the end of this final episode were perfectly understated, both funny and touching simultaneously.

Trivia: Creator and star Caroline Aherne was at one time married to Peter Hook of New Order and Ralf Little, who plays her brother on the show, played Hooky in the film 24 Hour Party People.

Here's a clip from an early episode with the Oasis song included:

Let's Dance to Joy Division

You know, if this band was American, I would probably hate them for a song like this.

But, they manage to take what seems an arched-eyebrow-ironic-kind-of-title-that-looks-good-in-an-ad-in-the-NME and turn it into a song that actually moved me.

American indie/alternative rockers frequently gets lost in the kitschy elements, overdo them, and then smirk in place or producing a good, memorable pop song.

But something like this, which has those same elements, actually has a hook and decent lyrics and some wit (see also The Pipettes).

"Let's Dance to Joy Division"

I can hear some similarities to The Young Knives but these guys have more energy.

The rest of the album is quite good -- not a masterpiece, not even as good as the first Arctic Monkeys album -- but still worth ordering from overseas.

Of course, I am Mr. Tolerant when it comes to new British bands.

A lifetime of reading Melody Maker and NME and sometimes believing the hype has done that to me.

And they are Scousers so that is a plus in my book (even if I think The Coral and The Zutons are usually overrated, but that's another post).

Also check out the insanely catchy, "Backfire At The Disco"

Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Sister, I'm a Poet" -- Morrissey, Live in DC, 11/02/07

I finally saw Morrisey live. After missing the Smiths when they played this area in 1986, and then not bothering to see Morrissey on his earlier solo tours, I ventured out with two good friends to see Morrissey at DAR Constitution Hall, last night, November 02, 2007.

There were films playing on a huge screen in front of the stage before the concert (we missed the opening act). And it was a pleasure to see some great New York Dolls footage on a big screen, along with an Alan Bates film clip which I am ashamed I could not identify, and an old music video from Brigitte Bardot which I think was a Serge Gainsbourg song: "Bubble Gum."

Under a triptych backdrop of an impossibly young Richard Burton, Morrissey was absolutely perfect -- voice in fine form -- HOWEVER, the sound in the hall was atrocious. I don't mind loud concerts and Morrissey and his band were not as loud as Cheap Trick in 1997 in Baltimore, or my first Dio concert in 2000, but it was almost impossible for me to make out the songs until Morrissey started to sing -- and these were mainly songs I know by heart -- I don't know if it was due to being too close -- we were less than 14 rows back from the front of the stage, to Morrissey's left -- but I don't think so; I think the sound is just bad in this hall.

But then again, I've not been to this venue since I saw (and met) The Bangles in 1989 and then before that in 1984 when I saw Lou Reed and The Swimming Pool Q's.

But I am still quite happy at the fact that I finally got to see Morrissey do "Sister, I'm A Poet" and "Billy Budd" and "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" and "Stretch Out and Wait" and "How Soon is Now?" live in person.

And this 40-year-old aging indie/alt-rocker did find tears welling up as Morrissey delivered the recent "Dear God Please Help Me."

If only I had been able to rush the stage -- bravo to those who did -- but the security people were really cracking down on people moving up to the front rows -- I could see people being ushered up the aisle by the bouncers after trying to creep up into the first few rows.

Still, an amazing show in many ways. I just hope that if Morrissey tours in 2008, hopefully he will play a better venue -- Lisner at George Washington University or the 930 Club, perhaps.

(link to some good photos by a professional photographer on Flickr: here. And the photo above is thanks to Leafblower, and he's also on Flickr.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Morrissey Tickets!


Sometimes it pays to wait to the last minute.

To whit: I didn't have the money to get Morrissey tickets until today, two mere weeks before the show in DC, but I just got seats only about 14 rows back from the stage by ordering online!

I'm sure I will now have to at least attempt to shake his hand (or touch the hem of his garment, LOL), sometime during the concert.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cap Packing Heat?

I just cannot get used to the idea of Captain America carrying a gun. Doesn't he always say that his shield is his weapon -- why he does he need a gun?

Maybe I just grew up with a different era's view of the character.

I guess if it's not Steve Rogers, it is not as bad. I cannot see the Steve Rogers that joined the Avengers carrying a gun -- certainly not the Cap as written and drawn by Jack Kirby.

I'm sure Marvel will make something interesting out of this (and then do another big revamp a year or two from now, LOL).

The Civil War was interesting -- the bits I read -- but far too all-encompassing for me to read all of it.

I did like the initial issues with Cap going underground. Those scenes -- to this liberal -- seemed a true representation of the Captain America I grew up on in the 1970s.

Morrissey Delivers Yet Again

Wow, what a great song.

Morrissey was on Carson Daly's show a few days ago doing a new song -- "All You Need Is Me" --presumably from his yet-to-be-recorded album which should be released next year (?) -- hopefully this song will be on the album as I think it's one of his better solo songs, quite similar to the marvelous first half of "Your Arsenal" from 1992.

Link to You Tube here and embedded below.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

New Taxi Driver DVD is edited?

For the life of me I cannot figure it out -- and no one else seems to have written about it so far -- but the new Taxi Driver 2 disc DVD set is edited.

For those of us who have seen this classic a few times, the edit is glaring but possible to miss.

When Travis (Robert De Niro) first takes Iris (Jodie Foster) up to the room, the "timekeeper," played by Scorsese regular Murray Moston, makes some comment like "Cowboy, you can leave your gun here." And Travis checks his gun before taking Iris to her room.

When Travis returns, the timekeeper gives Travis his pistol back, and Travis gives the timekeeper the balled-up $20 he received from Sport (Harvey Keitel) earlier in the film.

Okay, in this new DVD, Travis simply checks in, the line about leaving his gun/cowboy comment is gone although you can still clearly see the timekeeper holding the pistol he recevied from Travis.

At the end of the scene, if you freeze-frame it, you can see the timekeeper carrying the pistol back to Travis but his line is gone and Travis simply says the thing about "this is for you" and he gives the timekeeper the $20.

The edits appear to be intentional and not the result of some kind of film jump or missing frames.

Considering how incendiary and violent the rest of the film is, I do not know why these gun references would be removed -- I cannot envision Scorsese pulling a Spielberg and removing guns a la E.T.'s recent DVD.

Still, it is troubling and confusing.

I can't imagine any plot point it would advance except that, by removing the scene so that the timekeeper is completely unaware that Travis may be carrying a gun, the timekeeper is now seen as being caught completely off-guard in the final rampage scene.

Am I the only film geek to have noticed this perhaps intentional edit?

It's a great DVD set, otherwise, with extras totalling nearly 2 hours along with the Paul Schrader commentary and other goodies.

Siouxsie's First Solo CD out in America

Hard to believe, but in nearly 30 years, Siouxsie Sioux has never released a true solo album.

Until now.

Mantaray was released in America last week and I do recommend it.

I am a big fan of Siouxsie and have enjoyed all the phases of her career (even met her in 1998 but that's another story).

I find myself drawn to mid-period Siouxsie and the Banshees and the 2nd Creatures album -- The Creatures being just Siouxsie and Budgie.

So I was apprehensive at what Siouxsie was going to do on her first, real solo album.

And, after a few listens, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Mantaray. There are a handful of songs that rank among her best vocal work in decades.

Admittedly, it took a few listens but the album is growing on me as it sounds enough like a 1980s Siouxsie and the Banshees album to please me but just different and mature enough to point in new directions.

Standout cuts include "If It Doesn't Kill You" which sounds a lot like Garbage's "Medication" and that's a huge compliment, and "They Follow You" which sounds like Led Zeppelin in some ways.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Kenickie (or where the kenixfan moniker comes from)

Gosh, ten years on and this song still sounds just as fresh and exciting as it did in 1997!

Only the British can produce indie pop like this!

"In Your Car" cracked the Top 40 in England (not hard to do with twin CD single releases as well as vinyl) in late 1996/early 1997 and it remains one of my favorite songs ever.

The way Lauren sings the lyrics with the right mix of youth, vulnerability, sex appeal, and swagger still wins me over every time -- the type of song car stereos were invented for (or something)!

In America, indie rock willingly creates its own ghetto in a small corner of the music world: bands are content to be quirky (sometimes overtly and annoyingly so) and loved by only a handful of fans and their failure then becomes a badge, a sign of integrity.

In Britain, indie bands are not afraid to aim for the Top 40 while still retaining their integrity, wit, chops, and big tunes -- Oasis owes their entire career to combining indie label cred with mass appeal tunes and classic rock swagger.

Kenickie never sold out -- they tried, God bless 'em -- but they failed.

Lauren Laverne is a TV presenter and DJ over there and I'm glad she's successful.

I only wish her old band had some measure of that success as well.

All the things I enjoyed about the Ramones, 1970's punk rock, and The Primitives bumped up a notch with lyrics that still make me smile and two of the great voices of the 1990's: Lauren Laverne and Marie DuSantiago.

The Pipettes come close to this but they are slightly too ironic to match Kenickie's appeal for me -- though I do enjoy them immensely.

kenixfan = kenix is shorthand for Kenickie based on one of their early flipsides.

I know there is a Chinese actress/singer named Kenix Kwok but, alas, this kenixfan is lamenting the UK band, Kenickie.

For further reference, check out Lauren's guest vocals on this Mint Royale track.

"Don't Falter" could very well be Lauren's best vocal work to date -- so very British in ways I can't even articulate anymore.

You could take this track and some Kinks and Smiths songs and understand everything I love about England.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The latest Fantastic Four flick, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, is big, empty fun.

Rereading some of George Perez' run on the FF from the 1970s, I recall that the Fantastic Four were never as heavy as the X-Men or as dark as Batman.

Maybe film viewers forget those facts when watching these serviceable flicks.

The makers have gotten the Thing/Human Torch dynamic down perfectly.

Re-reading classic FF stories, I now realize that I read the magazine usually for The Thing's antics or an appearance by the Inhumans -- Reed Richards is dull, Sue Storm even more so, and the Human Torch, while possessing cool powers, was a jerk then and a jerk in the films.

There is not much of a larger message to the FF's antics -- some meaning on the importance of family, but not much else.

And that's okay.

Sometimes comics/films can be just fun.

My biggest complaint is that Jessica Alba, while beautiful, is woefully miscast as Sue Storm.

But Chris Evans is actually more likeable as the Human Torch this time around, Micheael Chiklis is, again, perfect as The Thing, and Ioan Gruffudd looks like Reed Richards which is about all that is necessary.

The biggest geek concern with this film is the rendering of Galactus who appears as a voiceless cloud about to devour earth.

At first, I was one of those purists who did not like this choice for the film but then I reread some of the old comics and realized how ridiculous Galactus looked then -- even when drawn by Jack Kirby.

It was hard to believe that this maybe 100 foot tall guy in weird armor could devour any planet but at least a huge cloud about to swallow up the earth makes a certain sense in comic book-land.

I did miss the drama of Silver Surfer's turn from herald to hero.

And Alba's Sue Storm wasn't very convincing when compared to the original Kirby panels concerning the Surfer's turn.

But, hell, I still enjoyed the film.

Maybe going in with low expectations helps.

It was certainly better than the last X-Men film.

Cheng Pei Pei

I have watched so many Cheng Pei Pei movies this year that I fear that they are now a big blur in my brain!

When the Shaw Brothers re-issues first started in 2003, I decided to buy an all region DVD player with the sole purpose of enjoying these films.

And, the first titles I ordered from Yes Asia were a few Cheng Pei Pei titles -- musicals as well as martial arts films.

So, having watched most of these finally, I ask myself what is it that makes her films so enjoyable?

Cheng Pei Pei was one of the major beauties of the Shaw Studio and her tomboyish good looks are never wasted in any of the films I've watched so far.

In the musical features, one can see her ballet training as it is used in what are essentially Hong Kong versions of Hollywood (namely MGM) musicals.

But, even in the martial arts films, this same dance background can be seen as her films have a certain lithe grace missing from other Shaw films.

I think if I had to describe her work I would be left to compare it to that of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly.

Lily Ho certainly made similar, great martial arts flicks for the Shaw Studio but she was almost too glamourous compared to Cheng Pei Pei; Kara Hui had enormous skills but lacked the mass appeal of Cheng Pei Pei or Lily Ho (and came too late in the game anyway).

Cheng Pei Pei, like Michelle Yeoh decades later, combined skill, beauty, and grace into something more than just martial arts.

I think it would be impossible to watch any of the Cheng Pei Pei swordswoman films and not reference Errol Flynn or Gene Kelly in your mind.

The fact that I have to pick two male Hollywood stars is telling as I think there is no Hollywood equivalent to Cheng Pei Pei -- certainly no female action star from the same time period.

Start with Raw Courage and then seek out the other, sometimes more famous, titles.

From the blur in my mind, Raw Courage has the most to recommend it all around -- the journey to protect the baby makes the film easier to follow for a newbie to the world of the Shaw Brothers wuxia films and ties it in neatly with similar plots in Western films such as Three Godfathers.

This is only the beginning

Well, I finally started a blog. I have no idea why. We will see where this leads, won't we?