Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard

Jazz trumpet great Freddie Hubbard has died. The NME, among others, has the details.

I can't think of the man without thinking of the time I saw him perform with Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner in either 1988 or 1989 -- my memory fades but I think I've narrowed it down to those two years.

It was one of the first times I had been to DC's Blues Alley and I was prepared for a good show; I had already seen McCoy Tyner once, I think, and I knew his work with Coltrane, obviously.

As for Hubbard, I knew a bit about his Blue Note work at that time but was still new to his genius.

So McCoy plays a few songs with his band and then Freddie comes out.

I spot a yuppie couple in the front with their freckle-faced son sitting with them. I could imagine the parents telling the kid what legends these two performers were, that kind of thing; how this was going to be real jazz, not that Kenny G shit, and so on.

Freddie plays -- I'm being generous here -- probably half a song until he just stops and launches into this stream of invectives I probably shouldn't type: "Goddamn waitresses serving drinks when a motherf***er is trying to play!" and so on.

Like Fred Sanford with a horn or something.

Then, he storms off the stage, leaving McCoy and his band to continue the show.

I tried to get a glimpse of the kid's face after that. He didn't look too wide-eyed anymore.

So kid, here's the lesson for the day: McCoy Tyner is the exception; a lot of the real jazz legends are and were temperamental geniuses, which is to say assholes sometimes.

But, in the end, Freddie's albums on Blue Note *are* downright magnificent and so what if he stormed off? That doesn't change or diminish his musical talent which will live on long after he will.

Rest in peace, Freddie.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Prince Charming

It's weird reviewing a film that neither Kozo or Brian has already reviewed.

1984's Prince Charming is a pretty weird and sometimes dreadful Wong Jing feature that has the distinction of being -- correct me if I'm wrong here -- Maggie Cheung's first feature.

The film is a kind of mistaken identity romp reminiscent of 1930's screwball comedies in America -- but I think I'm being too kind!

Kenny Bee and Nat Chan are two young guys in Hawaii looking for love. Kenny's father is a big businessman and Nat is from a poorer background. Kenny is unlucky with girls, getting the hiccups when he is around them, and Nat is such an expert that he is going to help Kenny find a woman, get married, and thus please his family.

There are some Benny Hill-style shenanigans on the beach and the two fellows meet Cherie Chung and Maggie Cheung.

The plot abruptly shifts back to Hong Kong where Kenny is now set to investigate one of his father's shady business underlings who is apparently embezzling or something. In a lot of nonsensical zaniness, Nat is somehow mistaken for Kenny's character and Kenny is left to pretend to be Nat's chauffeur.

What follows is probably the most enjoyable part of the film with Kenny trying to woo Cherie and Nat trying to woo Maggie. Kenny and Cherie's date at the movies is cute in a kind of slapstick way, bringing to mind similar very low budget comedies from the same era in America.

Rosamund Kwan shows up with a very 1980's hairdo -- I think she actually got better looking as she got older -- as a woman hired to seduce and marry Kenny, I think.

The ending of the film dissolves into the typical Wong Jing mindlessness -- it's almost like they ran out of money and had to figure out a way to wrap up the plot. The end bits of action are so out of place and odd and nonsensical that comparing them to the Benny Hill Show would be a major compliment.

Look for Wong Jing himself in a small cameo as well.

For fans of the Hong Kong actors involved, this film is probably an essential viewing experience; Maggie Cheung in her first role, Cherie Chung looking impossibly gorgeous in just about every shot of film, and even Kenny Bee managing to make the pastel fashions of the 1980's look good.

And Cherie's brother-in-law in the film is played by Hong Kong film veteran, Chan Wai-Man.

And Kenny Bee's mother is played by HK veteran actress Ouyang Sha-fei.


The Celestial Region 3 DVD is anamorphic widescreen -- a nice touch -- with a pretty good picture that looked just a trifle grainy in some scenes. It has both Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks -- I'm guessing by this era that most films shot in Hong Kong were released in Cantonese. Additional extras include the original trailer and some stills.

You can order the DVD from YesAsia here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Not sure why my eyes are closed in this pic -- was I wishing for some wonderful toy? G.J. Joe-with-the-kung-fu grip perhaps? -- but I am sporting my usual new pajamas on Christmas Eve. My best friend the exact same age in the apartment next door would get new jammies on Christmas Eve -- usually some cartoon thing -- and we'd spend Christmas Eve talking about what we hoped Santa would bring that night.

Then we would spend Christmas Day opening presents with our families and then go to all of the other kids' apartments in our building to see what Santa brought them.

It was like a little benevolent gang.

And then I'd have another Christmas at my grandparents' or my father's since my mom was divorced.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"The light pours out of me!"

The big music news of the day for me is the reunion of Magazine. The NME has the word here.

Christ, The Specials and now Magazine? Two of my favorites from that post-punk era in England with Magazine always being criminally underrated by the masses -- now reforming!

(Unbelievably, they were on "Top of The Pops!" -- Check out the first clip below)

The reunion will be bittersweet without the amazing guitarist of the band, John McGeoch (who died on my birthday in 2004). The guy played in every band that mattered for a brief span of time. His riffs were essential to what Magazine was trying to do.

And I'm assuming that the reunion will include bassist Barry Adamson who really has had an amazing career as well.

As a rule, I'm a bit skeptical of this kind of reunion but I have to be honest and admit that I would indeed try to get tix for this show if I was going to be in England at the time.

The band's Peel Sessions just got reissued and that release is even available as a download from Amazon, here.

Magazine - "Shot By Both Sides"

Magazine - "The Light Pours Out Of Me"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blogging Question

This is a dumb question but I just found a comment that was dated two days ago sitting here waiting to be moderated.

Normally, I check my gmail account and the comments are there, similar to e-mails, and I just click through to publish them here.

But this comment was not in my gmail account but was visible here and waiting to be moderated when I logged into Blogger.

So I need to login to both?

I'm still new to this whole thing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

R.I.P. Forrie!

Well, it was only a matter of days given the reports on his health, but Forrest J. Ackerman has died. News is here

I'm not going to elaborate on his life story, or why he's important to so many, but I will reference my meeting with him, briefly touched upon in this recent post.

That convention in 1997 was probably the first sci-fi or film convention I had attended since a shabby one in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1978 that I begged my parents to take me to.

And I really didn't expect to see Forrie at the convention; my friend and I were attending for Caroline Munro and the other Hammer luminaries in attendance.

So it was a totally unexpected sight to round the corner and suddenly see Forrest J. Ackerman manning his own booth that cloudy Sunday, eating a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza.

In fact, it took me a second to process the fact and I was probably a bit awestruck much like when I met Ackerman friend Ray Harryhausen at another convention a few years later.

I mumbled my thanks and got an autograph -- Forrie even had cool postcards of himself ready to hand out.

And when thinking back to the first 10 years of my life before the arrival of Star Wars, I can't think of many people in film who influenced me as much as Harryhausen.

And I knew of him because of Ackerman's magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

I got my first issues, when I was probably about 7, at this old drug store whose name escapes me in District Heights, Maryland while my grandparents babysat me before my mom picked me up after work.

That would give me a few hours to enjoy the mag before my mom would cut out the scary pictures; I can still recall pleading me with mom, "That picture doesn't scare me!" Or: "But the picture on the other side of that page is of King Kong!"

That kind of thing.

And that may sound silly but, in that era, Famous Monsters was the only magazine I can recall that actually covered the making of monster films, specifically classic ones.

I learned about Jack Pierce, for instance, from that magazine.

That magazine, my grandfather's stories of working in a movie theater in the 1920's and 1930's, and a few books from the library were the foundations of my education -- what made me a movie fan.

And I will be indebted forever to Forrest Ackerman's work.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bottle Rocket -- The Criterion Collection

I don't want to turn this blog into a site where I simply review all the new releases that catch my eye; the stuff I write about has to be stuff I care about in some way.

(Admittedly, it's taken me about a year now to realize that very fundamental fact of blogging!)

And it was so nice to have two of my favorite films of all time released in Criterion Collection editions on November 25, 2008.

Chungking Express was the first film and Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket (1995) is the second.

I can recall reading about Bottle Rocket about a year before I saw the film. I think it played in only one theater in D.C. and the Washington Post review mentioned something about Owen Wilson's Dignan being like a demented Eddie Haskell, or words to that effect. That stuck in my head.

My friend rented the laserdiscs of both this film and Swingers in early 1997 -- that was in the days where there was a real lag time between a theatrical release and a home video release, especially a release on the laserdisc format. He taped both for me and I think I watched Swingers first.

I liked Swingers but thought it was a bit obvious and overrated in many ways -- I subsequently liked Vince Vaughn a lot more later in stuff like Made (with cinematography by Christopher Doyle of all people!) or Old School or Swingers or last week's release of Four Christmases which, admittedly, is not a masterpiece but which had this Vince fan laughing quite a bit.

But when I popped in the VHS tape of Bottle Rocket I had to stop it within about 10 minutes as I was just laughing so hard and enjoying the film so much that I didn't want to ruin the film -- I wanted to stretch it out and enjoy it for an even longer time than it's 91 minute running time.

The first scene with Future Man (Andrew Wilson) had me crying with laughter.

And, after the heist, when the "gang" buys fireworks under Dignan's direction, I was cackling like an idiot.

I am one of the few Wes Anderson fans who thinks his subsequent films are never as good as his first while I know there are some fans who love Rushmore and hate Bottle Rocket.

And I'm sure it's almost impossible to watch this film for the first time now since Owen Wilson has essentially done similar shtick in numerous, lesser Hollywood films to lesser effect. Luke Wilson also has done his share of Hollywood crap.

Still, the film delivers for me and each time I watch it, I find some new detail that makes me smile or laugh in a new way.

And, as Scorsese and others have noted, the film is largely devoid of cynicism. There is irony aplenty but little cynicism.

I would add that it was also very refreshing to find an American indie film in the mid-1990's where the characters were not discussing pop culture like in a Tarantino film (I'm glad Anderson ditched the Starsky and Hutch conversation seen in the short).

The Film

The picture is ridiculously clear, with colors that seem even more vibrant than before; I can only imagine how great the upcoming Blu-Ray version will look! The commentary with Anderson and Owen is funny and genuine without being overbearing.

The Extras

The "Making Of" is quite funny without trying very hard to be for some reason. Andrew Wilson is even funnier now than as Future Man in the film.

The Deleted Scenes offer a glimpse into the further adventures of the crew which would have added a lot of different moods to the action for this viewer.

And the original 13-minute short that started this all is fascinating -- it looks great for one thing -- no more You Tube-level postings of this thing! -- and it shows how the Dignan character was much more of a typical criminal without the unique and innocent spin that Owen Wilson finally brought to the character.

The other extras, including the Murita Cycles short, illuminate further aspects of the inspirations behind the world of Wes Anderson.

I direct a lot of venom at the Criterion Collection but, really, it's the people that just blindly buy the DVDs without really caring about the films behind the numbers on the spines of the releases that are the problem.

With this release, the Criterion Collection folks have finally rewarded a certain kind of geek. And we are very happy.

Details on the DVD from Criterion are here.

Photos from the Little Banana site which looks suspiciously like the old Lawn Wranglers site -- a site that I found at work one day in 1998 that got me to thinking that I wasn't the only person out there who deeply loved this film.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning...and autographs

I rewatched -- and thoroughly enjoyed -- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) last night and it made me think of an anecdote.

I'm not much for autographs anymore; despite meeting loads of bands during my record store career, I was never much for the autograph thing. I saw a lot of people who acted as if the singer or musician was just there to sign something like a robot. Once they had their autograph, these people would mutter "Thanks" and slink away.

I, on the other hand, was much more interested in meeting the bands. I was also a decent bullshitter: accidentally meeting Kurt Cobain in early 1990 and telling him how much I liked Bleach when I actually hated it; padding out sales figures that I reported to CMJ to ensure that better "promos" were sent to me by the major labels.

I was happy meeting Lenny Kravitz when he was just starting, took delight in being politely greeted by the Indigo Girls even while they bitched to their staff about all the little things wrong with their sound system, and that kind of thing.

I am happy that I got to meet and talk with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses -- even giving her a book of Rimbaud's -- without even asking for an autograph.

And very, very grateful that I got to go to an intimate dinner with The Blue Nile, who were on a promotional, non-performing, tour in 1990. And I had much, much more to talk to the band about than any of the handful of people there at the dinner table from A&M Records; I think I monopolized them but maybe I did them a service by keeping them away from the label flunkies who were not the fan I had been for five years already.

Which is a long way to get to my anecdote about good autographs to have.

I'm not much for autographs but I have this book autographed by: Val Guest, Veronica Carlson, Virginia Wetherell, Jimmy Sangster, Caroline Munro, and Freddie Francis.

A crop of the photo of Caroline Munro with me and my friend. This was in June, 1997, at the convention under discussion, in Timonium, Maryland, outside Baltimore.

It was at a sci-fi/horror film convention outside of Baltimore in 1997. I also met Forrest J. Ackerman there as he manned his booth and ate a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza. That was like seeing the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz (1939); Ackerman was a god to me as a kid as I bought Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine whenever I could and hoped that my mom wouldn't cut out all the gory pictures (which wasn't as bad as Spielberg's mom as she supposedly destroyed his issues!).

So as I made my way down the table, getting my book signed. I tried to think of something to say to Sangster and Francis. I can't quite remember what I said to Sangster but I do recall that when I got to Francis I mumbled something about his cinematography on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), in particular, the carnival sequence.

I guess he'd been asked a lot about Cape Fear (1991) or The Innocents (1961) and I was trying to go for the less obvious; despite being a panel of Hammer Studios luminaries, I was asking about a non-Hammer film.

Anyway, Mr. Francis looked completely baffled. Maybe he was hard of hearing? I repeated my compliment and he actually had to pause and think back, saying something like: "Oh, oh, right. The Albert Finney picture."

So, what was one young man's treasured vision of post-war England was another man's job.

Get the film: it's probably the best of the kitchen sink films -- less pretentious than Look Back in Anger (1959), less depressing on the whole than The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner (1962).

And while A Taste of Honey (1961) is quite good, it's a bit more than simply an "angry young man" drama.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) is a fascinating, quick-moving slice-of-life in post-war England. It's a class study. And it's a romance.

And every glorious black-and-white frame of the film is a work of art even if Freddie Francis didn't quite remember shooting it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"From Despair to Where?"

With the news early this week that Richey Edwards had finally been declared dead after almost 14 years, my mind drifted back to my one and only trip to Wales.

I was in England for almost three weeks for work in early 2000, a trip that was rapidly souring me on all the things that I had loved about England only a year earlier.

The only bright spot of this working trip had been one night when I had gotten lost walking around Croydon in the rain. I had money for a cab but was trying to save my my money for more CD's -- not that I had seen any cabs where I was -- and I finally stumbled into the first establishment I could find: a pub, naturally.

But it was a great pub. It was as if someone had read my mind and given me a brief glimpse of the England that I loved; it looked vaguely like the bar in Fawlty Towers (!) for a very quick and easy reference point.

And as I sipped my bitter in that pub with the train-motif, amidst a bunch of older British guys, I felt a bit out of place; I was this sweaty and wet American who had obviously just kind of wandered into the place, lost and looking for my way back to my hotel.

But, almost nine years later, my bitterness about the "working" part of my trip to England is forgotten now that I remember that 20 minutes or so I spent lifting my glass in that pub, savoring the kind of "Englishness" I always loved.

Now, on to Wales.

Since I was in England working, I didn't have a lot of time to spend travelling around. A year earlier, in 1999, my friend and I had spent our vacation seeing London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Wolverhampton (that one only for a concert).

And, now, I was determined to see Wales since it was the only ethnic heritage I could claim as my own.

I can't trace my ancestors back to the pilgrims like someone I once worked with.

And it's really boring being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in the American suburbs so I kind of clung to the fact that I'm only four generations removed from something else: Wales, in this case, with my mom's father's grandfather probably being the first off the boat from Wales with the very common Welsh name Davies (good luck playing Alex Haley with that).

So my friend had come over to enjoy England again since I had a free room in Croydon. And I was determined to make it to Cardiff if only for a day.

And it was only for a day -- my birthday, actually -- and we got there late on Saturday, March 4, 2000 riding a National Express bus, me listening to the latest Oasis CD on my Discman.

My first impression was that Cardiff was a bit like Baltimore with a castle. Take that as an insult or a compliment as you see fit. We hit the pubs, expecting to hear Welsh bands being played like the Manics and Catatonia but we only heard Shania Twain and, I think, one Stereophonics song as they were still a bit new at the time even for their home turf.

Then, hung over the next morning, we had breakfast at a Burger King within sight of a castle on suddenly clean streets that only hours before had been covered with broken bottles and vomit. And then we caught a bus and headed back for London.

Not much of a trip but at least I had gone there once on what was largely a very personal symbolic trip.

I didn't try to retrace Richey's footsteps, or lay a wreath at his home or something. No, I just wanted a sense of where so many great bands that I loved had come from.

I did suddenly feel the weight of history in Liverpool when passing the school where Lennon and McCartney met and I suddenly realized how real the Beatles were -- not just magical cartoon Englishmen in "Yellow Submarine."

And I know some people probably look up every Morrissey reference in Manchester.

But in Cardiff I just wanted to breathe the air and walk the streets and, somehow, I feel like that was good enough for a start.

And it's not simply the Welsh bit that made me want to be there; there are deeper reasons that I locked onto the Manics -- I can't imagine anyone going to Cardiff because the Stereophonics were so inspiring -- but those are things I can post about later.

A few photos

The castle is the sometimes mocked Cardiff Castle which is a bit disconcerting to see upon stumbling out of a hotel room, a bit hungover, early on a crisp March Sunday morning.

In this photo, I think our bus was on the main Severn Bridge going back into England and the pictures are of the Second Severn Crossing.

This photo below was taken right as we were getting on the bridge from Wales for England with the end of Wales on the right there, near where the spot that Richey left his car and left this world?

(And, yeah, the two bridge photos aren't great *but* they were taken from inside a moving bus using a cheap, disposable camera so, all that considered, they're not that bad.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can't Entirely Hate Wal-Mart

As much as I hate the rise of the "big box" stores and the death of small independent retailers of all kinds -- but especially music and video stores -- I can't entirely hate Wal-Mart.

And the reason for my epiphany? I saw a copy of Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song on DVD in their racks!

Now let's think about this for a minute: Wal-Mart, a chain that will not carry unedited rap CDs is carrying what was an X-rated film upon its initial release. A film that is pretty much the antithesis of the Disney/Hannah Montana/Owen Wilson demographic of most of the crap on Wal-Mart DVD shelves.

Is this a case of a big, bad ("baadassss?") corporation co-opting the counter-culture (well, a past counter-culture)? No.

Have things progressed to the point that this film is now longer shocking? Probably not. I think most suburban moms would be a bit surprised if they were to watch the film.

(A sidenote is the rise of Wal-Mart exclusively hawking AC/DC's newest CD; Maybe I'm an old man saying this, but I can recall when AC/DC were actually a bit dangerous -- or at least convincingly pretending to be dangerous. Rock is safe, now, and rap -- unedited rap, especially -- is still too dangerous for Wal-Mart to sell.)

I was a bit speechless upon seeing the film in there.

After all, Blockbuster still won't carry the unrated version of Lust, Caution or any version of Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.

I first heard of this film on one of Siskel & Ebert's "guilty pleasures" shows on their old PBS "Sneak Previews" program.

I was a fat, geeky 13-year-old and thrilled that Ebert chose "Infra-Man" which I had seen at the drive-in on its first release run in the United States. And I *think* that it was Siskel who chose Sweet Sweetback. This link expresses some similar thoughts.

(I always liked his reviews better, for what it's worth. And there are many, many films I sought out as I got older based on my memories of a Siskel rave.)

I wrote to the duo once around that era (1979) and I got a form letter back but it was still thrilling to me at the time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful for You Tube - Rosita!

Wow! I never even knew that this Kenickie spin-off ever made any videos for their one "hit" from their only EP!

Emmy-Kate Montrose and Marie DuSantiago (on lead vocals) from Sunderland, England's Kenickie! My heart grows warmer just hearing this again!

ROSITA Santa Poca's Dream

Monday, November 17, 2008

Green Arrow: Year One

I guess it says something about my boring life or my busy work schedule but the most exciting thing I did all weekend was read the hardcover collection Green Arrow: Year One by Andy Diggle and artist Jock. I know they are the creative team behind The Losers but I've yet to pick up that title.

I have a bad habit -- or a narrow focus -- of sticking to mainly the superheroes that I grew up with.

And Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, is definitely a character that I can remember "playing at" in my grandparents' backyard.

Though I was probably too young to read the seminal issues with Speedy's drug addiction, I can vaguely recall being aware of the Dennis O'Neil/Neal Adams era of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow title. The art in some of the reprints did jar some memories loose.

I think the overly liberal Oliver Queen seemed to fit in with my sensibilities, having been raised in a liberal Democratic household (hell, who wasn't a lib Dem in that Watergate era?).

And my love of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood probably pointed me in the Arrow's direction as well -- or maybe the Arrow pointed me to Errol?

But now I'm pretty lazy about keeping up with the DC Comics continuity and am a bit unaware of how Green Arrow: Year One fits into the larger DC Universe.

Still, it was a fun read with artwork vaguely reminiscent of Frank Miller's run on Marvel's Daredevil in the 1980s which I did read firsthand.

Green Arrow: Year One is cinematic in its depiction of Oliver Queen's origin story -- it is a bit like Batman Begins in that the superhero that the main character becomes is almost secondary to the larger story of that character's development as a person.

There are a few things I didn't like in this volume -- namely, more of the actual hero would have been nice! -- but I did enjoy what the creators were trying to do by stripping everything away and getting to the essence of the character in as simple a fashion as possible.

You can get the nice, slim hardback from Amazon, among other places.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good News About The Captain

I am still a tiny bit apprehensive about it, but there is good news about the upcoming -- 2011? -- Captain America film. Superhero Hype and Newsarama are both reporting that Joe Johnston will be directing the Captain America film.

Johnston worked on Raiders of The Lost Ark and did some conceptual sketches for Star Wars that I recall from one of the first Star Wars books I purchased back in 1977. And he directed The Rocketeer which was pretty good.

Hopefully the Captain America film will be similar in tone to that -- maybe a bit more serious.

I -- like a million other fanboys -- can envision a great Cap film set in World War 2 that ends with Cap presumed dead only to be thawed out of the ice in modern times in The Avengers film.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This Blog's Only Political Post

When I started this blog, I thought I would briefly touch upon politics but quickly realized that the last thing this world needed was another political blog; Stick with Josh Marshall or Andrew Sullivan.

But the significance of today is such that I can hardly avoid commenting on it.

And I should add that I always think of things on two levels: my ideal and my reality and, obviously, Barack Obama satisfies both in many ways.

Frankly, I never dreamed this day would come and it says something about how much Bush ruined this country that we have the Democrats set to sweep into power in such a fashion.

(It goes without saying that it's probably a comment on race in this country that Barack is not even further ahead than he already is; Fear is the only thing keeping him from having an even more impressive lead-- still, he's doing better than Hilary Clinton ever would have. And none of that is to diminish his masterful, amazing campaign.)

So, for the inner liberal in me, yes, Obama is a bit more centrist than I would prefer.

But he ran a perfect campaign and seems a sensible, moral man.

Even the choice of Biden as running mate which seemed a mistake at the time now seems a stroke of genius that accidentally, pre-emptively countered McCain's choice of Palin.

So, even if Obama turns out to be a boring President, he will still be a symbolic success that will help this country win back goodwill from the rest of the world.

If he doesn't close Gitmo pretty soon into his first year, then you'll hear me start to complain!

Monday, November 3, 2008

"If I Can't Dance..." - Sophie

Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs one of my favorite tracks from her last album in a clip I didn't find until today:

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
"If I Can't Dance"

Her new Rimmel London ad with her (?) new single playing in the background:

And making of the same ad:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michael Turner Tribute Book

Newsarama is reporting on a tribute book for the late artist Michael Turner who died of cancer this summer.

I am sure that most comics shops will have the book this coming Wednesday but I can't find it listed on Amazon yet.

I think it's weird that I like Turner so much given that his style is more painterly than the kind of comic art I grew up on.

But his work was a real joy for me when I first picked up comics again in 2000 after not reading them for almost 18 years.

I bought the slim volume at my local comic book store yesterday (11/05/08) for $8.99. Here is a link to buy it for the same price on Amazon.com. I don't know why it says pre-order, though.

Better yet, order it directly from Aspen Comics. Proceeds go to cancer prevention charities.

[Image: DC Comics/Aspen Comics]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Farewell to The Long Blondes

NME is reporting that The Long Blondes have split up. Not entirely surprised due to health issues of one of the band members, but a band that will be missed. Their two studio albums both showed real promise, taking a few obvious influences and crafting something new and fresh; I still think Couples is quite underrated.

I saw the band in DC at the Rock and Roll Hotel in 2007 and I thought the songs from the first album were even better live.

Here's the video for Giddy Stratospheres by The Long Blondes:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Childish Pursuits - Comics!

It's still very hard for me to enjoy well written comics with lackluster art -- or art that doesn't appeal to the perpetual 13-year-old inside me.

I think that stems from the fact that as a child I drew quite a bit. Really, my childhood memories are defined by TV, pop music, and drawing -- sometimes pursuing all three things at once as I used to take LP records in their covers and use them as my drawing boards (hopefully abandoned kids' records of my own or something my parents were sick of playing).

And the first comics I gravitated to were ones where I liked the art but now I'm seeing a modern comics culture where the writer is just as important to many fans; there are people following Grant Morrison like I used to follow Jack Kirby and even I have found myself picking up stuff Brad Meltzer wrote despite the presence of art that didn't particularly do it for me.

So, that's a roundabout way of recommending the Green Arrow/Black Canary: The Wedding Album hardback collection, available here from Amazon.

Two characters I love finally get married with quite a few plot twists sure to entertain even casual DC Universe fans such as myself -- I still prefer the Marvel Universe overall.

I wasn't thrilled with the art but the writing is decent for what it is, not too serious and not too silly with a few great moments thrown in that I won't ruin here.

When I was 12, I switched from pencil-and-paper drawing to pen-and-paper drawing. I was inspired by a cool kid in my neighborhood in Louisiana and was probably copying him a bit -- thanks to him, I started reading Doonesbury paperbacks, drawing in ink using Pilot black ink pens on nice heavy drawing paper, and embellishing my spacecraft and monsters and superheros will all manner of ridiculous flourishes and bits of crosshatching.

So it's probably no surprise how much I enjoy Arthur Adams' stuff from the 1990's. His work in Alan Moore's Tom Strong series is pure delight but, for that 13-year-old "me," his Monkeyman and O'Brien is perfection on paper. Really, this is exactly what I would have loved to have written and drawn as a kid, filled with references to monster movies and the original King Kong.

Yeah, Star Wars really grabbed me when I was 10 but I never abandoned my love of King Kong and other monster movies.

This collection available here on Amazon may be out-of-print but it's worth seeking out if you like this kind of thing like I do.

[Photos: Amazon/DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

R.I.P. Nick Sanderson

I bought a lot of CDs in England the first time I went there in 1999.

A large part of why I ever wanted to go to England in the first place was the music.

And it's with some irony that the first CD I purchased in England was the latest Catatonia at the airport HMV in April 1999 (Yeah, some taffy band was my first purchase says this fifth generation Welsh-American!)

But the two best CDs I purchased on that trip were the two Earl Brutus albums. I had been reading reviews of Brutus shows in the British press and laughing out loud and this video confirms that I missed what could quite possibly have ended up being the best live band I would have ever seen.

Nick Sanderson was in the World of Twist who got some fame thanks to Noel Gallagher raving about one of their singles but, really, the Slade-stomp/Jesus and Mary Chain-fuzz/Fall-style-"singing" of Earl Brutus really was something special (yes, Pop Will Eat Itself did some of this kind of thing earlier but they were a bit more "dance" and less destructive too!)

I learned of Sanderon's death just today from the NME and now I'm going to go play this video about a dozen times in a row. Maybe flip some furniture over in homage!

Earl Brutus - "The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Certain Romance

It's a truism that the British are obsessed with class.

In some ways, that's a good thing as it divides society along economic lines instead of racial ones (though obviously sometimes they are the same divide).

And by "good thing" I mean that England -- to a visitor at least -- is not as divided and overtly racist as some sections of the United States (yeah, the UK produced Enoch Powell but that's not the same as seeing the Rodney King beating on TV, is it?).

The second truism is that the British are obsessed with place and quite proud of where they are from; There are more differences between residents of Manchester and London than there are perhaps between residents of Los Angeles and Houston and yet only a few hundred miles may separate those British citizens.

Which brings us to one of the great tracks of British rock in the post-Oasis era: the Arctic Monkeys' "A Certain Romance" from their 2006 debut album.

From the album artwork, the title taken from Albert Finney dialogue in "kitchen sink" drama, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and the thick Sheffield accents of the band members, the Monkeys are clearly "of a place" and it's that specificity that makes them so uniquely British.

The very act of playing up their Yorkshire upbringing puts them in line with Oasis playing up their Manchester upbringings -- the Gallaghers' love of Man City over Man United, for example.

In America, pop acts -- apart from rappers -- do not really have things that make them uniquely a Baltimore band, for instance, as opposed to a Chicago band; there are local scenes in America but that's a bit different than what I'm getting at; here, the only accents you'll hear anymore are in country music -- maybe a few New York accents if you play your old Lou Reed and Richard Hell records.

And while I still think that "Live Forever" is one of the best singles I've ever heard from the British Isles, I also think that Oasis got lucky; compared to a carefully wrought anthem like "Common People" by Pulp or "A Design for Life" by the Manics, "Live Forever" seems a bit simple-minded and -- dare I say it? -- bombastic.

Pulp, the Manics, and now the Monkeys have managed to write songs that mock (a bit) their own milieu while at the same time praising it; All three bands in these songs manage to criticize and condemn certain elements of the masses and yet still somehow produce anthems for a mass audience -- anthems for a nation of jaded individuals rather than the bland corporate rock we hear from American bands where the goal is to appeal to the broadest, basest demographic of this country's large listening public.

Very much like the Manics in "A Design for Life", the Monkeys in "A Certain Romance" are at once criticizing lad-ism -- "footie"-culture hooliganism -- and, yet, seem to be a wee bit proud that that's the world that spawned them. They sing that "there ain't no romance around there" as if to mock those who affect to be working class and aren't -- see the rise of the mockney accent.

The Manics sing that "We only want to get drunk" and "we are not allowed to spend" in the hope that the masses will see the larger forces that are consigning them to a life of "Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)" -- to quote a Rakes song title -- and the Monkeys are hoping that they don't turn into the yobs that "like to fight with pool cues in their hands." The Manics sound like school teachers sometimes but the Monkeys are indistinguishable from their audience -- at least they were when this track was released.

So while the Monkeys rail against those who "had a couple cans" and think "it's alright to act like a dickhead," they cannot so quickly condemn their own circle of friends. They acknowledge that "they'd probably like to throw a punch at me" and so set themselves apart from the crowd -- like the singer of "Common People", the singer of this track is of the crowd but set apart, watching, and commenting with wry detachment.

In the end, they -- like Oasis in a dozen songs before them -- champion what may be a less than exemplary peer group: "Well over there there's friends of mine...and, yeah, they might overstep the line but I just cannot get angry in the same way" only to reaffirm: "No, not in the same way" as the guitar riff spirals up in Buzzcockian ecstasy and the drums pound away -- echoing the early Manc genius of The Stone Roses -- into a thing of joy and transcendence, the cynicism giving way to pride, the weariness into uplift in the face of futility.

I guess this is the song that convinced me that the group were one of the greats -- not a fan of everything they've released -- but they have massive potential, for sure (lead singer Alex Turner's work in The Last Shadow Puppets confirmed this as well).

If I think of how many thousands of dollars I've wasted on bands that the British music press championed, only be to be disappointed, I'd break down in tears.

But, sometimes, the hype is deserved. Sometimes, every few years, a Sundays or Stone Roses or Oasis or Arctic Monkeys delivers a stunning debut that I don't get tired of playing.

Arctic Monkeys - "A Certain Romance"

Manic Street Preachers - "A Design for Life"M

Monday, September 22, 2008

The View - New Single

I am ratcheting down my enthusiasm for this new single -- is a new album due already? -- from The View due to the lesson I learned from their first album: two tremendous singles do not necessarily result in a great album.

(Not there's anything wrong with being a great singles band, though; it worked for The Smashing Pumpkins and The Bluetones.)

But that opening Oasis-by-way-of-Scotland hook and the various Libertines-isms are infectious!

Songs like this -- especially with a video like this -- have a weird sort of power; they make it seem, if for only 3 or 4 minutes, that things are right with the world -- the inner 18-year-old is alive again and the car stereo is blaring. Only the United Kingdom can produce music like this -- Scotland in this instance -- and this kind of single is the equivalent for me of American Top 40 AM radio in the 1970's.

The single is king and the perfect 4 minute pop song is the land's highest art form.

So what if the albums are never as good as the lead-off singles, eh?

The View - "5Rebbeccas"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Which I Once Again Take Up The Gauntlet Thrown Down by Yvonne's Blog!

Okay, from Yvonne's post here at Webs of Significance, I have taken up the challenge -- hey, I'm fat and I like a lot of different food so why wouldn't I?

"1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
(Not as such, but I've had Iranian and Indian variations on the dish)
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder
in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros,
elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings,
or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong (I think - LOL!)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel
and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dragon Inn (The Original)

I finally had a chance to see King Hu's Dragon Inn and enjoyed it. The picture quality and subtitles were not of the highest caliber and I think those factors may have limited my enjoyment of the film -- it's hard to watch a lot of the Shaw re-issues and then see something from the same era that looks so bad.

King Hu, apparently, did this film after his triumph with Come Drink With Me for the Shaw Brothers studio and you can see similar set pieces and themes at work in this film as well.

I thoroughly recommend Brian's review here, as well as the further essays he has up on his site.

Dragon Inn is certainly more stagey than Tsui Hark's version -- as is to be expected -- but it's also a good deal more stagey than similar Cheng Pei Pei films made at the Shaw Brothers studio at the time. I think part of that owes to the film's largest section being set in the titular inn.

But for film fans, it's not unlike watching an American Western -- very similar I'd say -- where the heroes and villains eye each other up in the saloon for a good long time before fighting it out.

Not quite the stylistic mix-up that A Touch of Zen is (not that that's a negative comment, by the way) and not the classic -- for me at least -- that Come Drink With Me is, Dragon Inn is worth seeking out to see an early classic of the wuxia genre.

Contrary to the listing on YesAsia.com, this edition of the DVD does indeed have English subtitles. They are not particularly good English subtitles, but they are there; I noticed they also dropped out a few times when characters were speaking.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bottle Rocket and Chungking Express on Criterion

I appreciate Criterion but am one of those people who think they are overrated.

By that I mean that I know people who don't know that much about film -- about the movies, whatever -- and yet they collect Criterion DVDs simply because they are expensive and numbered.

And, for various reasons, the Criterion laserdisc selection was much larger than the Criterion DVD collection.

So while I understand and applaud how the Criterion Collection has hipped a lot of younger people to the joys of Ozu and Kurosawa, I also realize that there are a lot of people who simply buy this stuff because it's on the Criterion label and it has a number.

I was guilty of that kind of thinking when I slavishly collected music on the 4AD label -- guilty of buying stuff for the label first regardless of quality. As if that 4AD stamp could make a band like Scheer somehow more memorable?

And the Criterion collection is by no means perfect: two Michael Bay films? the ambitious but middlebrow Chasing Amy?

But the good news is that two of perhaps my top 10 of all time are both coming out on Criterion this November: Bottle Rocket and Chungking Express.

The big news for Bottle Rocket is the amount of extras on the set -- I've seen the film so many times that I am mainly interested in the extras at this point.

The big news for Chungking Express is the transfer -- I've only allowed myself to watch the film about 3 times so as not to ruin it and, while I would have liked to have a few more extras on the set, the new transfer sounds impressive.

I don't think I'll invest in a Blu-Ray player just to get these two titles in Blu-Ray -- I've got hundreds of regular DVDs to watch first -- but it is tempting.

UPDATE: The most important thing that I forgot to mention for Chungking Express fans in America is that, presumably, there will be no Quentin Tarantino on this release! His babbling introduction on the last US edition of Chungking Express was an insult to real film fans who were well aware of who Wong Kar-Wai and Brigitte Lin were. Films of this caliber do not need his fanboy grin to sell them.

And while I'm being sarcastic, it's worth pointing out how many Japanese films Criterion has released as opposed to how few Chinese -- I'm keeping score! -- this will make it 3 Chinese films in the series, eh?

Sophie Sings Carly Simon

I'll be the first to admit that Sophie doesn't sound completely at her best on this number but her enunciation of each word still thrills me -- I could listen to her read the phonebook, I think!

This is from the party in Trafalgar Square it looks like to celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games in London (Blimey, I'm still sick of hearing about the 2008 games!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oasis Return

Gratuitous Beatles-lyrical reference? Check.

Foot-stomping riffs worthy of Slade? Check.

Words that Liam can sing even in an even-more-pronounced-Manchester-nasal-drawl-than-normal? Check.

Lyrics that look ridiculous on paper? Check.

Folks, it's the new Oasis single!

This sounds quite a bit like Heavy Stereo and that's a good thing by me.

But that single sleeve artwork is atrocious -- it looks like something The Coral rejected!

When Oasis stopped trying to be the Beatles and instead contented themselves with being Slade with a Beatles fix, I started to like them a whole lot more.

UPDATE: Clip of Oasis doing the song in Seattle at the start of their latest tour a night ago. Liam is quite the dandy.

Comics Round-Up

Since my current work schedule is hindering my recent movie-watching efforts -- apart from Shamo which I didn't like -- I've been reading a lot of comic books, specifically graphic novels or trade paperbacks or collected works -- whatever you want to call them -- I rarely buy an actual monthly comic book anymore.

I am as jazzed for the Black Canary and Green Arrow wedding as I was for the Tony and Carina wedding. And, since I am not reading monthlies, I'm quite a bit behind as to what's actually happening to the characters currently.

However, I did enjoy parts of this recent collection; some of Paulo Siqueira's art was quite good (at least in the early excerpts in this volume), and I was able to keep up without having read much of the recent material concerning either character. I have a soft spot for Green Arrow; I can barely remember having at least one or two of the seminal Dennis O'Neil/Neal Adams issues back in the the 1970s.

I'm now on a Frank Quitely kick -- yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Grant Morrison is a great writer but I'm still drawn to art first (growing up on Kirby did that to me) -- and I've read a few downright great things over the past few weeks.

The one-off (?) JLA: Earth 2 paperback is a fun, quick read that strikes the right mix of serious and silly. Not too keen on how Quitely draws every character -- that Wonder Woman is a bit rough -- but his Superman and Batman and Aquaman are impressive.

Which leads me to All-Star Superman Vol. 1. Well, for once the hype is pretty much deserved. This is a beautiful book that makes the Frank Miller/Jim Lee All-Star Batman pale in comparsion -- and I'm not even that big a fan of the comics Supes as it is. Just a witty and wonderful little book -- not every chapter is great but the creators manage to tell familiar tales in a new way. And, again, the right mix of somber and silly (though I would have liked some crossover with the rest of the DC Universe). The early parts with Superman showing Lois Lane around the Fortress of Solitude reminded me of something from the old Heavy Metal magazine and, while that may sound like praise, it could illustrate precisely how this could alienate other Superman fans.

And, finally, a rare non-superhero comic fell into my orbit, the magical Morrison and Quitely collaboration on WE3 which manages to pack more pathos and drama into three short issues than most films do in two or more hours. Just a touching and simple little science fiction tale that will bring a tear to the eye of any animal lover.

Now, I'll see if I can work my way through the rest of the stuff in my "to be read" pile!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes should be remembered for more than just South Park and Shaft.

I mean, the guy wrote "Soul Man" for Sam & Dave (along with other hits at the Stax/Volt label) and had a pretty good run of acting jobs (including 1974's Truck Turner and the same year's Three Tough Guys); the writing of "Soul Man" alone deserves as many media mentions as his work on Shaft.

And to someone of my background and age-bracket, the South Park work is kind of an afterthought.

And as much as I used to like the Wu-Tang Clan's "I Can't Go To Sleep" off their underrated 2000 album, The W, I obviously appreciate the original version of Walk on By performed Isaac Hayes on his Hot Buttered Soul album -- one of the few covers that has ever succeeded in completely reimagining the original song without being an insult to it.

Here is the BBC's obituary.

Here's the trailer for Truck Turner which is as good as the film itself -- the guy in the hospital shooting while bandaged head-to-toe is still funny:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dolls for Boys

My childhood was in a great era for action figures, or, dolls for boys.

G.I. Joe was still almost 12 inches tall and, thanks to the still fresh psychic wounds of the Vietnam War, less a solder and more an "adventure" doll -- I can still remember the Viewmaster set of G.I. Joe's adventures in Asia -- the 3D images of G.I. Joe battling jewel thieves near a huge Buddha in Southeast Asia gave me hours of pleasure.

But the kings of the action figure set for me and a few of my friends were the good people at the Mego company. Their line of DC Comics and Marvel Comics heroes were some of my favorite pre-Star Wars toys in that era.

So, judging by this link from the Mego Museum, that picture above is most likely Easter, 1975, and I would be little over 8 years old at the time. (Do I get props for having an Iron Man figure a good 33 years before the film came out and made him popular for the masses?)

The doll on the right is the old, bearded G.I. Joe and next to him is an almost forgotten treasure of my childhood: Mike Power, The Atomic Man (!) -- G.I. Joe's version of The Six Million Dollar Man, I think. Here's a link that served as a kind of Proustian starting point for me this week.

I resent Star Wars a bit because once the Star Wars toys finally came out in early 1978, I gave up on my older action figures and the industry did too -- the next generation of G.I. Joes was much smaller, matching the Star Wars figures (though they did briefly introduce a 12 inch set of Luke, Leia, and Han figures, I recall, to little acclaim).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Michael Turner

I should go to the comic book store more often otherwise bad news like the death of Michael Turner wouldn't creep up on me; I only found out about his death from a customer review on Amazon!

I was aware that he was suffering with cancer but didn't realize it had claimed his life.

When I first got back into comics in 2000 -- thanks to the first X-Men film really making me miss certain characters -- I tended to buy reprints of stuff I was nostalgic about but the cover of one of the Fathom comics caught my eye. And that lead me down new roads to discover current favorite artists like Turner and Jim Lee and Ed Benes.

And if you are aware of his art, you know a Fathom cover catching your eye is probably an understatement as Turner drew women -- and burly heroes, for that matter -- for the 15-year-old inside all of us overgrown male nerds.

But his talents didn't end there as his painterly images drew you in; the seascapes of Fathom remain unique in the world of comic art and, as far as I'm concerned, without parallel. They are as representative of what made Turner a great artist as Jack Kirby's two-page space spreads with, for example, Galactus.

His characters had a touch of George Perez and some angular, hard lines reminiscent of mid-1970's-era Gil Kane.

I admit that I did get bored with Witchblade pretty fast. And the stories with Fathom didn't always live up to the imagery but the imagery was so good that I really could have been flipping through plotless pages anyway.

I recommend the New York Times obit, here for the link to the Fathom origin PDF.

The only good that will come of his death is that perhaps his work will be republished and, thus, reach broader audiences.

UPDATE: I just got a recent run of the Fantastic Four written by Dwayne McDuffie, he of the Justice League Unlimited TV series, and I have high hopes for it -- I always liked when the Black Panther showed up in the Fantastic Four comics when Jack Kirby drew him -- but the book is probably worth getting simply for the Michael Turner Fantastic Four covers reproduced therein -- these have to be some of the last things he did, right?

Monday, August 4, 2008

"You Couldn't Change Your Life On $100,000?"

The biggest, most glaring omission from my recent 100 Movies post was Albert Brooks' Lost in America (1985) -- a film that remains nearly perfect for me. Raising Arizona (1987) has diminished a bit over the years from too many viewings but Lost in America -- a film I try to watch once a year -- remains as biting and funny as it was when I first saw it on videotape back in late 1985 or early 1986, as memory serves.

It is easy to compare Brooks to Woody Allen and there are numerous similarities, obviously, but the big difference for me is that Woody Allen always wants to be liked; the "Woody Allen" character in each film is not that thinly veiled and always gets the best lines. Brooks' characters are not necessarily likable -- his Robert Cole in Modern Romance (1981) is quite annoying and, at times, almost pathological -- but they always seem true to life.

Lost in America is one of those rare films that succeeds as a comedy and as a deft, almost effortless satire of a certain type of American of the 1980's; it would be too easy to label this type "yuppie" or "baby boomer" as some of the traits continue to this day in many people (myself included, at times) -- white American consumer, for lack of a better term.

I think the film masterfully works as a portrait of this one couple and as a document of the era. The scene with Brooks trying to get his money back from casino owner Gary Marshall is still one of the funniest bits of comic business I've ever seen on film -- I don't laugh out loud like a moron every time I see it and that's what elevates it above the kind of nonsense that masquerades as comedy these days (the majority of the Judd Apatow stuff, for example). This is how to write a film comedy and Hollywood can't seem to handle characters with any nuance anymore.

This clip from Siskel and Ebert At the Movies provides more information on Brooks and his then-current third film, Lost in America:

Friday, August 1, 2008

All-Star Batman and Robin

When I was 15, I sold off my massive comic book collection for short-term cash and in the hopes that, long-term, I'd shed some of my nerd label and suddenly be "normal" in high school. That didn't happen. And I still regret my weakness at thinking I had to give up things I loved just to make myself more popular.

In 2000, after the first very good X-Men movie, I started reading comics again but this time mainly collected volumes; I just didn't have the drive or patience to go back to reading monthly titles.

The first big surprise was that George Perez was still drawing The Avengers; Perez' run on the Avengers in the late 1970's to early 1980's was one of my first great comics passions. He also singlehandedly revived the cachet of DC Comics for me -- I was a Marvel loyalist -- when he drew their Teen Titans in the early 1980's -- yes, the title was a shameless X-Men clone but it was a start at making DC respectable again (maybe I'm too hard but I don't recall many go-to titles in the DC library in that era).

And Perez' work from that era holds up better than John Byrne's; John Byrne was a one-man industry in that era, working on X-Men, Fantastic Four, and sometimes writing those titles as well -- yet Byrne's art looks too similar -- the characters all tend to look alike after a while and so many years later, I don't like his work as much (the Dark Phoenix arc of X-Men -- the first one -- obviously, is still a seminal work in my book despite those misgivings).

The second big surprise was this guy Jim Lee. In 2000, I devoured all the reprints of Jim Lee's run on the X-Men that I could find and watched with delight as his style evolved from an almost angular version of George Perez with more testosterone to something unique and finely detailed -- not as painterly as Michael Turner but just as good.

So, the less said about Frank Miller's writing on this restart of Batman the better. I'm not going to join the chorus of negativity on this one except to say that the dialogue is worse than you can imagine. I guess if you thought Sin City was the greatest movie of all time, then this Batman will delight you.

My short review is this: if you like Jim Lee's art, this is a MUST purchase -- his renderings of Black Canary (despite Miller making her Irish -- did I miss something in her backstory all those years away from comics?) is awesome -- the kind of thing that the 15-year-old inside me drools over. And he briefly renders Batgirl almost exactly as I'd always wanted to see her drawn -- too bad the character isn't in this volume very much.

Apparently the future of this title is up in the air. Good. Take it away from Miller and let him crank out more films. As for Jim Lee, he just keeps hitting peaks.

UPDATE:In other Batman-related news, there's footage from the new cartoon version of The Brave and The Bold series and it's interesting -- more of a retro/1960's feel to this and less of the brooding Batman of Bale and others. Could be a good thing. I didn't read many Batman comics as a child -- again, the Marvel loyalty held strong and I ignored DC -- but I did occasionally pick up The Brave and the Bold depending on who Batman was working with; the Green Arrow team-ups were always good.

Superherohype.com has the footage here along with more information.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I Had A Dream -- It Was About Nothing!" (My 100th Post!)

(Well, actually 101st since I deleted one of the first posts I ever did here when I mistakenly thought I could cover my interests in film, music, comics, and politics. Too many political blogs out there and all provided more insight than I possibly could so...)

Here my favorite band of the last 10 years (with anything Luke Haines-associated running a close second favorite), the Manic Street Preachers, cover the old Camper Van Beethoven classic "Take the Skinheads Bowling." And, admittedly, this cover lacks the ramshackle, half-assed American college rock charm of the original but it still sounds great to me.

The line: "I had a dream -- it was about nothing!" now sounds like the start of a manifesto instead of a throwaway slacker lyric; it matches the line in the earlier "Faster" where James sang: "I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing." That line, penned by Richey Edwards most likely, is where the sloganeering of the early Clash-aping Manics morphed into the inner turmoil of the "Holy Bible"-era -- where the group became Richey's vehicle before his own destruction, but I digress.

On some level, this cover reminds me of U2's similarly humourless cover of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" (which was not exactly upbeat either) with the notable difference between that the Manics have a slight sense of humour. And, while they are definitely sometimes morose, sometimes too serious, they do not have any personalities in their band with egos as large as Bono's; they let the lyrics and sleeve artwork reflect their pretensions for good or ill.

If Richey had stayed alive -- stayed visible in the band -- and I'm assuming after so many years that he is dead -- the Manics would have taken new directions, perhaps more theatrical and less stadium rock? But, as it is now, they remain the non-Christian U2.

And this cover acts as a nice bridge in my mind, linking up the pre-Nirvana American indie rock scene -- "college rock" at the time -- with the pre-Britpop UK indie scene(the Manics are Britpop, really, but they started earlier than that, obviously).

The difference being that in England, bands like the Manics and Oasis and Primal Scream and The Smiths all start off in the indie scene but all aim for the mainstream; they all write "big" tunes. In America, indie bands seem to want to content themselves with a little cave in the rock landscape and never venture out of it; The tunes are small and they sound small.

The Manics are here taking that and turning it into something larger -- a stadium anthem for Glastonbury 2003.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Movies I've Walked Out Of

Yvonne Teh of Webs of Significance has given me a lot of good ideas for blog responses, including the recent nerve wracking 100 Movies challenge, so I'm hoping that she sees fit to take my idea and post her own response. And maybe others will as well?

The challenge is a negative one but one that I'm curious about: films one has paid to see in a theater and walked out of for whatever reason.

I don't think movies you rent or see on cable that you get bored with should count; I'm interested in films you laid down money for and still gave up on.

Here's the list to the best of my memory's ability in no particular order.

Wall Street (1987). The moment when I started to hate Oliver Stone's hamfisted, bludgeoning films. I guess, from a camp perspective, the film could be funny but I don't think Ollie saw it that way; I got the sense that he was patting himself on the back while hitting me over the head with his morally simplistic vision of American capitalism. I saw this at a $1 theater but rode with friends so when I walked out I could only go to the lobby to play Galaga, not flat-out leave altogether. I did return to see the ludicrous ending. Stone makes me embarrassed to be a fellow liberal.

The Name of the Rose (1986). I think I need to give this one another chance but, at the time, the parade of grotesques did not inspire either sympathy or interest in me beyond the first hour. I just had had enough and realized I didn't care at all if the whole cast ended up dead from the plague.

Peter's Friends (1992). I left this wannabe Woody Allen dramedy to feed my parking meter in DC but didn't have the energy to go back inside to the film. Henry V may be a masterpiece but this film really annoyed me more than words could say. Brits as self-absorbed as Americans gabbing about their lives and yet none of them were really that funny or interesting in any way. To my credit, I saw two other films the same day in DC (Howard's End for my fifth time -- I don't know why either anymore -- and Tous Les Matins Du Monde, I think). After seeing half of Peter's Friends, I had to reassess my positive reaction to Branagh's Dead Again which, admittedly, is a stylish Hitchcock ripoff.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan (2008). Yeah, I've got a weak spot for Adam Sandler and while I was enjoying this film's absurd bits somewhat -- not laughing per se just mildly expressing some amusement -- I couldn't take the largely teenage audience and walked out. I got my money back, though, after complaining about the kids in the theater causing trouble and kicking my seat. I am officially an old crank now!

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). I liked the film's cheesy trailer and loved how Superman was acting as the world's cop much like Klaatu in The Day The Earth Stood Still and ridding the world of nukes BUT after that highpoint, the film descends into sub-Ultraman levels of fisticuffs. I gave up at the halfway mark, I recall.

Always (1987). Again, a film that had a great, sentimental trailer that actually made me tear up a bit. But, the film is a bloated mess of overacting by Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss that even the presence of an angelic Audrey Hepburn cannot save.

It is a strangely liberating feeling to walk out of a film -- you are making a small statement that you were cheated artistically or intellectually and I think that counts for something even if no one else is aware of what you are doing.

The follow-up post to this one will be Movies I Only Saw To Kill Time and that list is much, much longer for me!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Gladly Lose Me To Find You..."

I grew up on The Who. They were the first rock band that I got into in a big, big way as a teenager. I started to play the bass because of John Entwistle (but only learned Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart" before chucking it in). For a brief time, they far, far surpassed even The Beatles in my list of favorite bands.

But all that's gone. I'm kind of sick of the band now. I was a bit happy to see "Quadrophenia" finally appreciated almost as much as "Tommy" and I still think "Happy Jack" and "Pictures of Lily" are great songs, but The Who can join U2 and The Police in the list of bands I just really need to avoid for a few more years.

Still, not listening to them for about 20 years has paid off as I can now listen to some songs again and really enjoy them.

VH1's Rock Honors: The Who TV program had its moments. Pearl Jam, a band I don't particularly like despite liking their politics at some times, turned in an overblown and histrionic "Love Reign O'er Me" which was as bad as it sounds on paper and then delivered a surprisingly hard, blistering "The Real Me." Incubus butchered Mod-period classics like "I Can See For Miles," and Tenacious D did an almost straight cover of "Squeeze Box."

But the highlight for me was The Foo Fighters with special guest vocalist Gaz Coombes of Supergrass doing "Bargain" off of "Who's Next." In all honesty, I had forgotten this song despite having played it hundreds of time when I was younger.

It's one of those weird mid-era Townshend cuts where you're not sure if he's singing about a girl or a guru: "I'd gladly lose me to find you" and all that...

Now, let's all hope that Mike Myers doesn't make his Keith Moon biopic (or at least if he does, that he doesn't play Moon the Loon himself!)