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!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

100 Movies

(God, all movie stars should look like Gable and Harlow! That's why I get bored with modern movies -- I grew up on stuff like the two of them in Red Dust!)

Well, once again, Yvonne Teh threw down the gauntlet and inspired me to post in response.

This time it was in relation to her 100 Movies post.

At first, I thought it would be hard to list my 100 movies but then I had to cut stuff off to whittle it down to a simple 100!

My only criterion was the lasting effect of the film on my consciousness (like, wow, man).

By that, I mean that films that I once had a strong emotional reaction to (Breaking the Waves, or Superman Returns, for example), or films that I once loved but now didn't like as much (Howard's End, Wings of Desire, Dazed and Confused), or at all (Platoon, Aliens, E.T.), were out of consideration altogether.

So, with that in mind, here is my list of the 100 films that are the building blocks of my soul in many ways OR films that suddenly made me rethink what I liked and why (perhaps leading into new genres) OR my "go-to" flicks that have yet to not entertain me (see if you can figure out which ones are which!):

A Hard Day's Night 1964
Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein 1948
After The Thin Man 1936
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore 1974
American Graffiti 1973
An American in Paris 1951
Animal House 1978
Annie Hall 1977
At the Earth's Core 1976
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls 1970
Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw 1976
Bombshell 1933
Bottle Rocket 1996
Breaking Away 1979
Bugsy Malone 1976
Cat People 1942
China Seas 1935
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968
Chungking Express 1994
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977
Destroy All Monsters 1968
Dinner at Eight 1933
Dog Day Afternoon 1975
Dracula 1931
Dracula A.D. 1972 1972
Fast Times at Ridgemont High 1982
Five Easy Pieces 1970
Frankenstein 1931
Glengarry Glen Ross 1992
Godzilla 1954
Godzilla vs. Mothra 1962
Horror of Dracula 1958
House of Frankenstein 1944
How Green Was My Valley 1941
I Wanna Hold Your Hand 1978
Ikiru 1952
In the Mood for Love 2000
King Kong 1933
King Kong Escapes 1967
King Kong vs. Godzilla 1962
Libeled Lady 1936
Manhattan 1979
Mean Streets 1973
Meet Me in St. Louis 1944
Midnight Cowboy 1969
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
On the Town 1949
Peking Opera Blues 1986
Race with the Devil 1975
Raging Bull 1980
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
Raising Arizona 1987
Red Beard 1965
Red Dust 1932
Sanjuro 1962
Seven Samurai 1954
Shadow of the Thin Man 1941
Shanghai Triad 1995
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger 1977
Singin' in the Rain 1952
Stalag 17 1953
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 1982
Star Wars 1977
Starstruck 1982
Superman: The Movie 1978
Taxi Driver 1976
The 400 Blows 1959
The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938
The Big Lebowski 1998
The Bride of Frakenstein 1935
The Chinese Feast 1995
The Curse of the Cat People 1944
The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951
The Empire Strikes Back 1980
The Exorcist 1973
The Food of the Gods 1976
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad 1974
The Graduate 1967
The Grapes of Wrath 1940
The King of Marvin Gardens 1972
The Last Detail 1973
The Last Temptation of Christ 1988
The Man Who Fell to Earth 1976
The Mummy 1931
The Return of the Jedi 1983
The Scent of Green Papaya 1993
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution 1976
The Seventh Victim 1943
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad 1958
The Thin Man 1934
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 1964
The Year of Living Dangerously 1982
Time After Time 1979
To Live 1994
Walkabout 1971
Whistle Down the Wind 1961
Wish You Were Here 1987
Withnail and I 1987
Yellow Submarine 1968
Yojimbo 1961

(While most people think of 1977 as the year of Star Wars --- which I still do too -- for me, it was the year of Ray Harryhausen's last masterpiece in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, which my grandfather -- a projectionist in the 1930s -- liked more than Star Wars. The poster still gives me chills!)