Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brave and the Bold Volume 3 (Or, I'm Sticking to Marvel For the Foreseeable Future)

I picked up the this new hardcover at the local comics store yesterday and have already finished the thing and come to one conclusion: Mark Waid is overrated.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think he's a bad comics writer, just a bit dull.

Say what you will about the Grant Morrisons of the comics world but at least they take risks and shake things up a bit (yes, ambition sometimes gets them in trouble too).

Perhaps my disappointment springs back to a recent, similar purchase of a Fantastic Four hardcover that Waid authored. The store clerk was in my age bracket so I thought he was trustworthy when he exclaimed that the sealed hardcover contained "the best FF story he had ever read!" Please. That's an insult to anyone who's read any of the Kirby-illustrated issues from the 1960's.

After taking a chance and losing my money on that one, I should have been more careful but the name of artist Scott Kolins on the cover of The Brave and the Bold, Vol. 3: Demons and Dragons made me take a chance on another sealed hardcover book.

The one good thing about this book is that, unlike other recent DC Comics collections that I've picked up, it's easy to follow as far as DC Universe continuity is concerned. But it is simply Waid's last four issues with a few older reprinted stories handpicked by Waid.

First off, Kolins' art is weak. I don't know if it's due to the coloring or inking by the Kolins work that I loved on Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is nowhere to be found. In fact, I would have had a hard time finding any Kolins-esque section of this book had his name not been on the cover.

Admittedly, artists change styles over time -- the Perez of the 1970's is not quite the same as the Perez of the 1980's or the Perez of the 1990's or 2000's -- but, usually, you can see traces of what you loved in the first place in the artist's current work. Not so here.

The only story that had a little spark for me was the pairing of Deadman and The Green Arrow, especially when Deadman takes over Arrow's body. That section was a lot of fun. But hardly worth the cover price.

Maybe my disappointment springs from the fact that I simply am a Marvel guy? Yeah, not every part of the Civil War or Secret Invasion -- I haven't read any of the Dark Reign stuff yet -- is great but even the weakest moments keep my interest sustained in characters that I've loved for more than 30 years now.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cool Warner Brothers News

Usually, Ain't It Cool News ain't good for much more than fanboy snark and sarcasm, so imagine my surprise today when I found some genuinely interesting and useful news on the site.

Seems that Warner Brothers Studios are creating something called The Warner Archive with made-to-order DVD's for a price! I see a few titles I'd like to have already -- Jean Harlow in The Beast of The City for one, Peter Fonda's Outlaw Blues (which I think I saw at the drive-in first-run with Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw), and a few more.

Check it out here

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Death of Music Retail

Even though I have benefits and more pay, I have to be honest with myself and admit that the times I have been happiest on the job have been when working at a record store.

Not because of the free promos, or free tickets, but because for those of us without musical talent, it was a way of paying homage to what we loved.

I worked at three stores (including the fabled Record Co-Op on the campus of the University of Maryland) and the only one I didn't enjoy was a chain store. That said, even those "bad" days on the job seem pretty good as I sit in an office and go mad.

So it's with heavy heart that I read this article forwarded to me from a friend and former record store boss.

The Virgin Megastore in NYC's Times Square is closing.

In 1998, when I first went there, that was the most interesting thing there as Mayor Rudy had cleaned up all of the interesting -- read "dangerous" -- theaters in that area. Times Square was now simply another strip mall with a higher rental rate for retail.

I think this picture says it all; who the fuck is going to go to a record store to buy The Fray? The people that buy stuff that bland -- so bland they make Nickelback look like AC/DC -- either buy it at Walmart or simply buy it as a download from iTunes.

I liked the Virgin Megastore even while finding their prices a bit high; it was an awesome feeling just to be able to browse the import section and find albums that were less than a week old and fresh from England; they certainly got product stocked in that section much faster than Tower Records did, and almost faster than ordering from an online retailer in those days.

I think I got one of The Supernaturals albums there when it was fairly new. It was overpriced but I lucked out as both of the band's studio albums are mini-masterpieces of mainstream pop -- like Crowded House only Scottish -- and certainly worth the $30 I probably paid for the single CD. This song is from their 2nd album, released in 1998, A Tune A Day.

The Supernaturals "I Wasn't Built To Get Up"

Monday, March 9, 2009

Parker Posey: Broken English

Parker Posey does a rare thing in Broken English (2007): she brings back the familiar elements of her onscreen presence that made her such an appealing personality in the first place and then she expands them. Her performance in this film is a thing of beauty. I kept being reminded of how much I enjoyed Ms. Posey's past work and was also marveling at what a mature and expressive actress she had become -- how different she now seemed.

Sure, there are moments -- notably a cocktail party sequence where she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud) -- where the old Parkey Posey surfaces; the caustic, almost abrasive Posey briefly makes an appearance and her character makes the rounds, dismissing one guy with nary a glance to order a drink after he says she was "kind of pretty."

But the thing that is so surprising about her performance is the vulnerability she brings to the part; I kept asking myself: "Who else could play this role?" Maybe a younger Julianne Moore? Maybe.

How does a subtle, smart, funny, and touching performance like this not get an Oscar nod?

The sequence where Nora (Posey) seems to want to kiss Julien but does not want to let herself kiss him is just magical, economically revealing quite a bit about Nora's character and mindset.

Any faults I have with the film are with the other, less developed characters around Nora -- including Julien -- but those hardly matter as the film is a character portrait of one woman and not so much a romance as the previews would have you believe (though those elements are there, for sure).

This was only director Zoe Cassavetes' second feature and I'm impressed: the family pedigree seems to be have rubbed off.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Love, luck, and money, they go to my head like wildfire"

What human being or instrument produced that drum sound on "Can't Be Sure" by The Sundays?

In 1989, I was working at a record store called The Record Co-Op, buried in the basement of the University of Maryland Adele H. Stamp Student Union building. I worked there from 1988 until 1990, when the store went out of business.

I started shopping at this same store in 1987. The first time I saw the store was probably in late 1985 when a friend gave me a tour of the Student Union building way after all of the shops had closed for the day. I just stared in the window of the closed Record Co-Op and made a mental note to visit sometime in the future.

I bought all of the Eno solo cassettes in this shop's "cutout" bin in late 1986, I'm guessing, and then, more significantly, I bought the import cassettes (I moved away from vinyl as a format as soon as I could) of Virginia Astley's Hope in a Darkened Heart and the first self-titled Throwing Muses albums in the summer of 1987.

Little did I know in just over a year later, I'd be working at the store as "night manager" and import buyer.

These are some of the only photos I've been able to find of the shop. This is my friend and boss at the Co-Op (he was Assistant Manger and I was "night manager" [whatever the hell that was supposed to be!] and import buyer), Don. Don runs the Ferris Saves website devoted to that film and many others; Don is a walking encyclopedia of 1980's teen movie tropes!

And this photo is from the 1988 edition of The Terrapin, the University of Maryland yearbook. So this is a few short months before I worked at the Co-Op, though I was a customer at the time. The angle of this pic caught me off-guard; it looks like it was taken right next to the register and facing out into the store...

This is also from the 1988 edition of the yearbook. An era when George Michael's Faith album was still selling strong a full year or more after its release!

When I first started there in late 1988, one of the guys I worked with, Brian -- who later seemed similar to the John Cusack character in Say Anything..., due to his taste and fashion sense and voice -- would play Soul Asylum (way before "Runaway Train" brought them into the mainstream post-Nirvana) -- and Husker Du, and stuff like that. But once in a while, this American indie-kid would break out "Faith" on vinyl and play "Kissing a Fool" with a straight face. Even the punks liked something by Mr. Michael. (And my pseudo-hipster ass liked that song too!)

And this photo from 1989 captures the one full calendar year that I worked there. Those Redwood Records CDs sent a chill down my spine; Andy had worked out some deal with that label and we couldn't return any of those or something. I vaguely recall having to mark those down dramatically. Or we had them on consignment and had to send them all back en masse. My memory fades...

Now, while I did try to get good stuff on CD into the Co-Op's stock, it was a losing battle with our limited suppliers; The stuff I wanted I had to get in D.C., naturally.

I'm pretty sure that I had been to Yesterday and Today -- or Y&T -- in Rockville at least once but, as that store was mainly good vinyl, I didn't go back that often.

And in 1989, I had yet to discover Vinyl Ink. The late, great George Gelestino's store was exactly the sort of shop I wanted the Co-Op to be in my head; I envisioned a hipster paradise -- no more selling Escape Club cassettes to hairclipped sorority girls!

So even though I worked at a record store that I was first a fan of -- a store I still think was pretty damn good when all's said and done -- to get my fix, I had to drive into Washington, D.C. and hit Tower Records or Olsson's in Georgetown.

While I bought A LOT of import cassettes and import CD's at Tower in D.C., I bought the best stuff at Olsson's in Georgetown: all of my Creation and 4AD CD's I bought there in 1988 when I got my first player; I got XTC's Black Sea there as well when it was not on CD in America and still only on import.

(I should here note that the first CD's I bought were at the Co-Op in early 1988, before I ended up working there: David Sylvian's Gone to Earth [edited to fit onto one disc!] and The Pink Opaque by The Cocteau Twins.)

I usually hit The Key Theatre in those days and then Olsson's afterwards.

This photo dates from when the shop was probably about to close -- the area where the Key used to be is across the street.

Even up until the mid-1990's Britpop era, I was hitting this same store; I briefly worked a nightshift job in Chevy Chase, up Wisconsin Avenue, in 1996 and I'd take a "lunch" at 9:00 PM and fly down a weekday-night-deserted Wisconsin Avenue, get a great parking spot, and run in and flip through the CD bins in search of import CD singles from The Auteurs, Sleeper, or Gene.

So, back to 1989: I had been reading a lot of glowing reviews in Melody Maker and NME about The Stone Roses and The Sundays. An RCA label guy in NYC had me on the phone for something one spring day at the Co-Op and I asked him about RCA/Silvertone signing the Roses. He RAVED about the LP and promptly went home and taped the vinyl album for me. By the time that album came out, my coworkers and I were already pretty big fans of the Roses thanks to that homemade cassette.

As for The Sundays, my options were limited until, finally, one weekend, I found the import CD single of "Can't Be Sure" in Olsson's in Georgetown!

It was a mini-CD that you had to buy an adapter to play in a normal CD player. I'm pretty sure I bought an adapter at Olsson's so I could play the CD when I got home even though my work -- the Co-Op -- had adapters lying around behind the counter.

Since I didn't have a car CD player at that time -- who did? -- that was a long ride home but when I finally put the headphones on, I was thrilled. The first thing I heard -- before Harriet Wheeler's perfect English voice; before David Gavurin's knife-on-waterglass guitar -- was the drums.

To this day I still can't tell if they are the world's greatest drum machine, second only to the Cocteau Twins' drum machine, or if they are indeed physical drums being played by a human being.

I do remember that I quickly made a mixtape featuring the three songs on this import single called "I Felt The Rain and Called It Genius" (a line from Aztec Camera's "The Boy Wonders") and took it into work the next day; beyond the Aztec Camera, I can't remember what else I put on that tape -- probably some Go-Betweens, I'm guessing.

I think I played "Can't Be Sure" quite a few times in the store, each time getting the usual "What's playing?" question from a college kid customer within a good 30 seconds of the song's start.

After me telling the kid what it was, I'd have to break the news that it wasn't something on sale in the shop.

A few more incidents like this and the store's boss, Andy, took me aside and gently asked that I not play stuff in the store anymore that we couldn't at least order.

I could still be the cool guy with the great taste provided it was something I had on sale or something I could get shipped in from our supplier!

(That scene in High Fidelity where Cusack says something like "Watch me sell this" before putting on The Beta Band in his shop rings very true for me; that sort of tastemaker moment occurred weekly in the Co-Op with every employee having their little "go-to" stashed away.)

Hey, it could have been worse; Andy could have been like the district manager of the chain store record shop I worked at a year later who browbeat me for playing Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits in the store because it wasn't a Top 40 release.

By the beginning of our shop's final year (1990), word was out that Warner Brothers/Sire had signed the band in the States. Plain blue covered advance cassettes showed up in the store that spring before we closed, just in time to play in the store and thus create another generation of fans and hipsters.

"It's good to have something to live for you'll find/live for tomorrow/live for a job and the perfect behind."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Reason to Hate Tyler Perry

I should first say that I think Martin Luther King, Jr. is probably the most important leader this country has ever produced. Sure, his private life was apparently not perfect -- who's is? -- but for what he did, what he said, the risks he took to prove a point to a country and a world, the guy is beyond ridicule in my book.

I've never marched for shit in my life but this man not only marched, he did it with bottles and bricks being thrown at his head.

So that's my way of saying that it takes colossal chutzpah to make a joke at King's expense.

Okay, I'm half-asleep, trying to wake up and I see this commercial for a Tyler Perry show on cable channel TBS. The commerical rattles off how the cast has won a string of NAACP Image Awards for the series.

Now, mull that over for a second: a main performer who makes Jimmie "J.J." Walker look like Sidney Poitier has won a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (italics mine) Image Award!

Well if that wasn't enough to wake me up -- I think the air rushing into my open mouth did that -- the next sequence in this commercial was:

The main character in this show, having a sort of Domino's pizza box in his hand, does a mock paraphrase of King's speech:

"Pizza at last, pizza at last. Thank God Almighty, we have pizza at last."

I was so stunned that I couldn't even believe what I had just seen.

In a nation that watches Larry The Cable Guy and Tyler Perry, it's a FREAKIN' MIRACLE we had the good sense to elect Barack Obama to the presidency.

We are a nation of fucking morons, I can't say it any plainer than that, my skills and English degree fail me at the moment.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wonder Woman and Batman

Wonder Woman is not an easy character to love. Interesting? Yes, but lovable? No.

Writer Allen Heinberg and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson seek to rectify that situation and they succeed in some small way in Who is Wonder Woman?. This thin collection isn't a masterpiece but I did enjoy the way that the creators worked with the Amazon Princess, especially a late plot twist that changes the character for the future in an interesting way.

I think I probably enjoyed this collection because of the appearances of other DC Universe characters -- Wonder Woman by herself just doesn't do it for me and, honestly, who doesn't love Donna Troy more than her sister?

The artwork is decent, getting a bit weaker as the series goes on but that's typical. There are panels that are exactly the kind of cheap, modern art that I hate in comics and other sections that have a nice simultaneously light and heroic tone.

I grew up on Marvel and barely touched DC Comics so it's weird to me that so many of the best titles that I seem to pick up lately are Batman related titles. Maybe it's simply a case of the most popular character drawing the best talent?

In Batman: Private Casebook, writer Paul Dini and artist Dustin Nguyen deliver a nice, neat little set of unrelated stories that are easy to understand for those of us not keeping up with the monthly continuity of the DC Universe.

This collection reminded me of a print version of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series: not too serious, not too dark, but faithful to the source material. Dustin Nguyen was born to illustrate Batman in motion; Batman's cape is practically a separate character in this book. Not every issue succeeds but the portions with Ra's Al Ghul and a reformed Riddler seemed particularly good to me.

The success of Batman is that he can survive so many interpretations and yet each one feels true to the character. Well, maybe not the recent Frank Miller one but that's just this fan's opinion.