Saturday, December 30, 2006

Someone confiscate Michael Mann's Audioslave cd.

(Above: Wasn't "Outacted by Clouds" a Pink Floyd album title?)

Last night I watched Michael Mann's new, dour-ized adaptation of Miami Vice on dvd. I've still never seen much of the tv show, other than stray scenes like this one that I try to recreate on a nightly basis, complete w/ angst-ridden pay phone calls to family and friends (much to their consternation). Nevertheless, it's a safe bet over the course of five seasons there was at least a minimum of character development and comprehensibility, which is more than you'll get in Mann's new, typically stylized Foxx/Farrell version.

The cops in the new Vice aren't characters so much as they are constructs of fetishistic, high-tech law enforcement. I wonder if Mann ever catches himself calling his fellow man "civilians" in real life. I know that on the show Don Johnson's Sonny Crockett had a son, an ex-wife and a pet crocodile. The character Colin Farrell plays, however, seems to be more emotionally unattached than Ralph Nader before hooking up with Gong Li later in the film. There's no wife, no kid, and if he ever had a crocodile, judging by his glum demeanor he probably ate it. In fact, the only piece of backstory I could pick out was a factoid about Nu-Crockett's dad playing Allman Brothers covers or something (say, was he later a roadie for Metallica?). Jamie Foxx's Ricardo Tubbs is at least shacked up w/ a hot special lady, but she just so happens to be one of his fellow vice squad officers. Even for a Mann film, where professionalism is placed above all else in life, the cops here exist in a thoroughly insular world that seemingly allows no outsider entrance, except maybe for sexy showering purposes.

Overall the film is terrible in terms of character and story. The plot finds Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating a wacky contingent of Colombians, Russians and white supremacists that the Bush administration has nicknamed the Axis of Casting. To add to the multicultural frenzy, Gong Li's character - some kind of money manager for the group - is Chinese-Cuban and possibly proficient in zero languages. I did have a better time understanding Gong than some viewers seem to have, but Farrell's accent is odd and he delivers his lines more tersely than Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeaprody. He also looks instantly dated and ridiculous - like Fred Armisen with pro wrestler hair and facial styling - yet he's portrayed as some sort of ladykiller (possibly literally? Hey, maybe). Foxx is neither effective nor well-suited to his role either. In the end it doesn't matter what the characters are saying anyway, as much of the dialogue is either meaningless jargon (this film will clean up at the Op-Sac Awards) or absurd tough guy talk that's nearly awfulsome but mostly awful, some ("This is the hand we've been dealt on a Saturday night at 11:37 PM" - Crockett). Don't count on action sequences to break up the verbal tedium either as there are only two such set pieces, both arriving toward the end of the film.

Despite all that, there are still plenty of visual reasons to recommend Vice, as Mann ups the ante with the striking hi-def video look that also distinguished Collateral. Many shots of swaying palm trees and ominous thunderclouds are lush enough to make Terrence Mallick go out and shoot more footage of bugs to stay on his toes. Occasionally the picture quality is noticeably gritty but not unappealingly so. Beyond that there's so much vividly shot nightclubbing and boating and traipsing around islands that it even makes the generic hard rock on the soundtrack sound good. Now I'm sorry Mann never directed a Jay-Z video (hell, I'd settle for a Fatlip video). Here's a reprinted L.A. Times article about what Mann feels are the pros and cons of shooting in high definition, and why it was actually harder to shoot that way than it would have been with film.

Unfortunately mood and atmosphere aren't enough to counter the film's deficiencies, in my opinion. I'm sure many critics would be happy if Mann's films kept getting more and more aesthetically stylized and oblique so that they can write about the auteur theory and "action movies for art film lovers," but while I usually admire his films, Mann's not David Lynch. Hopefully next time he or his collaborators bring some actual characters and better story ideas to the table. Or at least a crocodile.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Officially the Worst Christmas Ever - James Brown RIP

Clearly Santa Claus did not go straight to the ghetto this year, as JB once instructed. You have been or will be reading a lot about the World's Greatest Entertainer's importance to the 20th century, but here's a clip of probably the best incarnation of the JB's - from 1971, when Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish (along with his wicked guitar solos) were in the band. If you want proof of how inhumanly tight they were, look no further than the change around the 3:43 mark. This is also on possibly my favorite JB recording - the Love Power Peace live cd.

Also, from the WFMU archives, here's a 6-hour JB Xmas day extravaganza put together by former dj Douglas Wolk (a critic w/ great taste) from 2001. Real Audio required.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

From happier times, before I got sick of Jack Black

Look for the amusing shot of Brian Posehn moshing toward the end:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Somehow "Date Movie" was shockingly omitted

Due to firings and corporate restructuring the annual Village Voice film poll has been moved to indieWIRE this year. OK, I'll do my homework and check out Death of Mr. Lazarescu but I've been burned before - as have we all; thanks a lot, subjectivity! - by films the elitest of the elite have raved about (I still think A History of Violence is kinda lousy, for one). Anyway, just for my own self-indulgent cataloguing purposes, here are highly unscientific letter grades for every film on the list that I've seen thus far (or so I think. My eyes were glazing over by the end), with a few scant comments.

The Departed: B+. Alec Baldwin: more hilarious here than on "30 Rock?"
Army of Shadows: A+. Ahem.
Old Joy: B-
Borat: B+
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: B-
The Proposition: C
Brick: B- "Where are you eating lunch these days?"
Neil Young: Heart of Gold: B
Dave Chappelle's Block Party: B+. Dave gets more and more likable. There's a sequence with an odd, elderly couple who own an "Angel" house that feels straight out of an Errol Morris movie.
Lady Vengeance: B
An Inconvenient Truth: B
The Devil and Daniel Johnston: A. One of the best rock docs I've seen. Regardless of what you think of his music it's a fascinating look at how mental illness impacts creativity, and how audiences, friends and family respond.
Talladega Nights: C+
Jackass Number Two: A-. Funnier and probably more subversive than Borat. John Waters beams like a proud papa in his cameo.
Why We Fight: C+
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: B-. Initially overrated by me, as I was happy to see anything vaguely Peckinpah-ish in theaters at the time.
Street Fight: A-. Makes the election on The Wire look as soft as one of Namond's punches.

Since I mentioned it, I should mention that except for Army of Shadows, The Wire and Deadwood were several universes above everything on this list in terms of quality this year, illustrating again how difficult it is for movies to reach the novelistic depths of the very best television. And no, I still can't work up the desire to see Little Miss Sunshine.

Monday, December 18, 2006


YOU may have heard by now that YOU were just named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

Don't know what YOU did to deserve this honor? They elaborate further: "You were named TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" on Saturday for the explosive growth and influence of user-generated Internet sites such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. You were chosen over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Donald Rumsfeld. Congratulations."

Since Ahmadinejad is always going on about how good looking he is whenever I see him, I thought I'd finally gotten the upper hand for once in my life. Imagine how my heart sank though, when I finally opened the issue and saw this sidebar:

We forgot to mention: For your questionable work ethic, perpetual lack of direction and most of all for this recent photo, you were not included among the roughly six billion winners of our Person of the Year results. Your fellow runners-up include Terrell Owens, the producers of Bumfights, and Steve the Drunk from Deadwood. Better luck next year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Filling the Christgau Void with Low-Rent Absurdity and "Wire" References: Fave Music of '06

It’s that time of year when every critic and music geek with an iPod full of Cambodian Gary Numan covers foists their pointless top 10 lists upon an indifferent interwebosphere. But why read blogs with names like PickledBeetRhapsody and My Old-Thyme Aorta when you can stay here and find out what a guy who works at a medical journal, has seven readers and has never played an instrument thinks about the ok-but-nothing-great year in music?


1. Scott Walker – The Drift. Oh the bitter irony. Just a few posts ago I was bemoaning the rise of annoying, mogwai-voiced, Legend of Zelda reject Joanna Newsom, now I go and award warbly wonder Walker wecord-of-the-year. Uhm... I sorta contain multitudes, I guess. I won’t pretend this was the album I listened to most this year, but it was genuinely unique (an almost impossibly rare distinction at this point), darkly compelling and frequently brilliant in its Penderecki-meets-Zachary Brimstead clatter. Plus, how many other singers have the balls to use an evil Donald Duck voice on one track? There’s gotta be more of a sense of humor at work here than is readily acknowledged, in addition to the creepiness. The big question is, will anyone else ever follow in Walker’s footsteps and go from former teen pop idol to reclusive, avant garde, operatic artiste? Usher, get one cacophonous orchestra and slab of percussive frozen meat, please.

2. V/A – International Sad Hits vol. 1. A compilation of tracks from four artists - Kazuki Tomokawa and Kan Mikami from Japan, Kim Doo Soo from Korea and Fikret Kizilok from Turkey. I think it’s a no-brainer that I would buy a well-compiled comp simply called “Sad Hits." Add “International” to the title though and we’re really cooking, since you don't necessarily know if the lyrics are insipid in their native tongue. It’s all mournful folk music onto which you can project your own epic tales of woe. In mine I’m an exiled balloonist traversing the clouds with my superintelligent panda friend Sho-Bing. We come across a city in the clouds that has lots of cool lamps and is ruled by a young Mimi Rogers. Then I get into lots of crossbow battles with the Lemur People* who are running roughshod and breaking all the lamps. Plus, I’ve got a pornstache. Oops, wait, most of that was meant to go in the blurb for the “Non-Threateningly Bizarre Hits” comp. Pretend you just read something else.

3. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped. The numbering in this list is sort of arbitrary, but for me this ended up being probably the most-listened-to rock album released this year. It’s also their best since ________. At the risk of my harsh words devastating him and causing him to dress sloppily, I won't miss Jim O'Rourke.

4. Mission of Burma – The Obliterati. So were they saving up that crack about Nancy Reagan’s head for 20+ years or what?

5. The Gossip – Standing in the Way of Control. The songwriting continues to improve and the riffs and singing are more righteous than ever.

6. Jay Reatard – Blood Visions. Great, moody, noir-edged punk somewhat reminiscent of the Wipers.

7. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Have you heard? She’s kinda hot. But now everybody’s all about Jenny Lewis. Sorry, but I picture Jenny Lewis having a bunch of Muppeteers and nimrods in Christmas sweaters as her frustrated platonic friends, all of them drinking strawberry shakes and singing along to Bryan Adams' Greatest Hits (what the hell am I talking about?). Give me Neko any day. I don’t like this as much as Blacklisted but it’s still great and more ambitious.

8. Bob Dylan – Modern Times. For people who thought “One Froggy Evening” wasn’t actually froggy enough.

9. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Make You Go Out to the Backyard, Pick a Switch, Then Come Back Here So I Can Beat Your Ass With It. James McNew talks tough in these album titles but let’s hear him try to cut a convincing promo on The Magnificent Muraco. Yeah, I thought so.

10. Ghostface Killah – Fish Scale. Did you catch his 30 Rock cameo a few weeks ago? Can The Ghostface Variety Hour be far behind (and if so, has U-God been practicing his plate-spinning skillz)?

HOTT JAMMZZ (as seen on Club MTV®)

(Gnarls Barkley's most ingenious costumes yet)

1. Gnarls Barkley – "The Crazy Song" (aka "Captain Crazy"). Did a Kidz Bop version ever come out? Listing this here reminded me of this maddening, idiotic, Chuck Klosterman-penned NY Times article from June. Seriously, this article’s crimes are legion and it would take a whole seperate post to get into it. Why didn’t I do that six months ago, anyway? Is it too late? No, it’s never too late (“What about the fact that no one cares?”) “No one cares” is the new “people care,” wise guy.

2. Robert Pollard – "Love is Stronger Than Witchcraft." Easily one of his best non-GBV tracks, ranking with the likes of “Alone, Stinking and Unafraid,” “Supernatural Car Lover” and “Gifford’s Enchanted Sweatshirt"... whoops, I think I just made that last one up. I can't really tell anymore.

3. Junior Boys – "In the Morning." Low-key electro(-ish) pop, pulsating yet melancholic (“Oh yeah, that’s the stuff”). Huh? (“C’mon, be more obtuse. Just a little more, c’mon.”) Uhm, okay… uh… the supple groove is like a shimmering chimera, subtly shifting in dynamics while churning dancefloors like a worldweary buttersmith (“Oooooh yeah, that’s it! Blog me hard, baby!!”). OK, this is too creepy. Next track… (“No wait, talk to me about Destroyer! C’mon, Rubies, baby, RUBIES!! C’MON!!”).

4. Gnarls Barkley – "Smiley Faces." I may actually like this even better than “Crazy” but I don’t want to piss off any Hilton family members or troubled, schizophrenic Kidz Boppers who have access to loaded weapons by admitting it.

5. Clipse – "Wamp Wamp (What it Do)." I don’t completely get the hype around the album yet but this song is awesome (“awesome” being a popular slang term among contemporary urban youths). It would no doubt match up perfectly with the next freaky “Little Superstar” Bollywood footage that'll be dug up and turned into an online “sensation.”

6. DC Snipers – "All Humans are Garbage." I wouldn’t go so far as to call Missle Sunset album of the year, but at least it blew up and knocked Panic at THE! disco off the charts… oh, wait…

7. Cat Power – "The Greatest." Whatever happened to that possible SNL audition Chan alluded to a while back? Maybe she should apply herself instead to finally wrting a song half as depressing as the average Seth Meyers sketch.

8. Justin Timberlake – "Sexy Back." The first time I heard this, I didn’t know what it was and thought that Peaches had hooked up with some hot shit producer or something. Then I found out it was by this Henry-lookin’ motherfucker (wait, you don’t think "Henry" will catch on as a derogatory term for guys with overgrown infant heads? You’re wrong. Just dead wrong.) Do you suppose New Kids on the Block are bitter because they didn’t have Timbaland taking an inexplicable interest in them back in the day? This song is also entertaining because it presumes that sexy was somehow undervalued as a commodity for a time, like it was off somewhere taking a bethonged power nap.

9. Portastatic – "Sour Shores." Poor Mac doesn’t get the attention he deserves. Even now, I can’t think of anything to say about this song. Except it’s good and all. Damn.

10. Hank IV – "Got Got." This song is ok, it’s pretty rockin,’ but the sole reason it’s top ten is because it was inspired by Omar from The Wire. Note to all musicians: I will grant any music about or inspired by The Wire a slot on next year’s prestigious top ten list. I don’t care about your previous crimes against music. James Blunt can croon to a velvet painting of Snoop in his next video; Phil Collins can rewrite “Another Day in Paradise” so that it’s about Dukie; Joanna Newsom can record an 18-minute track for kazoo orchestra about Herc stealing the Triforce of Power from Ganon. I don’t care, it’ll all go on the list. Bet that.

(Still trying to forget Michael K. Williams' role in "Trapped in the Closet")

*Originally it was the "Manatee People" but I've since learned that manatees are off limits. That'll teach me to stray from lemur country.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Langley Schools Music Project circa 2048?

Brian Turner recently posted a link on WFMU's Beware of the Blog to a fairly jaw-dropping YouTube clip of The Young at Heart Chorus covering Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia." This was the first I'd heard of this group of senior citizens who have been staging theater and musical productions since 1983 (with an obviously high turnover rate in the line-up). Recently, there was a British documentary about the group that yielded the Sonic Youth clip, as well as the one below - a guy hooked to an oxygen machine, covering Coldplay's "Fix You." Music lesson of the day: renditions by ailing senior citizens seem to immediately lend gravitas to any Bed Head-drenched eunuch's schlocky, soccer mom-friendly, musical weepfest. If Rick Rubin is ever granted the power to re-animate the dead, look out; there won't be a dry eye in the house.

You can check out Channel 4's page for another clip from the documentary. Their own site also has links to other articles and coverage. There are items about the group's repertoire of poignant tunes, the occasional "Hey Ya" or Hendrix cover, as well as past collaborations w/ Latino breakdancers, punks, Cambodian folk artists and a production w/ a gay men's chorus called "Flaming Saddles" (I'm sure people were camping in line to see that one. Ha ha, get it? Camp? It's... ha ha... ha... uuuugh, help me, Rip Taylor). I have no idea if any of those last few projects were, y'know, watchable (yes, forgive me for having serious doubts about "Flaming Saddles"), but at least they sound like AARP meetings from Bill O'Reily's worst nightmares, which is fine by me.

Meanwhile, are you itching to hear tracks from the absurdly rare, alternate Velvet Underground & Nico acetate that was bought at a NY street fair for 75 cents and ended up going for $155,401 on eBay, probably to some douchebag emo-trepreneur? For a short time you can get mp3s of the alternate recordings over at Moistworks. The post's author is coy about his source - the party that was auctioning the acetate made a digital backup but I'm not sure if these mp3s originated from them or the poor-quality Japanese bootleg that surfaced a few years ago. In any case, I regret that I couldn't bid on this one past the $130,000 mark. I've currently got my eye on an ultra-rare 12" version of "Rapper's Delight" that replaces the third verse with a clip of Dick Cavett telling an anecdote about Groucho. They say only 5 people ever heard it but everyone who did went out and bought brown turtlenecks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tell Me About the Rabbits + Jodorowsky Mania in '07

The Inland Empire trailer is up on YouTube. Evidently that's Lynch singing. I know he did all the music; no Angelo Badalamenti this time around. Opening night in DC is Jan 13 at the AFI theater.

On another weird movie note, I watched a bootleg of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain for the first time this weekend. It's hard to still think of Lynch as being all that weird when you've got, say, a guy being violently breastfed by an old man with two baby leopard heads on his chest. ABKCO has confirmed this film and Jodorowsky's El Topo (not sure about Santa Sangre) will almost certainly be released on deluxe dvds (w/ commentary and bonus features) in 2007, although no word yet whether they'll be from Criterion as rumoured. The commentary should be both entertaining and informative, as the extensive religious symbolism in Holy Mountain mostly goes over my head. Here's a promo interview w/ Jodorowsky concerning the films' re-release, and a WFMU blog post from '05 with a bunch of fascinating links concerning Jodorowsky's sadly never-made, visionary-sounding adaptation of Dune, which at various points was to have involved Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Moebius, Orson Welles and Pink Floyd. More info on that and the disaster it eventually became for Lynch here, of course.

IN OTHER NEWS (and by "news" I mean "random stuff on the internet about people I like" - the subject of my every post, it seems): Hey, another WFMU blog link! Today they offer an online primer on Chris Morris.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Next We Teach Sufjan Some Suffjering

People, after several failed attempts to come around to her vocal stylings on "The Milk-Eyed Mender," and having now been confronted with a new album full of extremely long songs, I've come to the conclusion that Joanna Newsom simply must be destroyed (Not literally of course. I mean "destroyed" in the "kindly asked to stop" sense, not in the "Get ready to have your Keebler house blown up" sense").

Dead Elf by Joe Cassen

Martian: “What’s soft, and round, and you put it on a stick, and you roast it in the fire?”
Tom Servo: An elf?
Martian: “Oh! And it’s green!”
Tom Servo: Oh! A dead elf!
- from "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 321.

Unfortunately I fear we've already allowed this problem to fester for too long and now it's nearly beyond our power to stop it. How many more hipsters and pointy ear fetishists are we going to lose to this whimsical scourge? I mean take a look at what we're up against:

I'm not sure how that last one got in there, but you get the point. I think Mario Savio summed up our current situation best:

"There's a time when the operation of Pitchfork becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the computers and upon the iPods, upon the harps, upon all the harpsichords, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who go to her shows, to the people who download her songs, that unless you're free, that affected little woodland creature voice will be prevented from warbling at all!"


I haven't quite figured that out yet but I have come up with a few preliminary ideas:

- Distribute flyers at your next local Renaissance Faire and/or Tolkien convention warning patrons about the dangers posed by burgeoning "freak folk" scenes; Hope some sort of weird turf war breaks out.
- Blare the new Jay Reatard album loudly and as often as possible.
- Hmmm, I don't know, I guess the harp isn't so bad. Maybe I should just keep listening. I'm also not opposed to long song suites in gener-AAAAAAH! GAH! NO! MUST KEEP FIGHTING!!! SAVE YOURSELVES BEFORE IT'S TOOOO LAAAATTE!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman RIP

Wow, awful news. Inexplicably, the headline on Yahoo's homepage reads "'The Player' director Robert Altman dies at 81" (was it that big a hit?), although apparently someone on CNN has already erroneously ID'd him as "the creator of the series M*A*S*H." C'mon, cable news, hire some film geeks for the anchor chairs already. I also see someone has uploaded his apparently quite odd film w/ Bud Cort, Brewster McCloud , on YouTube, so guess what I'll be squinting at on my computer tonight before it's taken down?

Among his huge filmography (of which I've seen only a portion - about a dozen or so) there'll inevitably be disagreements as to which are the classics, which are just ok and which are disasters, but McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the Long Goodbye, 3 Women, California Split, Short Cuts, Nashville, Gosford Park and Secret Honor are all great and worth anyone's time, to say the very least. And I'm sure Paul Thomas Anderson will continue to completely bite his stylee for years to come.

And if you're looking for another image to remember him by from his later years, here he is pawing at Lindsay Lohan on the set of Prairie Home Companion:

UPDATE: Well, I watched Brewster. Yeah, it's basically dopey and they don't even try for coherence but it's free-spirited in a way you just don't see much in film anymore. It's definitely Altman in full-on eccentric (and high) mode and has plenty of enjoyable scenes. Maybe the timing has a lot to do with it but I can't help but like it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lousy Celebrity Makes Record

Hearing exceprts of formerly "underground" rock music in commercials doesn't phase me much anymore, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around this Mitsubishi ad that uses "Blindness" by the Fall. I can see how they thought the song's vicious riff would make a cool soundtrack, but the fact that they kept Mark E. Smith's typically garbled "I was walking down the street..." vocal at the end must mean there's an ad writer at Mitsubishi with one sly, snarky sense of humour.

Anyway, here's the Fall performing a shortened version of that song on Later w/ Jools Holland late last year. I'm guessing they were booked, in part at least, to maintain the band's media visibility for a while longer in honour of John Peel, rather than because of Mark's sparkling stage presence and personal demeanor. Don't be alarmed by the 15 seconds of Robert Plant at the beginning of the clip, he has nothing to do with what follows. Plus you'll get to check out Mark's disproprionately hot current wife on keyboards.

Also, here's their other performance from that episode: a medley of "Pacifying Joint" and the Move's "I Can Hear the Grass Grow." And just for the hell of it, check out their national tv debut - booked and introduced by Peel - from 1983, doing "Smile" and "2X4," complete with dutiful professional dancers (unfortunately the video cuts out early).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ubsolutely Fuscinating

Lately I've been catching up with some of the Sci-Fi Channel episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I've never seen before, both on dvd and on YouTube, where you can find lots of episodes broken up into ten parts (my willingness to spend all my free time watching lengthy, low-res clips on computer screens knows no bounds). I didn't have Sci-Fi on cable when they aired and I was never in a hurry to catch up with this era, I think mainly because I'm intrinsically opposed to the Pearl character that replaced Forrester and TV's Frank. However, the last few seasons did contain some of the series' most entertainingly ghastly movies and they were often on fire with the quips in the theater as well, so I can just skip the host segments and I'm happy. I ran across this deleted footage from the series' final episode, where the producers surprised Mike & co. with a montage of clips from past films while they were shooting comments for that week's movie, Diabolik. It's a treat for any fan of the show.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Then a Hellbeast ate them.

Reason #4,057 to get a region-free dvd player: Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Matthew Holness and Richard Aoyade's inspired sci-fi/horror parody which aired on Channel 4 in the UK in 2004 and was just released on dvd there last month. Holness stars as Marenghi, a Stephen King-like horror writer who's just as prolific but considerably shittier (from one love scene: "He whisked off her shoes and panties in one move. Wild - like an enraged shark, his bulky totem beating a seductive rhythm"). Darkplace was Marenghi's sci-fi vanity series - shot in the mid-80's but never before broadcast - starring himself as an allegedly heroic doctor investigating paranormal disturbances at a hospital. The writers throw in all the cheesiest elements of low budget, genre tv: absurd dialogue, awkward dubbing, aggressively ugly film stock, cheap special effects and stilted acting, particularly by Marenghi's sleazy publisher, Dean Learner (Ayoade), who plays the hospital administrator ("He couldn't actually interact with other actors. I've never seen that before... or since"). The show mostly avoids the perils of creating something "intentionally bad" simply by making everything as straight-faced silly as possible, such as this scene from episode one:

Apparently the show recently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. I don't know if a US dvd release is forthcoming, but predictably it looks like you can find most of it on YouTube. Also, the Dean Learner character recently returned in a new talk show parody called Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge... er, I mean Man to Man with Dean Lerner, which I haven't seen yet.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Jiggle You Save May Be Your Own

Idolator offers the life-saving tip of the week. For my part, I once saw an out-of-towner get capped in the alley behind Tombstone Cafe in Frostburg, MD for never having heard of Jon Felton & His Snowmobile.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Quick Round of "Yea or Nay" (while he's away)

(Above: Bureaucracy at work in Playtime).

I was thinking of writing about each of these topics, but figured I'd clear them all out of the way now, as I'm clearly bursting with other ideas for this blog (*cue nervous laughter again*):

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – YEA. Maybe the best post-apocalyptic scenario I've ever encountered; Bleak but riveting. Also an unusually quick read for a McCarthy book. I finished it in two nights.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – YEA; This book is a rare case where it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – NAY; He had me, then he lost me with all the sci-fi genre dabbling. He just comes across as a dilettante, in my opinion.

Playtime, directed by Jacques Tati – YEA. Amazing-looking film and utterly singular in tone, although it definitely won’t appeal to everyone. Imagine if Kubrick, at his iciest, had directed a Buster Keaton movie and you’d be on the right track.

Street Fight – YEA; Tough doc about the 2002 mayor’s race in Newark, NJ. A great glimpse at how dirty politics can get on the local level. The incumbent’s staff pretty much openly harasses the challenger, his people and the filmmaker in plain sight. Makes the election on The Wire look like a pillow fight.

I’m Alan Partridge series 1 – YEA, and it’s finally on dvd here in America. Steve Coogan as one of the funniest characters in recent times – an obnoxious, tacky, talentless ex-chat show host, now living in a Travelodge in Norwich and working as a very-early morning dj on a show primarily heard by farmers. Alan’s alienating behavior was clearly a big influence on The Office. Even better if you’ve seen the previous Partridge series, Knowing Me Knowing You. Need convincing? Here's a clip of Alan locked in a heady debate about intensive farming with Chris Morris.

Anti-stem cell research ad in response to Michael J. Fox – Clearly NAY, and while everyone in it is a complete sphincter, I have to single out the Passion of the Christ guy, Jim Caveziel (sic), who not only bookends this ad sitting in front of a statue of Jesus but spouts some Latin or something at the beginning just to be really irritating. Did anyone not see this guy’s apparent delusion coming? News flash, Caziel (sic): John Turturro played Jesus too, and you don't see him acting like an idiot. Maybe you should talk to, say, Andrew “Dice” Clay about the perils of confusing your character with reality. I bet Dice knows more Latin too; and since I’m linking to a YouTube clip:

All YouTube comments ever, especially for popular clips – NAY; Truly the dregs of humanity on display.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I know something is happening but I don't know what it is

If you're a Bob Dylan fan but thought the only remotely gay thing about him was that eye makeup he wore during the Rolling Thunder tour, here's an interpretation of one of his most ubiquitious songs that may change your mind:

Looks like that line about "the jugglers and the clowns" put some very twisted ideas in someone's head. Sadly, their even peppier performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” during the commercial break apparently wasn't recorded.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sick's a sort of metaphor for the way these people lead their lives.

Posted for no real reason, other than that Brass Eye should be seen by everyone on the planet but still has never been released in America. Pity how little has changed in Cowsick since '97:

Disappointed OLDBOY fan wanders into wrong film, fights off gang of ushers with a hammer.

(Above: Guess which of these three characters is the most entertaining in Old Joy).

In a recent post on the Onion A.V. Club blog, Scott Tobias wrote, concerning Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy: “If you care at all about American independent films, you’re required to see these movies.” Well, here’s a slightly less hyperbolic rejoinder: if you’re reading this post you’re required to treat that statement with extreme skepticism. I haven’t seen Mutual Appreciation, as both the praise and derision I’ve read concerning Bujalski’s two films make them sound like something I’d prefer not to endure, but I did see Old Joy and while it mostly accomplishes its very modest goals, they amount to so little that asking you to spend $9.50 watching Portland hippies on an uneventful camping trip is a tough proposition, even if your right to call yourself an independent film fan is apparently at stake(?).

First, I must admit that despite living in the DC area for nearly two years this was the first film I’ve seen at the swank-ish AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring. I was one of six people in the theater for a 5:15 showing, which made for a slightly awkward introduction by the guy who encouraged us to spread word-of-mouth for the film (yeah, sorry). The movie observes two longtime friends, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham), who reunite at Kurt’s suggestion after some time apart to check out a hot spring in the Oregon woods. While Kurt is an unemployed, perpetual flake who’s taken to wandering the streets at night, Mark and his very pregnant wife – who’s understandably wary of Kurt -both have unspecified careers which apparently monopolize most of their time. I should note the movie is acutely observed. Oldham is convincing and not overbearingly quirky as the sort of annoying, faux-esoteric bullshitter seemingly stuck in an unending post-grad phase - but hey, says he’s “in a really good place right now” - whom one should take great pains to avoid in life. Reichardt portrays the trip exactly as it would likely occur, meaning there’s no showy confrontations over long-buried tension; no whiny, vapid “soul-searching” and no torturous, allegedly witty patter of the sort that plagues films about professionally aimless 20/30-somthings. For the most part, they simply drive up, listen to Air America (thank God not Randi Rhodes) in the car, get lost, find the place, hang out in the woods, in the meantime there are a couple of telling, subtle moments (literally, there’s maybe a couple), and when it’s over they’ll likely resume their prospective courses.

Old Joy uncannily has the feel of a glacially paced contemporary Asian art film where you basically have to fill in story and meaning in your head based on the largely subtextual info on screen. Can we stop pretending this is some kind of inherently intellectual style of filmmaking? Often in my experience these films end up as an emptily pretentious dawdle whose main worth is as a cudgel for smug would-be cineastes to use against the rubes who surely “should stick to Adam Sandler movies” if they “don’t get it,” as if detractors can only be entrenched in one possible camp. But I digress. Admittedly the Pacific Northwest is one of the most fitting spots in the country to transplant this meditative style, but the constant nature shots aren’t exactly of Terrence Mallick-like grandeur (the film apparently wasn’t shot on video but manages to look like it). As for the characters themselves, Mark seems vaguely worried about Kurt’s deteriorating mental and professional state, but otherwise we know too little about him to get a read on him and he makes disappointingly little impression other than as a guy killing time on a meandering weekend. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times writes that during the centerpiece scene at the hot spring where Kurt describes an anxious dream that contains the film’s summative line – “sorrow’s just a worn-out joy,” Reichardt “finds perfect cinematic expression in a stunningly moving close-up of Mark’s open, surprised and now-joyful face.” I found the whole thing a bit more inscrutable; if he’s supposed to be experiencing some sort of genuinely euphoric moment (has this ever happened to you when you’ve heard people ramble about their stupid dreams?) rather than relaxing in a toasted haze it doesn’t come across and feels a bit unlikely and unearned, even if that line does cut to the quick of the characters’ current relationship. I do like the film more in retrospect, but its thin, 76-minute story simply doesn’t add up to much, and as one commenter on the AV Club blog noted, to call it “one of the finest American films of the year,” as the Times review does, is to raise expectations that likely won’t be rewarded - although then again, this has seemed like a fairly unremarkable year so maybe they will.

So yeah, this post has been a long, rambling way of advising, “wait for the dvd.” But if you need an immediate Oldham fix you can always check out this cameo appearance from "Wonder Showzen," where he indulges in some down-home hijinx with Zach Galifinakis and David Cross... and no, Cross' familiar attire in this segment is surely no accident.

UPDATE: Remember how I said I liked the film better in retrospect? Well, I find myself liking it even more now. I still think the muddy characterization is a huge flaw and the overall hippieness of it a tad irksome but I appreciate more the way the film eschews on-screen obnoxiousness that you can find in a zillion other sources for a calmer, more assured approach. Hey, I'm entitled to modify my opinion right? That's one of the perks of being an amateur nobody - that and not being deluged with pesky praise, professional respect and scads of promo materials. Who needs all that anyway?!? *cue desperate laughter*

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hey NBC, how about a complementary Jason Lee moustache comb for the trouble?

Last week's premiere of 30 Rock, Tina Fey's new sitcom apparently based on the backstage goings-on at Mad TV, was funny enough that I'll be watching again this week. Unlike that Aaron Sorkin thing with the same basic premise that I haven't seen, this show does not appear to treat sketch comedy with the same we're-walking-here gravitas of national politics. No, thankfully here you've got my hero (even though he really seems like a jerk) Alec Baldwin effortlessly busting Tina's balls, and Tracy Morgan giving bizarre line readings about the government putting AIDS in chicken nuggets. Try it (Wed @ 8), you'll like it.

I was a little hesitant to post a positive note about this show as I don't want to look like I'm doing viral marketing for NBC or am trying to land one of those "reputable influencer" gigs that my fellow blogger litelysalted was offered. Not because I'm against it, but because I'm already doing viral marketing for The CW, that new WB/UPN merger channel. Take a look at this awesome mid-season replacement show I'll be promoting across the interweb in a few months:

- Llama; Capitalizing on the House and Shark trend of shows about unorthodox, charismatic, high-powered professionals with pithy names, Bob Hoskins stars as the latest incarnation of His Holiness, the Dalai Llama (spelling changed to the animal name for "fierceness"), and he's shaking things up along the path to enlightenment. A firm believer that "the character-building of suffering" should be a Fifth Noble Truth, Llama isn't afraid to crush some toes to bring Buddhism into the 21st century and save Tibet from shadowy Chinese agents. Viewers will be riveted by Llama's unusual methods, as he opens a high-tech Buddhist hospital with some seriously dramatic karma in Los Angeles; berates visibly shaken guest star Richard Gere; and dropkicks a depressed monk square in the chest to awaken him from a "nap of ignorance" (production of the series was suspended for several months while Hoskins recovered from this stunt).

This show will also be available via video podcast or sent to anyone who follows the Noble Eightfold Path on their cellphone.

(Above: Dharma and Bob - Hoskins running shit as Llama).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Extra! Extra! Mittens the Cat Stumbles Onto Bizarre, Symbol-laden, Psychological Netherworld!

In a way, blogs are kind of like those toy presses that let kids print out a "family newspaper" about the latest goings on in their overly precious households. So basically instead of writing cutesy headlines like "Mayer Family Adopts New Puppy" for the amusement of 4 people, adults like me are writing little, made-up, Onion-like news stories best described as "Man Enjoys 'The Wire' Immensely" or "Loud Target Customers Disrupt Sock Purchase," or "Self-diddling Ends in Tears Again" (wait, pretend you didn't read that last one), for the amusement of... 4 people. Same principle.

So with that in mind, here's a link to a news story that will affect Daddy's future movie-going plans: David Lynch will be distributing his new movie INLAND EMPIRE himself in the US (an unusual move for a name director, to say the least), and it should be in theaters by the end of 2006 in its full, three-hour version.

(Above: Dancing prostitutes + digital video x confusing narrative = Oscar)

Also, for those interested in such things, here's a YouTube link to a trailer for the upcoming Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez "double feature," Grind House, featuring a cast straight off of the USA network @ 3 A.M.

I'll continue to keep you updated on further developing stories, such as the nuclear situation in North Korea and dangerously rising hermitude levels in my apartment. Courage!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Best use of Dropkick Murphys songs in a police thriller?

(Above: "Woah, so did Faye Dunaway really throw a cup
of piss in Polanski's face?")

With his new, really-good-but-not-quite-great movie The Departed, Martin Scorsese – you may remember him as the director of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video - is “back”… sort of. While I liked The Aviator (although not so much that I’ve felt the need to sit through it again), it was an oddball epic about OCD that struggled to fashion a clear cinematic narrative out of Howard Hughes’ life. Gangs of New York was a mess that seemed to have escaped from Scorsese’s grasp at some point, or perhaps it was simply afflicted with Harvey Weinstein’s bad mojo. As for Bringing Out the Dead, the less said the better (ok, one positive – the title always reminds me of one of the early scenes in Monty Python & The Holy Grail). None of these films lacked Scorsese’s typical kinetic energy – at 64 his grittiest films are still vividly hyperactive, although he’s proven he can adapt to other styles as well (to quote Christopher Moltisanti: “Kundun – I liked it!”). Now however, comes a leaner, stripped-down, more impersonal tale that benefits from finding Marty (I call him Marty. We hang out on weekends watching old Howard Hawks movies) fully in his comfort zone – even if the film is knowingly a tad on the illogical side.

First, if you’re like me and thought the trailer made this film look like a disappointingly rote police thriller, you may also agree with me and find that Marty (“Hey buddy, it’s Chris. Have they flown in that rare Ball of Fire print from France yet?”) and screenwriter William Monahan utilize a full bag of tricks – including clever use of cell phones as a plot device – to revitalize the genre, although bear in mind I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs (a stupid title for a movie, but then again so is My Bloody Valentine for a band), the Asian film on which this one is based. The plot, in brief: undercover cop (Leo) infiltrates mob, while mob boss (Jack) grooms a rat (Matt) in the police dept. Both rats spend much of the film trying to find out each other’s identity, and by fantastic (to put it mildly) coincidence they both become involved with the same police shrink, who has the same role most women have in cop movies: a shitty one (unless they’re made to be improbably ass-kicking). I don’t quite know what it is Scorsese sees in Leonard(o) DiCaprio that he keeps casting him in such unlikely lead roles, but get ready for their next apparent collab, with Leo playing – I shit you not – Teddy Roosevelt (I'd sooner believe him as Teddy Pendergrass)! I give Leonard credit though for challenging himself with each film and possibly causing permanent damage to his brow with all that furrowing. He’s working hard again here; playing a character with lots of unconvincing and underdeveloped emotional baggage that doesn’t quite come across. I thought a scene where he unloads during his first visit to the shrink fell particularly flat. We’re never quite as invested in young Leonard coming out alright so much as we are in seeing Matt Damon’s slimy character get his. Damon is put to his most effective use I’ve seen to date (other than having him wander around the desert for 90 minutes, of course), and he should consider playing more weasely roles, as he's talented but too capable of being terminally vanilla elsewhere.

As for Jack, he gives a restrained, almost dour performance as an introverted nebbish… in The King of Marvin Gardens, 34 years ago. Here, he’s practically in full-on Joker mode. Initially, he balances the charisma level just about right, as he has to project a suitable aura of power in his role as boss/father figure to Damon. Plus, it'll always be entertaining watching him make lewd remarks to waitresses. By the film’s later stages, however, his performance is practically in another universe. We see him MAKING RAT FACES while ruminating over the rat in his gang and licking his hand after squashing a bug. Another scene finds him cavorting with two hot bimbos while wearing a leopard-print robe (guess whose idea that was) and throwing coke around like a ninja tossing a smoke bomb, which would be okay if the film took place in Newbridge, but it just seems silly here. No, the real scene-stealing actor in The Departed is Alec Baldwin, who, along with Mark Wahlberg as a belligerent fellow cop, dishes out all of the film’s best, shamelessly entertaining insult humor. In fact, Baldwin is such a great presence now as a doughy supporting actor that if William Hurt can be nominated for an Oscar for his slim but entertaining turn in A History of Violence then a similar nod for Baldwin wouldn't be undeserved.

Which brings us to the Oscar speculation that inevitably accompanies any Scorsese release. While his last two films overtly felt like Miramax-driven campaigns for a gold statue, this smaller, less ambitious but more entertaining and effective film might ironically represent Scorsese’s best shot at the award yet, particularly since competition this year is so paltry. After all, they can’t give it to Eastwood again… can they? Then again, maybe Brett Ratner is the new Golden Child. Whatever the case, every filmmaker knows that one’s career is not complete without a Best Director Oscar… which is why the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are now hopelessly lost to obscurity while this year’s trophy is being replaced with a bust of Ron Howard that shoots fireworks. Now... tell me who’s Bad.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Scaaaaary Music

For decades there's been no shortage of metal meatheads, gothic chumps, gangsta wannabes and disgruntled boy bands tripping over themselves to appear as dark and twisted as possible, but genuinely unsettling music of the jump-out-of your-seat, look-over-your-shoulder, or at least refrain-from-giggling variety is often hard to come by. Just being a quality musician that deals with "dark" themes isn't enough to qualify. Slayer, for instance, may kick ass and utilize plenty of disturbing imagery but I don't find them "scary," and ookie-spookie types like Nick Cave and Tom Waits are too theatrically removed from their material (call me when you've actually moved into one of those decrepit barns you're always going on about, Waits). So here's a list of stuff that I find/have found personally unnerving to varying degrees, and that may get you blacklisted by the rest of the neighborhood should you choose to play them at this year's Halloween party. Obviously, this is far from definitive, as vaguely defined lists on some random dude's blog are wont to be, so any other recommendations are welcome (hint hint):

Suicide, "Frankie Teardrop" - This is still the only piece of music I've heard that I never listen to alone late at night; a completely bent 10-minute masterpiece about a disturbed factory worker who earns eternal damnation by blowing away his infant son, wife and himself. Alan Vega unleashes some of the most horrifying primal screams ever recorded over the ominously chugging synth bass and drum machine. A direct inspiration for admitted fan Bruce Springsteen's menacing "State Trooper" from the Nebraska album.

Kronos Quartet, Black Angels - The shrieking violins that kick off George Crumb's Vietnam-inspired title piece set the visceral tone for this anti-war lament of an album, but do not encompass its entire style. There’s also a performance of Shostakovich’s bleak "String Quartet No. 8," a crying Romanian woman (man?) throughout Istvan Marta’s "Doom. A Sigh," and an ironically placed recording of an old Charles Ives war tune reminiscent of Kubrick’s use of "Midnight, the Stars and You" at the end of The Shining. "Black Angels" is the most effective piece on the record though; its dissonant bursts of sound conjuring striking images of violence.

Before I go further, I should state the obvious and mention that I’m a classical music layman, and did indeed become aware of most of the composers below through Stanley Kubrick movies.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Matrix 5 – Before Crumb’s “Black Angels” there was Penderecki’s harrowing “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” searingly performed here by the Polish Radio Nationaly Symphony Orchestra (of which my uncle was… not a member). Despite it’s clearly defined structure, “Threnody” is like the classical equivalent of Peter Brotzmann’s free-jazz onslaught “Machine Gun.” The entire album is amazing though, and in its way pure horrorshow.

György Ligeti, The Ligeti Project II – Second part of a five disc series on the composer’s works, recorded between 2001-2004. Kubrick used a few Ligeti pieces for the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Two of them here, the shimmering “Lontano” and the static, eerie “Atmospheres,” remain the perfect music for interstellar traumas that leave you an ashen-faced old man inexplicably living out your days in a room full of antiques.

Bartók, “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” – More Kubrick madness; this was also used in The Shining, although it was nearly replaced after “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb tested better with audiences.

Scott Walker, “The Cockfighter” – Assuming your inner Beavis can resist snickering at the titular “sport,” and that you have a taste for Walker’s outrageous, faux-operatic voice, this tune from his 1995 album Tilt can serve as prime car-crashing material. After a minute or so of low murmuring, buried instruments and weird digging sounds that prompt you to turn up the volume, the track explodes into a techno/industrial dirge with Walker warbling about God knows what on top. This all had to have come as a surprise to any Walker fan at the time, and leads the listener to assume he was probably listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails at that point (he was).

Finally we come to what surely must be the most terrifying album on the list, however the cover is so intense I still can’t work up the nerve to listen to it.

Clearly this nubile young woman has been traumatized by some kind of protracted mental and physical abuse, perhaps, judging by the location and the song title “Dirty White Boy,” incorporating scatological elements. I’m not familiar with the works of this “Foreigner,” but I would guess they resemble a cross between a harsher Diamanda Galas and John Cale circa the “Sabotage” tour, when he was ripping chickens’ heads off onstage.

Pleasant dreams!

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Freelove Autobahn" just isn't as funny.

Surely all of you are aware of the great BBC sitcom The Office, and even more of you are probably aware of the American remake (still largely unseen by me) on NBC. But did you know there are French and German versions of the show now as well? This Slate article has the details. I can't wait for the Islamic fundamentalist version where the boss makes inappropriate jokes about suicide bombers and Tim stones Dawn to death for her "shameful flirtatious glances."

(Above: One of David Brent's pranks goes horribly awry)

"I still wake up white on a blog that ain't." - Carcetti (paraphrased)

More Wire geekiness:
- Here's an in-depth new blog hopelessly devoted to every nuance of the show. David Simon posted a couple of comments, justifiably irritated by a post suggesting the show maybe is soft-peddling the junkie aspect. He pointed out that he wrote a six-hour miniseries focused on just addicts that was so grim even I couldn't get through it.
- Slate posted another "best show in the history of television" article shortly after the critical round-up in my previous post. They're also running one of their "TV club" features for season 4 where every week Steve James, the director of Hoop Dreams and other documentaries, and author Alex Kotlowitz discuss the show.
- Here's a fairly recent, extensive Q&A with David Simon that I see was just updated a few days ago. Man, this guy doesn't toss off anything he writes, not even his interview responses.

My Mondays are going to be rougher for the next couple of months as new Wire episodes are popping up a week in advance right at midnight on HBO On Demand. Man, that scene next week where Bubbles is killed by a stingray at the Baltimore aquarium was eerily prescient!*

*yes, potentially irate googler, that's a phony spoiler.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vote for the guy that doesn't flail his arms like an idiot

So I've been seeing the ads for All the King's Men, which opens today. Is Sean Penn playing another retarded character? That's the only explanation for whatever it looks like he's going for. Looks like he accelerated from "charismatic" to "lunatic" at about 90 mph and the director failed to hit the brakes. I've never gotten the "greatest actor of his generation" hype around this guy. Yeah, Dead Man Walking, but his only really iconic film role in 25 years was a high school surfer dude. Another reason why Jackass still has a clear path to my $9.50 this weekend: those guys are authentic cinematic cretins!

On another random note, if your company lost 1,137 laptops in five years, wouldn't you suspect something fishy is going on? I don't think a seminar about minding your valuables at Starbucks is the answer in this case.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sven Nykvist RIP

I don't usually post these, but I wanted to note that Ingmar Bergman's longtime cinematographer on films such as Winter Light, Persona, Through a Glass Darkly, et al. has died. I was surprised to find out he won very deserved Oscars for possibly my two favorite Bergmans, Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander, neither of which are to be missed nor forgotten (although one's tolerance for Cries may vary). The Criterion box set for F&A is particularly exemplary even by their standards.

NY Times takes "Oh, that wacky Hugo" stance.

Insert "Hugo Chavez comedy hour" jokes here.

From the article:

But compared with Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Chávez was just more colorful. He brandished a copy of Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” and recommended it to members of the General Assembly to read. Later, he told a news conference that one of his greatest regrets was not getting to meet Mr. Chomsky before he died. (Mr. Chomsky, 77, is still alive.)

It's funny he thought Chomsky was dead, but on the other hand I know how he must have felt. I've always regretted not getting to meet Howard Zinn before he was mauled by that cougar.

However, this particular article doesn't mention Chavez' further literary criticism later in the same speech:

Mr. Chávez drew further applause from the assembly when he admitted to being one of millions of readers who felt "betrayed" by James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, calling Frey "a bearded Mephisto who should be exiled into space." Mr. Chávez also speculated that Running With Scissors author Augusten Burroughs "totally made all that shit up" in his own best-selling memoir, and called author William T. Vollman a "pussy" for "only writing seven volumes" of his treatise on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. Mr. Chávez later clarified that remark by claiming that a guy he knows has written at least ten unpublished volumes on the same subject and that Mr. Vollman had essentially "short-changed the reader" with his comparitively paltry effort.

No word yet on whether or not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has mentioned Reading Lolita in Tehran during any of his remarks yet, but I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I suggest you read this.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jetty Images

Chris Marker's famous, haunting 28-minute short film La Jetée(1962), which I caught for the first time on Turner Classic Movies' short film festival the other day, remains a must-see for fans of film and photography. The subject of a post-World War III time travel experiment is repeatedly sent back to meet the woman whose face became fixated in his memory as a child, after they both witnessed a man's death at an airport. If that sounds familiar, yes, this film was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. La Jetée is shot entirely as a series of still photographs, with the exception of a motion shot of the woman's eyes opening which unfortunately is pretty hard to make out in this Google video (it's around the 18:55 mark). Except for one out-of-print short film collection, I don't believe the film is currently available on dvd in America.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a version in the original French w/ English subtitles to post. So this is the dubbed version (created by Marker, as he apparently is not a fan of subtitles). But the recording of the narration has a hissy quality that makes it sound oddly, convincingly more like a document of the experiment in the film (in my opinion, anyway).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hell M to the O to the T to the H to the E to the R to the F to the U to the C to the K to the I to the N to the Apostrophe Yeah!

HBO has renewed The Wire for it's fifth and final season! You see what kind of influence this blog has?!? Now maybe I can get takers for that dramedy I've been pitching about Mark E. Smith from the Fall coaching a high school basketball team. It'll be like White Shadow, except surlier and with less teeth.

On a semi-HBO-related note: Nice one, McSweeney's.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you're here 'cause you want to be entertained (by me, not The Wire), just go away.

Yes, this blog is going to be devoted to shameless, rapturous praise for my favorite tv show (often alternating with Deadwood for that title). The best drama series in the history of television, The Wire, returns tonight on HBO and this year it's especially important that every man, woman, child and pet duck that can watch it do so. It's been two years since season 3 and the perpetually low-rated show was only belatedly renewed for a fourth after it started doing well on dvd. Word of mouth has steadily been buzzing ever since and there should be a definite ratings spike this year, but HBO has come out and said the hopes for a fifth and final season rest on the audience response. As the sorry fates of Deadwood and Carnivale attest, HBO - despite their "It's not tv..." motto - is no different from any other network when it comes to watching the bottom line and has no problem leaving fans hanging and storylines unresolved if a show's not making them enough money. So if you've never seen it, now's the time to rent seasons 1-3 on dvd. The Wire has a rep for being slow-going and inaccessible but once you get into it you'll wish you could watch the entire thing in one sitting. More than once. The show's complex, multi-layered storylines never insult the audience, and it's closer overall to a living, "page-turning" novel than any show I've ever seen. Anyone who loves that feeling they get when they're reading a book and some seemingly disparate elements are tied together, or characters who you thought you'd figured out reveal some unexpected depth or take surprising action will love the payoff they get from the Wire's storylines.

Much of the show's uncanny authenticity and integrity stems from the top-notch pedigree of it's writers and producers. The series' creator, David Simon, is an ex-Baltimore Sun journalist who wrote 1992's nonfiction Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which was subsequently adapted into what was formerly my favorite cop show of all time, until this one came along. Writer and co-producer Ed Burns is a retired cop and former teacher whose experiences with Baltimore's broken school system will inform a lot of season 4's classroom scenes. The writing staff includes Richard Price, author of Clockers and Freedomland, as well as DC crime novelist George Pelecanos, among others. Every year the writers seemlessly incorporate upwards of 50 characters into a sweeping narrative with nary a false note to be found. The first season was firmly centered on the street level, as a cast-off police unit - including the show's nominal protagonist, self-destructive, oft-amusing cop Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West, providing a fresh spin on a cliched character type) - attempted to bring down drug kingpins Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). Season two threw the audience a curveball by focusing on Polish dockworkers (!) caught up in a deadly smuggling ring and illustrating the problems of the city's working class. Best of all for me, however, was season three, which not only brought the Barksdale storyline to it's wholly satisfying conclusion but featured the unlikely but fascinating character arc of Bunny Colvin, a fed-up retiring police major who decides to secretly "legalize" drugs in his district, setting up a "free zone" it's residents nickname "Hamsterdam" where police push all the district's dealers into one spot. Among other ramifications, the good news is that crime on all the rest of his corners comes to a halt. The bad news is that in Hamsterdam he finds himself, as one character puts it, "the Mayor of Hell." Season 4 - which critics who have seen it are proclaiming maybe the best yet - introduces a group of new, young actors and will focus on public schools. The premiere episode has been on HBO On Demand all week and offers another promising start for this year.

Which begs the question of why if The Wire is so good it's remained under the radar for so long. The most obvious reason is that if you don't really sit down and commit to it or get to know the characters, it's hard to get into on a weekly basis (which makes it ideal for dvd). Then there's the fact that because it's made in Baltimore it's all but ignored by the television industry (the same fate that befell Simon's Homicide). Plus, the truth is, tons of white viewers will settle in every Sunday night for the lurid exploits of Tony Soprano and Al Swearengen but they'll look down on a "black show" featuring drug dealers, no matter how insightful it is (and I've seen comments on the HBO message boards that confirm as much).

But since I'm not the most articulate person to be writing on this show, and am more on the George Michael Bluth side of things in terms of street smarts, here's some more people weighing in:

The Baltimore City Paper previews season 4 and delves into the real-life situations and politics that inform the show.
Edward Copeland on the show's vast array of black characters (warning: Contains major, major seasons 1-3 spoilers)
The SF Chronicle on getting into the Wire (more spoil-happy stuff)
Patton Oswalt begs you to watch it

Here's some more critics' praise I copied from the Television Without Pity message board (TWOP apparently doesn't deem it worthy of recaps and seperate forums):

“Brilliant, scathing, sprawling, The Wire has turned our indifference to urban decay into a TV achievement of the highest order.

The show’s impact doesn’t always register fully in individual episodes, wonderful as most are. But taken as a whole - not just over this premiering fourth season but over the entire run of the series – The Wire triumphs both as art and indictment.”


“It is the best drama in HBO history – all due respect to ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Deadwood,’ ‘The Wire’ is deeper, tighter and more ambitious - and one of the finest works ever produced for American television.”

-ALAN SEPINWALL, New Jersey Star-Ledger

“… ‘The Wire’ is more than just the best show on television. This sprawling, ferocious drama is one of the richest, most compelling pieces of entertainment created by anyone at any time in pop-culture history. And even that over-the-top endorsement feels like it comes up short somehow.”

-KARLA PETERSON, San Diego Union Tribune

“I am so blown away by this show that I will go out on a limb here to declare that these 13 episodes just might comprise the single finest piece of work ever produced for American TV.”
-ADAM BUCKMAN, New York Post

“This is TV as great modern literature, a shattering and heartbreaking urban epic about a city (Baltimore) rotting from within…. ‘The Wire’ reclaims its place in the top tier of American drama.”

“ ‘The Wire’ keeps getting better, and to my mind it has made the final jump from great TV to classic TV – put it right up there with ‘The Prisoner’ and the first three seasons of ‘The Sopranos’.”

“Second, the argument over whether ‘The Wire’ is the best show on television needs only two other participants -- also from HBO -- in the form of ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Deadwood.’ Rather than split hairs, let's just say that the breadth and ambition of ‘The Wire’ are unrivaled and that taken cumulatively over the course of a season -- any season -- it's an astonishing display of writing, acting and storytelling that must be considered alongside the best literature and filmmaking in the modern era.”
-TIM GOODMAN, San Francisco Gate

“The best show on TV…This is muckraking TV, in so many ways more powerful than anything a network news division can produce.”
-J. MAX ROBBINS, Broadcasting and Cable

“ ‘The Wire’ is the best thing ever done on dramatic television. Frankly, it makes ‘The Sopranos’ look like a sitcom. It makes ‘Six Feet Under’ look like a sitcom on the WB.”
-JAMES NOLD JR., Louisville Courier-Journal

“They have done what many well-intentioned socially minded writers have tried and failed at: written a story that is about social systems, in all their complexity, yet made it human, funny and most important of all, rivetingly entertaining.”

“ This season of ‘The Wire’ will knock the breath out of you….‘The Wire’ is a beautiful brave series. This is its best season yet.”

”No television show has provided so much insight on politics and all the foibles, frustrations and sick sense of humor that come with it.”
-NEAL JUSTIN, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“ ‘The Wire’ isn’t just impressive TV, its impressive art, and it shows just how far the medium has come – and where, one hopes, it’s going….the best analogy might be the serialized 19th-century novel, the kind of thing that kept Dickens fans lined up at newsstands in anticipation of the next installment.”
-MARY PARK, Seattle Times

“If there ever was a series that makes HBO a necessity, ‘The Wire’ is it.”
-MELANIE McFARLAND, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Season 4 of HBO’s The Wire – the best series on TV, period – is brutal and brilliant.”
-GILLIAN FLYNN, Entertainment Weekly

When television history is written, little else will rival "The Wire," a series of such extraordinary depth and ambition that it is, perhaps inevitably, savored only by an appreciative few. Layering each season upon the previous ones, creator David Simon conveys the decaying infrastructure of his hometown Baltimore in searing and sobering fashion -- constructing a show that's surely as impenetrable to the uninitiated as it is intoxicating to the faithful. In its fourth year, the program adds the school system to cops, drugs, unions, the ailing middle class, and big-city politics. Prepare to be depressed and dazzled.

“If you have only one hour a week for television, give it to ‘The Wire.’”
-MAUREEN RYAN, Chicago Tribune

“There is absolutely nothing simple about ‘The Wire,’ and that's what makes it the finest show on the current TV landscape.”

“. It's as uncompromising and challenging and troubling -- but ultimately stirring, in its triumph as art -- as anything on TV. “
-DAVE WALKER, New Orleans Times Picayune

Oh, and the show also has this guy; everyone's favorite gay robber of drug dealers ("James Lipton?" "Nooo..."):

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Please, PLEASE Stay Tuned for "The Commish"

I've been waiting for episodes of David Lynch and Mark Frost's short-lived 1992 sitcom "On the Air" to show up on YouTube for a while now and some kind soul has finally uploaded a well-worn VHS copy of the premiere episode in four parts. This page on gives a synopsis of the show's history and what it was about. Basically, Lynch's career was so mega-hot following the initial success of "Twin Peaks" that ABC pretty much gave him carte blanche to do any other kind of show he wanted. But by the time he gave them "On the Air" in 1992, Twin Peaks had been cancelled, Lynch was entering a commercial and critical downturn, and now ABC had this utterly whacked new show on their hands - a screwball sitcom with virtually every alienating trait the average network executive and/or person could imagine.

As anyone who's watched a lot of his work can attest, the only time Lynch is more bizarre than when he's vividly exploring nightmare imagery of the subconscious is when he's trying to be funny. Even in dark works like ERASERHEAD, a stray oddly comic moment ("OK, PAUL!") is often one of the most head-scratching elements of the film. Lynch's sense of humor is completely unfettered in "On the Air" and it runs toward the almost impossibly corny and dated. Picture scenes in "Twin Peaks" like the befuddled old man trudging slowly through the bank in the series finale, or the Deputy Andy/Lucy/Dick Tremaine bits late in the series' run, then ramp up the "zany factor" even further and you've got the tone of "On the Air." While the appeal and marketability of Lynch's usual dark milieu for art film snobs and social misfits alike is understandable, it's hard to imagine under normal circumstances that a sophisticated or not-so-sophisticated viewer would go for stuff in these clips like the unhilarious David "Squiggy" Lander's indecipherable German accent; the stock dimbulb, ditzy starlet character; and the sight gags involving midgets and siamese twins; all of which would have been stale by about 1939. However, Lynch's typically un-self-conscious and surreal presentation of this material makes it, if not traditionally funny, at least a weirdly compelling anomaly. I dimly recall the subsequent episodes as being even more odd so here's hoping they turn up on YouTube (or as I call it, SourceOfShamelesslyEverIncreasingOrgasms.orrrg) as well.

ON THE AIR - episode 1
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

On a related note, this YouTube user seems to be in the midst of uploading the entire first season of "Twin Peaks," including the essential, brilliant pilot episode which, due to ownership disputes is not available on DVD in the U.S., not even with the first season box set. If you've never seen the show and are unable to rent the pilot on VHS for whatever reason you may as well check it out. I watched TP when I was 11 and it forever changed the way I look at the world. The good news is it broadened my outlook, the bad news is I've attached permanent, creepy associations to ceiling fans.

EDIT: Whoops, that Twin Peaks pilot that guy uploaded is missing the last 10 minutes. I don't know what to tell ya.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Untitled Mike Judge Blog Post

What's the best way to spend your moviegoing dough for the remaining four months of the year - provided you live in L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, or Toronto, that is (and yes, I realize that pretty much excludes all of my regular readers)? Go see the new Mike Judge comedy, IDIOCRACY. I have no idea if the movie's any good or not but at least by seeing it and possibly spreading word of mouth you'd be sticking it in some small way to 20th Century Fox, which has suspiciously gone out of it's way to completely bury and ruin this satire on the dumbing down of American culture. The film stars Luke Wilson as an "average joe" frozen by the government for research who wakes up 1,000 years later to find a society so moronic he's instantly annoited the smartest man alive.

The studio inteference and outright hostility Judge has experienced with this film sounds like any filmmaker not named Herzog or Gilliam's worst nightmare. IDIOCRACY was completed in 2004 but has sat on the shelf until just this past Friday, when Fox dumped it in and around the cities listed above with zero publicity, refusing to even authorize a trailer or website (as detailed in this Esquire article). Moviefone callers in the L.A. area are even finding the film erroneously listed under UNTITLED MIKE JUDGE PROJECT. I for one had never heard about it until last week. Since Judge is the creator of OFFICE SPACE, one of the all-time best sellers on dvd, as well as "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill," it stands to reason that good or not, the film deserves at least a FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY-level rollout. The prevailing conspiracy theory is that Fox either feared upsetting the film's corporate targets or were irked by his shots at the lowest common denominator-coddling entertainment industry (the #1 film 1,000 years in the future is a 90-minute posterior shot titled ASS). Early reports from people who have seen the film seem to be positive overall, although many are saying someone other than Judge obviously meddled with the final cut, citing examples such as the dreaded voice-over narration explaining self-evident gags on-screen. However, I'll remain optimistic about the film's quality. As the success of Beavis and Butthead proved and my junior high experience can attest, Judge's brand of satire can usually be embraced equally by those in on the satirical aspect of the joke and those who are simply tickled by the antics of their moronic counterparts on-screen. Also, let's face it: B&B's video commentaries were some of the most valuable music criticism of the past few decades.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Emo kids on treadmills are about the best you can hope for, Lou

Almost every year I subject myself to at least some portion of MTV's Awards of Music Video, perhaps in order to gauge just how low America's high school tastemakers have sunk that year. I've pretty much given up hope of witnessing any sort of notable spontaneity or epic stupidity - beyond stray expletives - that the show was formerly famous for. And no, I'm not talking about that boring, desperate Britney-Madonna kiss, which the media inevitably runs a photo of alongside any preview coverage of this EVENT. The show and network were firmly in the pits by that point as well. This year's highlights can be summarized thusly:

1) There was a brief, two-or-three second shot of Al Gore talking to Steve-O from Jackass backstage, presumably about whether or not polar bears staple their own ass cheeks together for amusement. Maybe Gore's handlers can line up a photo op with Gary Glitter next just to really torpedo the former VP's credibility for good.
2) There was a gag about Justin Timberlake installing shelves in Jack Black's dressing room that was kind of amusing (to ME anyway. I'm normally more a fan of shoe rack humour).
3) Uhhhh... geez. That's it!

A recurring yearly pattern for this show is to bring on a bonafide legend or, failing that, at least a famous person over 50, for the faintest possible stab at credibility. This year it was Lou Reed, who ran through a barely-minute-long version of "White Light/White Heat" w/ The Raconteurs (a.k.a. Jack White's Half-Hearted Power Pop Explosion). Later, they had him introduce Best Rock Video with Pink, whose schtick these days appears to be goofing on vapid, manufactured pop stars; despite the fact that, last I checked (which was tonight), she's a vapid, manufactured pop star herself, except drunker. Anyway, Lou made an offhand comment about hoping MTV plays more rock videos, which was immediately rendered hilarious by the parade of eyeliner-loving emo kids in the nominee clips that followed. Much like someone who only knew rap music from the bling-heavy, Diddy Puff/P. Diddle/Puffy Longstocking era might possibly be forgiven for having a skewed perspective of the genre, anyone whose knowledge of contemporary rock stops at MTV2 might plausibly believe the music is now exclusively comprised of whiny, cotton candy-bottomed drama club kids -- along with the occasional, generically tattooed-and-beefy nu-metal band. Indeed, every white performer on this show except Timberlake and the increasingly sordid Jackass crew seemed to be auditioning for a pilot called Tim Burton Babies. There was even a preponderance of actual themed costumes among the emo kids (who I learned tonight suddenly include an embarassing Jared Leto among their ranks), as if to erase any doubt that they had finally inherited the mantle of ultimate ridiculousness from hair metal. The closest thing to a victory over these dweebs on this night was when Fall Out Boy wandered up in their Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes get-ups to collect an award and Wee Man from Jackass plunged the statuette straight into one of the guys' nuts. I'll take what I can get at this point, people.

Speaking of Jackass, I loved it as much as anyone and will be there to see the upcoming movie sequel (if nothing else, to see how completely they erase alleged kiddie-fiddler Don Vito from the Margera landscape). Yet I find it hard to believe after so many years that their laughing fits are still genuine when one of them gets hit in the balls. Could it be they're just coasting until the inevitable crippling injuries and testicular cancer sets in? If today's kids can't look to the likes of Steve-O and Ryan Dunn for sincerity and inspiration, where else can they turn? Candidates for local office? I think not.

Really, I don't see what the point is of having a music video awards show in 2006 anyway. Everyone was reminded that the form reached it's peak in the early 80's when the following clip was rediscovered online a few months ago (I think it only won Most Implausible Attempt at Heterosexuality):