Thursday, June 29, 2006

MacDonald and Loggins keep it smooth

Okay, I am ridiculously far behind on this, but Yacht Rock is killing me at the moment. A series of five-minute episodes chronicling the true tales behind the late 70's/early 80's' smoothest songs, such as Steely Dan's violent feud with the Eagles and a tragic street fight involving Hall and Oates. Make sure you scroll down and begin watching with episode 1. Apparently it was just cancelled a few days ago but may continue in some form at some point. I don't know why, but the guy who plays Kenny Loggins especially cracks me up.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

They told you to call the doctor, but you wouldn't listen!

Yesterday, Sleater-Kinney announced they were calling it quits after 11 years and 7 albums. Like Fugazi and, going even further back, the Minutemen, their absence leaves a huge void of integrity, admirability and creativity in the punk/indie world that won't be filled anytime soon, if ever. S-K were the best live band I've ever seen and the one I've seen ascend in my lifetime that meant the most to me . They had some dud songs and missteps, but their high points were higher and more exciting than those of virtually any of their contemporaries. Although they'll always be relegated to "riot grrl" status in the minds of some, S-K never stayed comfortable with any niche. They sought to fully engage the world with their inimitable, uncompromising and constantly expanding sound (a sound, I'd just like to note, increasingly held together by their hard-hitting, irreplacable drummer Janet Weiss). The overall effect was inspiring and often amazing. And hey, the operable phrase "indefinite hiatus" always leaves open the possibility of a comeback years down the road. If Mission of Burma can do it without missing a step, so can Sleater-Kinney.

Here are their final tour dates for now; luckily I'll be able to see them one last time. There'll also apparently be a final show in Portand to be announced later:

Jul 29 - Louisville KY @ Forecastle Festival
Jul 31 - Philadelphia PA @ the Starlight Ballroom
Aug 1 - Washington DC @ the 9:30 Club
Aug 2 - NYC @ Webster Hall
Aug 4 - Chicago, IL Lollapalooza @ Grant Park

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ann Coulter: Deadhead

It's not Ann Coulter's delusional opinions that bother me so much as the media's tacky interest in her, and that some people think that what she has to say passes for wit. So while I generally try to maintain a de-Coulterized environment, I can't resist linking to this interview on (I can't tell you how fervently I believed I would never type those words) in which she purports to be a huge Grateful Dead fan. All I'll say is that it looks like Scharpling & Wurster's Hippy Johnny character is looking more eerily true-to-life all the time. Coulter puts in a good word for several popular, non-hippie acts in the article as well, so next time you're listening to Eagles of Death Metal, take comfort knowing that the author of Slander would approve. Who knows, Ann might be only an mp3 away from becoming a huge Acid Mothers Temple fan as well.

Eugene Levy's finest guitar work

While much of the show's pop culture references are now dated, SCTV featured arguably the most talented cast of comedians ever assembled on television: John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Martin Short. Unfortunately, despite whatever good work they've done since and whatever success each cast member subsequently found, most of them never got a chance to perform at the same high level again once the series ended in 1984. Moranis, in fact, has dropped out of the movie business, except for occasional voiceover work, preferring to concentrate on raising his kids after being typecast in too many "nerd" roles. Among the rest of the cast's filmographies, O'Hara and Levy's turns in Christopher Guest movies come perhaps closest to capturing SCTV's satirical spirit, although Harold Ramis (who left the show fairly early in 1978) has had probably the biggest impact on American pop culture, thanks to his co-writing credits on the beloved slob epics Animal House and Caddyshack.

Shout Factory has released the show's NBC years on dvd, and volume 3 contains possibly my favorite sketch they ever did, which some kindly user has put up on YouTube here. It features Short, Levy, Flaherty, Martin and Candy paying a visit to "Mel's Rockpile," Levy's "American Bandstand" parody, as the Queen Haters, a British punk band with a rather single-minded lyrical bent. While the video quality isn't so great, you can still follow the lyrics via the bouncing ball. Aside from the fact that Martin Short fronting a punk band looks pretty much exactly as you'd expect, my favorite part of this clip is John Candy on drums: made up with a skullcap, looking like a member of the Damned, and staring vacantly ahead. A must-see!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Please God, no Sudoku movie, I beg you.

The new crossword puzzle documentary Wordplay appears to exemplify a trend in docs that may officially be getting out of hand: movies about some sort of obscure or unlikely competition or pseudo-sport. Notable examples include Murderball ("wheelchair rugby"); A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (bowling); Spellbound (spelling bees), and Word Wars (Scrabble). Those last two actually form a nice bookend, as in Spellbound you get to see the fledgling nerds when they're young and full of promise, then in Word Wars you glimpse their future in 25 years or so, when they're paunchier, smellier, financially struggling, emotionally unfulfilled and suffering from gastrointestinal ailments. It's the circle of life, I tells ye.

Intending to make this docu-genre the subject of parody, I googled "competitive eating documentary" and lo and behlod, there's a film called Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, which apparently isn't on dvd. I'm afraid to google "competitive masturbating" (although apparently not unwilling to make my own blog a search result for it), but I'm betting that's at least been covered on an episode of HBO's "Real Sex." It's too bad other documentarians didn't capitalize on this trend earlier; The Mayles Brothers, for instance, could've had the women from Grey Gardens enter a series of home decorating shows, or turned Gimme Shelter into an acid-drenched version of Japan's "Extreme Elimination Challenge," with added emphasis on the eliminating.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Vince Carter Cingular Wireless commercial, I hardly knew ye.

Miami 95, Dallas 92

It's too late for me to say much of anything about these now-concluded NBA Finals, except that after the greatest playoffs I've ever seen, it's extremely unsatisfying to watch a team that dogged it the entire season - and that was well-stocked with deservedly maligned, ring-chasing bastard veterans - ride their fucking-phenomenal star player's coattails to the championship. Yes, the officiating stunk at many crucial moments but that by itself doesn't begin to account for the Mavs' collapse, and a couple of those calls went their way in the waning moments of tonight's game as well.

But oh man, I've got to comment on one of the most brutal aspects of watching this or any other sporting event: the reporters. During one of several undignified tirades this series (and playoffs, and season, etc.), Mark Cuban basically ripped them from asking such stupid questions all the time, and ain't it the truth. The primary line of questioning in tonight's game, for example, was endless variations on "What was going through your mind when ____?" Inevitably, this will be followed by some stock answer about defense, going strong to the basket, etc. Very rarely you'll get someone like Shaq who's colourful (i.e. assholish) enough to occasionally inject some personality into the sideline proceedings, or a bonehead like Rasheed Wallace will lift his fake WWF belt and boldly guarantee victory before completely buckling the next game, but the vast majority of players aren't going to say anything inflammatory or reckless just so they can dazzle Stuart Scott with what little info of interest they have to impart. Why the hell should they? Twice Shaq was asked during the victory celebration how this one compares to his wins w/ the Lakers. Stop beating the same manufactured "storylines" to death, reporters... please! Just stick to injury updates and the like and quit proving what little is going through your mind when you're rehashing these tired questions. I'm just begging for someone at least to have the balls big enough to ask Vince Carter, "So Vince, why don't we feed the dog people food, huh?!? HUH, VINCE?!?"

Anyway, congrats to David Stern's #1 man-crush, Dwyane Wade, and Alonzo Mourning, as I can't really begrudge a guy who came back from a kidney transplant of anything, regardless of his faults. Oh and while evil (i.e. Gary Payton, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker) may have prevailed this time, there is a bright shining light on next year's horizon; generated by a team featuring a returning Amare Stoudamire and a certain Canadian hippie/back-to-back (don't count on a three-peat) MVP. As Velvet Underground visionary Doug Yule once sang, who loves the Sun(s)!

Garfield performs "graceful pirouettes?"

Probably bored after years of heaping lukewarm praise onto inane Hollywood pablum, Roger Ebert recently wrote this reveiw of Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties in the character of Garfield himself. This isn’t exactly a film critic first, as Leonard Maltin obviously channels Odie while updating his Movie Guide each year. Wouldn't you know though, in Ebert’s hands, Garfield’s tone strikingly resembles that of a certain slightly haughty movie critic; one who seems more interested in zinging Ebert’s “colleague” Richard Roeper (surely a spiritual cousin of Jon Arbuckle) than pursuing familiar interests like eating lasagna, sticking to car windows via protruding suction cups, and, uhm… practicing denial?

On a personal note, however, this particular review brought back some bad memories for me. Whilst reading it I flashed back to a traumatic childhood experience viewing a film starring another wisecracking feline adventurer -- Heathcliff: the Movie. I was seven when I was taken to see this cinematic adaptation of a show my not-too-picky young self often watched on late afternoons. Was I particularly excited beforehand? I can't recall, nor can I recall many details about the Heathcliff cartoon itself. I seem to remember Heathcliff transforming into a giant tape deck and being interviewed by Merv Griffin a lot, but I may be getting my shows mixed up here. The point is, once the movie began it quickly became apparent that it was nothing more than a mishmash of old episodes I had already seen on tv, linked together by a brief, tossed-off narrative framing device. As the film wore on I sat there in shock; angry, perplexed and a little queasy (although queasiness wasn't uncommon for me in those days, I admit). How could the Heathcliff producers do this? How could they be such cynical hacks as to charge kids' hardworking parents for material that had already aired repeatedly on free tv? Did they think that sheltered, deathly pale children like me who had nothing better to do than watch their shitty cartoon wouldn't notice? Or care?!? Well, the experience taught me a bitter lesson about corporate culture and left me a severely disillusioned seven-year-old. The very next day I dropped out of grade school, firebombed my first cop car and started freebasing cocaine. Darkness enveloped me and I slipped into an unrelenting downward spiral, finally bottoming out in my teens when I found myself a bloated, drug-addled vagabond, violently wandering the deep south in Cormac McCarthy-esque fashion and only occasionally finding honest work as a third-rate Dusty Rhodes impersonator. It was a long, hard climb back to health and prosperity from that hellish nadir but somehow I made it. So screw you, Heathcliff. To paraphrase Emily Bronte, my hatred for you is like the eternal blog beneath: a source of little visible delight, and apparently hard for some of my readers to look at without highlighting.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Other, Other Newest One

Sonic Youth’s gig Thursday night @ the 9:30 Club will kick off my probably limited summer music itinerary this year, followed by Mission of Burma in July, maybe the Boredoms and Lightning Bolt in Philly on June 30, a couple other things here and there, and oh yeah, the Germs at the Black Cat, August 5. Ah, to be young and alive here in the year 1980. So what does everyone think of that new Ted Knight show, Too Close For Comfort? Oh and how about ‘nem Phillies, huh? I can’t wait to see them clobbered in the World Series. Wait, what? It’s not 1980? Then how the fuck can "the Germs” be playing a show when Darby Crash died nearly 26 years ago, one day before the death of John Lennon (who some music lovers still consider to be “the fifth Beatle”)?!?

The answer is, Darby’s place on vocals will be filled by – no shit, for anyone just now hearing about this - “ER” actor Shane West, who’s playing Darby in the forthcoming Germs biopic. WFMU's Brian Turner posted a detailed rundown of this more classically handsome line-up's New York show back in December here. This is such a transparently ridiculous idea for a reunion tour that I can't not check it out. At least the rest of the band (I don't know about West) seems to be pretty much acknowledging as much and having a laugh at the absurdity of it all. In any case, I'm betting that this will be only the third most successful instance of a past or present "ER" cast member joining an established rock band, following Anthony Edwards' brief turn replacing drummer Dan Peters in Mudhoney and George Clooney's legendary early days serving as Morris Day's on-stage valet in the Time. Oh, and Noah Wyle's granny is rumoured to have once spent a 36-hour stint playing bongos for The Fall, but technically that doesn't count.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Tell Your God to Ready For Hugs -- er, Blood.

(Above: Lovejoy V2.0)

While not my absolute favorite HBO series (that title would go to The Wire, which also benefits from an arguably tougher, more lawless locale), Deadwood is definitely #2 with several bullets. Thankfully, the unhygenic anti-Western with the ornate, near-Shakesperean flourishes and enough buckets of profanity to make David Mamet crack open Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues returns for its' third season Sunday. By now you may have heard about the show's premature near-death as HBO passed on a full fourth season, allegedly due to money issues stemming from the expensive and underperforming Rome, a show to which they're committed for another season. Anyways, it looks like the end result of the post-brouhaha negotiations between the network and series creator David Milch will be two two-hour films to wrap up the series after this season; not a perfect solution, but as poor Dale Cooper will tell you it's preferable to leaving the show's various plotlines permanently unresolved.

I'm trying to hear as little as possible about this year's contents in advance, including whether or not they'll fulfill my slim hopes of having Garrett Dillahunt play yet a third character on the show, following his polar opposite turns as Wild Bill Hickock's killer Jack McCall in season one and prissy psycho Francis Wolcott in season two. May I suggest a wisecracking scamp named Mitch Mittens, who comes to the camp looking to form Deadwood's first "base-ball" team and who posesses facial hair so powerful it can wield a makeshift wooden bat with remarkable efficiency? As for Milch, next up he'll be creating a "surf noir" pilot for HBO, which if his past work is any indication could be another groundbreaking, genre-busting classic. Or maybe he just plans to remake old Annette Funicello movies with adorable kittens wearing fedoras and tiny trenchcoats, who knows. Shortly before last year's season 2 premiere, the New Yorker ran a fascinating profile of Milch, detailing his strange, drug-addled path from budding novelist at Yale to successful TV writer/producer. Some kind soul transcribed and posted the whole thing here and for Deadwood fans it's well worth reading.

I can't say I'm as interested, however, in the return of Entourage to HBO's line-up this Sunday. I've only caught the tail end of several episodes but the show's apparent affection for it's roster of meatheads seems to me like a missed opportunity for a nastier, more biting portrayl of celebrity hangers-on, which probably wouldn't prove as popular or make exec. producer Mark Wahlberg happy. But I guess I can't blame hit-starved HBO for seeking an annoying-guy replacement for it's annoying-lady show, Sex On the City (as I believe it was called). Still, how is it that Jeremy Piven is apparently allowed to get away with wearing that toupee in real life now? C'mon what would his "PCU" character have to say about that, in between so-so barbs with David Spade and impromptu George Clinton concerts? Meanwhile, the other sitcom premiering Sunday night, Lucky Louie or Life With Lucky or Life Begins at the Hop or whatever it's called, just looks fucking terrible. I expect more from one of the minds behind "Pootie-Tang." Seriously!

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's 6-6-06...

That must mean it's "National 'Reign In Blood' is the Only Slayer Album I Need to Own Day!"

(Above: metal gods Slayer)

I don't think I'm sufficiently evil enough to get worked up for this occasion. I mean, I'm basically a good guy. I pay taxes. I drink soy milk. During the holidays I even donate hairdryers to chubby orphans. But really, if Halloween is like Christmas for goth kids than I guess today is like Valentine's Day. Only instead of greeting cards, advertisers are pushing a crappy "Omen" remake, a new Ann Coulter book, and Whole Foods' new line of Anton LaVey Veggie Chips. Man, who's going to step up to the plate for Satan and decry all this commercialization, Linus-style ("That's what the mark of the beast is all about, Charlie Brown")?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I'll wait five minutes, but I won't wait a lifetime.

As anyone who’s seen the commercials for Little Man can attest, it shouldn’t be surprising that what will likely be the best film to hit theaters this year was made in the late 60’s. Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece, L'Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows), never made it to the U.S. after it was met with a chilly critical and commercial reception upon it’s 1969 release in France, a reaction that apparently had largely to do with politics at the time. Happily, Mellville’s uncompromising film, which draws on his memories as a fighter in the French Resistence during World War II, looks and feels utterly contemporary, except in the sense that virtually no contemporary film can match it.

This is the third Melville film I’ve seen, following his brilliant neo-noir crime classics, Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge. Dripping with minimalist cool, both films fused the atmosphere of classic American gangster pictures with a kind of enigmatic, Eastern sensibility – Le Cercle Rouge even opens with a phony Buddhist proverb. The stoic characters hurtle toward their inevitable tragic fates while observing their own obscure, samurai-like codes of honor. This approach may sound absurd but the director pulls it off masterfully (John Woo, Jim Jarmusch and, as usual, Tarantino have all cited Melville as an influence).

Amazingly, in Army of Shadows, Melville surpasses both films by transferring that same stylized tone - trenchcoats, fedoras and all - onto a World War II film, while adding several layers of depth and characterization in the process. The film mainly focuses on a small group of Resistence fighters led by Phillipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), an introspective, unassuming source of quiet determination, who’s capable of making any sacrifice to satisfy his convictions. Yet Gerbeir and co. remain deeply human throughout, even while tapping near-inhuman levels of resolve during the film’s most suspensful moments; including one daring, early escape that culminates in a tense sequence in a barbershop. We are also occasionally privy to several characters’ thoughts via voiceovers, but there are no showy gestures or speeches to be found, just a strong aura of fatalism that permeates every action. Joseph Kessel, the resitence fighter and author of the book from which the film is adapted, was reportedly moved to tears by the integrity of the director’s technique. Melville observes everything here with the same realistic, methodical precision he brought to his crime films, while working with a noticeably bigger budget.

The dvd will be out later this year, probably from Criterion, but if at all possible try to catch the restored version in a theater if you can (I believe it’s still playing in DC until Friday and New York currently, with more cities to come) Melville’s technique is so richly cinematic that you are engulfed in the blue tones and shadows on the screen right from the beginning.

Official site from Rialto Pictures.
Read Ebert's "Great Movies" review.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Our only thought is to entertain you.

Hello, select groups of people I know and random disappointed googlers. Welcome to my new "blog," a term which the always-factually-accurate New York Times defined in a May 2006 "business trends" article as "slightly tweaked message board posting, usually concerning duck fat recipes." Beginning quite soon, I'll be posting random musings on torturous minutae when the mood strikes, as well as what might generously be called "amateur" humour (yes, spelled the European way, to hopefully attract Graham Norton fans). Also, if you're put off by self-deprecation you might want to stop reading and see if "Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith" is on ESPN2 or something. However, I invite all of you to come along with me on a pedestrian travelling metaphor. Along the way, we just might learn a few things about each other. For instance, I like chocolate a lot. How about you? Uh huh.... uh huh... wow, that is creepy. Ugh. What are you, Larry Clark or something? But forget all that for now, and let's have some fun (?).