Sunday, December 30, 2007

'07 films (more or less) that I saw in '07

in approximate order of preference

The top tier:









and the rest:













GRINDHOUSE finished dead last (behind the lowly MR. BROOKS) and thus doesn't get a still :p

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This list is as half-hearted as the guy from LCD Soundsystem's vocals

Here they are, my favorite Hott Traxx and Jammz(z) -- accompanied by YOUR least-favorite weak quips -- of '07:

1. Amy Winehouse - "Rehab;" even though this song was a lot more fun before she turned into Shane McGowan with a beehive.

2. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – "Rappaport's Testament: I Never Gave Up;" In a typical example of my denseness, I still don't know the story behind this song. Also, I normally don't place cover songs at the top of my best-of lists, unless the tune in question was originally done by Roxette. Nevertheless, TL really stomps some ass on this Chumbawumba cover. He also made the only (non-comedy) album I was really crazy about this year, which is why there's no albums list yet. I know, where else can you possibly get your fix of year-end listmaking?!?

3. Jay Reatard – "I Know a Place;" I typed out a little ironic routine about this song title answering the previous sentence, but after a bit of reflection I think the prudent course is to acknowledge the coincidence and move on.

4. Feist – "1234;" I already accepted a couple of years ago that commercials are the new radio. I'm sure there's no shortage of people hating on this cathcy song with simple lyrics as they trip over themselves trying to find the next forgettable indie-prog sensation ("They have the pretension of Yes, but none of the competence!")

5. Von Sudenfed – "The Rhinohead;" Mark E. Smith's trademark mutterings seem weirdly suited to dance music. I bet his presence would've even improved that Fatboy Slim concert film (!) I caught a portion of on Starz the other day. At the very least, he'd look better in a Hawaiian shirt than Norman Cook.

6. Radiohead – "All I Need;" Since this was my favorite song on In Rainbows, and my least favorite moment was the sputtering percussion that opens the album, I'm sure I've lost whatever sliver of acerbic credibility I had somewhere.

7. The Black Lips – "O Katrina;" Unless I've completely misinterpreted this song's meaning, I believe it's also about the guy from "Rappaport's Testament," except told from a female perspective. Imagine that subject turning up twice in one year!

8. Heavy Trash - "They Were Kings;" Jon Spencer dispenses with tired rock canon reverence and pays tribute to unsung bands like the Cheater Slicks and Destination Lonely for a change. Can a Doo Rag biopic be far behind?

9. Robert Wyatt – "Just as You Are;" A great duet between Wyatt and his wife Alfreda Benge. Almost as touching as Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg's "Lemon Incest."

10. Iron & Wine – "Boy With a Coin," Loved his homemade debut a few years ago, but that wispy voice doesn't always grab me in a more produced setting. This song did.

Reads 2007

I made some progress this year in turning around my unprecedentedly lazy (for me) reading habits of 2006. I resolved to push dvds (tough), internet (ok) and social events (piece of cake) aside long enough to finish at least one book per month. Some of these were finished as quickly as one day and the longest took three months. This coming year I’m upping the ante to an average of two per month (please, temper your incredulity). That’s right, Tree of Smoke and Brothers Karamazov, prepare to be consumed by a reader of above-average voraciousness. These are in rough order of preference:

The Violent Bear It Away – Flannery O’Connor
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
Immortality - Milan Kundera
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
In Persuasion Nation – George Saunders
Herzog on Herzog - Paul Cronin and Werner Herzog
The Optimist’s Daughter – Eudora Welty
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
*about ½ of the Studs Terkel Reader
The Zanzibar Chest – Aidan Hartley
No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
The Areas of My Expertise – John Hodgman
The Code of the Woosters – P.G. Wodehouse
A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
Slapstick – Kurt Vonnegut
Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock n Roll – Nick Tosches
33 1/3: Loveless – Mike McGonical

Also read a couple of chapters of William Vollman’s Rising Up, Rising Down. I should finish a couple more by the time I retire. Currently reading: The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

Monday, December 10, 2007

Please see "Mr. Brooks" for a real-life version of this game

A few months ago I went through a couple rounds of the "Build-a-Movie Game" on the Friends of Tom board, which as usual only a couple of people participated in (what, does everyone have jobs or something? Pheh). This is where you're given three names and you have to devise a plot for a movie starring all three. Here's what I came up with for my suggestions:

Jim Brown, James Dean, Charo:

Jim Brown and James Dean star in this landmark drama as two men who overcome their racial differences and become closer than brothers, only to have their bond shattered by a pair of ferociously gyrating hips. While researching his family tree, Brown discovers that he and rival construction worker Dean are both direct descendents of the brutal King Leopold II of Belgium, who raped and/or artificially inseminated Congolese slaves and Belgian peasants alike. Stunned by a blood relation they didn't think possible, the two of them steal Dean's father's convertible and embark on a spiritual quest to Mexico, all the while brawling with rednecks and flouting society's corrupt rules. Once they arrive, however, both are tempted by vivacious nightclub singer Charo, who's also married to a famous bandleader/powerful, ruthless gangster (Xavier Cugat as himself). Soon Dean and Brown are rivals again and engage in a knockdown, drag out fight, after which Brown is gunned down in the street by Cugat's henchmen. Dean, overcome with guilt, swears revenge and trails the tuneful thug to his sprawling mansion. There he enacts deadly revenge upon Cugat, only to be coldbloodedly shot and killed by Charo while fleeing the premises (and possibly the premise). The only film ever made by director Brendan Fraser Sr. broke racial barriers across the nation upon its initial release and still has the power to shock today. Don't miss Black Heart, White Pout.


Jay-Z, Betty White, Martin Short:

Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter makes his surprising acting debut in this quirky, sensitive comedy drama from the people who brought you Otters Holding Hands (2009). Jigga plays Norman Westphal, a lonely Tae Bo instructor who spends all his free time collecting 78 RPM records and playing virtual world games like Third Life and Cyber Topeka. The course of his life irrevocably changes when he befriends two fellow eccentrics: Mabel Balducci (Betty White), a crotchety yet lovable ex-Broadway hoofer with Tourette's whose private press records Norman discovers at a friend's garage sale; and neighbor Zazz Gunnerson (Martin Short), a jittery, anxious, facially scarred bus driver who never got over his wife's death in a freak spelunking accident and is also obsessed with 60's French pop. The three of them decide to break out of their shells and embark on an epic cross country trip to New York, where Mabel hopes to nail one last Broadway audition. Due to a series of quirky circumstances, however, they must use a beat-up old jet pack that belonged to Zazz's uncle as their mode of transportation. Watch them hold on for emotional and physical life as they jet pack their way through a hilariously melancholy emotional journey that culminates in Norman's Mabel-inspired decision to cut a rap demo, which he performs in French as a tribute to Zazz. The film will inexplicably be named Boys and Girls in America after the Hold Steady album, and Craig Finn will have a cameo as a Davy Crockett hat-wearing street poet.


Eminem, James Garner, Dabney Coleman:

Marshall Mathers had reitred from the rap game and was enjoying a life of luxury, going so far as to sell his massive white t-shirt collection on eBay and remodel his home studio into a doggie day care center. But his peaceful existence is shattered by the return of a dangerous foe he thought was gone forever: his obsessed “biggest fan,” Stan. Turns out the rapper’s hit single was more autobiographical than he let on, and that the real Stan wasn’t actually in the car that went off the bridge at the end of the song. Instead, it was Stan’s brother Matthew, who was “an even bigger fan” of the rapper and thus had to be eliminated via the old brick-on-the-accelerator trick (NOTE: the authorities were never able to properly identify the bodies of Matthew or Stan’s girlfriend because gaseous pollution from a nearby power plant caused their bones to melt). Now Eminem once again finds himself on the receiving end of threatening letters like this one:

Dear Slim,
Writing a song about my story was in questionable taste
So I’m going to turn you into a form of edible paste.
I saw you last weekend at the Zach Galifianakis show
Now I’ll have to stab your atlantoaxialis lateralis slow


And so on.

Slim Shady becomes even more alarmed after hearing about the grisly murder of Sir Elton John (James Garner, in a taut-yet-flamboyant cameo), with whom he performed “Stan” on the Grammy awards a few years ago. One night, in an elaborate set-piece, Elton is lured to a dinosaur museum where he believes he’ll be performing a benefit show for the Duke of Gloucester. Instead, he finds a hooded Stan waiting for him with a variety of crude but effective weapons fashioned from pterodactyl bones. An elaborate game of cat and mouse follows, culminating in Stan cornering Elton on the roof of the museum. Stan, whose face we never clearly see, pulls a gun and gravely intones “It’s only fitting that one dinosaur should kill another,” before shooting the skylight glass out from under Elton’s feet. The former Rocket Man plunges to the floor, where he’s impaled on a triceratops horn just before impact. Stan looks down at his well-predicted handiwork and spits out a terse “Goodbye English chode” before swiftly fleeing the scene.

Determined not to end up like Elton in any way, Eminem seeks out the one man he believes can help: Phil Collins (played by Dabney Coleman), whose song “In the Air Tonight” Eminem briefly referenced in “Stan” and who he becomes convinced is the disturbed fan’s next target. Having murdered a stalker in self-defense in the early 80’s (an incident which formed the basis of Genesis’ hit “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,”) Collins is widely considered to be a grizzled, deadly expert in such matters. He reluctantly agrees to go along with Eminem’s plan to lure Stan to Collins’ mansion, knock him unconscious, pose him funny, and then call the authorities. While laying in wait in his office for Stan one fateful, stormy night, and with Eminem waiting in the next room, Collins absentmindedly fiddles with some unopened mail, until a certain suspicious envelope catches his eye. He slowly opens it and reads the letter inside, which is printed on Dr. Dre “Chronic 2001” stationary and reveals the movie’s shocking plot twist…

SPOILER

SPOILER

SPOILER

…that Eminem is actually Stan and always has been!!! The letter from Eminem unfurls the whole sick plot: that the stalker Phil murdered was Eminem’s real biological father (who Em repeatedly claimed he never knew); that the rapper’s entire career, the “In the Air Tonight” reference in “Stan,” and the Elton John murder were all just elaborate ploys to gain him access to the scene of his father’s murder (i.e. Phil’s house); that Matthew was actually Eminem’s brother and that Stan’s girlfriend who died was actually Eminem’s ex-wife Kim Mathers, who was later replaced in public appearances by a Russian-born look-a-like paid to go along with the ruse. A sheet-white Collins looks up to see Eminem standing behind him holding the instrument that killed his father: a self-defense drumstick with a retractable blade protruding from the thick end. Eminem maces Collins and rushes at him with the drumstick, but the English rocker instinctually dodges him and the blade becomes lodged in Collins’ desk. While Eminem struggles to free the drumstick from its temporary mahogany jail, a blinded Collins runs through the halls of his sprawling mansion in a desperate attempt to escape. As Eminem stalks him through the house, Collins must also endure the rapper’s newfound love of sinister quips, such as: “Hey Phil, since you can’t see anything does that mean you have an… invisible touch, lol?” (and yes, he pronounces “el-oh-el” out loud to enhance his evilness)

Thankfully, a diversion is provided during the melee by the sudden arrival of R&B singer Phillip Bailey, who dueted with Collins on the #1 hit “Easy Lover” in 1984. Bailey senses that Collins is in danger via some unspecified psychic ability, but almost immediately upon entering the house he’s stabbed with an axe that Eminem finds laying around in the pantry. Collins, having regained sufficient eyesight, seizes this opportunity to sneak up behind Eminem, grab the drumstick, and stab him in the neck in the exact same spot where his father died. As Phil thrusts the blade deeper, he turns the tables on Eminem pun-wise and growls “I’m sending you to ‘another green world,’ which is also a Brian Eno album I played drums on,” just before dropping the rap superstar to the floor in a lifeless heap.

An exhausted Collins then collapses on the floor as we fade to black. When we fade back in, three months have passed and we see Phil sitting in his garden, soaking up sunshine as his maid brings him the mail. A particularly ominous envelope causes him to freeze, and as he slowly opens it we see the letter inside is printed on Dr. Dre “Chronic 2012” stationary. He drops the envelope to the ground in terror and the camera pans in on the return address, which belongs to Eminem’s daughter, Hailie (NOTE: it’ll just say “Hailie,” and in the final cut we realized we didn’t explain that’s his daughter’s name, so I’m telling you now so you’ll know).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Blog with 50 pounds of headlines stapled to its chest

Two of my all-time heroes be rackin' up Frequent Blogger miles lately and are cleared for takeoff to your Fascination Zone (I think it's time to go to bed):

Carrie Brownstein likes q-tips, hates precious music (mirroring my tastes exactly)
Tom Scharpling reviews every James Bond movie ever; mocks Bill Parcells lookalikes.

Also, I thought either No Country For Old Guys or There Won't Not Be Blood would have Movie of the Year honours locked up, but it turns out I'm Not There is a contender too. More on that later. Don't read any other blogs til I get back... not even the ones I linked. If you do, I'll be able to smell it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beowulf

I don't know if I've ever known anyone - including me (not to be confused with the villainous, wraithlike Not Me) - who actually enjoyed this dumb poem. I suppose it's only fitting that they've adapted it into a supremely goofy-looking entry in the "I'M-YELLING-LIKE-BRAVEHEART" genre of film. One thing's for sure, I highly doubt Crispin Glover's performance as Beowulf's monstrous, large-tailed foe Grendel tops my own portrayl of the creature from my Old English literature class in college. Like most of the class exercises from this period, I don't recall what the point was, but everyone had to form groups and act out scenes from the material we had read that semester. I was assigned to portray the scaly villain Grendel, perhaps because my icy paleness fostered rumours of reptillian blood that hounded me throughout my scholastic life. This in-class performance entailed (ho ho) fashioning an elaborate costume that consisted of a fierce nametag pointedly identifying myself as the waste-laying monster, and a prop tail sewn together by a cowed classmate from old pillows or something.

While Sir Dwight Sheckman, the author of Beowulf, portrays Grendel as a fierce killing machine in the early stanzas, I called upon my Methodd* training to unlock the diffident nature at the character's core; disposing of my enemies with appropriately wry nonchalance rather than unseemly vigor. When I was called upon to convey Grendel's panicked terror during his losing battle to Beowulf, I let forth the thundering, soul-shattering utterance, "Ow, my tail;" a moment that so rocked my classmates they had no recourse but to laugh to ease the unbearable dramatic tension in the room. Finally, once I, GrendelChris (the line where my character ended and I began had become distressingly blurred), was dispatched to the icy depths, I compounded my character's misery by intentionally getting my tail caught in the door following my dramatic exit from the classroom. Needless to say, word of my world-beating performance reverberated across select portions of the campus for a good hour or so after class.

But if I may quote one of Sir Sheckman's own lines to reflect the aftermath of this event, "We mayest be thru with Grendel, but Grendel sureth ain't thru with us." I found, dear reader, that one cannot disappear so deeply into the mind of a monster without sacrificing a part of oneself. But what black inner morass spawned in place of my old self? To this day I cannot say, except that it may be nestled in the liver. All I know is, the urge to don The Tail and swat at passerby remains strong, and on some languid nights it's all I can do to summon the strength to supress it. Will I manage to keep the monster at bay? Will Crispin Glover finally pay me some much-deserved royalties? And how will Auntie Anne's pretzels figure into future events? Stay tuned...

*a style of acting that utilizes a concentrated lack of effort to uncover a powerfully incompetent form of dramatic truth; not to be confused with the the "Method" taught by Lee Strasberg, which mainly involves excessive twitching and biting the heads off rodents.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You can't help but compare yourself against the old bloggers.

Cormac McCarthy's recent chat with the Coen Brothers in TIME revealed that over the years, whenever he wasn't building shelter or memorizing antique dictionaries, he had time to see at least a few movies (appropriately enough, he's a Malick fan). Maybe he had at least a flickering thought of a film adaptation in the back of his mind when he was writing his atypically brisk thriller No Country For Old Men, the only one of the six McCarthy books I've read so far that seemed tailor-made for the screen; what with its cattle gun-and-air tank-wielding supervillain, its outrageous but not-undigestible violence, and its ambiguously gay wizards and witches. Thankfully, the Coen Brothers were of course smart enough to realize the potential for cinematic greatness there on the page, provided there was no excessive tinkering. Of course, I read plenty of fretful comments on the intertubes about how the Coens would supposedly ruin the material with their "wink-wink approach," as if that's all they ever bring to the table, and as if McCarthy's work were 100% humorless. I would think both author and filmmakers are at least somewhat bemused, for instance, at the sheriff in No Country who laments the presence of "kids with green hair and bones in their noses" on the streets of small Texas towns, even if the concern for our decaying world is real. So if it looked to you from the previews and trailers of this movie that the Coens nailed it, they did. Well, you could argue the ending is somewhat deflating, but it worked for me, and reminded me how No Country can be seen as a pre-apocalyptic prelude to The Road.

Now bring on the other film of 2007 that looks like some fantasy movie draft pick, There Will Be Blood. Kudos to Paul Thomas Anderson for turning one of the two phrases that guarantee box office success into an actual film title (the other one being There Won't Be Balls).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Just in time for Halloween!

The Shining recently topped some British poll of the scariest horror movies (just take my word for it - don't stifle me with your link orthodoxy, man). This despite the fact that only the beginning of the movie is all that creepy. The rest of it is mostly about Kubrick making a hotel look cool and Jack not having to worry about being too high to act that day. Not that I'm complaining. I could have picked a much scarier #1 than that though; In fact, I think any of these classics would do in a pinch:

Mr. Blandings Builds Your Grave (1950)
The Betamax Throttler (1982)
Friend of Blacula (1978)
The Hag I Saw in Saginaw (1925)
Alien vs. Pitchfork (2005)
It Smudged My Boat Shoes (1998; available for sale on latenightshots.com)
The Baconator (2007; released for a limited time only)
Weekend at Cthulhu’s (1989)
Kraftwerk Treffen Sie den Wolfmann (German, 1977)
Adult Kickball Slaughterhouse (2010; actually a script of mine)
www.yourbrainsbeenslashed/slash/thefilm.gov (1999)
The Cripple That Went Out During the Day (1935)
We Are Zombie Marshall (2007)
Jerry Lewis Meets the West Memphis Three (1994; never released; believed to be destroyed)
MAC and Me (???)

As a side note, you should avoid these at all costs:
Brunch of the Dead (1990 remake)
Don’t Pick Up the Phone Unless It’s Me 2: What Did I Tell You?!? (1974)
The Critic-Murdering Spectre (working title; M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm

...going to see the latest final cut of Blade Runner tonight. Please God, please don't let there be people there dressed as Rutger Hauer and/or Daryl Hannah for Halloween. I can handle Edward James Olmos, but not that. Update to follow later.

Also, complete this sentence:

"Where you're going..." e.g. "Where you're going, they serve fry grease instead of coffee and the jukebox only plays bass solos." OR: "Where you're going, the crowds are so ugly even Paul Stanley doesn't love them." OR, in honour of tonight's movie, "Where you're going, the electric sheep dream of androids for chrissakes! Ooo!" I know you could do better.

UPDATE: OF COURSE no one was in costume. Plus, Edward James Olmos (or "EdJOlm" as the gossip rags call him) was way creepier than I remember. This is now the third version of the movie I've seen, on what is probably the biggest screen in DC. Funny thing is, it's still not THAT good. The Ford/Sean Young relationship is a bore, and a lot of it just kind of drags and feels weirdly inert. The whole appeal of Blade Runner remains about 6% Rutger Hauer and 94% the overwhemlingly amazing visuals. Just think, without that landmark cityscape Billy Idol's Cyberpunk album and all that anime I ignored might never have happened!

By the way, the military ads that seem to run before every AMC theater showing I've been to in the last few years are getting more and more ridiculously overblown. This time we were treated to an interminable, propaganda-laden music video by 3 Doors Down (who I hear just left their label and signed with In the Red) that actually drew jeers afterward. Plus, the total avoidance of Iraq in these ads is bitterly amusing, in a "Screw You, Taxpayer" kind of way.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Misselanius things I like (Did I spell "things" right?)

For starters, I like this comp:
If you intuitively trust two soul/funk/hip hop djs to put together a more interesting rockabilly/jump blues comp than, say, some lumpy wannabe greaser, your trust will be rewarded. As Keb Darge queries in the liner notes, "Why do so many people listen to so much shit today when they haven't heard this stuff yet?"

Whether you dig the new Radiohead album or have already kinda had your 160 kbps fill of it, you may be interested in another commercially viable band that took their sound even further out into abstratct territory. Try downloading this jazz-like (which in my head does not equal "jazzy," or even "jazzgasmic"), occasionally woozy-sounding gem for $6 next.
I like this funny show, which I didn't realize before I bought the dvd is only 9 minutes long and thus all over YouTube:


I really, really like this hardass movie, which is the Ultimate Paul Schrader Film. Taxi Driver was already the Ultimate Paul Schrader Script; I'm sorry the 70's never brought us the Ultimate Paul Schrader Game Show ("How much do you bid for this cache of small arms?"). This film is still not on dvd in the States, so of course I'm obligated to mention it here.

And above all else, I like - nay, love - the "Shreds" videos. StSanders, you are so aptly monikered. You can't not laugh at this:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This whole premise is sweaty.

Hi folks, still dealing with a bunch of shit that I've tried twice to address here, unsuccessfully. One very, very minor issue right now: I really do not want to get back to the usual shallow subject matter of this blog, yet eventually I probably will. So if you're currently not getting enough shallowness from other sources, be patient.

OK, I will mention I recently watched what will hopefully be the only 7 minutes of Californication I'll ever see. I know, it's hard to believe that a show named after a Red Hot Chilli Peppers album could be lame, but hear me out. Within the first 30 seconds it looked pretty clear that this show would be Duchovny's slurpy b l0wj0b to himself, and sure enough what happens onscreen two minutes later? He gets a b l0wj0b! Actually, two of them: once in a dream (in a church! EDGY!), then another immediately upon waking up. I didn't want to stick around for the trifecta. HBO may be looking a little hapless lately, but despite its newfound hype everything on Showtime still looks like half-assed* sensationalism to me. Except for Penn & Teller's libertarian "truthbusting" show, which annoys me in other ways and may have been designed for people who find Bill Maher too cuddly.

One more completely random thing I'll mention, aprops of nothing: Lately I've been craving a neck massage. No, not some creepy variant of a massage either. It's for actual tension. Well, I guess it's kinda creepy in that I don't want one from a professional, but it's still not the premium cable kind, is what I'm saying. Wait, what am I saying?

*in this case, I don't know if I'd necessarily prefer the whole ass.**
** EDIT: It only occured to me this morning that this is the second of three posts this month to use "half-assed" as an adjective. Is "quarter-assed" a phrase? I may have to file it away out of necessity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"It's all a big nothin'" - Livia Soprano*

*not the healthiest fictional character to channel, I know.

Hi, folks - all 4-5 of you - no more posts until November or so. Things are really rough right now. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this gratuitious zinger from the Washington Post review of Drew Carey's Price is Right debut:

Carey was as much spectator as performer. He lacks, at least so far, the ability to control the contestants and keep them from wandering out of camera range during their euphoric conniptions, leaving what might be considered the host's sphere of influence. Carey is something of a sphere himself; when he first came out from the wings at the start of the show, he brought to mind the giant mechanical peacekeeper that went haywire in the first minutes of the movie "RoboCop."

This of course coming from Tom "Pizza the Hut" Shales (as long as we're referencing 80's movies).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Best director ever to inspire an awful Le Tigre song


Every time I read some reference to "mumblecore" (is that still around?) or catch five insufferable minutes of The Puffy Chair on Sundance, I'm tempted to think "What hath John Cassavetes wrought?" Long considered the "patron saint of independent film," not even the best of his microbudget progeny seem to have inherited the kind of odd originality and heavily spiked life juice that pulsates through his finest work -- namely, the entire run from Faces ('68) to Opening Night ('77), along with his "farewell" '84 film, Love Streams (still haven't seen Shadows). A Cassavetes film can be thrilling, albeit exhausting, for viewers who adapt to the extreme emotional shifts and individualistic, drunken language, or just half-assed and irritating for those that don't. But I don't envy anyone that would reject so many wild, priceless moments: Gena Rowlands waiting for the school bus in A Woman Under the Influence; Ben Gazzara taking time out from a forced mob hit to check in on the status of his awful nightclub act in Killing of a Chinese Bookie; Gena suffering through a horrific blind date in Minne and Moskowitz, only to eventually find true love w/ Seymour Cassel and his facial hair; Gena again "shaking things up" for Cassavetes by bringing him a stable of barnyard animals in Love Streams, to name but a few. If you're tuned to Cassavetes' wavelength, the creative rush of his films is still palpable, and certainly very few American filmmakers past or present were ever so liberated in their work, or reached so high for a new mode of self-expression.

But wait, I've just discovered there's more! Cassavetes apparently sought to make great strides not just in filmmaking, but in the realm of wacky talk show appearances as well. Cassavetes, Gazzara and Peter Falk appeared on a full episode of the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, ostensibly to promote Husbands, which as you can tell from the Life cover above was anticipated with much critical fanfare at the time. However, they must have decided the best way to do so would be to try to recreate the film's mad bender vibe on Cavett's show. Dick was a professed Faces fan and remains a great, witty sport throughout his guests' Three Method Stooges act, whereas Letterman would have probably gritted his teeth for five minutes before moving on to the next barely engaged interview. The full episode is uploaded complete with vintage commercials in part one below, as well as parts two, three and four.



Also, here's a bonus slice of Dick Cavett awesomeness (as always, bear in mind my criteria for awesomeness may differ wildly from yours): a great clip from the Orson Welles interview that Gazzara briefly refers to in one of the above clips

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maborosi

I rented this 1995 Japanese film from the director of After Life and Nobody Knows (both unseen by me), on the strength of this youtube clip, which would be gorgeous if youtube were capable of such a thing. The overhead shot with the snowfall beginning -- fantastic. Unfortunately, the US dvd from New Yorker is wretched, much like my attitude in this post. Looks transferred straight from vhs, exactly the opposite of what this carefully composed film demands. Nevertheless, judge this 6 1/2 minutes for yourself.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another unnecessary sequel!

Fuggedabout Schmidt (2009) - Jack Nicholson returns as discontented retiree Warren Schmidt, and this time he's teaming up with mob boss Frank Vincent to steal -- aaaah, fugeddaboutit! Directed by Linc Cassavetes (yup, there's another one).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Well, they say that Santa Fe is less than ninety miles away...


The term “media circus” didn’t emerge until the mid-70’s, but by 1951, Billy Wilder had already literalized the concept onscreen in his caustic satire Ace in the Hole, recently rescued from oblivion by a much-celebrated Criterion dvd release. When a miner is trapped in a cave-in while scavenging for “Indian artifacts” in New Mexico, opportunistic reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) spins the predicament into an epic human interest story that attracts hordes of gawkers, reporters, entertainers, and yes, even a full-fledged carnival (not-so-subtly titled “the Great S&M Amusement Corp.” in a sneaky move past the censors) to the site. While the disgraced, ex-big time reporter seeks to prolong the rescue mission until he can leverage his way back to his old job with a New York paper, the miner’s discontented wife (Jan Sterling) plans to skip town once the story blows over; lining her coffers in the meantime by charging admission to the site.

Ace has a reputation as Wilder’s most cynical study of human nature, and indeed Douglas’ Tatum is one of the meanest bastards ever to appear outside of a gangster picture in a Hayes Code-era Hollywood film. Stridently unethical and verbally, as well as physically, abusive, Tatum seemingly embodies every negative trope of the 50’s-era news business that Wilder and co-writers Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels could throw in; and the film’s contempt for the broadly drawn “Mr. and Mrs. America” types who lap up every tragic detail of the story (and ostensibly resemble a large segment of Hollywood’s usual target audience) is almost equally pronounced. Not surprisingly, the film was such a box office bomb that Paramount never even released it on VHS, and in fact recouped some of its losses from Wilder’s salary on his next hit, Stalag 17.

Unfortunately, Wilder’s cynicism isn’t as perfectly realized here as in masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard; occasionally coming off not only as one-note but insultingly obvious. Tatum’s canny deflection of suspicion from the obviously unwieldy drilling plan also seems like a stretch, until you recall the mainstream media recently took their own sweet-ass time before raising hard questions about the deadly Utah mine disaster. Nevertheless, the film is a must-see not just for its uncompromising tone but because its audacity is complemented to outstanding effect by Wilder’s typically pimped out dialogue and some of the sharpest cinematography of his career.

Ace in the Hole would also make a great double-bill with the even-more prescient A Face in the Crowd (1957). While most Americans today can probably at least acknowledge the distasteful overkill of most media circuses, even as they devote their unhealthy interest to them, plenty are still wholly, gullibly snookered by the sort of sinister, phony folksy charm Andy Griffith lays on in Elia Kazan’s cautionary tale, as evidenced by George W. Bush and that doofy red pickup truck that future washout presidential candidate Fred Thompson uses exclusively for campaign appearances.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Where am I going to get a pair of beautiful women's legs on such short notice?"


(Above: a possible still from Napolean Dynamite 2: Awkward Boogaloo)

Roger Ebert has been covering the Toronto Film Festival and gives a typically generous heads up (Yes, I said "heads up." I dare not infringe his copyright) about the latest Quirky Indie Comedy that will be driving me nuts in a couple of months... probably without me ever actually seeing it. Juno stars Ellen Page as a 16-year-old pregnant with Michael Cera's mumbleseed, and everything Ebert writes about it gives me an uneasy feeling: The film received a warm, loud, standing ovation (So did Clerks II at Cannes. Means nothing. Plus, the audience was probably packed with these shills); The characters in this situation are unlike any others he's seen before (i.e. they're all driven by precocious child logic that has no bearing on reality); and he predicts the film will be "quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time" -- most likely by an audience suddenly demanding their comic heroes stride across the screen decked out in a demeaning mish-mash of 70's/80's/90's retrogeek fashion. Michael Cera doesn't need a goofy costume to be funny, but such sloppy visual cues are apparently the new definition of crowd-pleasing for nostalgia-addled... whipper snappers (there, I said it!) who watch too danged much VH1. Why doesn't that channel ever play Amy Grant videos anymore, anyway?

But, we'll see. I could be very wrong, as I was in my little-read 1997 essay on The Sweet Hereafter, "Tragically Hilarious: Atom Egoyan's Bus-Crashing Laff Hoedown." First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody previously adapted her blog Pussy Ranch - which chronicled her time as an "unlikely" stripper - into a book that landed her this Letterman appearance. Wikipeida not-inaccurately notes that Dave was "imbued with fascination with the sex industry and her observational prowess" during the interview. Hey, it beats listening to Paul Schaeffer's constant cackling. I just found out about Cody 20 minutes ago, but my cold assessment is that her friendly demeanor, calculated wit and anime-ready moniker clearly mark her as a savvy purveyor of Fleshbot-friendly geek chic (I demand that appear as a blurb somewhere). Ultimately, that means she would probably charm me out of my nothin-happenin' schlubdom with ease if we ever met, before she returned to her multitude of fulfilling projects and I to my pretentious Netflix rentals, respectively.

Boy, this post really went in an unintended direction. It's almost like I got my just desserts for complaining about a movie I haven't seen yet; But how could that be?

Update (non-all caps version): I waited until after I posted this to read Michael Hirschon's notes on the proliferation of quirk in The Atlantic, which gets off to an immediately shaky start with its use of the term "Gen-X" but mostly recovers. Looks like I avoided too much overlap, except for a shared disdain of Napolean Dynamite, as Hirschon's big target is Ira Glass. Between this and the Onion's recent smackdown, isn't it odd how there's apparently a This American Life backlash suddenly brewing? For what it's worth, I agree that the one episode of the tv version I saw didn't work at all, with Glass' "And now for something completely different" transitions serving as the nadir. As for a couple of Hirschon's other examples, if anything Arrested Development is more zany than quirky, and Flight of the Conchords ended up charming me to the point where it was my favorite show of the summer. Granted, the only other competition was John From Cincinnati, but still.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Yet more about TheWirethewirethewire

A good read from the Washington Post about the last day of filming. They report the s5 premiere date as Jan 6 - sooner than I thought. So you know what that means: S4 arrives on dvd Dec 4.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

As Philly Boy Roy would say:


"Who does he think he is, Omelet Ertegun?"

Sunday's New York Times Magazine had a feature article on former wanna-be wrestling manager/current Columbia Records co-chairman Rick Rubin, detailing his efforts to save the music industry without having to get up from the comfort of his zabuton. First, I should mention the article is amusingly bookended by Rubin's discovery of a "new" band called the Gossip, who I first saw when they opened for Sleater-Kinney in 2000 and are so popular in England that Beth Ditto bared her corpulent flesh on the cover of the NME. Second, this is more like Rubin-as-Guru PR stuff, rather than an astute appraisal of his credentials as a producer. I'd like to read more about just how "hands-off" his role is during the recording process; surely Slipknot can't be the only band with grievances? That said, one need only type the words "Def Jam" to shore up Rubin's cultural cache, and he was unquestionably a godsend for Johnny Cash's career. There may not have been a Walk the Line and probably a lot fewer reissues if the Rubin-helmed American albums hadn't made Cash marketable to Gens X, Y, XY, YX, MXPX, and so forth. He also deserves credit/blame for extending the Red Hot Chili Peppers' career by at least 15 years, thereby establishing Chad Smith as a national treasure (and ensuring that I will now get tons of google hits for "Chad Smith" + "national treasure").

The article also details some of Rubin's ideas for saving the major music labels, who at one time could weather storms like home taping and the Rock 'N' Wrestling Connection but are now in genuine danger of collapse. I have doubts about Rubin's proposed $19.95 subscription model, but at least he seems to be bringing something to the table other than flailing gestures and the usual contempt for consumers and artists alike. Take Steve Barnett of Columbia's suggestion in the article to start gobbling up artists' touring and merchandise revenue; Not exactly the kind of idea that'll prompt Steve Albini to shutter his recording studio and start a supergroup with Ashlee Simpson, Taylor Hicks and Gibby Haynes.

As for me, I don't pretend to know what could solve the major labels' woes, but I did think of a couple of possibilities while writing this post:

1) Have prominent Dead Boys fan Jim Cramer go on CNBC and beg the Federal Reserve to bail out the music industry like he did in response to the mortage crisis.

2) Expand upon a curious new phenomenon I witnessed firsthand at a club the other night: band elections! Normally, you couldn't drag me out to H St in DC on a Wednesday night to see Rogue Helicoptor Pilot open for These Cupcakes Are Delish, but this was more like a riveting microcosm of our political process than a standard indie rock show. The guitarist, bassist, drummer and glockenspielist of TCAD were all campaigning onstage for the title of Band President, to be chosen by the audience at the end of the show. The lead singer told the crowd he was ineligible to run "under the Van Halen Fairness Doctrine," but that he was promised some sort of honorary title and a specially designed, gold sequined robe from American Apparel as compensation. The singer also introduced scattered "campaign ads" projected on the wall throughout the night - I was struck most by the glockenspielist's heartwrenching tale of having to pay 4% of his art school tuition - and moderated a heated debate during the encore break in which the guitarist called the drummer a "leaden-footed flip flopper," holding up a gasp-inducing cameraphone pic of his rival drumming while wearing flip flops to bolster his claims. The band then handed out golf pencils and paper scraps to the audience and waited until the results were tabulated before playing the last three songs of the night. Unfortunately the voting ended in a tie, necessitating a run-off gig later in the month, but I'm sure Sony or whatever would have the wherewithal to rig it so that doesn't happen very often. At least I hope so, as some of the miffed indie rockers in the crowd started poking each other with the golf pencils, spilling their cheap beer and hurling subtle sarcasm at the visibly cowed band until the club owner politely asked everyone to file out in an orderly fashion, which they did. Maybe next time these kids will learn to run on the only political platform I care about: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

That's it! I'm buying a video camera.

There's literally no reason why you and I should not be making movies and cashing in on awkwardness when a film can be released with this title:

My pitch is for a real-time movie called BRB, about a bunch of hip, underemployed college grads who've recently moved to Brooklyn (i.e. the most fascinating, culturally relevant people on earth), waiting on line to buy the latest iGadget. It'll delve into their very mild disaffection; their slightly inarticulate confusion; their somewhat dwindling trust funds; their struggles to recall the perfect Family Guy scene for every social situation. I don't think "mumblecore" adequately describes what I'm going for. I've been kicking around "shirt-edge" as a genre title. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

People like lists, right? Please tell me people like lists.

Robert Christgau, the Dean of American Windbags, has every Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" critics' poll going back to '71 archived on his website. For no discernable reason, I went through each list and picked my own personal winner for each year from their album and singles lists. In many (i.e. most) cases, my own personal favorite didn't make the list so I had to make due with their choices.

For my own sanity's sake I didn't try to document every snub and absurdity, but I did notice:
- At no point during their 31-year career do The Fall appear to have made either the albums or singles list, yet the Mekons pop up regularly.
- The Go-Betweens were shut out, amazingly, until The Friends of Rachel Worth in 2000.
- Critics reeeeaally hate metal.
- They hated Pink Floyd almost as much.
- I think I've pinpointed 1994 as the year when mainstream pop singles crap out entirely and never recover. There seem to have been surprising numbers of choices in years previous.

Albums:

1971: The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers
(Led Zeppelin IV finished last on their list @ #30, right below Delaney & Bonnie. Haterz.)
1972-73: No poll. Projected winners: Hot Tuna
1974: Big Star: Radio City
1975: Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
1976: Ramones: Ramones
1977: Television: Marquee Moon
(Overrated, according to the spritely lad from Franz Ferdinand, who while explaining his reasons why here clearly illustrates why his band isn't built to last)
1978: Elvis Costello: This Year's Model
1979: Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady
1980: The Clash: London Calling
(a controversial pick, I know. When are the tastemakers finally going to rediscover this obscure gem?!?)
1981: Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls & Marches EP
(winner should either be Black Flag - Damaged, or Minor Threat's first EP. Or Juice by Juice Newton)
1982: Flipper: Album/Generic Flipper
1983: REM: Murmur
1984: Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
1985: Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig
(oh yeah, ties are allowed, apparently)
1986: Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill
(they manage to bounce a few Budweiser cans off the Smiths' heads)
1987: Prince: Sign "O" the Times
1988: Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation
(I know, God forbid someone shouldn’t pick “It Takes a Nation of Millions…” Also, the Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa” didn’t even make their list)
1989: Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique
1990: Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
(happy now?)
1991: U2: Achtung Baby
(Yes, I unreservedly love it. Bite me).
1992: Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted
(not even my favorite Pavement album - that would be CR, CR, while acknowledging Wowee Zowee might be the "best" - but my favorite of this list)
1993: PJ Harvey: Rid of Me
(winner should be Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang)
1994: Guided by Voices: Bee Thousand
1995: PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love
1996: DJ Shadow: Endtroducing…
1997: Radiohead: OK Computer
(Yet another bold, divisive pick. Look, I'm not afraid of a little controversy! The point of this is to set tongues wagging).
1998: Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1999: The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs
A few of the following picks are not-so-emphatic:
2000: OutKast: Stankonia
2001: New Pornographers: Mass Romantic
2002: Neko Case: Blacklisted
2003: Cat Power: You Are Free
2004: Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill
(winner should be Reigning Sound - Too Much Guitar)
2005: Sleater-Kinney: The Woods
2006: Scott Walker: The Drift

Singles:

1979 - The Records: "Starry Eyes"
(I hate "My Sharona")
1980 - Joy Division: "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
1981 - Gang of Four: "To Hell With Poverty"
1982 - New Order: "Temptation"
1983 - Prince: "Little Red Corvette"
1984 - Prince: "Let's Go Crazy"/"Erotic City"
(mostly for the B-side)
1985 – Kate Bush: "Running Up That Hill"
(I'm sure Alan Partridge would agree w/ me)
1986 - Pet Shop Boys: "West End Girls"
(... and its 2007 descendant)
1987 - Public Enemy: "Bring the Noise"
1988 - Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock: "It Takes Two"
(provides the soundtrack to a summer of mayhem in David Simon's Homicide)
1989 - Public Enemy: "Fight the Power"
1990 - Deee-Lite: "Groove Is in the Heart"/"What Is Love"
1991 - Geto Boys: "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"
1992 - Cypress Hill: "How I Could Just Kill a Man"/"The Phuncky Feel One"
(the Suicidal Tendencies reference @ the end of HICJKM helps seal the deal)
1993 - Dr. Dre: "Nuthin' but a ‘G’ Thang"
aaand here's where the rot sets in:
1994 - Nine Inch Nails: "Closer"
(you can toss everything else they did in the garbage if you must, but this was like the goth/industrial/safely freaky/Skinemax "Nuthin' But a G Thang")
1995 - Elastica: "Three Girl Rhumba '95" (aka "Connection")
1996 - Blackstreet: "No Diggity"
("Common People" would've won if we were talking about William Shatner's version)
1997 – Yo La Tengo: "Autumn Sweater" (a really shitty list. Sleater-Kinney's "One More Hour" was my favorite song of this year)
1998 - Aaliyah: "Are You That Somebody"
1999 – N/A; an even worse list. I can't even pick a winner unless I go up my nose [sorry]! No hope; no hope....
2000 - OutKast: "B.O.B."
2001 - Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott: "Get Ur Freak On"
2002 – fucking Missy Elliott again: "Work It"
2003 - OutKast: "Hey Ya!"
(People were practically in shock that an awesome song could still become a ginormous hit by this point. I still maintain that they ripped me off though, as I was using the expression "Hey ya" years before this was released. Plus, I was sued by Rosa Parks before they were. No originality these days!)
2004 - Jay-Z: "99 Problems"
(might've been the 3rd best song on LL Cool J's Radio, but in 2004 it's single of the year)
2005 - Kelly Clarkson: "Since U Been Gone"
(on the level of an okay Pat Benatar song, but by 2005 standards it's practically runnin' s-hit)
2006 - Gnarls Barkley: "Crazy" (winner should be late-period Crazy Frog)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My ancestry's brush with fame... and infamy!

While he's all but unknown to even the most knowledgable historians today, my great-great-grandpa Venison Plowe (our family dropped the silent "P" shortly after his death, although the "l" remained lowercase) was at one time arguably the third or fourth most famous lip reader in western Maryland. I hardly need to remind my readers that entertainment options were scarce around the turn of the century, centered as they were mostly on bible reading, deer tickling and poisoning one's spouse. Therefore, an accomplished lip reader could dazzle crowds far and wide with his "feats of verbal verification," as the posters used to say. Yes sir, folks would travel from as far as Johnstown, PA to see ol' Venison practice his craft. One time he even performed in front of 1,500 people at the county fair, although it's possible that most of the crowd was there to see the follow-up act: a pig blowing into a jug.

Still, it was pretty impressive whenever great great grandpa Venison strapped beaver tails to his ears for soundproofing and attempted to repeat back whatever people said to him from a distance as great as 1.9 yards. I say "attempt" because despite the relatively close proximity and the faultiness of the beaver tail earphones, his guesses were almost always wildly off the mark. An audience member might remark "the fire engine is red" and Venison would interpret it as "The Duchess is swathed in jump rope and blubber." But ol' Venison's piss-poor lip reading skills didn't matter because he had a secret trick: he was also a trained hypnotist! No matter what someone would actually say, he'd hypnotize them and the entire audience into thinking the correct phrase was something like "Zeus has crashed through my skylight wearing a mu'umu'u." Whenever I heard stories as a kid about great great grandpa Venison I'd usually ask why he didn't just bill himself as a hypnotist, since they made a lot more money than lip readers anyway. This usually resulted in me getting a belt to the face from the nearest relative for "asking too many gay-ass questions." Later I discovered that Venison was kicked out of the Western Maryland Hypnotists Guild early in his career and blackballed for "theft of ceremonial robes, improper clucking instructions, and suspicion of buggering somnolent bystanders." All in all, I can't say I blame them.

After the demand for lip readers dried up - along with his hypnotizing ability - Venison "fharted around for a whyle," as he later wrote in his "jhournal." He eked out a living writing trashy stories under a pseudonym ("The Stupendous Gus") for hypnosis magazines like Mesmerised Lasses and Wacky Trance, wallowing in profanity by day and moonshine at night, until he accidentally swallowed a toenail clipper and died in 1917. Not a pretty story, I know, but hey I'd like to see some of the sleazeballs and slave traders in your family tree... jerk!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Teddy Rockstar: Powered by (a) Starbucks (van)

Coincidentally, this went down four years ago tomorrow (it's also on the Dirty Old Town dvd):



In other news, the (most likely series) finale of John From Cincinnati was packed w/ gibberish and malarkey, even by their obtuse standards. The parade at the end was like the goofiest movie Robert Altman never made, although Ed O'Neill had me cracking up. This after the episode kicked off with maybe the greatest non-Al Bundy moment of the series: an aerial shot and montage set to Bob Dylan's "Series of Dreams," culminating in Shaun and the titular Cincinnatite surfing back down to Earth. It would have been even better with a "Lawrence of Arabia"-style POV shot of Butchie and Kai watching them emerge as a speck on the horizon. The tragedy of all this is that future generations will never understand the unique grip that John From Cincinnati held on our collective psyche, and we'll have to settle with telling our grandkids exactly where we were when Palaka's tattoo got infected.

Oh, and you want some unexpected synergy between Ted Leo and JFC? Here ya go.

Friday, August 03, 2007

New Derrière Rising

Jon Swift picks apart the "Derrièrists," thankfully only a few of whom are publicly enjoying another touchdown dance following the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni. For my part, I love, love Bergman, obviously, and liked L'avventura when I saw it a few years ago, but I couldn't get into The Passenger at all (I'll give it another chance at some point) and really don't care for Blow-Up, aside from this wicked scene and maybe one or two others. Check out this great letter to Ebert from the actor who played the corpse in Blow-Up. He was originally supposed to have a bigger role, but the film was shut down and pieced together in editing due to Antonioni going over-budget. The producer was a tad peeved that Antonioni was spending money on painting grass a different shade of green and sprucing up houses and the like.

Also came across this quote on Bergman's passing: "I am proud to say he treated me exactly like his other children - with no interest whatsoever." - Lars Von Trier

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman RIP



(Taken mostly from Nostalgia Party No. 2 and DVD Beaver)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Guess what I found at a yard sale for $2

A 1967 acetate of the Velvet Underground covering Christmas tunes, including "Here Comes Santa Claus" with an unusually festive Nico on vocals, a 37-minute "Twelve Days of Christmas," and a version of "European Son" with sleigh bells. It also includes an untitled Thanksgiving song about a guy who stuffs his head in a turkey to impress a transsexual and then falls off a construction beam to his death. You can even hear Lou Reed yelp at the end after John Cale drops a viola on his foot. Look out, eBay!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Will success spoil... uhm, this guy?

(Above: Steve Carell, the beefy version)

If watching a dozen or so characters on John From Cincinnati enact their own personal "Waiting For Godot" each week isn't doing it for you, and if you're like me and have come to the cold, hard realization that once The Wire is done, HBO's golden age of dramas is offically kaput (have you heard about their softcore, utterly tedious-looking , relationships-are-hard show?), you might find something watchable on AMC, of all channels. The first episode of Mad Men (check out that blatant HBO ripoff website design), Matthew Weiner's new show about advertising executives in 1960, shows promise of developing into something good. Weiner was a writer and executive producer of The Sopranos, and if you're guessing a Sopranos writer's take on early 60's ad men might be a bit jaded, well then perhaps you can tell me whether or not magic plays a role in the new Harry Potter book. Even for the time period, the first episode overdoes it a bit with the "hey toots" office sexism, and revels too easily in the irony of a prominent tobacco campaign (see this disappointed Slate review for more gripes), but compellingly square-jawed protagonist Don Draper shows enough flashes of Tony Soprano-like duality and shading - mainly during scenes with a female client - that you'll probably want to know where Weiner is taking his character within the context of the boozy, socially uneasy time period. By the final scene, the glimpse of the seemingly unattached Draper's home life even constitutes something of a surprise. The show's production values are also easy enough on the eyes to make us think we're in capable hands. Strong, burly, capable hands. What? You said something? No? Huh. Man, that redheaded secretary is stacked.

The next encore of the premiere is this Wednesday @ 10. As you can tell by the opening paragraph, The House Next Door is pretty enthusiastic about it and has promised the next few episodes turn it up a notch. And hey, what's that in the preview for episode two, a therapist's couch? Oooh, they really are trying to ease my Sopranos withdrawl.

"When do this shit change?" - Bunny Colvin

Alan Sepinwall succinctly summarizes just a few of the reasons why the Emmys are a joke here, and it's a bitter joke indeed that The Wire has been so pointedly ignored every year aside from a writing nomination for season three. Amazingly, it didn't even crack the list of top 10 Best Drama finalists that leaked a month or so ago. Of course, the Emmys are just continuing their tradition of shunning anything that comes out of Bawlmer, beginning with their repeated Homicide snubs in the early 90's (I checked and The Corner did get some nominations in the miniseries category). At this point, I even picture the voters sending David Simon anonymous, taunting e-mails: Hey Baldy, hope you're enjoying your lake trout subs in "Charm City." I was playing squash w/ Kelsey G. when I got a text about your latest goose egg. Maybe some day you'll make a grown-up show in a real city with an actual star like Billy Baldwin or Billy Pullman... or even Billy Connolly (news flash, Mr. Reporter: he's versatile). Until then, go choke on a crabcake, loser. Yerrrp! Sincerely, "Olympia Bukakis"

Of course, Deadwood hardly fared any better, aside from some production nods (nice to see that backbreaking budget pay off!), but that's no surprise as you can only throw out the word "cocksucker" so many times before you start to turn off voters (just ask Bill Moyers). 30 Rock did get a comedy series nom, but a win probably wouldn't do them any more good than it did Arrested Development. And where, oh where, was the love for Daddy's Hoes on the CW, starring Michael Rappoport's brother, Ahmnott? This was their year, cocksuckers!

Friday, July 20, 2007

I've pulled out all the stops for your Friday afternoon frolicking

Back in my "nomad years" (as Bush once referred to a significant chunk of his adult life), I would occasionally kill a few minutes by filling out sarcastic answers to mind-numbingly pointless surveys on MySpace. Some people said they found these amusing, which I could tell meant they actually considered them to be "incandescent bursts of epoch-defining hilarity" (their thoughtwords, not mine). I don't know whether or not the following survey ascends similarly glorious heights, but since I've got a whole blog to sustain with my regurgitated nonsense I thought I'd spit one up and let you be the judge.

Things you may or may not know about me - in particular order

A) Four jobs I have had in my life
1. Pudding impresario
2. Voice actor on “Lil’ Allman Brothers” cartoon
3. Dick Gregory impersonator
4. Manager of legally permissible “Chuck F. Cheese” restaurant

B) Four movies I watch over and over:
1. Lilya-4-Ever
2. Lilya-4-Ever
3. Lilya-4-Ever
4. Is that weird?

C) Four places I have lived:
1. Funny answer
2. Hilarious answer
3. Sidesplitting answer
4. Existential answer peering into the bottomless depths of the human soul

D) Four TV Shows I watch:
1. 30 Rock
2. QI: Quite Interesting
3. John Gibson From Cincinnati
4. Dateline NBC Will Decide Who Lives and Who Dies

E) I have been to:
1. the mountaintop
2. heaven and back
3. paradise, but I’ve never been to me
4. Crackerjack Cal’s Peanut Butter-and-Rape Whistle Emporium in Gaithersburg

F) People who e-mail me (regularly):
1. Jimmy Two Arms
2. Jimmy Four Legs
3. Jimmy Seven Nipples
4. Jimmy Thirty Helens Agree

G) Four of my favorite foods:
1. Veal Smoothie
2. Kiwi Burger
3. G. Gordon Liddy’s Cinnamon Bologna Treats
4. Spice Must Flow… wait, no, that’s my favorite Spice Girl

H) Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Australia (“Lotta flies there.”) What about New Zealand? (“Uhhh…”) Sold.
2. Japan (“What? No you wouldn’t”). Yeah, you’re right. I just wanted to seem worldly.
3. Norwegian cuddle party. Norwegians are renowned for their excellent, highly refined cuddles (“That’s it. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m done with you.”) What do you mean? (“The lame, smart-alecky tone; the stunted frame of reference; the desolate, lonely existence") Hey! ("Look at you, wasting time on this adolescent bullshit at your age because you know that after twenty-eight years treading this planet you've still got nothing original or interesting to say. Well, I can’t take it anymore. You. Are. Pathetic. Goodbye.”) Ah, you’ll be back. You're totally at my mercy. Hey! What time are we going to Chipotle later? (“….”) Hello?
4. The world from Tron. The denizens of Tron reportedly have access to better health care than the United States. (“….”) No? Nothin’? (“….”) Huh. He’s really gone, I guess. (“Oh thank God, you’ve gotta help me!”) Huh? (“Right after I left you I ran over an old lady with my Lexus. I killed her!”) You drive a Lexus? (“What? Didn’t you hear me?? I’m in serious shit here, man!”) … (“Hell-ooo!”) Heh… oh, look a daffodil… heh. (“….”) Certainly are a lot of them this time a year (“You fucker. You fucking… pigfucking… fucker.”) Hey, come on! (“You’re not going to help me are you?”) Well, you were the one who said you were done with me and put on a big production about it. (“You were being stupid! C’mon, remember when I saved you from those drunken frat guys who were going to kick your ass?”) That’s not how I remember it. (“WHAT?”) I was about to put that one guy in the Crippler Crossface. (“Come on, man, don’t do this now, I hear sirens!”) Of course, I would never use that move now, for obvious reasons. (“Oh God, I gotta get outta here. I’ll see you in hell!”) Hey, can I have your Playstation?

I ) Four friends I think will repost:
1. Friends. Hmph. Some friend I am.
2. When my friend needed me, because he murdered an old lady, where was I? Well, I was standing in front of him, but my point is, what was I doing? Nothing except nursing my all-too-easily bruised ego over some petty slight, that’s what.
3. I mean, the way I am, I let my nuts hang everywhere I go. That’s just a fact of life. But where’s it gotten me? Why do I run away from everything and leave the earth scorched behind me? Is it because of some innate flaw in my genetic code or do I have the capacity for change?
4. Oh, I know who will repost this: my dumbass cousin, Leslie. She’ll probably answer with a bunch of stupid shit though LOL.

J) Things I am looking forward to this year:
1. New Coen Bros and PTA movies
2. Exciting new internet memes.
3. Anything that will continue to distract me from the black, tangled morass that is my life
4. Disrupting a hot dog eating contest for no reason. I wonder if bagpipes will suffice or if I should go the IED route.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Edward Yang: a belated RIP.

I didn't want to say anything about the terrible, untimely passing of Edward Yang on June 29 - after a seven-year battle with colon cancer - until I had a chance to rewatch his outstanding, international breakthrough film Yi Yi (A One and a Two), regarded by many as a masterpiece and sure to go down as one of the best films of this decade. It seems like I'm always saying I don't have time to review anything on this blog beyond a couple of paragraphs, and although that's lately been true, I would like to say something more in depth about this film at some point, since a simple description can't convey the deeply cinematic impact of this thoughtful, ambitious study of urban family life in Taiwan (full disclosure: I'm never actually going to get around to it). Unfortunately, this is the only Yang film available on dvd here, or indeed in much of the world, apparently, although maybe distributors will finally get a move on now that the Unintended Spotlight is shining. Criterion released a typically handsome and much-needed edition last year with an absolutely perfect cover (once you've seen the film, you'll know why) that I highly recommend.

And really, how can you not trust me after I proclaimed the Jodorowsky box set to be the release of the year back in January, despite the fact that I can really only recommend the symbolism overload of Holy Mountain? Yes, I'm backing off that claim now that I've come down from my pineal gland high, although I did finally get around to watching HM with Jodorowsky's predictably entertaining commentary and will soon do the same for El Topo. I lost count of the number of times Jodorowsky took credit for inventing or presaging some later trend or event in the film, everything from the internet to the Shining Path to rock stars wearing black nail polish. Just think if Cameron Crowe or somebody had ever filmed their own scene where an androgynous old man breastfeeds someone from two baby leapord heads on his chest. There'd be no end to his crowing (no pun intended).

Does anyone remember that Jane's Addiction album, "Rich Hall Will Hit You All?"*

I just discovered this popular and not-dumbed-down in the slightest (Trebek!) UK quiz show, QI: Quite Interesting, hosted by Stephen Fry, where the panel of comedians are asked seemingly odd questions as an excuse to reaveal and riff on obscure facts. Points are awarded not for boring or obvious guesses but for the most creative. There's lots and lots of episodes on YouTube that I can tell are going to be cheering me up regularly for the forseeable future... once I've exhausted all the Tay Zonday clips, that is. Here's one random excerpt:



*Still one of my favorite Jon Wurster-isms

Monday, July 09, 2007

Yes, Stop Making Sense could have been even better.

Embedding has been disabled, but check out these shit hot Talking Heads live clips filmed for Italian tv in 1980, starting with Psycho Killer. The only thing hotter than Tina Weymouth here is Adrian Belew's ridiculously great guitar work. I'm saying this for free!!!

Oh, and speaking of SMS, I attended an outdoor screening of it a month or so ago in Silver Spring as part of this year's Silverdocs festival, where Jonathan Demme got the lifetime achievement award thingie. It's virtually impossible to tire of the film, and I was surprised by the number of indie-looking kids who joined the thirty-and-forty-somethings in the impromptou dance section. There was even a bit of audience participation during "Life During Wartime" when a group of kids and possibly their parents mimicked Byrne's jogging* by running circles around the screen. Unfortunately, my attempt to dance with a lamp was met with outright mockery and hostility, as it was a table lamp I made in woodshop in eighth grade, and I kept beaming people in the head with it and anachronistically yelling "Y'all ready for this?" until I was chased away by festival organizers. I consoled myself by pondering what the early Rocky Horror pioneers must have endured.

*also pronounced Will Ferrell-style as "yogging," just as I similarly refer to "blogging" as "bjogging," much to my family's shame.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Bicameral Book Club: Prepare to be smited, Oprah.


How many novels leave you not only captivated within the first paragraph, but also moved? Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning second novel - published some 24 years after her renowned debut Housekeeping - accomplished that for me. Gilead is constructed as a series of first-person letters from 1956 written by John Ames, a 76-year old Iowa minister suffering from heart disease, for his young son who will grow up having never really known him. Neither the setting nor choice of narrator are the stuff of which edgy cult followings are made, and the premise may sound a little mawkish, but while Ames has no pretense of being a brilliant theologian, he is nonetheless a wise, mature individual whose thoughtful musings offer readers more than stock platitudes. There are careful considerations of faith prompted by encounters with Ames' scholarly, atheist brother Edward and the works of the philosopher Feuerbach that will likely prove to be crucial selling points for some non-Christian readers. Elsewhere, Ames vividly recounts family history and anecdotes for his son, such as a grueling childhood trek with his father to Kansas in search of a relative's grave, that show off Robinson's period research.

I took my time with this book and will likely read it again at some point, as its meditative pace almost reflexively demands, and certainly rewards, careful consideration. Robinson's characterization of Ames is mostly flawless, only rarely lapsing into uncharacteristically "authorly" sentence structure throughout the letters. Conflict does arise when Ames' unrelated namesake John Ames Boughton, the n'er-do-well son of a dear friend and fellow minister, returns to town after a mysterious absence, stirring feelings of bitterness and anxiety for Ames that thankfully play out in non-melodramatic fashion. Above all, the book transcends bland "life is beautiful" sentiment with its uncommon serenity and, yes, grace. It's one of those works that can almost subtly affect a person's outlook, and may come as a great relief in these relatively vulgar times (yes, this is the second post in a row that derisively references our "times." I'll be further exploring this topic in my new screenplay, "It's Codgerin' Time," which I'm hoping will be picked up for development by Richard Branson's new family channel, Virgin Kids)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Unexamined Hype

(Above: Needs more clutter)
Even in these generally mediocre times, I find the idea of unconditional fanboy excitement for the Transformers movie a little weird (unless you just find the idea of someone wearing a Strokes t-shirt in 2007 delightfully absurd). Market researchers would likely consider me among the target audience for this thing: I grew up with the toys and cartoon series, pestering my poor mother to buy me the latest Dinobot playset... although it wasn't until years later that I found the nerve to get the 2Pac-esque "Collect 'Em All" gothic-lettered tattoo that now adorns my rippled stomach. Yet I can't say I look back on something that was so nakedly about selling merchandise with any sense of fondness or nostalgia. Is there anyone alive who can say their imaginations or development were enhanced in any way by this stuff? Weren't these toys and cartoons nothing more than a placeholder for bored latchkey kids? If anything they might have helped prepare kids to shamelessly covet inessential, clunky, status symbol gadgets like iPhones as annoying adults. I will admit that the Transformers universe wasn't totally devoid of personality: my hazy memory ranks the comic book series as above average, and the original 1987 animated movie was kind of a weird head trip for kids in that it elaborately killed off several of the most popular characters (i.e. the ones that had the best voice actors). It also gave birth to the sub-Journey power ballad "You Got the Touch," which was later hilariously recycled in Boogie Nights. Plus, there were a couple of evil robots that turned into a tape deck and cassette (most likely an R. Stevie Moore mixtape). That's pretty cool.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Send in your school lunch PSA's now

If anyone's interested, I'll be spinning some tunes on WFMU's Listener Hour this Saturday @ 9 am. It'll also be archived here forevah shortly thereafter. I was surprised when Brian Turner agreed to let me host a one-hour salute to Better Than Ezra, but there you have it!

UPDATE: Well, I think it went well, even though an angry legal missive from Better Than Ezra's manager (who curiously uses Hello Kitty stationary) forced me to nix the tribute idea a scant few hours before airtime. Here's the playlist I came up with on short notice:

Abbey Lincoln – Lonely House
Lull – Moments (excerpt)
John Cage & Kenneth Patchen – The City Wears a Slouch Hat (excerpt)
Stan Kenton – Thermopylae

Kathy McCarty – Hey Joe
David Darling & the Wulu Bunin – Ku-Isa Tama Laug
Hugh Masekela – A Long Ways From Home
The Triffids – Wide Open Road
The Flatmates – Shimmer

Compulsive Gamblers – Sour and Vicious Man
Chosen Gospel Singers – It’s Getting Late in the Evening
Cheater Slicks – Train of Dreams
The Caretaker – We Cannot Escape the Past
Weekend – Nostalgia (demo)

Roky Erickson & 27 Devils Joking – You Don’t Love Me Yet
Harley Hatcher – Satan (Theme)
Scientist – Blood on His Lips

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hey, whatever happened to that Lyman guy, anyway?


I just realized I completely forgot to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog a few weeks ago. If I had my druthers (and by the way, who doesn't love the word "druthers?" It sounds like an antiquated type of cowboy paraphernalia, but nope, it's just a word that denotes a personal preference), I would have marked the occasion not by looking back at all the laughs we've shared ("Uhhhm...") and the hundreds of comments I've received ("Errr... hmmmm...."), but by offering a sneak peak at some of the amazing, imaginary posts I have lined up for the next year; Including:

- A hilarious account of my ill-fated attempt to buy a used English Beat cd on half.com; a transaction that took me across several state lines and into the belly of North Dakota's vicious underground llama-fighting ring. Get ready for some intense jpegs.

- The highlights of my predictably controversial interview with female "shock comic" Dawn Mexico, conducted at the Old Pancake House during a tour stop here in Bethesda. According to the Cleveland Examiner, Dawn's pig-filthy, misogynistic, blatantly racist jokes about illegal immigrants, Cindy Sheehan and the Dalai Lama's twisted sex life "make Lisa Lampanelli look like Maya Angelou." During our talk, Dawn did a routine involving a well-known brand of syrup that was so upsetting I had to walk outside to gather my thoughts, whereupon another patron tried to jam their fork into her hefty thigh. Don't miss it!

- Also, get ready for a sampling of the dozens of unpublished letters I've written to Veranda magazine over the years, lambasting them for their paltry gazebo coverage and frequently digressing into lyrical accounts of my lifelong love of carrots. I call this series A Bustler in the Hedgerow: 2000.

And more! This year's gonna be big, folks. I think this will finally be the year the blog gets a google hit! Just think, someday you'll be able to say you "knew me when!"