Monday, January 29, 2007

Get Yourself A College Girl (1964)

I caught this great movie on TCM the other day. Your basic teenage "Beach Party"-style movie, but had some great musical performances. And although the plot is basically pure silliness, it's definitely better constructed than most entries in the genre (having just forced myself to sit through the entirity of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine a few weeks ago, I can tell you that there definitely is a difference). Most importantly, it's got some great musical performances. The Dave Clark Five are the headliners, and The Animals appear as well. It's clearly pretty early in The Animals' run--they don't perfom "House of the Rising Sun," which leads me to believe that this was filmed before their first big hit. And they end with "Round and Round," the Chuck Berry song that the Stones would cover on one of their first records.

The Standells are also in there, sounding much more poppy than the band that would record "Dirty Water" a few years later. But it's not all rock music. There's a great scene of Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz performing "The Girl From Ipanema" in a nightclub, and another nightclub scene featuring the Hammond B-3 stylings of Jimmy Smith! But the true scene-stealers are a group I've never heard of, who seem to be straddling the rock-n-roll generation and the Vaudeville generation, the perfect act for The Ed Sullivan Show--The Rhythm Masters. They're a 7-piece band who play a sort of rocked-up Dixieland that wouldn't be that much of a stretch to compare to Squirrel Nut Zippers. They play their song with a LOT of energy, doing choreographed jumps around the stage like a British Invasion-era Fishbone. And then, when they finish the song, the whole band lines up and does a TAP DANCE. I was really hoping there would be a clip of this on YouTube, but alas, I couldn't find one. And, just for extra coolness, many of these performances take place in tiki bars! There's a more detailed assesment of this movie here.

As I'm rereading The Crying of Lot 49 right now, I notice that it seems to be referencing this sort of movie, with The Paranoids following the main characters around, and some of the slapstic comedy included, which makes sense since it was published in 1965. Which makes me think of a really cool "What If?", imagining Pynchon selling his work as a screenplay instead of a novel. Lot 49 as a Beach Party movie? Well, it wouldn't be much weirder than Dr. Goldfoot.

Screencaps from So Wrong They're Right

This is one of the DVD's that Other Cinema Digital sent me. I only mentioned it briefly in the column, but it's a pretty cool docuemntary about people who collect 8-track tapes. So here's a few screencaps of 8-tracks.

There were, I think, 3 different people who displayed their Metal Machine Music 8-tracks, along with one Berlin, several VU albums, and lots of Lou Reed. Apparantly, Lou really resonates with the 8-track crowd. Actually, one of the coolest parts was one guy who noted there was a 30-second instrumental on the 8-track of Berlin that's not on any of the other formats!

Apparantly, Pussy Galore released an 8-track pressing of Dial M for Motherfucker! That's pretty cool. I know someone was displaying a Stooges 8-track, but I couldn't find it when I went looking for screencaps.

And there were these three guys, I guess they were a band, living in a house with thousands of 8-tracks. Look at that! Insane!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Vol. XVIII

Announcing the premiere of my new column at The Fake Life, The Digital Underground, wherein I spotlight DVD's from indie and micro distributors, beginning with a look at Other Cinema Digital. I'm pretty excited about this whole prospect, since this is exactly the kind of thing I want to write about. And of course, you should always Dowhatchalike. By the way, if anyone out there has any contacts in micromarket DVD game, be sure to send them my way.

I missed a great show the other night, forgetting that L.A. is a big enough place that even a band as obscure as Deerhoof (my current favoritest band in the whole, wide world) can sell a place out. And my current favoritest rapper, Busdriver, was opening! Aaaargh, the pain, even though I know that my agorophobia would probably have kept me away anyhow! But anyway, L.A. Weekly stories on Deerhoof and Busdriver as consolations. And Jonathan Gold waxes poetic (as only JG can) about black truffles at Bistro K, where I will never be able to afford a meal.

Chowhound, recently purchased by C-Net, has undergone some changes. There were problems with the switchover, and people responded with typical internet hysteria (MAROON CAUSES ME PHYSICAL PAIN!!!). But the good news is that Jim Leff apparantly got enough money fromt the sale to go on an endless chowhound roadtrip. I'm catching up on his daily blogging now, and it's amazing. Of particular interest to BBQ hounds is the revelation of the best way to order Carolina Q ("outside brown"), and a great entry entitled The Greatest (Chowhounding) Story Ever Told. He's stuck some mp3 podcast files in there that are great listening--be sure to check out the one in that post about the Family Diner!

Meanwhile, on the boards, a gigantic discussion of The Best Mexican Food in L.A. (which, as I note, is like trying to settle on the Best Square-Inch of Salma Hayek). And on the Tiki Central board, a discussion of The Lucite Wall at Kelso's, a defunct L.A. eatery that sounds like it must have been a truly amazing place.

Damn, there's a lot of good sites for mp3's of old punk records! Last Days of Man on Earth posted the first Flipside Vinyl Fanzine, with great tracks from my favorite Flordia bands, F and Gay Cowboys in Bondage, then followed it up with Code of Honor's Beware the Savage Jaw LP. KBD Records has The Rhythm Pigs' amazing An American Activity 7" (this is an older post, but I just found it, and the mp3's are still up--it has "Radio Silence," one of my favorite punk tunes), and 7" Punk constantly kicks ass, with records by The Dickies, Channel 3, Bad Brains, and this mid-70's oddity. Meanhwile, Vinyl Mine severely disses my favorite Meatmen album.

Who's your favorite Black Flag singer: Keith, Chavo, Dez or Henry? (Survey says...Dez!)

Super Soul Brother!

Plasticland, another great fake-60's album from the 80's (goes great with the Dukes of the Stratosphere EP). (EDIT: damn, turns out that's not the Plasticland album I thought it was, and not as good, either.)

Guillermo Del Toro on Fresh Air. One of the best interviews I've heard from him. "Some people accept Jesus into their heart. I accepted Godzilla into my heart."

The Dresden Dolls on NPR.

Bush and the Sanctity of Human Life.

God Hates Fags: The Video. (EDIT: more info here.)

Papercraft Fun: Beginners here, intermediate here, here and here, advanced here! Hours of fun!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Friday YouTube: Butthole Surfers!

Well, it's Friday somewhere by now, and anyway, it's about time I got around to THE GREATEST ROCK BAND IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE!!!!!

Back in Athens, I rented this video of short films by Alex Winter. It had a couple shorts that had the same basic aesthetic as Freaked, but weren't as funny. Unlisted, at the end of the tape, was this video. The two shorts are on the Freaked DVD, but this isn't (unless it's a hidden easter egg somewhere).

This one was on a video from around 1989 called Impact Video Magazine, Issue 1 (as far as I know, there was never an issue 2). It was hosted by Alex Winter and had bits about Janes Addiction and Public Enemy, a great interview with Robert Williams, Bill Hicks talking about the Bush administration (the first one), and this stuck at the end.

Live insanity from the Blind Eye Sees All video.

This is a video from one of their later albums, Independent Worm Saloon. The music is a bit more traditional. That guitar riff is straight outa the Tony Iomni songbook. Wild video, too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Noms

I don't really take the Oscars very seriously. I watch it every year, and make a little party of it. I like the pageantry, I like picking my favorites in each category and rooting for them, and I cheer whenever someone I really like (say, Peter Jackson or Philip Seymour Hoffman) wins. But I don't really care much about what movies get Oscars. Still...this is some sad shit.

Li'l Miss Sunshine is a nice little movie, but the idea that it could get a Best Picture nomination in any year, much less an exceptionally good year like 2006, is absurd. And it's pretty inexcusable for Alfonso Cuaron not to get a directing nomination for Children of Men, although I'm pretty happy to see Greengrass get a nom for United 93.

Entertainment Weekly, for the first time in as long as I can remember, used that last page for something actually useful a few weeks ago. Mark Harris wrote a very persuasive column blaming the general suckitude of Oscar in recent years on the Academy's decision to move the nominations up by a month. Definitely worth a read.

But whatever. I reckon Scorsese will finally get his director award, just because it's become such an embarrassment to the Academy. Although, according to the AOL headlines, if he doesn't win it this year he sets the record for most noms with no wins, which would be pretty funny. I figure the chances of Greengrass winning are about nil, so I'll root for Marty (even though I still haven't seen his movie).

And I'll be rooting for Eddie Murphy and Forest Whittaker, both coming off Golden Globes wins, if you believe that means anything. I can't imagine anyone beating out Helen Mirren and Jennifer Hudson in their respective categories (and voters like these cute stories, like Mirren winning the Emmy for playing Elizabeth I and the Oscar for playing Elizabeth II, or Hudson losing American Idol but winning the Oscar).

Dreamgirls getting shut out of Best Picture is a big surprise. I don't really have anyone to root for in this race--the only one I've seen is Little Miss Sunshine! Volver not getting the nom for Foriegn Language Film is also surprising, but I guess that makes Pan's Labyrinth a lock, so that's cool by me. I'm guessing Pan's is also a strong contender for Makeup and Art Direction.

The Documentary Feature category is pretty tight, but I reckon Al Gore's star power will lead An Inconvenient Truth to the Oscar. Hollywood liberals will like the idea that they can influence the next presidential election by giving Gore an Oscar, whether that's true or not. The editing race looks really interesting to me. Usually, a film like Babel, where you have multiple storylines interacting, has an advantage in that category, but I think United 93, shown in something like real time and fusing together the same story from multiple viewpoints, is even more impressive. And then we have Children of Men. If those insanely long shots are actually (as has been hinted) edited together from multiple shots, then that's a pretty impressive feat of editing. Then again, if the transitions were smoothed out with CGI, is it really editing, or a special effect?

EDIT: Forgot to mention, the best reason to watch this year is the lifetime achievement award to Ennio Morricone. Maybe they'll show a clip from Danger: Diabolik! At any rate, that will be fun.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, 1932-2007

Robert Anton Wilson, my favorite wacky hippie writer, died last week. Wilson's best known work was the Illuminatus! trilogy, co-written with Robert Shea. I first read this book during my last year of college, and by the time I was two thirds through it, it had become my favorite book of all time (knocking Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues out of the number one spot). Illuminatus! is like Foucalt's Pendulum written by acid heads. Every page is alive with ideas, philosophical discourses, puns, jokes and conspiracy theories. That's what the book is mostly concerned with--the question of whether there is a masonic secret society that controls every aspect of the world's governments from behind the scenes, worshipping ancient gods out of H.P. Lovecraft, and being thwarted by equally secret societies of goddess-worshipping followers of chaos who communicate with dolphins from their secret submarines. It also proposes that John Dillinger lived long enough to witness the Kennedy assasination, and explains the secret meaning of "Kick Out the Jams." Furthermore, the book is a clear source of inspiration for The Church of the Subgenius, Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, a bizzarre card game, and probably the upcoming Jim Carrey film The Number 23.

I should probably note that at the time, I was in a mental state that was perhaps overly susceptible to Wilson's writings. Coasting through college, I was basically stoned all the time and taking frequent trips on mushrooms and acid, while living in a small town where the police had little to do but bust college kids for drugs. Indeed, the neighbors I shared a duplex with got busted in the middle of the night one night, and we were very sure that we were next. Some more friends got busted shortly after I left. So I had a weakness for the type of paranoia that Illuminatus! was playing with.

Most of Wilson's ideas seem to have come second-hand from William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, Carl Jung, Buckminster Fuller, Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, Carlos Castaneda, Phillip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, Terrence McKenna and others, but he mashed them together and added his own twisted sense of humor, creating a Paul's Boutique of ideas with a never-ending capacity to entertain (at least to entertain me). Randomly opening one of his books, one will inevitably find an interesting sentence.

"..government is a hallucination in the minds of governors."

"The error of most alleged Libertarians--especially the followers(!) of the egregious Ayn Rand--is to assume that all property is property."

"'The moon has a fat jaw tonight,' he said in Italian. 'Looks like someone punched her in the mouth.'"

I was considering going back and rereading the book last summer to see if it held up. After all, it's been 15 years since I last read it, and my ideas about literature have become somewhat more sophisticated. I suppose I'll probably read it this summer for sure. In the years since, I have read a few of his other books.

The Shroedinger's Cat trilogy is the fictional follow-up to Illuminatus! A lot of it is based on ideas from quantum physics, especially the idea of infinite parallel universes. The story constantly slips from one universe to another, where details are slightly different. This makes it pretty irritating to read, and it's not as funny as Illuminatus!, but has enough great ideas buried in its pages to make a dozen interesting scifi novels.

Masks of the Illuminati is more to my liking, a very funny piece of historical fiction with James Joyce, Albert Einstein and Aleister Crowley as characters (and a few other historical figures passing through).

I spent years looking for his popular non-fiction book The Cosmic Trigger. At one point, a roommate of my neighbor in Athens had a copy, and refused to loan it to me. I finally found it at Books on Wilshire around '98. It's a strange combination of autobiography, philosophy and phenomenology. It explains many of the ideas behind Illuminatus!, discusses Wilson's experiences with drugs, examines UFO contact, psychedelic experimentation (including those experiments conducted by Timothy Leary, John Lilly and Carlos Castaneda as well as the author), and psychic projection, and lays out a map of brain circuits for our continued mental evolution. The best idea I got from this book is Wilson's definition of "agnosticism"--which, to Wilson, doesn't mean not believing in God, but not believing in anything. It's more difficult than it sounds, to always keep the idea that you could be wrong in your head on every single issue, but all we have to do is look around to see the results of the failure to do so.

Most recently, I read Prometheus Rising, which takes ideas from Cosmic Trigger and develops them further, providing practical intructions for rewiring your brain. Each chapter ends with a series of excercises, none of which I've actually done.

At one point, I bought a book called The Widow's Son, the first volume of The Historical Illuminati Chronicles. I got about 5 pages into that before deciding it was not to my taste. The one other piece of his writing I've come across is The Horror on Howth Hill, a story in the anthology Three-Fisted Tales of Bob, put out by the Church of the Subgenius, a Lovecraft parody that poses the question "how big was King Kong's dick?" Hey, you can read that one for free!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday YouTube: Meryl Streep

Blogger keeps eating this post, so here's the short version: Meryl Streep is cool. Watch her Golden Globes acceptence speech to see why.

Monday, January 15, 2007

60 Years Ago Today, Elizabeth Short Was Murdered

My favorite part of From Hell, Alan Moore's graphic novel based on the Jack The Ripper murders, is a lengthy epilogue in which Moore describes the history of Ripper theories, new crackpots emerging each generation to add their half-baked notions to the body of work from which the next generation will build. It's hard not to apply this idea to the Black Dahlia murder, especially when you consider that two seperate people have published books claiming that their own father was the murderer. How Freudian can you get?

The Black Dahlia is part of the central mythology of this city, and her image turns up in movies over and over. Consider that there have been three Black Dahlia movies released in the last year: Brian DePalma's disapointing theatrical release, a direct-to-DVD film I've seen on the shelves at the video store, and this one, which is having its world premiere tonight as part of a weekend-long tribute to all things Dahlia. And next week, as part of their Overlooked and Underrated festival, The Egyptian will be screening yet another Dahlia-inspired piece of fiction, 1981's True Confessions, starring Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday YouTube: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

No explanation necessary. This is just amazing.

This one might be even better:

If you want to see a closeup of her guitar licks, check out this one.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

They Call Him One Eye!

Sad news: Lilly Munster has died! Apparantly, she was quite the babe under that makeup!

More sad news: Johnie's Broiler, a googie coffeeshop in Downey, was illegally demolished over the weekend! A crime against humanity!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Vol. 17

Bobbie reviews Roseanne Barr's Blonde and Bitchin' DVD for The Fake Life!

Shoot The Pump: The saga continues!

I have sentence envy: "But Craig's thrilling vanity in preparing for the part is staggering in way that struck me as Travoltan, if not completely homosexual."

A guide to deflecting arguments against increasign (or for abolishing) the minimum wage.

Fresh Air has excellent interviews with writer Stefan Kanfer, author of Stardust Lost, a history of Yiddish theater, and, relevant to my recent examination of racist cartoons, Jody Rosen, who has compiled the compilation Jewface. Jewface is a collection of old novelty tunes based on anti-semitic stereotypes sung by Jewish performers in Vaudeville, music halls and minsterel shows. Although attacked by certain Jewish groups, they were very popular with Jewish audiences. Then again, substitute "black" for "Jewish," and feed Easy-E and Maxine Waters' names in there, and you have the same story three quarters of a century later.

Jim Emmerson's best double features of 2006.

This month at LACMA: Through the Looking Glass (And Down the Rabbit Hole), a loose program of fims explained thusly:

Rene Magritte's enigmatic paintings, with their deadpan humor and emphasis on monumental objects, were created during a century that saw the birth of both cinema and psychoanalysis and, in the words of LACMA's senior curator of modern art, Stephanie Barron, continue "to appeal to modern audiences hungry for the puzzling conjunctions of the everyday and the fantastic." Though the concept of parallel realities existed in the Victorian era, it was cinema that could induce a dreamlike state in the viewer and depict the visual landscape of the unconscious.

Lewis Carroll's "looking glass" is perhaps our most famous metaphor for the irrational, but it is also an ancient symbol with a variety of meanings: vanity, duplicity, madness, schizophrenia, and hallucination among them. Not surprisingly, many of the films in this series are thrillers, and many depict characters whose obsessions become pathological or self-destructive. For filmmakers like David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, and Jacques Rivette, the "looking glass" is the cinema itself, and the silver screen is the mirror through which we, the audience, pass. At its most mythic, death is the unknown land that lies on the other side of the looking glass: in Orphée and Vertigo, the characters journey into the mirror to steal a loved one back from Death itself. Alternatively, films such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz depict imaginary landscapes peopled by delightful and menacing creatures. And in virtually all the films in the series, the audience, like the characters, must ask itself: what is real, and what is fantasy?

From TCM Underground: "lost" scenes from cult movies (including Faster Pussycat, Freaks and Coffy) in comic book form!!!

Speaking of TCM, heads up: on January 29, they're premiering Tod Browning's 1927 silent carnie flick The Show (along with Browning's Freaks and Lynch's Elephant Man) with a new score.

From NPR: punk rock in Beijing, UFO's in Chicago.

Wrapping up 2006, Looking ahead to 2007

I spent one of the best New Year's Eves I've ever spent this year. Bobbie and I went to a double feature of Children of Men and Charlotte's Web at The Grove (Man, that place is hilarious. It's like Disneyland made up of stores. A consumerist nightmare!), then came home, ordered pizza, and watched all of Kill Bill, drank some champagne (left over from the holiday party), and then watched the Kennedy Center Honors awarding the Mark Twain Prize to Steve Martin on PBS. It was a nice, mellow way to ring in the new year, and the next day I made black eyed peas and turnip greens myself (along with biscuits and gravy), because the soul food place in Pasadena we usually go to on New Year's Day went out of business.

I've been working over the last 3 years or so at being more goal-oriented, including making a series of goals and resolutions at the beginning of the year, and it's been working out well for me. I can say that my life has improved greatly since I started doing this. Last year on the blog, I did a little point-by-point evaluation of how I had lived up to my resolutions from the year before, then laid out resolutions for the following year. This year, things didn't progress in quite the linear fashion that they had in the past. My life took some surprising turns over the year, so my goals had to adapt. Thus, it doesn't really make sense to do the same thing this year. But a more general summation of the year is in order.

First of all, I really enjoy having this blog. Even if nobody read it, I'd be happy with it. I've tried to keep journals throughout my life, and I've never been very good at it. For some reason, I'm able to respond to the "pressure" of posting on a blog everyday. I like that it keeps me writing, working those creative muscles, and I think my writing has improved greatly over the last few years that I've had this resource.

This summer, my friends Charlie and George invited me to write for their movie blog, The Fake Life, and I'll take this moment to thank them for extending this opportunity to me. I've immensely enjoyed writing for the site, and it's made me more active in watching and paying attention to movies, and provided me with both an outlet and a bit of a portfolio for my writing. Thanks, guys.

I had planned to be teaching ESL full-time by the end of the year. I did serve a week as a substitute at a night school in South Central, and it was a satisfying experience, but I haven't pursued it past that. Maybe I'll get a little deeper into it this year.

I'd been riding my bike to work pretty frequently, but then I fell off on it when the weather turned cold. It's hard to force yourself to ride a bike for a mile in freezingcold weather at 8 in the morning.

I set myself the goal of reading 12 books through the year, and pretty much accomplished that goal. If I haven't been reading as much lately, it's because I've been spending more time writing, which is probably a better use of my time. Books I read from start to finish in 2006:

Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang
Central Avenue Sounds by Clora Bryant et al
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (which I may reread this year)
A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald
Pale Orange for the Shroud by John D. MacDonald
Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke
The Killing Bone by Peter Saxon
The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
I Am Legend (plus Witch War) by Richard Matheson
From Hell by Alan Moore (I wasn't going to count comics on this list, but I think I can make an exception for this big-ass book)
Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azzerad(skipped the chapters on Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr. I like both bands, but neither is really one of "my bands," you know? It's funny, because I don't like Minor Threat that much, but they cast such a big shadow over my teen years that they almost are one of "my bands" by default)

I haven't been able to finish anything this month. I started reading an Orson Welles biography by Charles Higham, then got bored and started on Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 50's and 60's by Gerald Nachman, but didn't get very far in that, and ended up going back to the Orson Welles book (which I'm currently around page 200 of). Other books partially read in 2006:

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (finally went back and finished the last 50 pages)
Last Call by Tim Powers (started this last year, but got interrupted, so finished it this year)

Books listened to on CD:

The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown is a really, really awful writer, although I can see why most people who haven't read Holy Blood Holy Grail, Illuminatus! or Foucault's Pendulum would find the story interesting)
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
I started listening to Will in the Wold by Peter Greenblatt, but got bored with it.

I finished Book I of Finnegan's Wake, took most of the summer off from it, then finished Book II, Chapter 1 just before the end of the year, although I have to admit that I understood very little of Book II. On the first day of the new year, I picked it up and started reading Book II, Chapter 2, and realized I had no desire to continue. I may go back to it sometime, but for now, I can be content with the knowledge that I have finished more of the book than 95% of English Majors have. Maybe I'll start on Moby Dick next.

Didn't buy a lot of CD's this year. I got the new Beck CD, and a couple others that I can't remember right now, but I did join emusic, which is just the greatest thing since sliced bread. So, just to be OCD, here's a list of full albums I downloaded from emusic in 2006 (and the first days of 2007):

Aesop Rock - Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives
Beat Happening - Jamboree
Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded
Busdriver - Fear of a Black Tangent
Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
Cornelius - Point
Daedelus - Exquisite Corpse
Deerhoof - The Runners Four
Deerhoof - +81
Foetus - Hole
Funkadelic - Funkadelic
Funkadelic - Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow
Funkadelic - Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
Funkadelic - America Eats Its Young
Geza X - You Goddamn Kids
Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand
Lord Buckley - A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat
The Minutemen - What Makes A Man Start Fires?
The Minutemen - Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat
The Minutemen - Project Mersh
The Nip Drivers - Destroy Whitey
Oliver Nelson - Afro-American Sketches
The Pharaohs - Awakening
The Pharaohs - In The Basement
Quantic - An Announcement to Answer
Rites of Spring - End on End
Rodan - Rusty
Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out
Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One
The Congos - Heart of the Congos
The Freeze - Land of the Lost
The Residents - Meet the Residents
Tom Waits - Orphans (only disc one so far)
v/a - Bay Area Funk, Vol. 2

Plus a whole bunch of individual songs by Half Japanese, Soundgarden, Minor Threat, Egghunt, Ike and Tina, Culture, Frank Zappa, Camper Van Beethoven, Charlie Rich and who knows who else.

Goals and Resolutions for 2007:

1. Get a vasectomy. Call Kaiser next week for an appointment.
2. Write, write, write.
3. Send resume out to all nearby schools for teaching position.
4. Bike to work as often as possible, and bike on the weekends.
5. Read 12 books over the course of the year.
6. Play guitar every day.

I have some other projects lined up that could turn out to be very interesting, including a new column that will be debuting at The Fake Life this month, but I don't want to say to much on any of that yet. Stay tuned!

Friday(ish) YouTube: Wee Sleekit Cow'rin Tim'rous Beasties

I've decided that "Root Down" is my favorite Beastie Boys song. It used to be "Shadrach," (pssst...check out this remix!), but "Root Down" has taken the lead. It's Mike D's final, autobiographical verse that sends it over the top for me:

Every day I'd take the train to the High Street Station
Doin' homework on the train, what a fucked up situation
On the way back up hearin' battle tapes
Through the underground underneath the skyscrapes
Like Harlem World Battles on The Zulu Beat Show
Like Busy B/Kool Moe Dee, that's one you should know
Enough of that, just gotta give some respect
To MCA, grab the mic and Ma Bell will connect

(I had to look that up. I always thought the last line was "To MCA, grab the mic and rock it all to heck" or something) I love the picture that paints so vividly of growing up in NYC in the 70's and 80's. And "underneath the skyscrapes" has a great, percussive sound to it.

It's my favorite video on the Video Anthology, too. Not as flashy as some of the others, but it goes with the song. Lots of vintage clips that might be from Wild Style or Style Wars.

The live version is the hilight of the Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That DVD. When Mixmaster Mike drops "Apache" in the middle, and they slide right into it...God, that's good!

If you dig this stuff, you should check out Jimmy Smith's tune "Root Down and Git It," which is thoroughly plundered on the Beasties' track.

And here's my favorite Beastie Boys video which for some reason isn't included on the Anthology, "Jimmy James."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best of 2006

What can I say, it's a compulsion. I make lists because that's what one does in January. My list of the best DVD's is here, but I didn't make a list of my favorite movies, because there are so many that I haven't seen. I don't think I can even begin to evaluate the year without having seen The Fountain, The Departed, Babel, Borat, Hostel, Tideland, Inland Empire, The Good German, The Good Shephard, Dream Girls, Old Joy or The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. And I probably ought to see Marie Antoinette, The Queen, Notes On A Scandal, Volver, Half Nelson, Cars, Talladega Nights, The Illusionist, The Prestige, Prarie Home Companion and those Iwo Jima movies. Then there's Superman Returns, which I feel some obligation to see, even though I have absolutely no interest in it, and Miami Vice, which a lot of people praise, but I can tell is just not my cup of tea. Oh, and that District B-13 movie!

But I did see some movies this year, and these are my favorites:

1. Pan's Labyrinth - This is such a beautiful movie. Guillermo Del Toro has finally reached this level that I feel like he's been striving for through his career, and I'm so excited to see what he does next. If he can bring this level of artistry to his next Hellboy/Blade 2-type movie (which I guess would be Hellboy 2), he'll have a geek classic on his hands equal to Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Raimi's Spider-Man or Tarantino's Kill Bill. And he is so ready to make At The Mountain's of Madness, it's not even funny. I really can't wait to see what he does over the next decade.

2. Children of Men - This is another one where the director is just hitting such heights that I can't wait to see what he does next. Mind you, I still like Y Tu Mama better. In fact, if we're being totally honest, I'll probably watch Prisoner of Azkaban more times over my life. But this is just an amazing movie. I really hope he does Harry Potter 7. I'd be a very happy camper if he did both 6 and 7. But seeing what he's capable of here, I can't wait to see what he does next. These two directors are inspiring the hope in me that seeing a film like Pulp Fiction, Dazed and Confused, Do The Right Thing or Heavenly Creatures inspired, so I can only imagine what the future might hold.

3. Dave Chappelle's Block Party - OK, I'm lying. I actually like this movie more than Children of Men. First of all, just the concert alone, what is very probably the greatest hip hop concert ever performed, made up of the cream of the second-generation Native Tongues posse, is enough to land this on my top 10, and I hope that it won't be long before a deluxe edition DVD comes out with the entire concert included. But the bits with Chappelle himself send it over the top. This whole movie is the embodiment of Chappelle's personality, a grinning, lazy, stoner of a movie, from the music on down. This is neck-in-neck with Wattstax for my favorite concert film of all time at this point.

4. Lady Vengeance - A tarp being drained of blood. A perky girl holding up a bar of soap. A ghastly smile holding out a white soy cake. These are the images that will most stick in my mind from this year at the cinema. Lady Vengeance isn't quite as good as Oldboy, director Park Chan-Wook's previous vengeance film, but that's like saying The Magnificent Ambersons isn't quite as good as Citizen Kane.

5. The Descent - This movie scared me silly. The last time I was this scared by a movie was The Blair Witch Project, and I'm not entirely sure that wasn't an unreplicable theater experience (I haven't gone back and watched it since). I love movies about strong women, and this is a movie about strong women, but not kickass, superhero women like Buffy or Beatrix. The things these women do would be totally unremarkable if they were men (at least in movie terms). But having them be women just makes it "a hair more interesting" (paraphrasing David Lynch).

6. This Film Is Not Yet Rated - Not only a great expose of what must be one of the most annoying beuracracies in America, but a jolly good detective story!

7. The Host - I may have overhyped this film just slightly in my review, but it really is one of the loopiest genre offerings in recent years. Imagine Little Miss Sunshine if, instead of entering the girl in a beauty pageant, they were trying to rescue her from a slobbering giant lizardfish (actually, now that I've typed that, it seems like I plagarized the comparison from somewhere, but I can't remember where). Only with some political stuff added in.

8. Duck Season - Looking at the box, you'd think this was a Mexican version of a Kevin Smith movie, but it's much closer to Jim Jarmusch's style. One of those great little off-beat movies that you can't really describe--funny, charming, maybe even touching.

9. United 93 - As intense as moviemaking gets, a ripping You Are There adventure. Paul Greengrass took this movie after the Watchmen movie he was on disintegrated with a change of leadership at Paramount, and with United 93's release, Greengrass's Watchmen took its place in geek folklore alongside Gilliam's Watchmen.

10. Brick - Yeah, the premise is cute--a film noir (or, more accurately, a Raymond Chandler novel) set in Southern California High School (and the fact that that premise yields both Brick and Veronica Mars should be enough to make you shut up the next time two movies with similar premises show up), but the visual style here is pretty amazing. This is one of those movies that almost makes the list on the strength of the potential it illustrates for first-time director Ryan Johnson (uh-oh...that's what I thought about El Mariachi!), but I guess that ties it in to my top two choices, doesn't it?

As for the blockbusters, I'll side with the majority and say that Casino Royale was the highpoint of the year in this category. Unlike some people, I'm not quite prepared to say it's the best Bond movie ever. It's such a different animal that I don't even know how to compare it to something like Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me. But what it is is pretty great. I'm very interested to see where they go from here. Will familiar Bond elements work their way back in, or will it become more of a purist spy series? How will the next chapter fair without the references to previous Bond movies (the martini, the Astin Martin, the buildup to "Bond. James Bond.")? I'm actually anxious to see, for the first time since I was, I dunno, 12 maybe.

I liked Pirates of the Carribian 2 (whatever it was called), but there were times when it felt like it was just working too hard to entertain me, like an underconfident vaudeville performer. V for Vendetta was pretty great. I also liked Apocalypto and Jet Li's Fearless.

An Inconvenient Truth is a pretty great documentary, but Who Killed The Electric Car may be even better, and ranks with my favorite recent political doc, The Corporation.

And I loved Shortbus, Inside Man and Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That.


I like Beck's new album, The Information. Building on his last album, this seems to be an attempt to further integrate the "funky Beck" sound with the "folky Beck" sound. I like El Guero better, but this has some amazing stuff on it, including "Strange Apparition" and my favorite Beck rap track, "1000 bpm." The Dresden Dolls' Yes, Virginia doesn't get annoying after a few listens like their previous album, and contains enough catchy hooks to keep you humming it for months. Quantic's An Announcement to Anwer is an inventive infusion of hip hop with Brazillian, Cuban and jazz styles. And I just downloaded the first disc of Tom Waits' Orphans collection. I figure I'll get one disc a month for the next three months, but so far so good.

I meant to write more, but I'm so busy, I might not get around to it until next week. Wait up for me, OK?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Movies I Watched Recently

A few quick reviews of movies I watched in the theater or on DVD over the last two weeks. I wrote these quickly, so they might have a couple cliches or lame phrases in them.

Children of Men - This is a really incredible movie about finding hope in a hopeless world. We recognize the protagonist, Theo, immediately. A former radical who has transformed into a cynic, convinced that nothing matters. It's a character we've seen before, and we know that his faith will somehow be restored by the end of the film. This character always seems to appear when we need him--in the darkest days of WWII as Rick from Casablanca, in the disillusioned 70's as Han Solo--and maybe the Theos of the world have never needed so badly to have their faith restored as now.

Children of Men takes place 20 years in the future, in what could best be described as the dark future we all fear is going to come about. Terrorism and totalitarianism continue to feed off of each other, fear and paranoia battle with cynicism and apathy for emotional supremacy. But the final, crushing detail is that people have become infertile, unable to produce babies, an ultimate extension of the idea that the end of humanity is inevitable, that this is the last generation.

So when Theo finds himself escorting a pregnant woman across an impossible gauntlet to safety, we find that hope, in the form of a newborn baby, a ship called Tomorrow, or a decision by a man to simply not give up the fight, springs eternal, even in this dark, dark world.

Alfonzo Cuaron does some amazing things in this movie, in particular two complex action sequences that are done in incredibly long shots. But they're not the kind of flashy sequences that we saw in The Black Dahlia. In fact, if I hadn't read hints about them beforehand, I may not have even recognized that they were single shots. But they lend a sense of immediacy to the sequences whether they are noticed or not--they put you right there in the most hopeless pursuit scene ever put on film, and convince you entirely that what you are seeing is not just a thrill ride.

Charlotte's Web - The second half of our New Year's Eve double feature, and it's everything it ought to be. Probably much better than the animated version from the 70's (which I can't remember much about), it's sweet, touching, funny, cute, and strikes the exact right tone for this story.

Apocalypto - Saw this last weekend, and I really liked it. It's basically an action movie set in an incredibly harsh, ruthless world, a world that James Bond or Bruce Wayne would not last five minutes in. Mel Gibson has a great eye, and I certainly liked this much, much more than Braveheart. This is sort of the opposite of Children of Men--instead of hope, it's a movie about doom, and doom is in the air through the entire running time.

The Descent - Scariest horror movie I've seen in ages. So many horror flicks have characters doing incredibly stupid things because the writers can't think of a better way to keep them in danger. In The Descent, characters make very bad decisions that ensure the danger of themselves and their companions because it makes sense for their characters to make these decisions.

The Breakup - Surprisingly good, brutally honest and occassionally hilarious anti-romantic comedy. Jennifer Aniston continues to be a criminally underrated actor.

Fearless - This is a really good movie. I wouldn't rank it as Jet Li's great masterpiece, but I do think it's a legitimate addition to the canon of martial arts films, a great way for Jet Li to cap off his career (if he is indeed serious about doing that).