Friday, November 29, 2013

Dreams of my father and I, singing together

Sometimes I get dreams where I'm with my father. (The day before yesterday was the fourth anniversary of his death).

Last night, he and I were taking a road trip together. I forget most of it but when my cell phone alarm went off, he was driving the car he used to drive when I was a little kid - a white American Rambler - and we were on the backroads coming back from Alouette Lake, I think. He started singing CCR's version of "Cotton Fields," a song he used to actually sing aloud sometimes, and I joined in on the second verse and we were singing together... It was a good moment and has lingered...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

So cold I can *photograph* my breath

Frank Frink 5 to play LanaLou's this Friday!

Not sure if the Frank Frink 5 count as part of the Vancouver "fuck band" tradition or not but it's a great night of country music, rock covers, and unexpected playfulness from various Vancouver punks, doing things they normally would not do in public. For those who wonder who is who, the FF5 are:

Butch Norland - vocals & acoustic guitar -aka- Nick Jones
Billy Clyde Frink - vocals, electric guitar & double neck steel guitar -aka- Randy Carpenter
Mink Frink - electric guitar & vocals-aka- Scott McLeod
Stinkin' Tim Connors - drums & vocals-aka- Jon Card
Jellybean Beaudine - bass guitar & vocals -aka- Bob Petterson
Dash Schmidt - keyboard & vocals -aka-Gord Nicholl

Clip of them playing a very twangy "Sympathy for the Devil" with guest vocalist Brian D Roche here....

Lee Ranaldo, Pere Ubu: concerts in December

I have always hated the idea of early concerts, with venues being emptied out at 11pm so that the bar can turn into a disco, but these days it means I can get back to Maple Ridge on the last bus, without having to impose on anyone (or sell my girlfriend on a band she might not want to see). So I guess I don't mind them so much now. Thanks to this practice, I might just be able to check out out the Lee Ranaldo and Pere Ubu shows at the Biltmore this month (Dec.7th and 14th, respectively). I like the new Lee album a lot; it has a wonderful energy to it - glowing, glistening psych-pop craftsmanship, with fellow SY member Steve Shelley on drums. I haven't come to terms with the new Pere Ubu yet but "Musicians Are Scum" is absolutely brilliant - that's a sample from the Chambers Brothers "Time Has Come Today," and it greatly complicates David Thomas' lyrics, if you're aware of how utterly screwed over Lester Chambers has been...

Ron Reyes vs. Black Flag

The whole world that cares has already weighed in on social media, but I'm avoiding cleaning the kitchen and thought I might as well register my thoughts on Ron Reyes' being ejected from Black Flag just a couple weeks before their new album is due out. 

I didn't attend the recent Vancouver Black Flag concert, but I had very fond memories of seeing Ron Reyes belt out classic Black Flag songs at his 50th birthday gig at the Rickshaw in 2010, which event heralded his first performance with Greg Ginn in decades. I've seen Piggy a few times since then, and spoken to Ron for the Straight on a couple of occasions; my impression is that he's a sincere, conscientious man, and a genuinely nice guy, who happens to have some of the most fearsome punk rock vocal cords around. News of various lawsuits and other nastiness emanating from the Black Flag reunion has made me feel kinda bad for Reyes, made me wonder how he was weathering things. Not so well, it turns out.

Hearing now that he's been booted from Black Flag - and reading his statement online - makes me think he's probably better off. Still, there are rumours floating around that the new album, What The..., is going to be delayed and his vocals re-recorded by this Mike V. guy... It's just a rumour, but the fact that the official digital distribution of the album has suddenly stopped suggests that there might be something to it. It would be really, really wrong, of course, but then, Greg Ginn seems hell-bent on destroying any enthusiasm people might have for his band or their music. Replacing the one member of the band whom everyone has been unanimous in praising actually manages to one-up the douchiness of those lawsuits (which he lost, by the by). I'm not sure what more he could do, at this point, to make things worse for himself - rip up a photo of the Pope on national TV? License "My War" to be used in a Adidas commercial? ...Maybe he should sue himself for sabotaging his own fucking band....

Of course, whatever happens, the album, What The..., has been circulating on the net for weeks now, and won't ever go away - like the 1982 Black Flag My War demos, with Chuck Biscuits on drums, it's out there for anyone who cares to find. Sadly, it's only half-good (or three quarters, at best). It has some terrific driving energy - and some surprising funkiness - and both Ginn's guitar and Reyes' vocals are very cool, but the songs sound wayyy too samey for any to stand out or become classics. I mean, there's a song called "Shut Up" where the chorus is "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" Then a few songs later, there's a song called "Go Away" where the chorus is "Go away! Go away! Go away!" A surplus of ideas they clearly did not have. I mean, maybe it will grow on me, but even if it does, at this point, Greg Ginn has pretty much soured me on supporting anything Black Flag does ever again. Just as well that I already own as many SST albums as I care to...

My condolences to Ron Reyes, though. (I like the cover art - that's Ron's drawing, apparently!). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Attack of "Against The Wind"

Ah, Maple Ridge.

Found myself wandering through our cultural mecca, Haney Place Mall, earlier today. I had hoped that some store in town might have the much-buzzed, recently released documentary Blackfish on DVD. Or maybe Brian De Palma's Passion. The library hasn't gotten them in. Little Shop of Movies (the one video rental store in Maple Ridge proper, now under new ownership) did not have them; nor did London Drugs. So I figured I would make a cursory look in our newly opened Target, replacing the Zellers at said mall, and while I was at it, do a scan of Target's mall neighbour, Gamer's Choice, which was unlikely to have Blackfish or Passion but might have something else of note. (They're a little game-and-DVD shop run by a bunch of Middle Eastern guys, who now have a few thousand DVDs, ill-sorted, mostly priced at $3.99; occasionally I find a weird gem there, something I'm not looking for but can't resist at a low price, like today's find, Return of Sabata).

Anyhow, Haney Place is this town's Dawn of the Dead mall: it's all senior citizens, gangstas, white trash, and various variations on the suburban bungled and the botched, all of us slouching along, feeling superior to each other, getting in each other's way, scrounging for deals, searching for something (community? fellowship? a home?) that we have bugger all chance of finding, especially since we all mistrust each other. There's probably no single more depressing place to congregate in this town - maybe the high school, maybe the strip club - but all the same, there's seldom a week that goes by without seeing me in it two or three times, picking up groceries, buying my Mom scratch and wins, or just passing through to scan the shelves at Gamer's Choice, seeing the same old movies that were there the week before, and the week before that. Aside from the odd gem I dig out of there, or good deals on groceries at the Thrifty's, almost any unexpected experience I have at Haney Place Mall is bound to be negative, a reminder that there's "nothing but the dead and dying" in my little town. A horrifying whiff of perfume on a blue haired old lady, a glimpse of a fat guy's ass crack as he bends to lift a crate of whatever, the persistent screaming of a baby, the tobacco clouds around the teenagers who cluster in the doorways, or just the sagging, ugly flesh and sour expressions everywhere you look... As I walk through the mall, I try to keep my eyes on the path ahead of me, try not to take in what passes for humanity, unless I'm feeling singularly misanthropic and want to nurture a hate-on. Pretty much anything I *do* notice evokes a wince - an inward one, since I don't want anyone to see my reactions. Never let them know what you're thinking: I wonder how many other fellow mall-shoppers feel exactly the same way?

Today's cause for wincing was musical: hearing Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's "Against The Wind" over the mall PA. Not that that's the worst song you're likely to hear at a suburban mall, but it was really quite striking, since I can remember that same song - hardly a huge hit, hardly a classic, hardly anything that should have any real longevity or appeal to anyone - playing in town in 1980, when it was released. That was the year before Haney Place Mall opened, as it happens, but no doubt I've heard it over their PA before, god knows how many times. I liked the song when I was aged 12, but only because I didn't know much better - I dug Billy Joel and Styx back then, too. I don't have anything against "Against The Wind" now, either, really - it's as good an example of banal, hopelessly Caucasian, risk-free AM radio musical mediocrity as can be found without involving a member of the Eagles, but it's not in any way actively offensive to me; it's mostly just dull. Still, what's striking is that 33 years since it debuted, that same fucking song is still playing over the speakers at the mall, like it was somehow still relevant, like, of all the music of the world that has ever been made, either before 1980, or since; in spite of the vast explosion of musical awareness brought on by the internet, the bizarre wealth of options at anyone's easy disposal - Bob Seger's "Against The Wind" is somehow the truest expression of what Haney Place Mall is about. It gave me a moment of pause, thinking about the time warp this town seems to be stuck in. What kind of limits would you have to place on human experience, taste, knowledge for someone to not realize somewhere between 1980 and now that there's a wider world of cultural expression than is captured by that Bob Seger song, that there is, in fact, better music to be played? What lobotomized consensus reality would one have to be living in for that song to actually somehow be a thing of comfort and familiarity? What can you say about a town where hearing "Against The Wind" over the PA at the mall counts, in 2013, as a "normal" experience? I mean, at least they could have played "Turn The Page"...

Oh: and Target didn't have Blackfish (or Passion) either.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Al's cabinet of shame

I have long maintained a section in the bottom corner of my DVD shelves for movies that I want to keep around, but am embarrassed to be associated with or seen with. For instance: I have all four Rambo films, the first because it's an interesting piece of cinema from a Canadian director, and filmed in my hometown; the second because I revisited it in preparing to interview the director's son; the third because it has a plot that involves US relations with the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, decades before 9/11 - which makes it a historical curiosity at the very least;  and the fourth because it's such a bloody, brutal, ridiculously intense exploitation film that it shocked the heck out of me on first viewing and I think I'd like to get around to it again sometime, just to see if it's as vicious as I recall ("Rambo goes splatter"). I also have - don't tell anyone - various DVDs involving Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood,  Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mel Gibson, none of whom I am keen to be associated with as a cinephile, even though I have reasons for keeping all around - including, in some cases, that I have genuine fondness for the film in question, guilty pleasure or no. I mean, the director's cut of Payback is one of the most successful attempts to put a Parker novel on screen, in my opinion - not that it's the best film made from a Parker book, which would obviously be Point Blank, but it's by far the most "Parker" of them...

Anyhow, tonight I came up with a novel solution, while reorganizing my shelves: put the ones I don't want to be known by in the closed cabinet where I keep my porn! (I have a few porn DVDs, what can I say). As I was doing it, a deep sense of the rightness of my action came to me, because, after all, most of the output of Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood IS a sort of pornography - a validation of the male ego, a phallus-worshipping variation on themes of "the-man-is-always-right/ nobody-understands-me-but-I'm-really-a-hero" ego gratification, which is in a way its own form of masturbation. Die Hard is porn for the male ego; Beverly Hills Cox is porn for a lower organ. I am suddenly very pleased with my cabinet of shame, and happy to no longer having my Rambos out in plain sight...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Transit safety: someone poll me

There is apparently a poll underway about how riders feel about transit safety in Vancouver. I have just posted the following comment after a News1130 article on said poll. I wonder how many people agree with this?
The scariest aspect of any Skytrain commute is when cops with guns get on board. I have never felt threatened by any of my fellow commuters, no matter how stinky or rude or weird they might have been; but the moment a cop gets on board, visibly armed, I become quite aware of the possible threat - that there could be an incident between one of the cops and a commuter, or that a gun could get drawn or fired or swiped by a lone loony, all of which, in the close quarters of a moving skytrain car could be quite an issue. There's also a menacing "you are living in a police state" aesthetic to the experience ("fare evaders line up against the wall!") that feels far more intimidating than reassuring.

I suppose I could live with cops on the trains - I'm not sure they're necessary, but I imagine they're a fact of life now. Still, I would feel much safer if there were no guns involved. 

Why do I get the feeling that that's not the sort of answer they're looking for, here?

Christmas Alone In No Fun City Approacheth

I missed David M's Christmas Alone In No Fun City last year, but this year, I intend to go, and to bring my gal! Unless we can't get in (no, I have no special insight into David's "No One Will Be Admitted" marketing strategy). I realize that having a guest with me is sort of going against the spirit of Christmas ALONE, but at least it might dissuade David from sitting in my lap this year.

So far I have not yet received a "normal" gig poster, with, like, venue information and dates, but I have received various pre-posters. I neglected to post them right away, but here, now, is the David M. Christmas Alone In No Fun City 2013 gallery... Further updates as they arrive! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fumbling with thoughts on the internet

Thinking about the internet, and how an excess of anything devalues it.

This started because Robin Bougie shared an article on Facebook about how comic book prices have depreciated in recent years. It's an interesting piece of writing - but it doesn't really delve as deeply as it might into the role the internet has played in this devaluation.

I remember, some twenty years ago - when I was working occasionally, then as now, in used book and record stores, and always keeping an eye open when thrifting for books and records of value - that there were price guides to rare books and records that the store owners and I would frequently consult to determine the price of items. That was in the age of the hypermodern first edition - books that were only ten or fifteen years old were fetching collectors' prices; since these guides were too hefty to carry, I remember phoning Tim Carson, the bookdealer I sometimes work for, to look up various books, including some relatively recent ones, in case they were worth money ("I'm at a Salvation Army and there's a first US of a Carl Hiassen and William Montalbano collaboration called Powder Burn for one dollar... could you look it up?"). There were, in fact, quite a few copies of many such books in existence, but not so many that you were likely to find them in a bookstore near you. Things like Abebooks, eBay, Amazon and so forth didn't exist to give you instant access to hundreds of copies of any given book worldwide, so it didn't matter if those hundreds of copies existed; when you encountered one in your local used and antiquarian bookstore, if it was a book you truly cared about, wanted in your collection, the price you were willing to pay would be based on your sense of the likelihood of stumbling across that particular item ever again; and the price the bookseller would be asking - based itself on price guides drawn on research about what people had paid for the book in the past, at bookstores and auctions and so forth - would reflect the same conditions. A lot of not-really-that-rare books got treated like they were rare, because people simply didn't have easy access to them.

The internet changed all that radically: scarcity value still applies, but a lot of things once considered scarce, simply aren't.

One book I remember in particular - not because it's a particularly good example of hypermodernity, but because I found it at a Value Village and bought and sold it for a nice profit - was the UK hardcover first edition of Dick Francis' Odds Against, published in 1965. As I recall, at the time I bought it, the Ahearn price guide listed its value, in nice shape, at $250; I sold it to a bookdealer for something like $85, and he in turn sold it himself to a collector for quite a bit more than that. The total number of copies of that book hasn't changed since that time (the late 1990s) - it's not like more copies of it were discovered in a storage locker, or such, making a scarce item commonplace. But the phenomenon of the the internet has made access to the existing copies in bookstores worldwide so much better that said storage locker scenario might as well be the case: because suddenly - if you go on Abebooks, for instance - there are literally fifty copies of that very edition of the book for you to choose from. Some are signed; some are in near fine condition; some are ex-library and damaged. The prices reflect a crazy range (running from $25 to $1000), with lots of copies in collectible condition for under $200. With so many to choose from, of course the copies that actually do sell of the book are going to be the ones at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. One dealer lists a "fine" copy of the book for $1000; another lists the same book in the same shape for $600. Which will you buy? And if someone is selling a "near fine plus" copy for $177 - as is also the case - only very, very rich collectors indeed are going to even consider the higher prices.

So the internet naturally creates  a race to the bottom in pricing. (Some dealers online hold out to sell things at inflated prices, but they very rarely make money that way, given the nature of the game now; if I still had that Odds Against, I'd be putting it online for $150 or less, if I really wanted to sell it). There's more to it than that, too - ways in which the entire idea of being a collector is undermined by the internet.  People who see that there are fifty copies or more of a given book available may well feel skeptical about investing any money in the book at all, if they're hoping to re-sell it at a later date. After all, the value of Odds Against should have gone up in the twenty years between my buying and selling it and my writing this! Prior to the advent of the internet - I remember reading in an introduction to one of those price guides - books were actually a pretty stable investment, with prices for antiquarian books generally only appreciating over time, but nowadays, anyone considering books as an investment should be treading very cautiously. Truly rare items, mind you, remain truly valuable - if anything, prices have gone up, as we have better understanding of just how scarce certain things are (since they never turn up on eBay, say) - but how many books and records out there are truly rare? Even scarce items like the Hartmut Geerken book on Sun Ra, Omniverse - which was only published in a run of about 500 copies, some twenty-five years ago, and for years was nowhere to be found online - have steadily started to make their way internet-ward, as people realize that they can get money for it. Again, some sellers ambitiously insist on charging inflated prices - there are copies at fixed price sites selling for $900-$1500 - but I've seen copies go on actual auction for under $200, when they're allowed to sell that way; it's just a matter of patience and luck, if you truly want the book...  

The thing that I wonder, though - the thing that prompts this writing - actually has nothing to do with e-commerce. If the internet, by making a vast wealth of merchandise previously thought collectible easily available, has led to a general depreciation in values... what about less tangible forms of cultural property: ideas, language, opinions, criticism? Suddenly everyone with an opinion about anything can start a blog, can put their ideas into the world. Some of this is very useful - I'd rather read about horror movies, for example, on fan sites and blogs than from jobbing critics; and obviously I have my own investment in blogging. And certainly there are ways in which people still profit from what gets put online. But surely the plethora of information out there - the sheer availability of text - brings its value down? Why consult experts or newspapers or reference books when there's Google and Wikipedia? (Sure, Wikipedia entries are filled with errors, but guess what? So are books by experts, and they're a lot slower to get revised or updated). Why pay someone to explain something to you that you can learn all you need to know about the topic online? Why buy a cookbook, when there's thousands of recipes to be had for free? Why buy a field guide to birds, say - or a price guide to books - when you can look up any bird or book you encounter on your iPhone? Why buy a dictionary and haul it around, when you have so many gadgets that will do the work for you electronically?
For someone with an investment in the idea of doing work in the field of culture - someone who occasionally gets paid for writing and teaching, as well as working in book and record stores - these are personally pressing questions. It's hard to get at the real fear, here, but I have this disturbing apprehension that we have not yet begun to see how much the internet is going to change the face of human culture. Bookstores, DVD and CD retailers and distributors, newspapers and magazines... to the extent these exist in the future, surely they'll be the stuff of nostalgia, of novelty, or else will exist in the service of the poor - for people who don't have access to computers, say. (Already thrift stores are filled with the relics and rubble of another age - VHS tapes, reference books, cassettes - but you still see people buying that stuff, not because they care about its value as an artifact but because they're still living in an analog world, still primarily consume culture that way...). And as for ideas, language, opinions? Soon enough, everything but the truly insightful, truly provocative, truly rare is going to be just more noise - funny animals, celebrity outrages, and blather.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Roky Erickson live in Vancouver!

So this Roky set saw me compose my first ever submission - and also do my first fan-shot concert video! (The video isn't so hot - we were quite far away - but it's cool to hear these songs again: I grabbed by gal's iPhone and got "Fire Engine" and "Tried to Hide").

Thanks, Erika! 

This Friday: Facefest, featuring a cast of dozens!

(Facefest update: just a few minutes ago, I posted the previous poster for Facefest on my blog - and thought, in passing, that it was weird that the Strugglers weren't playing; almost immediately thereafter, I saw Kristina Mameli's update on Facebook with a new Facefest poster, with the Strugglers on it after all. So all is right in the world - and I've updated the image. Not sure what other changes have been made to the lineup. My original post follows):

Had a happy chat with Aging Youth Gang's Sandy Beach at the Roky Erickson show, but I'm not sure what, if any, of what we said was for print; still, you can catch this excellent Vancouver punk band, partially made up of former Spores, at Facefest this weekend! Here's a live acoustic version of their great song, "Maggots," with Sandy on vocals, recorded at the former Cobalt... Facefest press release follows!

Facefest 2013: Celebrating 18 Years of Ruptured Eardrums
Vancouver, BC-November 22, 2013—Faceplant Productions, in concert the Wise Hall (1882 Adanac Street) and long-time sponsor R&B Brewing, present Facefest 18, an annual fundraiser showcasing an eclectic sampling of Vancouver’s musical talent. Featuring rapid-fire 15-minute sets from over 25 local luminaries, Facefest has become one of the most anticipated festivals of the year. Located in a residential area, the historic Wise Hall has been a cultural, artistic and social venue for over 50 years. Doors are at 7pm, show starts at 8; tickets are $15 at the door.
This year features over 25 acts including Aging Youth Gang, Car 87, Caulk, Chopper and the Saucermen, Eddy D and the Sex Bombs, Gold Stars are for Suckers, Orchard Pinkish and His Horny Hands, Shockload, Spree Killers, The Liquor Kings, The Manglers, The Shit Talkers and more. With bands from almost every conceivable genre, Facefest is perhaps the most diverse musical event of the year.
Since its inception in 1992, Faceplant has been providing rehearsal and recording space for musicians of all genres and talent from the heart of East Vancouver and is one of Vancouver’s longest-running and most unique spaces. Facefest is a celebration of community, as well as an annual opportunity to support, network and raise funds for maintenance of the space.
Facebook event:
 (The Strugglers at Funky's, awhile ago now...)

Claire Denis' Bastards, Destin Cretton's Short Term 12: upcoming Vancity double bill

Spoke to Claire Denis the other week, apropos of the Vancity Theatre's upcoming screening of her new film, a revenge-driven noir called Bastards She's an intimidating filmmaker to find oneself on the phone with; I haven't seen all her films, and of the ones I have seen, was utterly stumped by at least one of them (2004's The Intruder, which I caught at the VIFF; it's beautiful to look at, but I have no clue what was going on in the last act! While I'm confessing, I didn't much know what to make of the ending of White Material, either - was totally startled by it, though I thought I had understood the film up to that point...). Even her work with others is the very essence of intimidating: for instance, she's worked on films as esteemed (and varied) as Makavejev's Sweet Movie, Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, and Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law. She also worked with Jacques Rivette, one of various cinema legends whose work I am woefully under-educated on, and even appears briefly in Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer (not that I could pick her out)...
Still, unworthy though I may be, who could pass up the chance to speak to Claire Denis? I enjoyed Bastards, wanted to give it press, and I am utterly in love with Trouble Every Day, Denis' somewhat neglected "sexual cannibalism" horror film with Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle. It's a dark horse pick: while people like Charles Mudede hold Beau Travail as her best film, I've seen Trouble Every Day five or six times now, find it bottomless and beautiful and haunting and provocative. Apparently the look of the film was informed by the photography of Vancouver's own Jeff Wall!

Anyhow, it wasn't the best interview I've done, but the Straight article (the first link above) hangs together okay. (I also talked briefly to Destin Cretton, whose film Short Term 12 is paired with Denis'; it's a much easier film to take in, though it has its share of emotional intensity...). The fact of the matter is that Bastards actually has a pretty simple story, that people are making too much of its "opacity," or whatnot. Read the Vancity Theatre's description of the plot before you watch it, so you're oriented, if you're at all concerned... I think my favourite moments in the film are actually the opening ones, not of a girl walking naked, as the Vancity description has it, but of a rainy night, and a haunted man looking out at it. By the time you learn who he is and the significance of the shot, you won't remember the image, which is why I think Denis' films actually need to be seen more than once to be appreciated... but, well, she disagrees, so...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roky Erickson in Vancouver: setlist, plus quick review of a show you probably were at anyhow

Photo by Erika Lax

What a terrific night! Thanks to La-Ti-Da Records for bringing Roky Erickson to town - a bucket list concert if ever there was one. It was a lengthy, varied set, longer than most recent Roky shows on Setlist FM - feel free to correct me if I've missed anything:

Night of the Vampire - epic, dramatic intro to the night, with crowd whooping as Roky was led onstage (by his son?)
Cold Night For Alligators
White Faces
John Lawman (Roky appears to have altered the lyrics - it didn't SOUND like he was singing about killing people all day long - & the band got a bit out of synch on this one at the end!)
Goodbye Sweet Dreams
Roller Coaster (thanks to Adrian Mack for educating me on this one - his show review here)
Fire Engine
Tried To Hide
Levitation (my girl, bless her, checked to see if Roky was singing "I've got limitations" on this one... nope, that's not the lyric to that! Incidentally, for the longest time I used to make up my own lyric to "Two Headed Dog," back when I didn't know it too well: instead of the Kremlin line - which I either couldn't make out or didn't understand, or a bit of both - when singing the song to myself, I would improvise, "it doesn't work if you whistle with a two-headed dog." Trying to impose logic on the lyrics of Roky Erickson can only lead to failure).
Splash 1 ("home to stay")
Stand for the Fire Demon
The Wind and More (with what sounded like passages of extemporaneous lyrics from Roky, like he was just free-associating. I can't be sure, though. My favourite tune of the night!)
Bloody Hammer (people got moshing up front!)

Two Headed Dog (briefly someone got up-ended in the pit and crowd surfed, which I was not expecting at a Roky Erickson concert!)
You're Gonna Miss Me (minus the electric jug, but if that was indeed Roky's son, he joined the band to provide a few background vocals along the jug-lines)
Roky's band provided able support throughout - singing some of the lyrics that Roky dropped and providing a deep, rich, sometimes eerie background texture, both vocal and musical; a couple of raised hand gestures aside, Roky himself stuck to playing and singing, with song intros and thank yous coming from either the guitarist or bassist, wasn't sure which... but he was in great voice (and even when his voice breaks - unlike, say, Ozzy Osbourne - he still sounds fantastic). 
Openers Dead Ghosts teased the audience with a lick from the Cramps' "Primitive" as they were soundchecking, but then they didn't play the song, which prompted me to wonder throughout the night why bands don't play more covers nowadays; especially when you're crafting music that's consciously retro and genre-referencing, as Dead Ghosts do - they play a Nuggetsy psych-garage-pop - why not throw in a familiar tune by another artist now and then? (People with a fondness for the art of the cover should note that Tim Chan's band China Syndrome will be doing three sets of music, including MANY 80's covers, at the Ukrainian Hall as part of a school benefit this Saturday; I bet the upcoming Enigmas reunion January 11th will have a few covers, too).

Incidentally, Dead Ghosts prompted the best shout from the peanut gallery that I heard, again during the soundcheck; one of the members asked for reverb in his mike, and after a few minutes of soundchecking, someone seated behind me shouted, "More reverb, I can still understand you!"
The next band up, the Ballantynes, were easily the second best band of the night (I can't put them above Roky), playing a really tight, rich, guitar-driven Motown/ R&B, with two drummers, two guitars, three members who sang, a bassist and an organ. They're one of the best bands playin' this sort of music that I've seen since I caught Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings; the tattooed, sexy main singer commented with total sincerity and joy when we ran into her by the ladies' room after the show that she had been on the edge of tears the whole night, so moved was she to have played before Roky Erickson... This is a great, great band!
Seattle's King Dude had an interesting guitar sound - Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and the Gun Club came to mind, and there were all sorts of tense, dramatic musical passages that more than earned the band the description of "apocalyptic folk" - but they have a singer who does not seem to have found his voice yet - quite literally: he switched from a slightly whiny, under-differentiated "standard male vocal" to a deep, at times ironic-seeming growl to, at one point, what sounded weirdly like he had an Australian accent! Guy kinda needs to pick a voice and stick to it. (Plus the inclusion of a few moody slow acoustic numbers was probably inviting impatience from an audience ready to Rok). I suspect I would enjoy King Dude more if they were not the third opening act before a band I was really excited to see...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Red Herring: a fantastic, intimate show that YOU probably missed!

At one point towards the end of the second Red Herring set at the Prophouse last night, frontman Enrico Renz quipped something to the audience - a packed crowd of maybe 30 people, among them local musicians Ford Pier, Elizabeth Fischer, and Judith Scott - to the effect of, "if you think you're surprised... so are we!" That came after an amazingly tight, fun, high-energy rendition of their song "Love Machine," but well before the band knocked it out of the house with the three song closer - "Taste Tests," "Neon," and "Rocketship," the latter two unknown to me. (A final poem about Trout Lake park by Renz didn't really command the attention of the last few songs; ending on a bang would probably have been wiser, though Renz is an engaging poet - he'd done a previous piece earlier in the night that began with a fish in an aquarium becoming self-aware, which had him imitating gills and fish-facedness as he performed). The first half of the night, despite very recognizable versions of "Maturity" (which opened the show, Renz reading the lyrics from the back of the band's sole EP) and "If You Work For Me," had been dominated by more recent compositions from Renz, as well as new songs by bassist Martin Walton and guitarist Stephen Nikleva, both of whom took the mike to sing. The  newer tunes sprawled across the musical map, taking in Louisiana swamp blues, country music, and even Macedonian polka - which makes more sense when you understand that Nikleva jams every Thursday at the Chai Lounge (East Is East) on Main Street with Roma violinist Lache Cercel, exploring his own partially Eastern European heritage. But the final few songs of the night were very much a return to vintage Red Herring - a spiky, jangly, danceable art-punk that bears some similarity to early Talking Heads, but is mostly quirky and iconoclastic and unique. It was clear that the band didn't expect to return so effortlessly to their original sound - Nikleva had told me on the phone previously that he expected the songs wouldn't sound much the same - but if anything, they sounded better than on record, for the energetic live delivery: they were liberated, exploratory, highly playful - but mostly smokin' hot. There is life in Red Herring yet, it turns out. If Vancouver is lucky, they will do this again very soon...

Friday, November 15, 2013

30 Days of Night: Dark Days - three reasons to see it.

I kind of love the Liquidation World DVD delete bins, you know?

The good stuff doesn't necessarily last that long, they don't refresh them that often (they seem to not bother restocking them during spring and summer) and there's a LOT of crap in them, which tends to linger, but every time they refresh, there are a few tiny surprises to be had. Case in point: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days - a sequel to a film I enjoyed, which I did not even know existed until stumbling across it at LW for $3. A friend had turned me on to the graphic novels previously, so I'd actually read the source text, by Steve Niles, who co-wrote the screenplay; I enjoyed that enough that I pitched the idea of watching the film to said buddy - he also had no idea it existed - and we settled down to it this evening. The film departs from the book in various ways, but also retains various elements, and is an entirely acceptable lower-budget horror sequel - not a great film, but not an awful one by far, and one definitely worth seeking out, for genre fans.

Beside it being a passably entertaining horror movie, people in whom this blog has an interest might care about three fun reasons to see it:

1. The film is set in LA but shot in Vancouver; and although the Vancouver locations are very, very well-effaced - there wasn't a single visible trace of the city that I could see - there are two casting choices that will entertain (some) people from this town. The first is Katherine Isabelle, whom I presume any horror buff in Vancouver knows and loves; she gets to have one entertaining line where she cusses out the vampire queen, Lillith (a Gothic, Bathory-esque Mia Kirshner), and then dies in a very colourful way - one of the best ever neck-bites in a vampire movie, since it greatly emphasizes the elasticity of human skin. Having Katherine Isabelle pop up briefly in a film like this is like a friendly hello to our city: surely someone involved in the production has seen the Ginger Snaps films and knew what they were doing in including her.

The other casting decision is for a much smaller role, that of an audience member in a scene near the beginning of the film, which may not have been deliberate, but is still a pleasant surprise. Stella, the female survivor of the attack in Barrow from the first film, has set out on a mission to prove to the world vampires exist, writing a book and launching a speaking tour. As she stands at the podium at one event, the camera cuts to an interested audience member, sitting squarely in the centre screen. Unless the guy has an identical twin out there, it's none other than Tony Bardach - of the Pointed Sticks, Victorian Pork, Los Popularos, Little Guitar Army, and Slowpoke and the Smoke, among other bands. I very much doubt that Ben Ketai, the director of the film, realized in including this shot of Tony that anyone would sit up and go "Holy shit, that's Tony Bardach!" - but there he is. Haven't seen him in any other films beside Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue, the Watchmen movie, and Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed;  but maybe he regularly does extra work, who knows? Sadly, he doesn't get to change into a vampire or anything cool like that.
Gord Nicholl and Tony Bardach at Vancouver Pointed Sticks reunion show at Richards on Richards, photo by Nicholas Jones of the Pointed Sticks!

I suppose, having written the above, that I owe an apology to the rest of the cast of the film, who all have bigger parts and actual dialogue and such: I have just let my regional bias place an extra and a bit-part ahead of the main members of the cast. I am sorry. You all did a fine job. I was particularly entertained by Harold Perrineau's death scene. I neither like nor dislike Perrineau - he seems like he might be a better actor than the films he's in usually allow him to be, and the only role I've ever really enjoyed him in is as the wheelchair-bound Greek chorus in Oz. Still, you don't get many good head-smash-ins in cinema; this one outdoes Irreversible, as Perrineau - one of the film's protagonists, a vampire hunter who has turned into a vampire - is dispatched with a cinder block to the face, which is then repeatedly raised and lowered by a very upset former colleague. This is the sort of gore effect where, if you watch it with an equally desensitized, shameless buddy, you might find yourself both laughing and clapping as it plays out, then replaying the whole thing in slow motion so you can see it in greater detail. (I am not saying I would do such a thing...). 

2. So that's another reason to see the film, for horror fans: the gore is pretty great! The two real standout moments are above, but there are also some decent beheadings, shootings, and plenty of savage vampire attacks. There's even a scene where a vampire is tortured with a sun lamp (or something), which is fairly entertaining. There are a few irritations, mind you - blood, taken from a fridge and poured into a glass, appears about the consistency and translucency of red wine, whereas real blood, refrigerated in packets, would be much thicker and darker. Someone should have noticed this screw-up, because my equally desensitized, shameless buddy and I sure did; the film gets the blood right in other scenes, thankfully. Also, there's a scene where people are to be kept alive and bled out into bins, for snacks; any serious student of horror (or anatomy) would realize that the logical way to bleed out anyone is to strip them naked, hang them upside-down, and slash their throats, but in the film, characters are kept clothed, hung from their wrists, then slashed on the arms - so the blood gets to trickle down their bodies, get stuck in their clothes, and mostly wasted on the way to the floor, while they suffer and struggle all the while. Pretty illogical, there: even if there is some motivation for making these people die slowly (to keep the blood fresh, say) - the only reasons I can see why they wouldn't be hung by their feet are that actors might want to get paid more for having to do such a thing, and if they were hung from their feet; the male protagonist would die before he could be rescued; and the heroine wouldn't be able to fight back by kicking... It's either a failure of imagination or a cheat or a bit of both, but it stands out.

Anyhow, there's lots else to quibble with in the film - it's filled with characters making "only in horror movie" illogical decisions, and paying for them - but like I say, the film has the best neck-bite I've seen ever, it's done on Katherine Isabelle, and it's fun to watch Harold Perrineau's head get smashed to a pulp, so I'm prepared to forgive it a fair bit.
3.  And besides being a reasonably faithful take on the graphic novel, having acceptable production values for a direct-to-video release, and clearly being made by people with an investment in horror, there's one other reason to see the film: there's something pleasing about its premise, which goes beyond the graphic novel to connect the grim mindset of Stella, the protagonist (Kiele Sanchez, replacing an absent Melissa George; no cast members are repeated from the previous film) with the grim state of affairs in America today. While, yes, much of the film exploits what is now a cliche of the genre (vampire hunters clearing out nests - think Blade and a certain John Carpenter film), there is something pleasingly hopeless about these protagonists: people who have lost loved ones to vampires, for whom no trace of a normal life is possible, existing on the margins of society, laughed at or flat-out invisible, despite their efforts to save humanity from a great evil. The film - released in 2010 - seems to connect with a very despairing, cynical state of mind that was flourishing throughout the second Bush regime, almost like the vampire hunters could be ciphers for 9/11 truthers. And shots of Los Angeles - of abandoned shops, slums, boarded up homes and such give the film a resonant hopelessness, which the ending (more or less the same as the graphic novel's) reinforces in spades. This is one of the bleakest vampire thrillers out there. It doesn't entirely succeed on this count, but it adds some substance to the film that is quite unlike anything in the original, which is basically your standard family in peril/ heroic male sacrifice movie, with a bit of Rio Bravo thrown in and lots of blood and snow). 30 Days of Night; Dark Days does not succeed in what it sets out to do anywhere near as well as the first film, but that is in part because its ambitions are bigger and its story much more complex. These factors deserve mention; the film may be a bit of a failure - I'm not saying otherwise - but even where it doesn't succeed or resorts to genre cliches - it seems to be trying to do something interesting. I'm prepared to reward the effort. 

Anyhow, it's not a great film, but you know, I still can scrape up $3 for a movie like this. And if you feel the same way, a trip to Liquidation World might be in order (most locations in the Lower Mainland seem to repeat the same stock so you can likely just go to the one nearest you... the new French extremism film Inside is also in the bins at present, also for $3....

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A supposedly terrible movie that I really want to see

An Australian friend wrote me a few days ago to express her extreme frustration with The Counsellor - a collaboration between Ridley Scott and esteemed author Cormac McCarthy - and I told her that it hadn't opened here yet.
Oops! Turns out it's been playing at various locations around Vancouver for a few weeks now. Apparently I've been ignoring the multiplex at my peril - but you know, I haven't been much impressed with a single mainstream film this past year? Unless you count All Is Lost, which I took in at the VIFF,  and liked, or Only God Forgives, which seemed more of an indy-arthouse venture (and which played the Rio, which isn't exactly a "mainstream" mainstream movie house), it's been kind of a duff year for Hollywood cinema. Multiplex-wise, probably the most visually accomplished, immersive experience I took in was Gravity, and even that felt like superbly crafted spectacle in the service of next to nothing - a ho-hum bromide about not giving up (and/ or the existence of God or the divine or so forth). What else did I see this year? After Earth? Elysium? The Great Gatsby? World War Z? Pacific Rim? All of these were pretty to look at, entertaining enough to watch in the moment, but negligible in the long run; none are films - I don't think - that I would bother watching again (though Elysium had enough meat on its bones to get a positive review out of me, somewhere back there). Ender's Game made for an interesting writing assignment, but it turns out the controversy over the film was much, much more interesting than the film itself; You're Next was fun, but not as interesting as the previous Adam Wingard films I'd seen - his part of V/H/S/ and A Horrible Way To Die, which actually does something new with the idea of the serial killer film. I actually don't like horror movies where I can see the twist coming from the halfway point - which is very much the case with You're Next.

Anyhow, with 2013 having offered so many less-than-impressive (and expensive!) mainstream movie experiences, since the VIFF ended, I've had my attention fixed on the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre, and haven't really paid attention to what's opened elsewhere. Cinema seems something that there's no longer room for in your average mainstream movie theatre - not that there was ever much; the movies that get distributed now have more in common with roller coaster rides than the sort of movies I care about. (I was reading that John Sayles had to resort to a Kickstarter campaign to finance his new film, Go For Sisters; while admittedly it's been awhile - 1999, to be exact - since I wholly loved a Sayles movie, that's just fuckin' WRONG, man...).

So call me perverse if you will, but, despite all that, suddenly I am very excited to see a film that ALMOST everyone is saying is terrible: Ridley Scott's adaptation of an original Cormac McCarthy screenplay, The Counsellor. With a 36 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a savage, highly entertaining Salon review to its credit, the film sounds like it could be a misguided wreck on the scale of Tough Guys Don't Dance. There are dissenting views - but even the author of that article concedes he might just be striking a contrary pose (something I myself am not immune to). Certainly none of my cinema buff buddies (save my Australian friend) have said a word to me about it...

Except here's the thing: I haven't actually had much use for anything Ridley Scott has done since 1982. I remain of the opinion that his now deceased brother was the vastly more interesting filmmaker. Some of Ridley Scott's films (Gladiator) are painfully bloated, boring, and nearly impossible to watch; others (Black Rain, Prometheus) flat-out make me mad. I own exactly two of Ridley Scott's films on DVD: Blade Runner and Alien - and am not looking to acquire more, ever (though I would consider watching The Deullists again sometime, or maybe his Columbus movie). Pardon my heresy, here, but even Blade Runner I consider highly overrated, think the people who call it one of the greatest films ever made (as that Salon reviewer seems to say - hmm) need to see more real cinema. In a world where Prometheus - which I'm pretty sure is the single biggest insult to my intelligence I have ever seen on a theatre screen - gets mostly rave reviews (74% on R/T), maybe a film the mainstream critics are declaiming as awful is going to be truly great?

My Australian friend didn't think so, mind you. And I know from experience that Cormac McCarthy *can* get carried away with himself as a writer. Sometimes that's what's beautiful about his prose - as with his magnum opus, Blood Meridian - but it does probably mean something that the best film made from one of his works previously is No Country For Old Men - which is based on an atypically stripped-down and spare text, one which almost reads like a sketch for a feature film. Even The Road is uncharacteristically sparse, in terms of its language, which may have something to do with that film's semi-effective qualities. It *sounds* like The Counsellor allows McCarthy to totally indulge his propensity for elaborate language, like he has not been encouraged to restrain himself. That alone could make it interesting, though I may find myself closing my eyes and trying to imagine the dialogue on the printed page...

In any event, now that I'm aware of it, I'm actually keen to see this movie. Seems I very nearly have gotten to a place where if the critical consensus on a major film is that it's bad, it makes me more curious about it, not less....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A sudden fondness for David Hasselhoff, re: Doc Neeson

Jeez. I didn't expect that I'd ever have cause to feel fondness for David Hasselhoff. I mean, no offense to him, but why would I? Was never much a Baywatch type, and while I guess his poking fun at himself in Piranha 3DD was kind of cool, the movie was crap. But here he is, giving an awesome introduction to Doc Neeson at a benefit for Doc last April; the moment is touching, cool, funny, and indubitably sincere as hell. (Neeson, the lead singer of the original Angels, AKA Angel City, has been receiving treatment for an aggressive brain tumour; fans can support him by buying merch from his official Australian eBay page). It might help Angels noobs to note that what you see in action is a call and response that has evolved over time in live performances of "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again": the audience answers the question with "no way - get lost - fuck off," which I believe you can also see captured in Jane Campion's film Holy Smoke...

I've been spinning the Angels more than usual this week, and wishing Doc well. A few favourite Angels songs here, here, here, here, and here. I wonder if Nick Cave was ever an Angels fan?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Red Herring rises!

Edit: I am altering this post, to say: read the Straight Music Notes section for news on the Red Herring reunion show this weekend, where I have a mini-interview with guitarist Stephen Nikleva!
And to add a private word to Danny Nowak: if Red Herring can reunite, surely the Spores can play a gig, eh...?

News tidbits: Yellow Dogs, Todd Haynes, the return of Noize To Go!

Two members of Iranian underground rock band The Yellow Dogs were murdered in Brooklyn today by an Iranian musician who had been kicked out of a different band shortly before. Fuller news story here - apparently a money dispute lay in the background of the shooting. I don't know what to make of it, and I'm sad that this is the way I'm first exposed to the Yellow Dogs music, but guess what? It's pretty cool - sort of Joy Division/ Gang of Four-ish with a bit of surfiness to the guitar... pretty amazing band, sucks to find out about them through the obits page tho'...
In other news, I wish a happy Alienated-in-Vancouver welcome to filmmaker Todd Haynes, who has made some of my favourite American films of the last couple of decades, and will be personally introducing one of them this Friday at the Pacific Cinematheque. The price on that red carpet meet-and-greet ($40) is a bit beyond my ability at present, but I'm eager to catch the new print of Poison on Saturday (and the, um, "special surprise screening" the same night); I haven't seen Poison since the days of VHS, and then only once, to I'm keen to check it out again. My favourite film in the series is Safe, followed by Far From Heaven, Haynes' homage to Douglas Sirk; both are brilliant, and feature terrific performances from Julianne Moore. Those who admired the latter film will probably also want to check out Haynes' venture into the land of the miniseries, his adaptation of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce, which will be getting a marathon screening this weekend, too. Even the Haynes films I'm not a huge fan of - like his visually scrumptious homage to glam rock gender-bending, Velvet Goldmine - a topic I simply am not that stoked about, however brilliantly realized, musically ebullient, and gorgeously designed the film is - are filled with moments that get a normally repressed practicing straight dude like myself to raise his eyebrows (like Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor making out with guys, or Ewan in full-on Iggy mode, flapping his willy onstage... Okay, so it's lowbrow of me, but seriously, what other film are you going to see Ewan McGregor waggling his penis in?). And speaking of Haynes' films about music, if you can't afford the meet and greet this Friday, you can still see I'm Not There later that night with Haynes introducing it and doing a Q&A after, for a mere $25... hmmm....
Final tidbit: Dale Wiese reports that the new location of Noize to Go opens this weekend at 243 Union Street, in Chinatown, half a block east of Main! Dale is one of the great mensches of the Vancouver music scene and always has terrific records on hand; his return to the biz is most welcome!
Note: abstract cellphone photographs have no bearing on the writing here, I just didn't want to steal an image of Yellow Dogs off the net and have no pic of Dale's new shop. Seeya.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Time I Saw The Gossip...

One of the most delightful surprises I've had with an opening act is catching The Gossip - as they were then known - opening for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Richards on Richards some years ago, well before they broke (they were probably touring Movement, at that point). Beth Ditto made a hell of an impression. She was powerful, charismatic, expressive, sang like a motherfucker, and was sexy as hell to boot; with apologies to Mr. Spencer - who has made some fine records in his time - her band's opening set left the JSBX feeling like yesterday's lunchmeat. Being a fan of the bigger girl, I actually contemplated trying to pick her up, except her lyrics and some of her in-between song patter suggested she was probably queer, which Wikipedia confirms; I did chat with her at the merch table and let her know that I thought her band was just great, but there was definitely a decided non-flirtatiousness to her that kept me in check... Commercial success appears to have diluted Gossip's power a bit (though the second song on the new album is kind of apropos of my life-situation), so it's kind of cool that I actually caught them right when they were making the sort of music I like. Not sure it would be the same now. My favourite song of theirs is off their first album - "Got All This Waiting," which just kicks ass, and was in their set. Not sure I'd need to see "Move In The Right Direction" live...

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Not much for now...

I find it mildly amusing that it takes a couple of minutes after you turn on the news to figure out if the target of a given story is Mike Duffy or Rob Ford. So many comments could apply to either... as a fat white man, I think it is a good time to lie low for awhile. (Actually, I have writing I have to do).

In the meantime:

The weirdest book encountered in a thrift store this weekend: The Shamanic Way of the Bee, at Value Village near Edmonds Station. Who knows, it still may be there (I wonder if it was published before or after that Wicker Man remake?).

The coolest deal on a record that I don't want: an Italian-only Led Zeppelin release of BBC sessions, with excellent audio fidelity, at Carson Books and Records, at 27th and Dunbar. (Tim wants a mere $25 for it - the thing has sold on eBay for as much as $60, so that's a pretty good price. He's got a bunch of cool Miles and Coltrane LPs in, too).

The best deal on curry in town: Crave India, on Granville just south of Nelson. The butter chicken and palak paneer are terrific, the naan is cooked fresh in an electric tandoori, and the prices are very low. (The lamb is good, too, but it's kind of heavy and stays with you for a bit long - be warned!). Two people can eat a fine curry there dinner for under $25 - the place looks like a hole in the wall, but it's great, especially if you like it spicy.

Upcoming concerts I am excited about: Roky Erickson, Nov. 17; Pere Ubu, Dec. 14.

Todd Haynes retrospective event that I am most excited about - the "special surprise screening" listed here. (My favourite Haynes is actually Safe but I've seen it eight or nine times already and am not hungryin' for it at the moment).

In my CD player on the commute home tonight: The Rebel Spell's It's A Beautiful Future. What a great album... Listened to it three times through today.

That's all for now...

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Comments re-enabled, for now

Well, let's see if the spammers who were trying to post useless non-comments here, designed to direct people to their malign websites, have gone away: now that comments have been disabled for a few weeks running, I am going to turn them back on again and see what happens... Note that if I continue to receive spammy bullshit as comments, I will simply permanently disable the feature; spammers will thus be depriving my readers the opportunity to post their thoughts here, and me of legitimate feedback on my writing, while getting absolutely nothing out of it themselves (since I will not post their spam to my blog). They will be both wasting their time and damaging something of value to others. Kind of silly, what? As a marginal gesture of increased security I am no longer allowing anonymous comments, since I have found anonymous commenters - no reflection on the hacktivist group - to often leave snide, distasteful, and cowardly comments. Perhaps the need for ID will deter some of the spam attempts, too...

Once again, if you visit this blog and find yourself unable to leave a comment, you are welcome to visit my profile and click the "contact me" link or such. I do read what people send (unless it is obvious spam or impersonal attempts to generate PR for stuff entirely inappropriate to this blog, which I receive plenty of, believe me). Discussion, communication, and feedback are welcome, crass attempts to make money off my blog when I myself do not, are not.

Thanks for understanding.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Only God Forgives on video now

You know, I really like that Refn dedicated Only God Forgives to Jodorowsky? Suddenly, on my second viewing, having seen the dedication last time out, I'm watching the whole film through the filter of Santa Sangre - comparing evil Moms, the whole thing about hands and accountability... The film is dissimilar enough (no circuses, elephants bleeding from their trunks, knife-throwing) that without the dedication, in fact, the relevance of the comparison might not have immediately occurred to me - though it's obvious once you're told. It's almost like the dedication serves as a critical cheat note, a friendly way for Refn to invite viewers to consider his film in a new light.

Only God Forgives is out on video now - really worth a look, for those with a taste for stylishly cinematic, coolly artful, and psychologically rich acts of sadism, masochism, and general violence and sordidness, all with a Tangerine-Dreamy score (Cliff Martinez' score for this is so cool, you can buy it on vinyl.)

The New Wave In African Cinema

Very interesting-sounding series at the Cinematheque this week. I've been too overwhelmed by other projects to give it a lot of attention, so I haven't previewed a film in it; in fact, I've barely seen any African cinema at all, ever. Several directors will be in attendance, and some of the films sound highly gripping - like Man on Ground, screening Sunday, or Restless City, on Tuesday (pictured above). There's also a documentary about Barack Obama's African sister! Looks like each film will screen only once; it makes me wish I still lived a couple blocks from the theatre, back in Chez Bedbug, because I'd see them all...

More Cinema Minutiae tied into Fawlty Towers, plus Sam Peckinpah's Convoy

No money means it's a good time to sign out DVDs from the library, and today I got quite a fistful. Finally going to commit to seeing Love Story with Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal, though I might set it aside to watch with my girl, who has been obliging me with witches and possessed nuns and Tarkovsky and angels who long to be human, and is probably overdue a chick flick... might as well at least be a historically important one, and hey, is that John Marley I see in the credits? Ooh. (I will basically watch any film if it has an actor from Camp Cassavetes in it, though John Marley, Seymour Cassel, Peter Falk, Ben Gazarra, and Val Avery get the choice places. Apologies to Gena Rowlands, there, but she's done a lot of Hollywoodsy stuff I'm not so keen on). 
Meantime, it's movies with Ma here in my suburban purgatory. We started out tonight with The Boys From Brazil. Which, really, is the perfect DVD to get from a library: it's not quite good enough to be worth owning, but plentifully enjoyable as an idle entertainment, telling the improbable story of a Nazi hunter (Lawrence Olivier) hunting down Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck, in what surely must be his baddest bad-guy role) in an attempt to stop a plan to... well, it's a bit of a spoiler, I guess, but does anyone out there NOT know that the film involves a scheme to clone Hitler? Many times over, in fact. The cast has a couple of pleasing supporting roles from James Mason, Michael Gough, and an entirely unexpected Bruno Ganz, a couple of films after The American Friend, and one before Knife In The Head.
The real shocker, however, was that, when the credits rolled, I realized one character had been played by Sybil Fawlty herself, Prunella Scales! That's two Fawlty Towers tie-ins in a very short period of time; perhaps next I'll stumble into a film with Andrew Sachs in a role... I've been told I should show Mom Quartet...
What really surprised me was the next film in our after-dinner movie-thon, however: Sam Peckinpah's penultimate film, from 1978, Convoy. Though I dimly recall seeing it once as a teen, I have avoided the film since, assuming it was the work of a filmmaker in terminal decline. It holds 38% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been described by a fellow blogger as an incoherent mess, the "nadir" of Peckinpah's career; I was more than prepared to believe the naysaying, since signs of self-indulgence, self-destruction, substance abuse, and general sloppiness set in with Peckinpah as early as 1973, starting with his sprawling, maddening rough cut of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (I hold it to be the only legitimate version of that film, since I have never forgiven the decision to remove the "what you want and what you get are two different things" line from the Peckinpets edit, but that doesn't mean that I find the rough cut watchable). I'm fond of that film, and of his subsequent three movies - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Killer Elite, and Cross of Iron - but none are up to the level set by Peckinpah with the films he made previously (I hold The Getaway to be his masterpiece, at least in terms of sheer craft). And for him to turn his talents to a crowd-pleasing truck driving movie grouped with such crap as Smokey and the Bandit - how could it possibly have any merit?
Guess what? It's brilliant. Nevermind that much of the footage in the film was apparently shot second-unit by Peckinpah's friend James Coburn, while Peckinpah was indisposed with health, alcohol, and cocaine issues, holed up inside his trailer. Forget that it tells a juvenile story, written around a CB radio truck-drivin' song, or that it is filled with slo-mo car wrecks and barfights, scored with upbeat music for rednecks to hoot and cheer to... As childish as it may be, it's beautifully shot and edited, and very visibly in the end result a Peckinpah film, however much help he had in getting it made. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's by far his most skillfully crafted, perfectly executed film since The Getaway, is in many ways a return to form, even if the subject matter is unworthy and the emotional tone one of terminal immaturity, sentimentality, and cantankerousness. The leads (Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, Ali McGraw, Burt Young, and even Seymour Cassel!) are all just fine - with Borgnine and Kristofferson dominating - and the film *is* very much related to Peckinpah at his peak, with easily-spotted plot/ thematic resonances with The Wild Bunch (going back to rescue a jailed friend), Junior Bonner (the precarious modern survival of the cowboy spirit) and The Getaway (the romantic couple in flight from the law). More on the film here - including several glowing IMDB user reviews; Peckinpah fans who have snobbishly turned their back on this film (like myself) might be very pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly... Sam it is.(Borgnine is pretty great, too). And hey, you know, in its place, a good car wreck can make for entertaining cinema. What the heck...

Friday, November 01, 2013

Orson Scott Card and the controversy over Ender's Game

This is a fun little thing I did dealing with queer themes in Ender's Game, apropos of the current movie release. I had half-considered joining the boycott of the film; never did I expect that I would end up seeing it on assignment for Xtra!

Truth is, the controversy over the movie is much, much more interesting than the movie itself, which falls a bit flat. The special effects and battle-room scenes are great, but Harrison Ford gives one of the most wooden performances I've seen from him, and the narrative is so compressed that you don't really get into the minds of its characters, which is where most of the book takes place. The film even has to resort to a voiceover, at a couple of points, and various lines of dialogue - like repeated complaints from the film's recruits that they're tired - make less sense than they should, since the film omits scenes which explain them (like several of the "training battles" they go through in the book, which push the recruits much harder than we see them being pushed in the film). Pretty much the only real smile I got was seeing Ben Kingsley pull off a New Zealand accent (the Maori tattoos suit him, too).

Truth is, the book is a much better read than the film is a watch - and frankly, the weirdly queer subtext of the book makes it that much more entertaining; as I say in the Xtra piece, all that has been  thoroughly sucked out of the film, leaving it far less richer than it could have been (not that they'd have had an easy go of it if they called the aliens "buggers" throughout!).

Probably the queer community has done the film a favour with all the controversy; from what I could see, the film isn't going to be that much of a hit anyhow. I saw it last night at the Mission Silver City, and there were about five other people in the audience - not exactly packed (my buddy and I had arrived early in case there was a lineup but had lots of time for air hockey and some video gaming in the Silver City lobby before it was time to go in...).

EDITED TO ADD: this is worth a read, too, though it seems to be so busy right now that it's hard to get it to stay up. Apparently Orson Scott Card won't make a penny off the Ender's Game film - you can go see it without worrying that you're giving him money. Or so it is being said.