Thursday, August 28, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
RARE SEAN CONNERY APPEARANCE INSPIRES HISTORY'S VAGUEST HEADLINE
The story over at Reuters is about a promotional appearance for Connery's new book at which he restates his commitment to stay retired from film but adds, "I've a feeling there is something cooking. I don't know what it is yet."
Alternately: CONNERY PROMISES NOT TO DO NOTHING.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
With pieces by A.V. Club contributor Michaelangelo Matos as my guide, I've been using a portion of my eMusic downloads for the last couple of months to pick up some knowledge of African music. It's such a huge field, fitting for a huge continent, and there's a lot to here. Basically I've just been cherry-picking a few acknowledged classics here and there and I've yet to find something I didn't like. (Which tends to happen when you just cherry-pick classics.)
But, anyway, Le Rail Band: Where has this music been all my life? They're a Mali act formed in 1970, sponsored by the National Railway Company, and given a home at the Buffet Bar at Bamako's Sation Hotel. (I'm using this as my source.) Their formation was apparently part of a government initiative to preserve traditional Manding music.
I know how to find Mali on the map but know little of Manding culture. I know this singer's name—it's founding singer Salif Keita, who would later pass the baton to Mory Kante—but I have no idea what he's singing about. All I know: These guitars kill me and I've been listening to Le Rail Band (a.k.a. Super Rail Band, a.k.a. Bamako Rail Band, a.k.a. Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako) almost every day lately.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I've been reading Marvel's massive Hulk Omnibus, which reprints all the Hulk stories published between 1962 and 1968. (It's pretty big.) During most this period Hulk was popular enough to keep publishing but not popular enough to justify his own book during a period when Marvel could only publish a limited number titles in any given month thanks to a fairly crappy distribution deal. Thus, once his own title bit the first after six issues, Hulk ended up sharing space in Tales To Astonish first with Giant Man then with Sub-Mariner.
The stories are entertaining and filled with the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee spirit—and for a few strange issues, the Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby spirit—even if the plotting seems a little seat-of-their pants than over in, say, Fantastic Four. After a while it just becomes a question of who's kidnapping Hulk in any given month. Late in the run, Kirby starts sharing art duties with Bill Everett that includes one of the weirdest two-panel stretches I've ever read in a comic book:
"Even his sleep is too powerful to shatter!" Are we to be impressed by Hulk's superhuman sleeping abilities or is this an example of Lee's spirited prose overcompensating for a lull in the action? And could this particular gamma bomb side effect be marketed as a sleep aid? As far as I know, Hulk's super-sleep remained unexplored in subsequent issues.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Music review: The Final Solution: Brotherman
This is the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie that never got made (and may not have even been scripted.) Good stuff.
Box Of Paperbacks: Ed McBain, Vanishing Ladies
Early McBain, writing under yet another pen name. Not bad but problematic and protracted.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I like to check in on my hometown paper The Dayton Daily News from time to time. But I rarely find anything as amusing/disgusting as this headline:
"Bath In Sink Costs Xenia Burger King Employee His Job"
But wait, how did they know? Was their proof? Oh yes. He posted this video to his MySpace page:
"It's my birthday, and I'm taking a bath," he says. But the best line comes from the videographer, trying to coax an older, less easily amused co-worker to come look: "You can't see his penis or nothin'."
Or maybe the best quote belongs to the health commissioner who spoke to the paper. "They had already discarded about $10,000 worth of equipment and completely sterilized the sink twice," he said. "We just hope no one else follows through with (a behavior) similarly bizarre."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
This year's reading has been all about The Box Of Paperbacks Book Club over at The A.V. Club and my subscription to the Library Of America, which sends me hardbound omnibus editions of major American authors. I love the books and I like the randomness of the subscription service. One day I don't own any Willa Cather novels. The next I own five of them in one meticulously presented volume, complete with slipcover for that added touch of class/pretension.
Because I got a lot of Steinbeck when I first signed up I've consequently been reading a lot of Steinbeck, including The Grapes Of Wrath for the first time since high school. It held up well, but read a little saltier than I remembered. That's because it was a little saltier than I remembered. My edition restored some cuts made by Viking upon its original publication. A note at the back details the changes and provides some awkward comedy when read on its own.
Most puzzling entry? I vote for, "Joan Crawford."
Friday, August 08, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
- New Randy Newman album, Harps And Angels
Worth it for Newman's delivery of these lines alone in the title track:
[speaking as the voice of God]
"You ain't been a good man
You ain't been a bad man
But you've been [half-beat] pretty bad"
Pretty Greek scenery + appealing actresses ≠ something worth seeing.
If you're of a certain age and grew up with parents with no interest in rock and roll you probably first encountered The Beach Boys song "Good Vibrations" in an ad for Sunkist soda. Specifically, this ad:
The lyric is changed, the arrangement pretty lazy, and the harmonies aren't exactly soaring. Hearing "Good Vibrations" this way is a bit like seeing Hamlet on Betamax in a production in which Hamlet wears a Burger King t-shirt the entire time. Maybe that's why it took me a while to understand the song's genius.
So where did the commercial come from? I have a partial answer for that. I just wrote a review of the album Brotherman, a long lost soundtrack to a never-produced Chicago-set, '70s blaxploitation film with music performed by the unfortunately named Chicago soul act The Final Solution. It's due out in a bit on the great Chicago boutique label Numero Group which specializes in such oddities. Numero sends out updates every once in a while, and the most recent one linked to that YouTube clip above. Turns out it was The Final Solution, or at least members therof, providing the vocals.
I doubt they regarded it as their finest moment, either. In fact, the Brotherman album makes a pretty convincing case for their best moment never seeing the light of day until now. Here's a taste:
Love that guitar line, which was apparently going to be swapped out for a more polished guitar sound, strings, and horns. Maybe it's best it never got completed after all.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
LATE TO THE MOVIES: SHE'S HAVING A BABY
I've spent a little time lately catching up with some John Hughes movies I haven't seen or haven't seen in years. I'm not quite sure why. I don't think, when you get down to it, John Hughes makes (or, made, really) very good movies. And catching up with and revisiting Hughes is surely less rewarding than, say, watching all those Robert Bresson movies I've never seen. (Then again, Au Hasard Balthazar kind of did a number on me.) But sometimes you just want to do something and you're not sure why. Hence, I just watched She's Having A Baby.
Filmed at roughly the same time as Planes, Trains, And Automobiles and released a year after Planes in 1988, She's Having A Baby was supposed to continue Hughes' move away from teen movies. It didn't. In fact, it was kind of a critical and commercial failure. Was it that Hughes' built-in teen audience weren't ready to follow him into adult stories?
Maybe. I was, at least in theory, one of those teens. I can't speak for anyone else, but Hughes movies like 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club were less an active influence on my teen years than part of the ambient noise. I watched Candles, Club, and Weird Science on video months after they played theatrically. I saw Ferris Bueller the summer it came out but skipped Pretty In Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful until college and grad school respectively. But it didn't really matter. The movies were quoted constantly (sometimes hurtfully), the fashions trickled down to my junior high (half the girls in my 8th grade class showed up wearing vests in August of '86), and the soundtracks were everywhere. How did mid-'80s British synth pop come to define the sound of teen yearning for my generation? The careful combination of gauzy cinematography, quirkily beautiful actors, and inspired editing.
But back to the movie at hand. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern play young marrieds who seem to hate each other. That's not really an exaggeration. There's a montage toward the end (more on that in a minute) filled with scenes of their happy life together, most of which we never saw watching the movie preceding it. Bacon's a whiny, creative type who ends up in advertising. McGovern is disapproving. They fight, occasionally about the expectations of their terrible in-laws and sometimes because they just fight. It threatens at any second to become a movie about getting divorced.
It's a weird mix of adult problems and juvenile gags that reveals how poorly the concerns of characters past the drinking age ft into Hughes' formulas. He'll latch onto a real problem--money woes, extramarital temptation, etc.--and then brush it aside with broad humor or a jokey fantasy sequence that reveal Hughes as a director either extremely comfortable with ambiguity or unsure about what he wants to say. Bacon and McGovern's neighbors (including, as was required at the time, Edie McClurg) are nightmares treated with affection. At one point, a suburban block party devolves into a cacophony of under-the-breath backbiting and shrill recrimination but there's an unmistakable fondness to the way it's presented as the score makes clear. Later, Bacon fantasizes a dance number involving those same neighbors and their lawnmowers. Is he going mad from his surrounding or falling for the place?
Either Hughes is playing it both ways or he doesn't know what he wants to say.
Elsewhere he's perfectly comfortable manipulating the audience to feel exactly what he wants it to feel. Cue the Kate Bush:
Yes, that montage alternated happy memories with surgical instruments. And what kind of wife plays "Gotcha!" with the possible death of a child? I don't see this marriage lasting. But Hughes never made me believe it was meant to last anyway.
A final note: Young Alec Baldwin is in this playing an '80s sleazeball and it's tough to underestimate how well that works.
Monday, August 04, 2008
WHAT I HAVEN'T BEEN BLOGGING ABOUT WHILE I HAVEN'T BEEN BLOGGING
- Dental Surgery: One night, while flossing me teeth, I felt the floss hook on a tooth where I'd previously gotten a crown. I tugged until I felt somethign give. Then I pulled out half my tooth. Thinking I'd just pulled out the crown, I scheduled an appointment at my dentist, who informed me that I'd pulled out half my tooth and would need surgery to finish the job. Two weeks of dread led up to a quick procedure mostly memorable for the Vicodin-addled couch time that followed.
- The Pitchfork Music Festival: The only downside to the dental surgery was that I missed the opening night of this year's Pitchfork, which included Public Enemy performing It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety. The next day, opinions were divided as to whether it was awesome or lame. Most said awesome. I'm going to coninue to think it was lame just to feel better. The rest of the weekend felt anti-climactic, though Jarvis Cocker was cool and I'd neve seen Dinosaur Jr. before. Now I have. They were good.
- Comic-Con: Actually, I did blog about this.
- Lollapalooza: Went to see Radiohead. Skipped the rest.
- Nature's fury: Actually, this was just tonight. Stevie, Bryce, and I had tickets to the Cubs game which started fine and ended in a tornado siren. It briefly looked like we'd be stuck at Wrigley for hours. (Never one to miss an opportunity, beer vendors weaved through the crowd as we waited for a chance to leave. Hey, it wasn't the eight inning when the rain delay started.) In time, the tornado warning gave way to a severe thunderstorm warning which gave way to a mere downpour. We headed for the El and made it home with relative ease and in relative comfort. Sometimes the CTA gets it right.
- AT&T's online text-to-speech-demo site. (I call this "Morrissey 2.0")