Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Washington Post "Journalist" Decries Free Speech

An 18 year old high school girl tweeted something mildly critical/offensive about Gov. Sam Brownback. Brownback's ever vigilant staff reported the tweet and their displeasure to the girl's school principal, who demanded she write an apology. She refused and an internet brouhaha erupted, with most criticizing Brownback's ridiculously thin skin. Brownback actually apologizes -- then a Washington Post columnist weighs in with a "yeah, but free speech has limits" piece. Really? A teenager write "Brownback sucks" and that's where you draw the line?

You really have to read the original Ruth Marcus/Post piece to believe it. Glenn Greenwald takes her to the woodshed below:

*Thanks to Muldfeld for the correction -- I originally attributed this to the New York Times, not the Washington Post. Thank goodness I'm not a journalist!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Stuff! Springsteen And Cellos!

I guess there are people out there who do not like Bruce Springsteen. I was reading messages on a blog the other day scoffing that most of the cool folks think he's over the hill, old school, etc. Okay. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, no matter how ridiculous and ignorant. But prepare to read a lot about B.S. here over the next months as he preps another world-wide tour with the E-Street Band in 2012. Best reason ever to welcome in a New Year!

Speaking of Bruce, here's a brand new interview with E-Street guitarist and long time performer Nils Lofgren, who sounds like one of the nicest, most talented guys you could ever meet.

In other news, I've been listening a lot to a CD by the performers 2CELLOS, who are exactly what that moniker implies -- two energetic guys playing the hell out of the cello, covering classics and more modern turns like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." They opened for Elton John overseas and have been making beautiful noise all over the place (i-tunes has a five track live EP from a London concert in 2011) and they come highly recommended!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do We Need Record Stores?

Short answer, yes! Longer answer discussing many of the challenges facing record stores in the digital age is available below:

Some of my fondest memories are mulling albums and vinyl singles at various indie record stores in the Portland area back in the 70's. There were a bunch of stores back then with clerks that ranged from sullen to knowledgeable to enthusiastic to bored. You never knew what you'd be getting on any specific day! I remember a punky-new wave fellow named "Thor" at some short-lived hole in the wall selling/hyping the latest Stiff Records singles, everything from E. Costello to Dave Edmunds to Rachel Sweet. There was a short-lived super store called "Crystal Ship" that impressed with sheer abundance... two giant floors of records, records, records. To this day I stop by Music Millennium whenever I'm in Portland; they're still one of the best record stores around. And I get instant college flashbacks when the (pleasant!) patchouli/incense odor hits...

I also spend WAY too much $$$ at the Los Angeles Amoeba store, because for all the convenience of Amazon, I still like the tactile "flipping through CDs" search method. And I'm constantly finding/trying something new. Recent example: 2003's "The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place" by Explosions In The Sky. These guys evidently scored the film "Friday Night Lights" and yet someone never landed on my admittedly narrow radar. I'm not even sure what you would call this (blissful/angry instrumental trance music with a surprising beat?) but I sure like it, and I would never in a million years have found it if an Amoeba employee hadn't given it a listen and stuck a descriptive label extolling the CDs virtues on the shelf.

There's another "Record Store Day" this Friday... if I can fight through the crowds I might try to wrestle my way inside and support my local record store.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Speaking Of Critics... I Love This Guy!!!

I may have linked to this before, but I don't think it's possible to link to it enough!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rob Liefeld And Careers

Rob Liefeld burst into comics working on some major Marvel projects in the late 80's/early 90's. He then transformed himself into an artist/entrepreneur as a founding member of Image comics, then still later he worked on more mega projects at Marvel like "Heroes Reborn." (As a side note, I remember seeing samples from Liefeld when we were looking for an artist for my first Dark Horse comic, "The American." They were pretty good!) Over the years Liefeld has gathered many fans and just as many haters, and in an interesting column he talks about weathering the storm...

My own personal credo/philosophy re: the ebb and flow of "career" comes from a story I heard about producer Larry Gordon, whose was involved in the Timecop movie and television series (along with a few little movies like Die Hard and Predator). Gordon produced the Olivia Newton John starring movie Xanadu, which turned out to be a gigantic critical and box-office flop. At the time, Gordon would have lunch every day in the 20th Century Fox commissary. The Monday after Xanadu's collapse, at a time when no one would have blamed Gordon if he decided to hunker down in his office for a day or two, he marched into the commissary as usual. When someone asked Gordon for a comment about the Xanadu debacle, he had a one word response: "NEXT!"

Which is really all you can do. If you're lucky enough to have a career writing/producing film and television, you're (fingers-crossed) gonna have some winners and you're probably going to have some losers. Nobody sits down and actively tries to figure out how to write the world's biggest stinker, but sometimes it happens. And when it does, all you can do is try to learn from your mistakes and then forge ahead...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Atlas Shrugged And Then Was Recalled

Evidently 100,000 title sheets printed up for the DVD and blu-ray release of Atlas Shrugged (The Movie) are being recalled because of an error in the description. The blurb on the back describes the movie as a story of "self-sacrifice", and that will not do. The text is being changed to "Ayn Rand's timeless novel of rational self interest..."

Does anyone else find it curious that this dire descriptive debacle occurred the same week as Veteran's Day? I wonder if this movie would even exist if it weren't for the (apparently) irrational self-sacrifice of so many in wars past...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Movies! Movies!

The "recuperate while watching" marathon continues...

ATTACK THE BLOCK: A fun and smart alien invasion film that starts with a bang, builds nicely AND spends time developing some interesting characters. When an alien creature smash-lands in a poorer section of (London? I think), a group of teenage street thugs take umbrage, chase down the escaping creature and kill it. Then a whole bunch MORE creatures come down in the same block evidently seeking payback, requiring our sorta-gang-kids to fight back. The alien creatures are basically black blobs with glowing blue eyes and fangs... and boy are they pissed. Nice performances and funny/realistic reactions from the kids toward the alien invasion. (One 10 year old fills his super soaker with gasoline to take them on.) This isn't ET, though, some of the kids don't make it and the creatures are taking no prisoners. I liked it!

THE DEVILS: Ken Russell's 1971 masterpiece remains unavailable except for a murky transfer on a DVD available from Amazon. I saw this film with my father (I think I needed a "parent or guardian" to get in because of the X rating) when it was first released and images from it have remained burned in my brain. Oliver Reed plays Father Grandier, a Priest who ran afoul of the French government in the 1630's and wound up being (falsely) accused of witchcraft. His inquisition-style torture remains really, really hard to watch. (Sledge-hammers and legs... say no more!) Russell's flamboyant visual style gives this an almost surreal feel, and the uncomfortable experimental score adds to the overall feeling of depravity and madness. Also included on the disc are some supplemental pieces on how The Devils was censored back in the day, and the great fervor that ignited over Russell's debauched vision. I managed to make it about halfway through the main documentary before I'd seen one too many snotty British critics sniffing about how they suspect Russell would actually approve of the cuts imposed on the film. Yeah, right, about as much as these stuffy gits would appreciate seeing one of their tedious columns hacked apart by editorial fiat. The clips in the documentary are much sharper and clearer than the film presentation, so here's hoping the Criterion guys get their hands on this soon and put out a definitive, uncut version! (If they can reissue Pasolini's Salo on blu-ray, surely this one can see the light of day!)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Quite a mixture of genres in this set of comments! I missed this in the theater, finally caught up to it on DVD. Don't have a whole lot to say, it was fun and captured the Kirby-esque "feel" of Cap, though I found the eventual stand off with the Red Skull a bit truncated and unsatisfying. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the movie is how they turned husky Chris Evans into skinny dweeb Steve Rogers, pre-"Vitaray" injections. I think the best thing about the film is that they didn't blow it...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

More Blu Ray Fun!

Those cunning Brits have released a couple of MV faves on blu-ray, and through the miracle of... well, the mail... I have sampled them!

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (American title, FIVE MILLIONS YEARS TO EARTH) is probably my favorite Hammer film, and it still holds up as a remarkable piece of science fiction. Andrew Keir plays Quatermass, a scientist called in when an alien ship is discovered in an abandoned subway in London. When the darn military persists in poking and prodding the ship, it unleashes a primal alien force that creates much havoc. There's an overload of cool ideas in this movie but it's also a powerful thriller and pretty scary, too. A few moments betray the budget and/or period (late 60's), but overall this is one of the best science fiction movies of the era (and maybe ever). Happily, the blu-ray is really impressive, sharp detail, vivid color, really nice. Well worth seeking out if you have an all-region player.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (American title, THE CONQUEROR WORM) is another exceptional British horror film, directed by Michael Reeves and starring Vincent Price in one of his best and darkest roles. Witchfinder is an uncompromising examination of witch hunts from the 1600's and it never lets up, right down to the amazingly bleak yet action packed finale. It looks like the source material has taken a bit of a beating, since this blu-ray edition has a lot of speckles, but the daylight scenes are sharp and bright and I suspect this is about as good as this is going to look until someone does a wholesale restoration. Great stuff!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Why I Don't Like Herman Cain

Mr. Cain has had a rough few days with the drip-drip-drip of sexual harassment allegations, but that's not why I really don't like this guy (though it sure doesn't help!). He's also demonstrated an understanding of foreign policy that makes "Sarah Palin look like Averell Harriman" (Chris Matthews of "Hardball" attributes this quote to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough), but while that's clearly a dis-qualifier, it's also not the reason I really can't stand him. No, it's quotes like this re: "Obamacare" that tick me off:

"My chances of survival when I went through cancer treatment was 30 percent," he said. "Three, zero! Thirty percent! If a bureaucrat had to make a decision on the likelihood of that would work, what do you think the bureaucrat would have said? Don't waste the money!"

I hate that because it's unadulterated bullshit. I hate it because it transfers the truth about the current American insurance system, where care IS often parceled out according to the whims and dictates of mega-insurance companies, to a Government program that (so far) has enabled me to continue to insure my college age son on my current insurance policy and dares to prevent private insurers from discriminating against customers for having prior conditions.

How trying to deliver health care to more people in a fairer way has become a conservative bugaboo worthy of derision is really one of the most tragic turns I've seen in American politics. There are plenty of villains out there, but shame on Herman Cain for lying about it in such a transparent manner, and shame on all the people applauding this fraud for his nonsense.

Boxing Day

It's no secret the music business has been floundering recently, but you wouldn't be able to tell if you looked at my credit card statement. The latest gambit is reissuing baby-boomer favorites in pricey (sometimes EXTREMELY pricey) box sets. Unfortunately for my bank balance, I've fallen prey to a few of these efforts... but what can I say? They really are pretty cool.

NEVERMIND by Nirvana: Celebrating the 20th anniversary of this amazing release, a couple of different packages have been released. The expensive ($149-ish) version features the remastered original album + B-sides, two CDs of demos and studio sessions (most previously unreleased), and a CD and DVD of a previously unreleased concert at the Paramount theater in Seattle. The CDs come packaged in a 12" record sized box with a glossy book of photos and record company ephemera. I'm still wading through the unreleased material, but the demos are very interesting and very listenable. And I'm always sucker for live material. There is also a 2CD version of $20 that has the remastered original plus a "best of" selection of tracks from the big set. And there's a blu-ray of the Paramount concert coming soon. I've seen some complaints about the remastered album's sound, but to these ruined old ears, it all sounds pretty good to me.

ACHTUNG BABY by U2: Loved this CD when it first came out, and now there's so much more! For a mere $125 you too can own the "Super Deluxe 10 disc (six CDs + four DVDs) edition including the original Achtung Baby album, the follow-up album, Zooropa, b-sides and re-workings of previously unheard material recorded during the Achtung Baby sessions. Four DVDs including "From The Sky Down", Zoo TV, all the videos from Achtung Baby plus bonus material. Hardback book and 16 art prints." But the U2 boys don't stop there -- for a mere $450 (!) you get all that plus vinyl sides, Bono's sunglasses (!) and a metallic puzzle box. It's all a little extreme (a little?) but these ARE discretionary purchases...

I see from Amazon that Elvis Costello is releasing a limited edition version of his Singing Songbook concerts from L.A. earlier this year, to be followed next year by less expensive editions for the average listener. The concert I saw was amazing, so this is good news, but $258?! Really? Oh, wait, there's an autograph? SOLD. (Sucker!!!)