Friday, December 30, 2011

Remembering Eduardo Barreto

A very nice remembrance of a very talented man...

Reason To Change The Channel (next in the series!)

"...we haven't heard much from Sarah Palin recently, but the..." *click!*

Funniest Movie I've Seen In Months...

...and no, it's not Jack and Jill. I just caught "A Town Called Panic" on the Sundance Channel and guffawed my way through this engaging, surreal and very funny adventure. Below is the review from Amazon, which explains the movie fairly well... but to write off the animation as something from an aspiring film student is to really back-hand the amazing effort. The crudeness of the figures is exactly the point, adding to the charm, but there is nothing simple about the animation and set design. And where the reviewer came up with his "Cheech and Chong" reference is totally beyond me, or his snide inference that this is "marginal" filmmaking. Actually, now that I think about it, I think this guy's review is lousy! Oh well...

The story is sheer little-kid madness, and the subtitles are actually funny unto themselves (the film itself is in French). Anyhow, in a world of cynical "designed to the demographic" filmmaking, this is a real find. And yes, I am fully aware that I am finding it a couple years later than the rest of the world. The DVD is available from Amazon and you can probably still track it down on cable.

FROM AMAZON: Writer-directors St├ęphane Aubier and Vincent Patar spun this nutty feature off their Belgian TV series A Town Called Panic (Panique au Village, 2000). When Cowboy and Indian decide to build a barbecue as a birthday gift for their friend and roommate Horse, they inadvertently order a zillion bricks, rather than the 50 the project requires. The weight of so much masonry causes the house to collapse, and a string of increasingly absurd complications ensues. The stop-motion animation is much cruder than the work in Coraline or Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Even the main characters have only a few articulations, and the directors avoid close-ups, so they don't have to animate facial expressions or lip-synch dialogue. The result feels like something an aspiring film student might make using old plastic toys. Many viewers (and critics) embraced the anarchic humor of A Town Called Panic; less sanguine audience members dismissed it as the animated equivalent of an old Cheech and Chong movie: something that's funny if you're stoned, but isn't if you're not. The extras include a making-of documentary, interviews with directors Aubier and Patar, and an assortment of deleted scenes and tests--more material than such a marginal film really warrants. (Unrated, suitable for ages 10 and older: cartoon violence, ethnic stereotypes) --Charles Solomon

Today's News, Today!

Apparently the off-color singing of the national anthem has reached epidemic proportions in Indiana. So an anti-Government Republican wants to pass a law making sure it doesn't happen again! *Whew*.

Watching Movies

Roger Ebert's put up a post articulating his reasons why people aren't going to the movies like they used to. You can read his take at the link:

Some of his complaints include high ticket prices, crummy theaters and noisy crowds. Well, I went to a brand new Imax theater up in Portland during the Christmas break to catch the new Mission Impossible movie. Tickets were $16.50 each, but the projection was perfect (this was digital Imax), the sound was roaring, the seats were new and reasonably comfortable, and you couldn't hear the crowd over the racket if you tried. $16.50 didn't strike me as that crazy a price for all those "pluses."

No, what I think has been hurting movies occurred before Mission Impossible 4 started. I'm talking about the previews, which were a numbing collection of ear-shattering explosions, slo-mo action and the same repetitive low-bass tone "brown note" signaling you're about to see something of devastating import. Usually another explosion. I can't tell you which previews I actually saw because they all seemed the same...

Now, two points before going forward. One, naturally you would attach previews for big action movies to something like Mission Impossible 4. Promoting "The Iron Lady" to this crowd would make about as much sense as promoting a Hostel movie before "We Bought A Zoo." Second, I'm pretty sure the action-packed movies being advertised will all turn out to be vaguely dissimilar from on another. But you'd never know it from the cookie cutter previews, which hit all the same (very low) notes.

Oddly enough, the best action sequence in Mission Impossible 4 featured no CGI blasts, but instead was a visually clever and dynamic sequence set inside a mechanized parking lot (!). So there ARE still ways to change up the formula. Maybe if the previews reflected some of this ingenuity as opposed to making every friggin' movie look like the same ol' same ol', attendance would go up!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Like Looking At Original Comic Book Art...

...and if you do too, here's a link to a very cool site that reproduces some amazing original art from the early days of Marvel with stories and anecdotes attached. Includes a scan of the first page of the first Spider-Man story from Amazing Fantasy #15, but lots of other great pieces as well.

(Thanks to Heidi McDonald's excellent site for the heads-up!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Towns That Still Have Presses, They'd Better Stop Because--

Sarah Palin doesn't like President Obama's Christmas card.


If I hear one more political pundit define the current political payroll tax conundrum in terms of the "optics"... I'll keep watching and likely see five more use the same in-vogue word. In the world of horse-race politics, is there a more dismissive, cynical way of approaching the legislation at hand? (I'm sure there is, I'm just asking!) And would it be too much if once in awhile these yakkers actually talked about the stuff IN the competing bills, as opposed to reducing it to the level of two kids shoving one other on a playground?

Nothing Says Christmas Like A Serial Killer!

There are competing "Iceman" movies in development/production, both revolving around the exploits of mobster hitman Richard Kuklinski. Kuklinski, who died none-too-soon in prison in 2006, opened up in the '90's for a couple of creepy documentaries that ran on HBO. He also spilled his guts to various journalist types hoping to get his gruesome exploits down on paper.

Philip Carlo's "Iceman: Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman" is a baroque collection of Kuklinski's ravings, many of which are so outlandish and gruesome that they defy common sense. Kuklinski brags he was part of the crew that took out Jimmy Hoffa, that he offed victims by leaving them bound and gagged in a never-found cave so rats could eat them alive, that he tossed the severed genitals of one still-living victim to sharks (!) then heaved the guy into the bay as dessert, etc., etc., etc. Others with more experience/journalistic knowledge than I have noted that at least SOME of the crazier stories would have made the papers (blowing up a gas station in Los Angeles?) and yet... didn't. Meaning it seems Kuklinski was inventing some of these exploits to pass the time, audition for the Dexter writing staff (just kidding!) or burnish his thug credentials...

"The Iceman: The True Story Of a Cold-Blooded Killer" by Anthony Bruno takes a more analytical approach, spending as much book time with the cops that took Kuklinski down as with the killer himself. Since this one focuses on killings that were pretty much proven to have been Kuklinski's handiwork, there is less of that uncomfortable feeling that we're reading Kuklinski's deranged fantasies. Plus I was intrigued by the police-work aspect, the months and months it took for an undercover cop to finally get Kuklinski's confidence. I always get uncomfortable with straight "serial killer" narratives that eschew the law enforcement angle, because I want to hear about the good guys AND the bad guys. So in the Kuklinski creepy book contest, I give the coveted "no balls to sharks" award to Mr. Bruno...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Battlestar Addiction - Portlandia Edition

It's true, you can't watch just one episode. Maybe it's something about growing up in Portland (like me). When I was getting ready to meet Ron Moore and David Eick to discuss working on BSG starting with season two, I got the discs for season one and figured I'd watch one (yes, I had missed the first season!) and... compulsively watched the entire first season in a weekend. Thank goodness I didn't have to watch all FOUR seasons...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The "Friends" Mafia?

So if I understand this Huffington Post article correctly -- the problem with network television comedy is that there is a "mafia" of former "Friends" writers who, despite their credits, are actually a sad collection of untalented shlubs who have been given a free pass and millions of dollars by easily swayed network executives while developing one dud show after another. Here's a germane quote from the HuffPo piece:

The setup is stale, the jokes are groan-inducing, there's not a major star anywhere near it, and yet one of America's major broadcast networks has spent millions to bring "Work It" to the air. How did this happen? The answer may lie not in what's on the screen, but in what's off it -- the writers who created "Work It," Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen, also happen to be veterans of a little show called "Friends," long the staple of NBC's once-dominant Thursday-night block of comedies. The last episode of "Friends" aired on May 6, 2004, and since then the members of its famous writers room have brought one new show after another to the market. And one after another, those new shows have fizzled, failing to recapture even a trace of the original comedy's hip, youthful, era-defining essence.

But still the members of the "Friends" Mafia return. "That show gave them a get-out-of-development-hell-free card," says one TV writer, who, like most of the people HuffPost spoke to for this article, declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

Jeepers. So some disgruntled people in the TV business (impossible!) give anonymous quotes bitching about the success of others (unheard of!) and suddenly the reason television comedy blows is because this evidently monolithic group of "Friends" vets got lucky back in the day. But wait. Even the writer of the article acknowledges the negative commentary may not be coming from the most altruistic of places:

In fairness to the members of the "Friends" Mafia, it should be noted that blame for the failure of any given show is notoriously difficult to assign. What with all of the meddling network executives, high-maintenance stars and competing creative visions, it's a wonder anyone ever manages to get the chemistry right. And the vast majority of writers working in the sitcom world have experienced far more failures than successes in the past decades, as network comedies have gone down like cannon fodder. It's also true that Schadenfreude, the official religion of the entertainment industry, accounts for at least some measure of the sniping that writers direct against the "Friends" diaspora. (Hollywood being a place where none dare risk offending, not one of the detractors wished to be quoted for attribution here.)

Isn't that nice?

Look, if you want to be right 95% of the time, predict every new show will fail, because that's just the way things break. Sometimes it's because the show is terrible. Sometimes the show can't find an audience. Sometimes it's the time slot, or the cast, or the gestalt of the times. But to go out of your way to lay all the blame on the specific successful writers from a specific show, like they're all cloned from identical DNA predestined to produce flops, is a little strained. And to do it using anonymous quotes from people I can virtually guarantee have an interest in getting these guys out of the way so they can sell their own almost-certain-to-flop sitcom (not because they're untalented, either, but because that's just how it goes) is unfortunate...

The entire article is available at:

Unbelievably, I Buy More Stuff! (Music Edition)

Lots of folks try to cover Led Zeppelin, some more successfully than others, but Zepparella is one of the best of the bunch. This all-woman band (based in San Francisco) tackles Zep's best with power and passion. You can check them out on YouTube and/or pick up their two concert CDs at the address below. Highly recommended!

I've also fallen in love with a Pink Floyd-ish blues ensemble, Blue Floyd. These guys perform powerful jam versions of (mostly) Floyd faves, and while a 20 minute blues improv of "Another Brick In The Wall" may sound a little hincky to some, we're talking master-class musicians (with pedigrees ranging from Govt Mule to the Allman Brothers) wailing away. Sadly one of BF's mainstays, Allen Woody, has passed away, but three of the bands hottest shows from 2000 are available from Amazon, as well as their studio CD.

Growing up in lovely Oregon I caught a few performances by Portland-based Johnny and the Distractions, a Springsteen-esque group that managed to snag a record deal back in the day (late/70's/early '80s). A remastered/rejiggered version of their first album was released some time ago, but band leader Jon Koonce has finally reissued the original homegrown records on a twofer CD. I much prefer the original sound to the later versions, which is probably just dumb nostalgia but that's okay. I found my copy at Music Millennium in Portland, the best record store on the West Coast (sorry, Amoeba!), but Jon himself is selling copies of the new/old release plus his current solo material at his website.

I also coughed up $206 (!) for Elvis Costello fancy-schmancy "Spinning Songbook" uber-deluxe edition. Costello himself has advised his fans not to buy this version (evidently he was as surprised by the price point as his fans), but I had a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket and attended one of the shows represented in the package, so...

Anyhow, it's a limited edition of 1500, with a signed EC bookplate, book, CD, DVD and 10" vinyl record. I like the music, the book is okay, the signed bookplate is cool and the working Spinning Songbook "spinner" is fun. Is it worth $206? Was dinner last night worth $60? I dunno. It's all relative. But I'm getting $206 worth of pleasure out of the music... I think... even though it appears the same music will be available in cheaper editions sometime next year... *sigh.*

However, as an investment, I appear to have done well. Amazon is sold out and the cheapest "other seller" edition is $260. Retirement, here I come!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hasn't This Ship Sailed, Boys?

Five stalwart Georgia peaches (i.e., "men") file suit to keep Obama off their state's 2012 Presidential ballot because of their continuing doubts about his citizenship...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reasons To Change The Channel (fourth in the series)

Bill Bennett, noted obsessive gambler and author of multiple hectoring books about the importance of personal morality, minutes after the death of noted atheist Christopher Hitchens was announced:

“He was left, I was right, but we had great debates, great drinking bouts,” conservative radio host Bill Bennett said on CBS Thursday. “And I hope as the big atheist that he was, he’s in for a big surprise...” *click*

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What th?! Sad edition...

...we lost Christopher Hitchens...and Joe Simon AND Eduardo Barreto? What an awful day!

ADDED 12/16: I posted the above late last night (and accidentally misspelled Mr. Barreto's name), so a little more needs to be added. Eduardo Barreto drew my one full-length issue of Action Comics (#635, featuring Green Lantern and the Blackhawks) and did a wonderful job, as he did on everything that crossed his drawing table. Barreto's work epitomized what drew me to comics in the first place -- excellent story telling, exceptionally well drawn. That he was only 57 when he passed makes this an even sadder loss, because of the work we'll never see.

More Sad - Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died (age 62) 12/15 of cancer... I can't say I agreed with everything Hitchens said or wrote about, but I admired his talent and his willingness to throw himself out on the stage. Sad thing is he knew his father had died of similar ailments and yet he smoked liked a chimney and drank like a fish... but is it really sad? Would he have been "him" without the chemicals? I guess we'll never know... but it's still a loss.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Something Sad

I won't specify the building or time of day to protect the innocent, but I recently had a sad human encounter that I can't quite get out of my head...

I was alone, riding an elevator down, when it stopped at a lower floor and a clearly distraught woman got on board. These elevators are grossly slow, so we were together for a few seconds when she suddenly said she'd just been fired. She started crying. She was probably in her forties and said she'd never been fired before. Evidently "people" had come in from out of town and told her to leave. Immediately. And from her reaction, it sounded like there had been no warning.

She didn't know who to call first and was considering going to a nearby bar and getting drunk (I counseled against it, though in her shoes, it probably would have been my first stop). Anyhow, we rode down that elevator, then another one to the garage, and I could see she was struggling not to lose it completely. I had no platitudes to offer except to wish her the best, and the last time I saw her she was crying on her way toward her car.

There has been a lot of political grandstanding about "lazy people" on unemployment and why they don't get a job, etc. I've also been gob-smacked by the cajones of a candidate like Mitt Romney vowing to create jobs, the same Mitt who made his fortune at Bain Capital. A financial firm that generated considerable cash by destroying companies and jobs.

I have no idea why my elevator friend was fired just before Christmas, but there is a genuine human toll in all the abstract blather that often seems forgotten. And maybe that's why the encounter is sticking with me. That, and the "there but for the grace of God go I" reality, something else our political leaders with their millions and cranky ideologues seem to have forgotten...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Falling Skies Trailers - Best and Worst!

From the site Seriable, the worst and then best trailers from 2011, with entries on both ends for Falling Skies. (I had never seen the German trailer and yes, it's very strange...)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Santorum Argues Nation's Obesity Problem Means Time To Cut Food Stamps

Speaking in Le Mars, Iowa on Monday, Rick Santorum promised to significantly reduce federal funding for food stamps, arguing that the nation’s increasing obesity rates render the program unnecessary:

Santorum told the group he would cut the food stamp program, describing it as one of the fastest growing programs in Washington, D.C.

Forty-eight million people are on food stamps in a country with 300-million people, said Santorum.

“If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?” Santorum asked.

Santorum says "People Die In America Because People Die In America"

From a Dec. 6 Iowa town hall meeting with Presidential Candidate and noted theologian Rick Santorum:

Also, current student Ryan Walters also challenged Santorum on health care reform and the idea of Christian charity, saying that he did not think “God appreciates the fact that we have 50 to 100,000 uninsured Americans dying due to a lack of healthcare every year.”

“Dying?” Santorum replied. After a back and forth, he declared: “The answer is not what can we do to prevent deaths because of a lack of health insurance. There’s — I reject that number completely, that people die in America because of lack of health insurance.

“People die in America because people die in America. And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. And they don’t go to the emergency room or they don’t go to the doctor when they need to,” he said. “And it’s not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Reasons To Change The Channel (third in the series)

"...coming up next, the Romney campaign takes issue with President Obama's holiday vacation plans..." *click*

Monday, December 05, 2011

More Stuff I Like

Have to admit I never got into King Crimson or the League of Crafty Gentleman, but Robert Fripp's "Frippertronics" recordings from the late 70's/early 80's really hit the sweet spot with me. These eerie tape loop compositions, never played the same way twice, should be resurrected for David Lynch's next weirdness. (Actually, for all I know he's used some Fripp music in one of his movies!) Happily, Mr. Fripp has seen fit to make a lot of these recordings (plus his other live work) available via high quality download, all of it available here. Highly recommended!

In other news, I've become fascinated with the jam/blues of Blue Floyd, a band from 2000-ish that "covered" Pink Floyd in very cool arrangements. There is a studio album available and three live shows (so far), all exceptionally well played and recorded. Amazon has the catalog, and of course I now have them all. Very cool stuff...

Now I Have To Go To A Hallmark Store?!

"In stores only."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Elvis Costello Doesn't Like His Box-Set

Here's the latest Elvis Costello news. A MUCH less expensive CD only version of this Spinning Songbook comp is already for sale at Amazon, and I believe a DVD/CD set at a more standard price point is due soon.

And (*sigh*) yes, I pre-ordered this version... sorry, Elvis! (I think...)

Shock Cinema #41 & Mineshaft #27

With the internet killing small publishers left and right, it's time to treasure the small press we've got left. Especially when we're talking mags as great as Shock Cinema and Mineshaft.

First the movies. Shock Cinema editor Steven Puchalski gathers/writes dozens of reviews of incredibly obscure movies, as well as publishing some great interviews with intriguing people. The latest issue features a long interview with Nancy Allen (of Carrie and Robocop fame), Burton Gilliam (the grinning Deputy from Blazing Saddles and the "New York City?!!" salsa ad guy) and several others. (Gilliam's story is especially great, he was a fireman in Texas when on a lark he auditioned for a small role in Paper Moon and landed it. A few months later, Mel Brooks saw a rough cut of Moon and insisted on getting Gilliam for Blazing Saddles, but Gilliam couldn't get enough vacation time from the fire department and... well, buy the magazine and read the piece!)

Ordering info and other details available at .

Mineshaft is a comics-ish magazine with plenty of new work by Robert Crumb (always welcome) and lots and lots of eclectic artwork by others, as well as text stories. This issue features a lengthy piece on the various styles in which you can draw Emily Dickinson (!) and a selection of Crumb's "Dream Diaries." Limited to 900 copies, $9.00 a pop and highly recommended. Most of the back issues are still available and well worth checking out.

Pertinent info at

Reasons To Change The Channel (second in the series)

"Joining us now to debate the topic, Ron Christie, Republican strategist and a former member of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff..." *click*

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I Like Live Music A Lot

And I really like the performances during the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. Now the best have been gathered digitally in a ten (!) volume set available through the Hall of Fame and i-tunes. Click the link for a track listings... 200+ songs! From oldies to goodies to newies and everything in between. (And no, I don't get a commission!) (Dammit!)