THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jeckyll (****)

Hyde and Go Seek This BBC Thriller

Complete BBC Series 1 (2007, BBC Warner)
2-disc DVD, 6 episodes, 360 minutes

Picked up this BBC mini-series at the library on a lark and I'm glad I did. Set in contemporary England, it's more like The X-Files than a traditional Hammer horror movie - and that's just what you'd expect from Stephen Moffat of Coupling and the new Doctor Who fame. The only weak link - and it's hellacious - is the casting of the American badass dude Benjamin (Paterson Joseph), who forgets that he's in a BBC production and acts instead like he's casting for Bad Boys II (or is he just doing a really bad Bruce Willis/Die Hard impersonation?). But other than that, this is a well-scripted, well-cast production, particularly shag-a-licious female leads Gina Bellman (Coupling) and Michelle Ryan (EastEnders) - the latter best known stateside for her brief turn as Jaime Sommers in last Fall's cancelled NBC series Bionic Woman.

Beauties Michelle Ryan & Gina Bellman

Irish actor James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday, Cold Feet, Murphy's Law) is the star and he shines brightly here.

Cutting-edge beastly as Mr. Hyde

Here's the Beeb's official capsule description:
It's 2007 and there's a new Dr Jekyll, with an old problem - Mr Hyde. But they have a deal - a body share – and an impossible life is somehow lived.

James Nesbitt (Murphy's Law, Cold Feet) takes the much-coveted lead role in this six-part thriller alongside Denis Lawson, Gina Bellman, Michelle Ryan and Meera Syal.

What Hyde doesn't know: Jekyll is married. There's a wife and two children he'll do anything to protect from his dark side. With all the resources of modern technology, and the best surveillance hardware, he's determined to keep his dark side in line. He's done a deal with his own devil.

What neither of them knows: an ancient organisation, with limitless wealth and power, is monitoring their every move, and a plan over a century in the making is coming to fruition.

The return of Dr Jekyll is no accident.

Writer Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) has taken a modern twist on the classic tale of scientific misadventure, which he describes as "somewhere between a modern horror story and The Odd Couple."

Friday, May 30, 2008

.45 Dangerous Minds (****)

.45 Dangerous Minds
The Most Intense Interviews from SECONDS Magazine
edited by Steven Blush & George Petros
Creation Books (www.creationbooks.com), 2005, 384 pages

I saw this at Daedalus Books & Music yesterday and had to pick it up as the price was right ($6.99!) and it had so many (45, in fact!) cool interviews from such a variety of interesting/frightening characters that I just couldn't put it down. The calvacade of kooky or charismatic characters includes GG Allin, J. G. Ballard, Bobby Beausoleil, Joe Coleman, Jayne County, Mike Diana, Warhol's Factory Family (Paul Morriseey, Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn, Billy Name), Ron Jeremy, the MC5's Wayne Kramer, Church of Satan's Anton LaVey, Henry Rollins, Tiny Tim, Rob't Williams, John Waters and, of course, all those serial killers talking their shit, like Henry Lee Lucas, Charles Manson, Richard Ramriez and so on. And the back of the book contains a massive compendium of quotes from every person interviewed in SECONDS. Interviewers include Paper Magazine editor/art curator Carlo McCormick, Billboard editor Tamara Conniff, Lords Of Chaos author Michael Moynihan, artist Steven Cerio, Industrial Music icon Boyd Rice, as well as Blush, Petros and others.

I remember reading SECONDS Magazine when Atomic Books carried it back in the '90s. They have their own website at www.secondsmagazine.com, where you can read back issues. Here's SECONDS mission statement from their website:
"From 1986 through 2000, SECONDS Magazine redefined rock journalism with intellectual and infernal investigations of the world's most intense characters. Founded by Steven Blush (American Hardcore) and edited by George Petros (EXIT, Juxtapoz), SECONDS evolved from an essential Downtown New York underground music publication into the seminal source for definitive interviews with past, present and future icons of all musical genres. Additionally, the mag featured in-depth interviews with artists, writers, serial killers, scientists, kooks and great thinkers. By the time publication ceased, the magazine's subtitle was, appropriately, "The Art Of The Interview."

That last line is accurate, as SECONDS always seemed to nail its subject matter and have the best pull-quotes to, well, pull readers in - often with the most outlandish and provocative statements, making the caveat ".45 DANGEROUS MINDS is not suggested for those easily offended" somewhat redundant.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Argybargy (****)

released February 1980, A&M Records

My ex-wife took all the Squeeze vinyl except for the "Squabs On Forty Fab" single, so when I saw a used copy of Argybargy at Record & Tape Traders (how anachronistic that word tape sounds today!), I immediately scarfed it up. While my GF and countless rock critics wax eloquent on how great the Elvis Costello-produced East Side Story (1981) is, I think Argybargy is the essential Squeeze album, even nudging out the wonderfully lad-ish Cool For Cats (1979). Just take the first three tracks - "Pulling Mussels From a Shell," "Another Nail In My Heart" and "Separate Beds" - which represent two singles and one that should have been, offered up one after the other with no filler in between. ("Pulling Mussels From a Shell" reached #44 on the UK charts and #97 in the US, "Another Nail in My Heart" was #17.) It's the next best thing to listening to Squeeze's "Squabs On Forty Fab" hits medley. Throw in another killer single, "If I Didn't Love You," the ninth track on side two (mysteriously this masterpiece didn't chart), and that's a pretty impressive album. Plus, there isn't a dud in the remaining tracks. The fourth track "Misadventure" keeps the party going full swing after the opening single trio and "Think I'm a Go-Go" concludes side 1 in fine fiddle.

The flip side offers up some nice Jools Holland workouts on "Farfisa Beat" (another single, though it didn't chart) and the Holland-Difford-penned "Wrong Side of the Moon," interspersed with "Here Comes That Feeling," "Vicky Verky," "There At the Top" (another great should-have-been-a-single song) and the ever-clever standout "If I Didn't Love You," with its memorable lines I've never forgotten of "I'm playing your sterogram/Singles remind me of kisses/Albums remind me of plans" (take that iPod Generation!) Yup, when you add it all up, the album "filler" is just as killer as the hits (four singles!) on offer.

The next year would see Jools Holland jump ship to become a successful TV star, a position he maintains to this day, and Squeeze switch management from Miles Copeland to Elvis Costello's man Jake Riviera. And the "new Lennon and McCartney" accolades that came with the OK, but slightly over-hyped East Side Story.

My 1997 CD reissue of Argybargy adds two tracks, "Funny How It Goes" and "Go," while yet another reissue (what is it with record companies forcing fans to buy the same album over-and-over again? Oh yeah, capitalism!), the 2008 Deluxe Edition, adds a 20-track bonus live CD. I'll live with the original, as it was, as I remember it, back in the day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Taming of the Shrew (**)

from Shakespeare Retold
Warner Home Video, 2007, 360 minutes
originally broadcast on BBC TV, November 2005

By the time I got to this, the third of four episodes of the BBC series Shakespeare Retold, I had to agree with the critics who said it got progressively worse with each week. If Much Ado About Nothing was the peak and Macbeth the low, this one was somewhere in between, starting off promisingly with the setting recast in a political venue with Katherine Minola (Shirley Henderson) as a workaholic, ball-busting, potty-mouthed conservative poised for her party's leadership, her beautiful sister as a shallow supermodel and Petruccio (the outrageously handsome Rufus Sewell, who previously starred with Shirley Henderson in Charles II) as a ne'er-do-well raspcallion out to tame the shrew. So far, so good, even if I was taken aback by how over-the-top Shirley Henderson was playing the shrew - I mean, when she cursed, it made me cringe - but things soon fall apart as Sewell's character takes center stage as a cross-dressing loon on a bender. Plus, I think the sexism innate in Shakespeare's play just doesn't hold up these days, the whole give-up-everything for This (Not So) Charming Man in these Hillary Clinton taking it to the Convention endgame times. Still, I was impressed by Ms. Henderson's acting chops; when she shows her range from going hardcore to soft and weepy, it's a moving moment and it made me want to seek out more of her work - and there's a lot, from Trainspotting to Topsy-Turvy to (more recently) Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scotland, Pa. (****)

Scotland, Pa.
directed by Billy Morrisette, 2001, 104 minutes
based on William Shakespeare's play Macbeth
Cast: James LeGros (Joe "Mac" McBeth), Maura Tierney (Pat McBeth), Christopher Walken (Lt. McDuff), Kevin Corrigan (Anthony "Banko" Banconi), James Rebhorn (Norm Duncan)
Tagline: "What if the McBeths were alive in '75?"

After watching the modern restaurant setting used for Macbeth in the BBC TV series Shakespeare Retold, I remembered hearing about this similar (in food industry setting only!) film and decided to check it out from the library. I'm glad I did (and thanks for the tip, Dave Cawley!).

This dark comedy has a stellar cast, with Maura Tierney getting my personal accolades as one of the all-time great Lady Macbeths. This is a definite cult movie and well-worth seeing and what makes it so effective is not just the fast-food diner setting and the tongue-in-cheek performances (especially Christopher Walken as a vegetarian cop) but the '70s era in which the director places the setting. This means we get "rock blocks' on the radio and a retro soundtrack that boasts lots of Bad Company, as well as Three Dog Night, Marshall Tucker Band and even First Class' Brit powerpop gem "Beach Baby" - the latter featuring legendary bubblegum vocalist Tony Burrows (of White Plains' "My Baby Loves Love," The Pipkins' "Gimme Dat Ding," and Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand" fame). Really, really clever.



Joe "Mac" McBeth trying to shove a hamburger down vegetarian cop Christopher Walken's mouth in their fight scene.

The three witches being reimagined as stoner hippies: Amy Smart, Timothy "Speed" Levitch and Andy Dick.

The Duncan boys being recast - Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) as a long-haired heavy metal rebel party-er and Malcolm (Thomas Guiry) as a closet homosexual football player who likes to listen to showtunes.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Macbeth (**)

from Shakespeare Retold
Warner Home Video, 2007, 360 minutes
originally broadcast on BBC TV, November 2005

The big calling card here is hottie Scotty actor James McAvoy (Atonement), who's a kind of Highlander Michael J. Fox, as Macbeth. Initially I was taken with the idea of the tragedy being recast in a restaurant setting, but then I realized, oh yeah, the same idea had already been employed to great (and comic) effect in the cult film Scotland, Pa., albeit in a fast-food drive-thru setting as opposed to a three-star restaurant as imagined here. Add to this a very weak and unconvincing (if not altogether hard on the eyes) Lady Macbeth in the form of Keeley Hawes (The Bank Job, Death At a Funeral)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing (***)

from Shakespeare Retold
Warner Home Video, 2007, 360 minutes
originally broadcast on BBC TV, November 2005

I checked this out from the library, a Beeb telly production of four Shakespeare plays retold "for a 21st century audience." So far I've made it through three of the four 90-minutes titles and the first entry looks to be the best production. Much Ado About Nothing recasts Beatrice and Benedick as rival co-anchors on a nightly newscast, ex-lovers whose open hostility masks a deeply felt passion that viewers know is much ado about something. Liberties are taken with the original plotlines (for example, heroine Hero faking her death to teach her lover a lesson after being humiliated at her wedding is instead turned into Hero suffering a coma after being shoved by rejected suitor "Don" - who in the play is her devious uncle Don John) - but while "the play may be the thing," I have just as hard a time keeping the Bard's narratives straight as I do following Raymond Chandler's novels, so whatever. The thing with both geniuses isn't the straight-and-narrow plotline so much as the beautiful language, wit and characters. And by that standard, this one's a winner.

What makes this update work is a clever, swinging soundtrack ("Tom Jones!), an imaginative script, and an outstanding cast - in particular Sarah Parish as Beatrice and Damien Lewis as Benedick. Both are veteran British TV actors.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Dentists (****)

The Dentists
Dressed (Homestead, 1992)

Thanks go to Michael Yockel for turning me on to his great jingly-jangly Britpop group. I had burned Michael a copy of a CD by Martin Newell (of Cleaners From Venus fame) and he said if I liked that melodic pop sound, I'd love The Dentists. He was right. This 22-track "best of" complilation is virtually flawless as it presents their trademark "Anglo Jangle Pop" sound that borders on the Twee. It includes their debut single from 1985, "Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden (And It's Wintertime)," which has appeared on Rhino's Children of Nuggets compilation, and my personal fave, "I Had An Excellent Dream." Their first album was called Some People are on the Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now, which refers to a sports announcer's commentary after England won the 1966 World Cup.

According to Wikipedia, The Dentists were an indie/pop band from the Medway towns in England who were active from 1984 to 1995. The band's permanent members were Mick Murphy (lead vocals), Bob Collins (guitar) and Mark Matthews (bass). The band also had three different drummers: Ian Smith (1984-1986), Alun Jones (1986-1991) and Rob Grigg (1991-1995). All members participated in writing songs.

Related Links:
Trouser Press

Friday, May 23, 2008

Priceless (***)

Hors de Prix (2006, France, 104 minutes)
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christian Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff
Tagline: "She only dated men with money...until she met a man with a heart."

I'm not particularly fond of French comedies, recently having been unable to get past the 10-minute mark in Moroccan-born Gad Elmaleh's previous star-vehicle The Valet (La Doublure), but even at their most insipid they hold the promise of seeing beautiful (often rich) people set against beautiful scenery. And Priceless (Hors de Prix) has the most beautiful of all people, Audrey Tautou, set against the most beautiful of all backdrops, the French Riviera. So, on the strength of Sun film critic Michael Sragow's favorable write-up (he gave it a B) and Mam'selle Amelie, I saw Priceless Friday night at the Landmark Theatre, where everybody else was packed into three theatres to see the new Indiana Jones flick. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I meant to see Rambow, but either Landmark Theatre or the Baltimore Sun posted the wrong screening time in the newspaper. Hmmmffpphhtt!)

Here's what Variety said:
A gold digger on the French Riviera unexpectedly meets her match in a mild-mannered bartender in "Priceless." Bittersweet comedy's perfectly chosen multigenerational cast ably demonstrates that if money can't buy love, it sure can purchase lots of obsequious service from four-star hotel staffers and costly goodies from laughably pricey boutiques. Co-scripter/helmer Pierre Salvadori serves up an enjoyable riff on genuine romance versus the pay-as-you-go variety, in crowd-pleasing, exportable pic.

Here's what I said:
Priceless is not priceless. Certainly not at its current market value at the Landmark of $10.50 a ticket. But it is an enjoyable two-hour diversion with a great cast, topped by Tautou as the gold-digger and Gad Emaleh - he of the soulful blue eyes and Buster Keaton long face - as the waiter/dogwalker who would be King. I hadn't seen an Audrey Tautou film since Dirty Pretty Things, so I had forgotten just how truly gorgeous this charming gamine really is. (There's even a brief glimpse of her breasts in morning-after scene, for those who follow this sort of thing.) Add a snazzy/peppy toe-tapping soundtrack and the where-but-for-the-grace-of-winning-the-lottery-go-I visuals of Monaco's beach resorts, and it's a total feel-good experience. And, as Variety pointed out, the attention to wardrobe and accessories - Guccis, Diors, Chanels, oh my! - begats a language unto itself, one that only fashionistas like "snow brown" at Fashionowy could truly appreciate. Read the designer wardrobe breakdown and release your Inner Metrosexual.

I'm sure my cineaste colleague Marc Sober would point out the narrative similarities to Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), but Hors de Prix adds the beautiful south of France setting, filmed in sun-soaked primary colors, that's really hard to beat.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shortcomings (****)

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
Drawn and Quarterly, 2007, 104 pages

Shortcomings collects issues 9 through 11 of Adrian Tomine's comic series Optic Nerve into one thematic book focused on Asian-Americans, assimilation and cross-cultural relationships. Ben Tanaka and his girlfriend Miko are Japanese-Americans, but Ben has developed a thing for blond white girls. It causes problems in their relationship and Miko soon moves to New York for a job. Though he dallies with a pretentious blond white girl artist, Ben is later incensed when he discovers Miko is dating a gajin white boy - who speaks fluent Japanese! Ben's gal pal Alice Kim is a totally assimilated Korean-American lesbian who adds additional perspectives on sexual and cultural identity.

I liked that this offered a look at what it's like to be "Us Vs. Them" (to quote the great LCD Soundsystem song) - characters seeing themselves not just the other in terms of being Asians in a White Society, but also being one type of Asian versus another (e.g., Alice Kim's attempts to appease her parents' sexual and cultural biases by introducing Ben as both her boyfriend and a Korean BF to boot). Fascinating subject matter and, as always, beautiful drawings by the talented Tomine, a Japanese-American well familiar with issues of cultural identity and assimilation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wake (****)

Dead Can Dance
Wake: The Best of Dead Can Dance

My GF turned me on to this Australian guy-gal duo and I've discovered it's great background music when I'm reading and an effective chill-down when I'm trying to fall asleep. I had this 26-track "best of" CD lying around for months until I went to a Charles Village garage sale around the corner from Chris Jensen's place and bought a music video compilation that had "Yulunga" on it. It was very "World Music"-sounding and, in fact, used images from the film Baraka. I think it was also on that film's soundtrack. Beautiful relaxing stuff. Thanks Amy!

Oh, and here's the the "Yulunga" video:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Libertines (***)

The Libertines

I'm always late to the party, so I only recently discovered this second album by Britain's Libertines. Before that, all I knew was that it was Pete Doherty's old band, and all I knew about Doherty was what I read in the tabloids about his high-profile, low-life lifestyle: drugs, rehab, shagging supermodel girlfriend Kate Moss, etc. I knew nothing about the music but I suspected they were just another dumb rock band without any artistic ambition beyond getting getting laid and getting high. So I dismissed them on sight as being a cliche - one more drug-addled, skirt-chasing musical motley crew.

I was right, of course, about all of the above. Except I didn't count on them actually having talent, wit and great pop tunes. After listening to The Libertines, I'm happy to report that this is the best pure guitar-driven pop I've heard recently since, I dunno, Franz Ferdinand and The Artic Monkeys. I haven't been this excited since the first Television album.

They kind of remind me of The Strokes, but being Brits they are eminently more interesting. "Can't Stand Me Now" was the big hit, but I like everything on offer here, with "Don't Be Shy," "Last Post on the Bugle," "The Man Who Would Be King," and "Campaign of Hate" standing out. The song "Arbeit Macht Frei" refers to the Nazi death camp slogan that translates roughly as "Work will set you free." Question: is "What Katie Did" about Doherty's supermodel squeeze Kate Moss?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Incident (***)

directed by Larry Peerce, USA, 1967, 107 minutes
Cast: Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Ed McMahon

Tagline: "At 1:55 a.m. Joe Ferrone and Artie Connors went looking for kicks. They found it 7 minutes later in The Incident."

My co-worker friend turned me on to this "bold, gritty, terrifying story of inner-city violence" after a riveting discussion about the film and recording career of Ed McMahon. 1967 was a busy year for Johnny Carson's guffawing straight man, as he recorded the children's album What Do You Want To be When You Grow Up? on top of appearing as a grumpy husband and father in The Incident. His crowning achievement, of course, was his singing debut on the multiple-copy-selling And Me...I'm Ed McMahon (as pictured below, with liner notes by Johnny Carson), wherein fans could hear him singing "My Funny Valentine," "Georgy Girl," and co-opting Maurice Chevalier's signature dirty old man ditty "Thank Heaven For Little Girls."

"You are correct, sir!"

Anyway, believe it or not, Ed McMahon's cantakerous salaryman character is the not rock upon which The Incident is founded. That honor goes to gangster/thug character actor supreme Tony Musante, and to a lesser extent to Martin Sheen, both of whom made their screen debuts in this film. They hold center stage while supported by a great ensemble cast.

Tony Musante

What Roger Ebert said:
It's commonplace these days to find movies in which the level of technical excellence is better than the material deserves. "Hells Angels on Wheels," for example wasn't much of a movie but the cinematography deserved an Oscar nomination.

"The Incident" is the other kind of movie. The photography is fuzzy, the characters are gold-plated stereotypes, the plot is obvious and advances automatically. But the movie works; it delivers the goods. It creates the suspense and fear it tries for.

Maybe that's because the subject matter -- violence on the subway --touches a responsive nerve right now. Society has always been pretty much divided up between those who are capable of sudden, senseless violence, and those who are not. This is a movie about what happens when the two types are pushed together and the outlaws terrorize the citizens. Sort of an urban Western.

What I said:
Great little gem of a movie shot in stark black and white that plays like a teleplay, perhaps an episode of The Twilight Zone without the soul-searching profundity, just with the quirky human dilemma aspect. This film featured debut performances from Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, and Tony Musante, who are all excellent. I'll never forget Musante tormenting a passed-out bum while haranging a passenger with "He a friend of yours? You know him? So whatsit to you?" Or the sight of reluctant hero Beau Bridges beating Terrible Tony unconscious with his broken arm cast!

Related Links:
Internet Movie Database

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Give Us Now Our Daily Dose

I am a mass consumer of Pop Culture. In fact, nary a day goes by that I'm not ingesting a book, mag, zine, CD, video or DVD in my never-ending search for the meaning of life. So far, I've found no meaning, but I've read, listened and watched a lot of interesting things along the way. This blog is my daily journal of whatever I'm reading, watching or listening to that particular day.