Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gilda Movie Review

Gilda, directed by Charles Vidor, written by E.A. Ellington (story) Marion Parsonnet (screenplay) Jo Eisinger (adaptation) Ben Hecht uncredited. Starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, and George Macready. 1946, 110 minutes.

If you want to see some fantastic acting, watch Gilda. Rita Hayworth is simply fantastic. Flirtatious, vindictive, scared, fearless, and flirtatious. Did I mention flirtatious? She has one of the best introduction scenes in this movie of any actress ever. Her face is vivid with emotion. Glenn Ford is as good as ever. I’ve only recently come to realize just how good an actor Ford is and why he was such a big star in the 1940s and 1950s. If you need to catch up on some of his movies, watch 3:10 to Yuma, and The Big Heat (See my review of the Big Heat).

Gilda is about one woman and two men, much like Casablanca, but different. Ballin Mundson (George Macready) runs an illegal gambling house (like Casablanca!) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is his right hand man. When Ballin goes out of town once, he comes back with a wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). Johnny and Gilda have a history (like Casablanca!) and Ballin is suspicious. Johnny and Gilda love and hate each other tremendously. Johnny does his best to stay loyal to his boss and see that Gilda does also. Three broken people in such a tight grouping makes for explosive emotions. It doesn’t help when illegal activities are also part of the scene.

Rita Hayworth is smoldering, smoking, simmering, and sensuous. In addition, there is some great dialog, which is always appreciated. Gilda: "If I'd been a ranch, they would have named me The Bar None." -- Johnny Farrell: "Doesn't it bother you at all that you're married?" Gilda: "What I want to know is, does it bother you?" -- While Gilda is dancing with an Argentine, he asks where she comes from, she says "America." He replies, "Isn’t this America?" South America is of course part of America. She smiles and says "I mean New York." Yes folks, New York is America, even in the 1940s.

The DVD has been beautifully transferred and looks fabulous. The sound quality is also exceptional for a 1940s Film Noir. The bonus features includes a short history of Rita Hayworth’s film career that ends very abruptly. I highly recommend Gilda.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Big Heat Movie Review

The Big Heat. Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin. Screenplay by Sydney Boehm from a serial story in the Saturday Evening Post by William P. McGivern. 1953, 89 minutes.

What a great thriller. Boy, they used to know how to make a tight well-told story. If The Big Heat were to be remade today it would be 2 ½ bloated hours, not 89 minutes (less than 1 and-a-half hours!).

Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a homicide detective assigned to file the report on a cop who committed suicide. What he figures is a pretty standard open-and-shut case to file gets him into trouble when a barfly calls him up and questions the suicide. Bannion’s not quite sure what to make of this and follows up, looking for the truth. Then the barfly turns up dead. This plunges him into a mess of corruption and misery.

Lee Marvin is so believably sadistic that one wonders how he got any dates after this movie. Gloria Grahame gets all the good lines in The Big Heat. Bannion is no wit, but he is methodical, honest, and pissed. The DVD has some of the old advertising posters and trailers for The Big Heat, The Lady from Shanghai, and Suddenly, Last Summer. The Big Heat is one of the top Film Noir movies, so be sure to buy it or stick it in your Netflix queue. Today.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Quantum of Solace Movie Review

Quantum of Solace Directed by Marc Forster. Written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade. Starring Daniel Craig, Judy Dench. PG-13. 106 minutes.

Was this a Bond movie? I think the writers forgot what makes a Bond movie a Bond movie. There were no gadgets, no “shaken, not stirred,” no “Bond, James Bond.” This was just a normal spy/revenge movie with M and a moody Felix Leiter. It’s like this movie is more character set-up. You don’t use the second movie for more set-up, you get into some action. Well, I guess there was action, but you couldn’t tell what was going on during most of it. Perhaps a worthy opponent would have been good. Or a plot that indicated a large magnitude of danger. I don’t know. I do know that I only go to the theater once or twice a year and I expect better.

Daniel Craig is great and tough and the kind of guy they need for 007, with an exception. James Bond has no class in this movie. No suave demeanor, just gruffness. Once again, any spy can be tough and gruff. I can watch Jack Baur without paying $16.00. Judy Dench as M is really ideal. I wasn’t sure I would ever warm to her when she was introduced, but she fits the roll wonderfully. Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter has potential, but all he allowed to do in Quantum of Solace is pout. He was much better in Casino Royale. The car chase that opens the movie is pretty cool and Bond is driving an Aston-Martin. The final big explosion scene is almost over-the-top stuff and was one of only three times I felt like I was watching a Bond movie (the other two being the car chase and a dead girl in bed). That is about as positive as I can get.

What really ticks me off is that the directing and/or editing is so awful. I can forgive a lot in a Bond movie but I think I’m going to quit watching all action movies until they decide that cutting a fight scene in a confusing manner is really a simpleton’s way of avoiding decent camera work. Even during the non-fight scenes, the amount of cuts and the speed of the cuts are ridiculous. At one point in Quantum of Solace I was counting how long between each cut. One-to-three seconds unless one of the main two men were on the screen. Then it was up to seven seconds. That is bad news for a filmmaker. Anytime the audience is so distracted they are taken out of the movie, the director has screwed up. Oh, and Quantum of Solace is a horrible name for a movie. Go watch Dr. No and wait on the DVD.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thoughts about the "Crisis" and the "Bailout"

So, we are to have a new Bank of the United States. I thought Andrew Jackson got rid of that in 1836. $700 billion. That’s $700,000,000.00. I don’t know if you got the email I’ve received a couple of times, but if you take that amount and divide it among all the adults in the United States, we could each have something like $280,000. Each. That’s after taxes.

HEY CONGRESS! You want to save the economy and help people? Send us each just $200,000. A lot of us would pay off our house and that would send cash flowing into the troubled banks. Others would be able to catch up on their back payments. The poor could finally afford a few nice things, like a house, a car, a college education, and 400 channel cable TV. Oh wait, a lot already have the cable.

And, with 200 million Americans spending that money on a new house or an addition to the house, a new car, new appliances, beer, decent clothes, CDs, DVDs, and so on, the economy will automatically kick up a notch. Yes, some people will waste the money and in two years will be no better off than they are now, but think of the few fun years you in Congress provided. What better way to buy votes? Much better than only helping the executives that drove their company into the ground.

But, since this plan makes too much sense and sounds too much like socialism (unlike the government running the banks, which apparently is not socialism for some reason), this brilliant idea was not even considered in Congress or by our Presidential hopefuls.

Seriously, one of Jackson’s reasons for killing the Bank of the US, is that it had too many foreign investors. The US Government is in debt. To who? To foreign investors and foreign banks. This puts the US in a horrible disadvantage. Many of these countries are in a precarious friendship with the US. If something should happen that would cause a break in relations, what happens to the money supply? I admit it is all too complex for me, but I know enough to be worried.

The US needs to stop spending so much, even for “good causes.” “The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man…” We need to chop pork and make people and companies pay for the services they use. Maybe more of our interstates need to be toll roads, though those that use them will complain mightily. Maybe we could do away with a few government departments. Maybe someone in Congress needs to read the Constitution and see what the Government is supposed to do.

The banks are in a mess for two reasons. 1. The Clinton Administration thought it would be nice to let “the poor” (i.e. people with insufficient means) buy a house so they loosened the regulations. A “good cause.” 2. Greed, pure and simple. Banks were more than happy to extend credit to anyone, and to extend more credit than warranted. When we moved to our current town, we went to get pre-approved for a house loan. It would be our first house. I was going to be making $38,000 a year and I am the sole support for a family of six. The bank said, “You are approved for $200,000.” I said, “Are you nuts? Did you see how much I will be making? I didn’t get an A+ credit rating by being stupid.”

But, too many people were stupid. Others lost their jobs or had other unexpected hardships. They bought too much house (or too fancy a house) and when hard times hit, then they really suffered. The banks were stupid, they should suffer. Now the Nation is suffering, and that extends to the world. Other than sustenance farming, I don’t know what to do about it, I just needed to rant.

Buy my book: How to Fix-up Your House to Sell.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I just joined Netflix

I’ve just joined Netflix. I waited a couple of years to this, I’m glad I did cause the price has come down, but man, I wish I'd done it sooner. I love it! I love old movies, and Netflix has them by the truckload. We don’t have cable or satellite, and living in a small town limits your video store options severely.

We got 3-movies-at-a-time (16.99 a month) and we set it up with 3 different “queues.” I have a queue, my wife has one, and the kids have one. When my wife sends back one of hers, (usually an old TV show) they send the next movie (or TV show) from her queue. When I send one back, they send the next one in my queue. We also have Netflix send the movies addressed the name of the queue. So, my movies come addressed to Robert Lindsey, the kids movies come addressed to Kids Lindsey (I’m serious), and my wife’s come addressed to Hot Mama Lindsey (I’m kidding, but they should).

They have educational shows (we homeschool so this is great), documentaries (this too), concert videos, TV shows, and best of all, old movies. And you don't have to return them across town, just drop them in your mail box. I didn't realize just how convenient that is until we started doing this.

If you have a fast internet connection, many of the movies can be watched online or downloaded to your computer (I don't really know much about this part as we are on dial-up, but my brother watches them like this all the time). These instantly watched movies don't count against your 3-at-a-time (or whatever).

The reason I chose Netflix over Blockbuster is that Netflix has more movies, especially classics. Plus every place I looked online that compares them said Netflix was better.

The one thing that could be better is the "recommended movies" they give you when you log in. They just keep showing the same movies over and over, though they say they have "about 104 suggestions" in a particular category. So, why show the same movies over and over on the intro screen? Rotate them a little. Small quibble.

I’m a nut, I have 153 movies in my queue (that doesn't count the Kids or wife). It’ll probably take me a couple years just to get through what I have in my list now. I'll keep adding though, it is so much stinkin' fun. Try it out, you’ve got 30 days, if you don’t like it, cancel, but I’m guessing, you’ll be addicted like I am.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

P.J. O'Rourke has Butt Cancer

One of my favorite writers, P. J. O'Rourke, has cancer. He has written a thoughtful and funny article at the LA Times.

Furthermore, I am a logical, sensible, pragmatic Republican, and my diagnosis came just weeks after Teddy Kennedy's. That he should have cancer of the brain, and I should have cancer of the ass ... well, I'll say a rosary for him and hope he has a laugh at me. After all, what would I do, ask God for a more dignified cancer? Pancreatic? Liver? Lung?

Which brings me to the nature of my prayers. They are, like most prayers from most people, abject self-pleadings. However, I can't be the only person who feels like a jerk saying, "Please cure me, God. I'm underinsured. I have three little children. And I have three dogs, two of which will miss me. And my wife will cry and mourn and be inconsolable and have to get a job. P.S. Our mortgage is subprime."

God knows this stuff. He's God. He's all-knowing. What am I telling him, really?

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you need to read a little of his work. For some non-political writing, check out his writing for Automobile Magazine in Road Trips, Head Trips, and Other Car-Crazed Writings. He has a hilarious story about the time the magazine sent him to Mexico in new Lincoln with a tall blond woman as his photographer.

We wish him well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mercy Streets Movie Review

Mercy Streets (2000) Rated PG-13, Directed by Joe Gunn, Written by Jon Gunn and John Mann Staring Eric Roberts, David A. R. White, Stacy Keach, Robert LaSardo.

Mercy Streets DVD cover

Blows Facing the Giants out of the water. While the dialog isn’t particularly witty, Mercy Streets is ably directed, well acted, and has an interesting story. Yes, if Ridley Scott had directed it would have been more intense, but as a “Christian movie” it is the best I have seen.

The story is about twin brothers (David White plays both), one who is going to become an Episcopal priest (Jeremiah), the other is fresh out of prison (John). The convict accidently (but without regret) gets his brother involved with Rome (Eric Roberts), who forces the soon-to-be-priest to participate in a counterfeiting scam. John takes on the life of a priest for a while and shakes things up for all those Jeremiah knows.

alternate cover which I like better

This movie is rated PG-13, which shows there is something very wrong with the ratings system. There is no way that the violence or intensity of this movie matches something like The Two Towers. It is more on par with National Treasure, which is only PG. Some reviewers have complained that there wasn’t any cussing, which made it unbelievable. Perhaps I watch too many black-and-white movies, but swearing doesn’t make a bad guy bad, his actions and vibe do.

Eric Roberts has screen presence. David White does a good job with the two roles and Stacy Keach makes a great one scene appearance. Netflix has it, or you can buy it. I recommend Mercy Streets for a nice clean show.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

King Kong vs. Godzilla and Son of Godzilla Movie Review

Boy these are awful movies. But awful fun at the same time. The plots are so full of holes I won’t bother to point them out. Even my preteen kids were trying to figure out how to patch the holes. The acting is generally horrible. You know what though? Every time Godzilla gives his trademark roar, I’m an 8-year-old boy again and all is forgiven.

In King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla returns to Japan and starts destroying things. At the same time (zeitgeist?) a television executive with ties to a pharmaceutical company (or is it a pharmaceutical executive with ties to a television company ?) decides to go get King Kong to boost his ratings. Someone comes up with the idea to put them together an let Kong and Godzilla fight it out. The general hope is that King Kong will win. When I was a kid I had heard that the Japanese version had Godzilla win at the end, but that is not true. Godzilla came to Japan on his own and started going destruto, so Kong was always the “good guy.”

The Son of Godzilla shows the giant lizard’s paternal side. Some scientists are on an island trying to figure out how to control the weather. An giant egg hatches and Godzilla comes to take care of the critter. Also, there are giant praying mantis for no apparent reason. Not as much destruction in this one.

Fun to watch and the kids can enjoy them, just don’t expect too much in the way of story.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain Picks Palin, I Wonder...

I wonder if Obama wishes he had picked Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for his Vice President running mate. Apparently Sebelius was in the short list of four. She would have countered any strengths that Palin brings for a lot of moderately left people. Not that that would change my vote. I want someone who realizes that terrorists will not sit down and talk about it. "Some people should die, that's just unconscious knowledge"-Jane's Addiction. This is not Utopia, this is the Real World.

I've read several blogs today and it's amazing to me how worked up people can get about someone they know next-to-nothing about. Pro and con. And how much they read their beliefs into the general populace. The conservatives are all "She's perfect! This clinches the election for us!" The liberals are all "HA! She's lousy! We have it in the bag now!" Get real people. There are an awful lot of people (like in the millions) that are not partisan one issue voters. The election is not clinched for either party, it's a long way to November.

If it's the Economy, then you're Stupid

Kyle Smith has a good short post for those who like to complain about the Economy. It’s the Stupidity About the Economy, Stupid. The U.S. is growing at a better rate than most other Western countries.
China and India are outgrowing the US. Hands up, all those who would rather live there.
Now I've known some Chinese students here in the U.S. and they are very interesting and nice people. The Communist government is what I don't like about China. That and the crowds. I like my small-town America. Smith's post links to a spreadsheet in the Economist magazine. Take a look at the unemployment numbers and tell me the U.S. is doing poorly compared to the world. And the Economist is not conservative and not American. It's British.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Willie Says Buy American!

I always buy American when I can, if not, I buy North American, then South American, then European, then non-Communist, then as a last resort, I buy Commie-made crap. All the big-box stores have Commie-made crap all over the place. When I was buying a circular saw, I didn't expect to find anything but Commie-made in my price range, but as I was standing there looking at a Commie saw, I glanced over and on a box it said "Made in USA." It was only $10 more, so I jumped at the chance to buy an American-made tool. It is a great saw. I'm glad I found it (saw it? ha ha). Yes, it cost a little more, but most Americans have too much junk anyway. Better to buy less and higher quality than to have more junk. Now if you are Canadian or whatever, you should buy Canadian- or whatever-made. I fully support everyone buying local-made products wherever you live. I just happen to live in the middle of the United States so I buy American. My thought for the day.

Friday, August 01, 2008

More From Dawn to Decadence by Barzun

As I mentioned in an earlier post on criticism, I'm reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. Here he is talking about Utopias, or as he spells them, Eutopias. Utopia is from Greek meaning "no place," while Eutopia means "good place." See if this describes the liberal worldview (or if you think it describes the conservative worldview, please comment and explain). From pages 124-125.
It is a paradox that in most Eutopias (Rabelais' is an exception) the common good is achieved by enforcing a uniformity of behavior that seem tighter than any that is felt in the bad societies. The better state aims at reliving the body of hunger and the mind of anxiety; it does not provide freedom for society...but only... from the privileges of the upper orders. ... But they also recognize that the magistrates must occasionally step in to prevent abuses, and at times one senses the presence of a dictator at the top to run all things right, an anticipation of the 18C Enlightened Despot.

The great argument used to sustain right conduct is" "Live according to Nature. Nature is never wrong..." ...social life is in the hands of a ruling group. ...but these purely political rights do not cover civil whim or eccentricity, the violence of the bloody-minded, the vagaries of genius or of adolescence. Significantly, in none of our three Eutopians is there any mention of laughter.

Another blog I read has a lot of comments about how serious lefties are and they have no sense of humor. Everything is a crisis, in dire need of fixing. Lighten up people!

No Reservations DVD Movie Review

Director: Scott Hicks, Writers: Carol Fuchs & Sandra Nettelbeck, Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, & Abigail Breslin.

Wow, the most romantic movie I’ve seen in a long time. No Reservations is not a romantic comedy, it’s too heavy for that, though there is humor. Catherine Zeta-Jones is Kate, head chef in a small fancy restaurant in New York City. Her single-mother sister dies leaving Kate a ten-year old girl to raise. When she returns to her restaurant after some time off to adjust, Nick (Aaron Eckhart also in The Dark Knight) has been hired on. She is an obsessive, uptight, perfectionist. He is, of course, a more relaxed personality, but not a slob.

Though you pretty much know how the movie is going to end, you wonder how they are going to get there. That’s the fun of romance movies, right? Fireworks don't necessarily fly between the leads, but that makes it seem even more real-to-life. He is interested in her, she is satisfied with the life she has, but two adults grow fond of each other and make it work.

Wonderful acting all around, especially by Abigail Breslin as Zoe, the ten-year old. Thankfully, she isn’t precocious and annoying showing the adults how it’s done.

The camera work was interesting. Lots of medium- to long-shots instead of the constant medium-shots to close-ups we seem to get currently. I guess if you were shooting Catherine Zeta-Jones, showing the whole body would be a desirable thing to do. Some of the shots still felt claustrophobic though (perhaps because of the long shot), especially inside her apartment. The make-up was good too. A few scenes where Kate is worn to a frizz, she looks it. She's not still glowing but just walking head-hanging and slope-shouldered as stars frequently appear.

For those of you concerned about morals in your movies, there were only a few minor cuss words and other than implied pre-marital sex, there really isn’t anything to offend.

I fully recommend this movie, though be aware there is a strain of sadness running through it with the death of the sister and the effect that has on her daughter. Dare I say, that is more realistic than to just ignore the pain and loss.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Music Blog of the Infonistacrat!

I have another indispensable blog. Besides Dirty Harry's Place, Infonistacrat (whatever that means). He posts music that you can actually listen to, and/or skip songs you don't like. Lots of Alternative music, the kind that many people have a hard time finding examples of. Check it out. You can also get MP3s, but he reminds you this is only to introduce you to an artist, then you need to support the artist with your dollars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

God, Man & Hollywood and Politically Incorrect Movies

I'm a member of The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), and they have a great collection of books they publish. One recent title includes God, Man, and Hollywood: Politically Incorrect Cinema from The Birth of a Nation to The Passion of the Christ, by Mark Royden Winchell. I'm not real sure what God has to do with Winchell's list of movies, he seems to focus more on the politically incorrect part. I don't think of Blazing Saddles as having anything to do with God myself. Winchell has a blog called God, Man and Hollywood (clever, huh?) where he is listing the movies, one a day. Great idea. Some of his picks are just dead wrong, (Crash? Being There?) but many are good choices to warm a conservative heart. Take a look. Buy the book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight Movie Review

Finally! A second Batman movie that isn’t lousy. Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher both put out an entertaining Batman movie followed by a stinker. Christopher Nolan has followed Batman Begins with The Dark Knight, an intense, fast-paced, incredible movie. The villains in this movie are the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Two Face, A.K.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Heath Ledger is fantastic and fully embodies the roll. The ability to take an iconic roll and make it his is rare and his death is a great loss to Hollywood.

Unlike the Tim Burton movie where Batman appears fully formed and we see the beginnings of the Joker, in the Nolan series we see the beginnings of Batman and the Joker appears fully formed. The Joker gives various stories of his background, but they conflict. This Joker is just plain evil. And scary. Nicholson’s Joker was sociopathically evil, but Ledger’s Joker is sadistically evil. The difference being, a sociopath kills without caring, a sadist enjoys inflicting pain and death. Both seem a far cry from Caesar Romero’s simply greedy Joker from the TV show.

Going into the show, it’s good to remember the last scene of Batman Begins. Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) warns of escalation. He fears Batman has upped the ante, and there will be an even bigger response from the bad guys. Things escalate quickly in The Dark Knight. The body count is astounding. The writing is fantastic. The screws keep tightening and everything that happens, appears a natural result of what just took place. Even surprises. In fact, what I thought was the end of the movie was only the beginning of act 3. And the screws got still tighter.

I tend to not be fond of over-the-top death plans such as the killing parade in Burton’s Batman. Even the nerve-gas vapor of Nolan’s Batman Begins pushes the limits. In The Dark Knight, there is mass chaos, but it’s pulled off in a completely believable way. Not to say there aren’t some over-the-top events; it is a comic book movie.

Two worldviews collide with Batman and Joker. Batman believes in the innate goodness of people. The Joker is out to prove people are rotten inside, and revels in bringing that rottenness out. Both are proven right.
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago
We each have good and bad, and too many times we let situations dictate which way we go, when we should always strive to do the right thing. Harvey Dent experiences a traumatic event and he decides to give up and relinquish his decisions to chance. He becomes Two Face. Sometimes though, it’s hard to know what the right thing is. Batman makes hard choices. People get torqued. He is willing to make the sacrifice of his reputation and to live with his choices. A true hero.

The only minor complaints about the movie: The Dark Knight didn’t have as much humor as Batman Begins. With this much tension, a few laughs would have improved the overall experience. Also, much of the fighting is so quickly cut and is so closely shot that the audience can’t really tell what is going on. I know this is real popular, but I’m not a fan of this style. It is very visceral, but it seems like a cheap way to avoid choreographing a real fight scene.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is great. He’s not in the film a lot, but he really carries scenes he’s in. Maggie Gyllenhaal as the new Rachel Daws is much better. The Dark Knight is one fantastic move experience.

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The Shelf has a really good review.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rip It Up and Start Again & Our Band Could Be Your Life Book Reviews

I’ve gotten back into music lately. It all started with this article. ALTERNATIVE ROCK. FORCED EXPOSURE IS GOOD FOR YOU: Overlooked and misunderstood, postpunk gets its due. By: Pasteur, Eric. Library Journal, 5/15/2008, Vol. 133 Issue 9, p38-42. This article prompted me to read Our Band Could be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad and Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds. I also got Rhino’s four CD set, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground, and a series of three individual CDs called The Postpunk Chronicles, also from Rhino. It has also spurred me on to hook up my turntable to a computer to figure out how to burn my 300 or so albums to Compact Disc. I should do a post on that.

Both book’s titles appropriately come from song lyrics. Our Band Could Be Your Life looks at one band at a time. Rip it Up and Start Again organizes by regions (Manchester, Leeds, Ohio, New York) and music styles. Some of the bands I had never heard of, some I had heard of but never heard, and some I am a big fan of. I wish these kinds of books came with a CD so I could hear some of the music being discussed as it’s being discussed. What I did was look them up on YouTube. (An entire side discussion: why are these songs available as bandwidth-hogging videos, but not as just music? Some “videos” are nothing more than a photograph of the album cover to look at while the song plays.)

The one thing that bothered me about both these books is the “my music is the purest and best” syndrome. I remember reading once about Kurt Cobain getting all depressed seeing a heavy metal kid wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. Lots of people get all upset when they find out their favorite musician likes something not in his particular subset. Rip it Up tells of Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) DJing a music show while still in the Sex Pistols where he showed a wide range of tastes. Punks got up in arms about it, calling Rotten a traitor.

Personally, I don’t get that mindset. I’m a music omnivore.

I enjoy almost all types of music. My favorites include all variations of the blues, 1950s Rock & Roll, 1960s psychedelic and 1980s alternative with a healthy dose of classic rock.

I missed out on much of the early 1980s indie music that is discussed in these two books. I was into heavy metal (with a little new wave) until 1985. Then a friend introduced me to REM, and that sent me in a whole new direction. (thanks Gibson!)

Many of the bands I like aren’t included or talked about much: The Call, the Rainmakers, Hoodoo Gurus, the Smithereens, Lone Justice, R.E.M., The Choir, the Del Fuegos, Violent Femmes, etc. And there is very little discussion of others that were pretty popular by the standards of “college rock”: Camper Van Beethoven, the Pixies, the Smiths, They Might Be Giants, the Psychedelic Furs (best name ever), etc. Perhaps this is because both books tend to concentrate on late 1970s to early 1980s, while I was really into this music in the late 1980s. Also, both tend to be concerned with independent labels more than major labels, so R.E.M. gets ignored because they got popular too fast.

There may be some dividing line between “Alternative” and “New Wave,” but I’m not sure what it is. I’m sure there is some distinction in the mind of the purist listener Once again, some use independent label vs. major label as a standard. Some bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or New Order I always considered New Wave, but these books consider them Postpunk.

Our Band Could be Your Life gets a bit repetitive due to the format of covering each band individually. Every band goes on tour with a lousy van that breaks down. Each band has no money. They all have to decide if they want to go with a major label or stay indie. Azerrad focuses on hardcore.

For the most part, I don’t like the band as much after reading about them. Especially the Twin-Cities twin bands, The Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

Reynolds lets his politics get in the way about four times. Live Aid “fit all too neatly within the shared worldview of Thatcher and Reagan…who promoted private philanthropy over government intervention.” The horror! The very idea that you should decide on your own who to give to (or whether to give at all) instead of the infallible, omniscient, government taking your money and distributing it for you. And he blames Thatcher for unemployment. Really, where did all those “no future” punks come from?

The Left of the Dial CD set is fantastic. I don’t like every band (Throbbing Gristle, great name, lousy sound), but there are several great songs on here. In particular Lone Justice, the Smithereens, Concrete Blonde, the Church, Love and Rockets, Julian Cope, and the Hoodoo Gurus are all standouts. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus is a fantastic song that I had never heard.

There are a few "religious" songs. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with "Mercy Seat" (Ultra Vivid Scene also had a song with that name). The Meat Puppets have "Lake of Fire" which was covered by Nirvana on MTV Unplugged. "Stigmata" by Ministry, and probably a few others I'm missing. And am I allowed to love a band called The Jesus and Mary Chain?

The Raincoats “Fairytale in a Supermarket” reminds me of the Clash “Lost in a Supermarket.” Speaking of the Clash, they aren’t included on any of these disks or books. Are they punk and not postpunk? I would say they are postpunk, but here’s the problem of drawing your lines to sharply.

I also find it interesting that most of my evaluations of a band have stood the test of time. I didn’t care for the Smiths or PiL in the 1980s, and listening to them again, I still don’t like them.

The Postpunk Chronicles series has some overlap with Left of the Dial (in fact one disk has that name), but many of the bands have different songs, which is good if you are looking for an education on this style of music. I hadn’t heard Mission of Burma, but hearing two of their songs, I’d say they’re pretty good.

Book Contents:

Our Band Could be Your Life: Black Flag -- The Minutemen -- Mission of Burma -- Minor Threat -- Hüsker Dü -- The Replacements -- Sonic Youth -- Butthole Surfers -- Big Black -- Dinosaur Jr -- Fugazi -- Mudhoney -- Beat Happening.

Rip It Up and Start Again: I: Postpunk -- Public image belongs to me: / John Lydon and PiL -- Autonomy in the U.K. : DIY and the British independent-label movement -- Tribal revival: the pop group and the Slits -- Militant entertainment: Gang of Four: the Mekons, and the Leeds Scene -- Uncontrollable urge: the Industrial Grotesquerie of Pere Ubu and Devo -- Living for the future: Cabaret Voltaire, the Human League, and the Sheffield Scene -- Just step sideways: The Fall, Joy Division, and the Manchester Scene -- Industrial devolution: throbbing Gristle's music from the Death Factory -- Contort yourself: No Wave New York -- Art attack: Talking Heads, Wire, and Mission of Burma -- Messthetics: The London Vanguard -- Freak scene: Cabaret Noir and Theater of cruelty in Postpunk San Francisco -- Careering: PiL and Postpunk's Peak and Fall -- II: New pop and new rock -- Ghost dance: 2-tone and the Ska Resurrection -- Sex gang children: Malcolm McLaren, the Pied Piper of Pantomime Pop -- Mutant Disco and Punk Funk: Crosstown Traffic in early eighties New York (and beyond) -- Fun 'n' frenzy: Postcard Records and the Sound of Young Scotland -- Electric dreams: Synthpop -- Play to win: the pioneers of new pop -- New gold dream 81-82-83-84: New Pop's Peak, the Second British Invasion of America, and the Rise of MTV -- Dark things and Glory Boys: the return of Rock with Goth and the New Psychedelia -- Raiding the twentieth century: ZTT, the Art of Noise, and Frankie goes to Hollywood.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bumper Stickers, Personalized Tags, etc. are for Agressive People

People who use bumper stickers, personalized tags, or (one would assume) art cars, are more aggressive than those who don't. The reason is that those who personalize their car are making the "public" space of the car into "personal" space and therefore, they are more aggressive in defending their space. I always thought I was just to cheap and/or lazy to put a bumper sticker on my car. Turns out, I'm not aggressive enough. I am a very likable guy.

Hit tip: Dirty Harry's Place

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Critics, what are they worth?

A few places have been talking about the role of the critic lately. David Bordwell talks about "In Critical Condition" and the decline of film criticism (among other things). I just read a couple of books on criticism, Five Stars: How to Become a Film Critic, The World's Greatest Job by Christopher Null and Beyond Popcorn: A Critic's Guide to Looking at Filmsby Robert Glatzer (I recommend Five Stars even though it's only available electronically for $20 or used paperback for $80).

I am also reading the fantastic From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Presentby Jacques Barzun. On page 73 Barzun is talking about the 16th Century and the way perceptions of art were changing:
Aesthetic appreciation is something more than spontaneous liking; a good eye for accurate representation is not good enough; one must be able to judge and talk about style, technique, and originality. This demand gives rise to a new public character: the critic. The future professional begins by being simply the gifted art lover who compares, sees fine points, and works up a vocabulary for his perceptions. He and his kind are not theorists but connoisseurs and ultimately experts. [italics his]

A good definition of a critic, if a lot shorter than Bordwell's.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bo Diddley Remembered

Bo Diddley, one of the least known pioneers of rock 'n' roll, died Monday, June 2, 2008. He was respected by lots of musicians and was in a few movies. In fact, I just watched Trading Places on Saturday before he died. He was the pawn shop owner.

You may have seen him in a George Thorogood video shooting pool. Was it Bad to the Bone? I can't find the video.

Bo Diddley was easily recognized with his flat-brimmed, flat-top hat, square guitar and thick square glasses. He lived in near poverty for many years after his initial fame because the record companies basically stole the copyright to his songs (this is not unique to Black artists, John Fogerty wouldn't play any of his own Creedence Clearwater Revival songs for years since the record company has taken his copyright and hince his royalties).

Bo Diddley's hit songs (all of which you probably recognize even if you don't know it) include Bo Diddley, Who Do You Love, Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover, and I'm A Man which also has a similar version by Muddy Waters called Mannish Boy.

Diddley was similar to John Lee Hooker in that they would do entire songs in one key. Just keep the driving rhythm the same throughout the song.

A few good write ups on Bo Diddley are at USA Today (which surprises me), and Wikipedia has a good article. Of course, the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inducted him many years ago.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Desk Set Movie Review

Directed by Walter Lang, starts Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron from the play by William Marchant

Old maid librarian lands old bachelor computer geek. That wasn’t the tag line for Desk Set (1957), but perhaps it should have been. Many critics at the time thought that Spencer Tracy at 57 and Katherine Hepburn at 50 were too old for these rolls. But really, are you ever too old for love?

Shot in CinemaScope, so be sure to see this in wide-screen format, as the pan-and-scan is really annoying. Plus you miss out on some great acting outside the frame.

The story begins as a television station reference/research/library department is studied by “efficiency expert” Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). The department is run by Bunny Wilson (Katherine Hepburn). Wilson has been strung along romantically for seven years by her boss, Mike Cutler (Gig Young), but she seems OK with that as no other man seems interested. Sumner has designed a computer (you won’t believe the size of this thing) that the librarians fear will take their jobs. The fact that Sumner was sworn to silence doesn’t help. However, gradually, grudging mutual respect grows between Sumner and Wilson, and, as Cutler pussyfoots around, respect grows into something more.

The relationship between Wilson and Sumner develops naturally and both actors are completely believable in their respective roles. Tracy is particularly good as the half absent-minded brilliant engineer. Joan Blondell is fantastic and believable as a New York kinda gal. The ending is a little contrived: “What is the weight of the earth?” “Why that’s the kind of thing that could take months to research!” Of course, now we have the World Wide Web and the answer can be found in .3 seconds, but I bet someone had the answer in a physics or astronomy reference book in 1957. But that’s not what you care about anyway, you care about the connection between Sumner and Wilson. The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn is great, the scenes they have together are magic, like the rooftop lunch and after they get caught in the rain. Desk Set is a great show, especially for librarians and computer geeks.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

No Country for Old Men: DVD Movie Review

I am not going to echo the line on the cover of the No Country for Old Men DVD: “Instant Classic!” If you liked Fargo, you will probably like No Country. I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan, but these two critics’ favorite movies have been my least favorites. I liked parts of both movies, and I prefer No Country, but it’s not the best work the Coens have done. The acting is top notch, the cinematography is outstanding -- as usual – and the mood is perfect. But something was missing and didn’t close the deal for me.

A bleak movie with a high body count. That’s the long and the short of it. Two people are graphically killed in the first 5 minutes, and that doesn’t count the eight or so bodies from the drug-deal-gone-bad. Thankfully, we don’t see every person killed who gets killed, though the Coen Brothers are not squeamish about on-screen blood. I didn’t keep track of the number of deaths, but No Country for Old Men probably rivals Scarface: Shame of a Nation or even Rambo : First Blood Part II.

It’s nice to see a movie with Men in it. Granted, none of them are hero-types, but they are all tough, tough-minded, and good at tracking and surviving (for the most part). They know what they want and they work hard to get it. Each one is very competent. Josh Brolin as Lewellen Moss is outstanding. Javier Bardem plays the sociopath as a person, not as a zombie, as so many other actors would have (see Fargo). The one disappointment here is Woody Harrelson as Wells, a bounty hunter. I’m afraid I don’t buy him being that kind of guy. But it was the best performance he’s given since Cheers. It’s a great scene when he tells Moss that he’s in over his head and I love the discussion on welding.

Some reviewers have said something about “quirky” Coen Brothers are back, but this film isn’t quirky, it’s just dark. It is anti-climatic and there is no lead character, so I suppose some people would call that “quirky.” I suppose they were trying to say something about the pointlessness of violence, or how things have changed, or something.

Tommy Lee Jones plays sheriff Ed Tom Bell. He is always just one step behind Chigurh when he even comes close. Sheriff Bell is depressed at how violent things have become in his sleepy corner of Texas. The drug trade and the careless violence of Chigurh are more than he can take. He marvels that there were sheriffs in the past who didn’t carry guns. Mr. Jones carries the burden in his eyes like few actors can.

There is a very little of the trademark "quirky" Coen humor, though some of it is buried. The darkness overwhelms the lightness. There aren’t any scenes like Fargo’s Japanese man with the Minnesota accent. This is probably the most serious film from the brothers since their debut, Blood Simple. Miller's Crossing was also pretty serious, but it had some outrageousness to it that kept it from being straight-ahead serious.

Perhaps it would help if I read the novel, but I didn’t quite understand everything that was going on.


Some Mexicans show up a couple of times, but we don’t know anything about them, or how they tracked Moss down to his first motel room, or tracked down his wife, or even how they know that Moss is the one they are looking for.

Why does Chigurh kill the two guys who show him the drug-deal-gone-bad? Aren’t they his “partners” or fellow employees or something? So who is he working for? Or is it that he is working for the guy that hired Wells, and is upset that anyone else was brought in? What happened to the drugs?

Carla Jean Moss had it right when she refused to call the coin toss. She had a chance to save herself, but with nothing to live for the principle was worth standing up for. Chigurh had the choice. He really didn’t have to do it. But, being a sociopath, he just killed her. I’m glad we didn’t see that one. It was actually more powerful showing him checking the bottom of his boots as he left the house.


I didn’t get much out of the discussion between Sheriff Bell and his cousin. Or maybe it was his uncle. Either way it was the always-great Barry Corbin, and he does a fantastic job here. Not as stereotyped as he can sometimes be. Anyway, that scene seemed to be one designed to send the “message” of the film, but I think the Coens generally do a better job of showing, rather than telling.

I guess I am saying that there are too many questions and loose ends for this to be an “Instant Classic!” I doubt I’ll watch it again as my wife hates these kinds of movies and I rarely have a chance to watch them. So I have to use my time wisely, and a second viewing of No Country for Old Men doesn’t strike me as a wise choice. I enjoyed the one viewing, especially watching the actors work their craft, but I believe something vital is missing from the story.

Update: Someone agrees with me.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Sell Your Home Fast

My grandparents have lived in the same house for 55 years. However, most of us move a few times. When you sell your house you want to sell it fast and you want to get the most money for it, right? Well I've written a book that details what you need to do to get a few thousand more for your house and have your house sell quicker than your neighbor's. It's at fixyourhousetosell.com. If you have any questions, just ask.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Postmodern Paradox

Post-modernists say that history is unknowable. They also say that only a member of a tribe can teach that tribe's history. For example, only a black person can teach black history. Does this not seem strange? If history is really unknowable except to those that live it, why should a contemporary black person be any more qualified to teach African-American history than anyone else?

One big problem this attitude causes is a demand that cannot be met. Perhaps at elite institutions where these ideas originate, there is no problem with the supply being greater than the demand. However that is not the case across the nation. When I was in college the history department needed a new history teacher and set out to find a black person. That was the stated goal. The university I attended was medium-sized and located in the Midwest/Great Plains overlap. Of the few qualified black candidates, none would come to our university. They had better offers of more money and perks at more prestigious locations, with more black students. The university ended up hiring a white man with a specialty in Civil War and Reconstruction. When he taught a class on black history, many blacks on campus were upset. They had been led to have certain expectations, which were unable to be filled. Is that a healthy situation? Black history interests me, I don't know why, but with a little study I could teach it as easily as I could teach any other history.

Are only Christians allowed to teach Christian history? I am quite sure that is not the case. In fact I think only Christians should be able to teach European history between Charlemagne and the 1700s. If that were to happen, we would get some corrected perspectives on the Middle Ages. Problems arise with the Great Schism and the Reformation. Would it have to be team taught? One Roman Catholic and one Protestant and one Greek Orthodox? But which Protestant denomination? Lutherans or Calvinists? Would Anabaptists get a say? The point is that history is not captive to any one group. The fact is, I personally have less in common with ancient Mediterraneans than with 20th century African-Americans. Yet, no one would have a second thought if I were to teach on Greek history. Such an odd situation we have with this postmodern paradox.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Small Town Living

Why are small towns dying? Why are companies moving out of small towns and into big cities? What do the cities really have to offer? Lots of people, congestion, pollution, bad tempers, high crime, etc.

People in small towns, especially in the Midwest, are hard workers. And we are much less likely to have a terrorist strike us, though we are not immune. Bad things do happen here, people are people, but there are more moderating influences here.

BTW, this has nothing to do with race. People in small towns are surprisingly open minded about race, they tend to take each individual or individual family on its own merits.

Not that small towns are perfect, there is not as much to do, but my sister moved during high school. In a city of 350,000 she complained of being bored, same as she did when she lived in town of 10,000. If you move to a town of over 10,000, then you can avoid much of the "everyone knows everyone else's business" that many people worry about with small towns.

Another problem with small towns today is the ubiquitous Wal-Mart. Although Wal-Mart probably makes prices less in actual terms, it severely limits the selection. There are other options however, many small towns also have chain hardware stores, auto parts stores, and other places one can find things like windshield wipers, paint, rakes, and the like.

Is the absence of a mega-mall really a negative thing? In truth, many small towns actually do have a mall of sorts.

Cost of living is less, but so is the pay, however you still come out ahead. I bought an 1800 sq ft brick ranch house for $85,000. My wife's cousin lives in LA and said our house would go for $260,000 in his area. There is no way that I could get a job that would make up that kind of difference without becoming involved in the entertainment biz.

Concerts don't come around here very often, mainly bands who’s last hit was in 1988. But that's a good thing for those that want to cut back on spending. If I lived in a big city I would constantly be tempted to go see bands that may or may not be worth the money. If I go to a concert now, It takes 2-3 hours of driving, so I have to really want to see them. Or win free tickets! (Hasn’t happened yet.)

With internet, cable and satellite TV, there isn't much in the way of home comforts that are denied in small towns.

Overall, one comes out ahead in a small town, unless you feel compelled to drive to the city to do your shopping. Many people here head towards a town 45 minutes away that is about 75,000 people, around 3 times our size. We never leave town for shopping. There really isn’t anything that we need that isn’t here.

I would like to encourage business to consider the pluses of small town life, and instead of relocating to a megalopolis, promoting the pluses of getting away. Towns of 10,000-75,000 within two hours of a major city are all over the place. Pick one with a college or university and there is more likely to be a culture that many people like.

Small town living is also more green. Less driving, means less fuel to burn. Where I live is 4 blocks from the elementary school, and 10 blocks from work, so I walk or ride a bike most of the year.

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