Thursday, December 31, 2009
It’s a universal ailment, a constant source of personal dissatisfaction; yet another incremental dollop coagulating in that big ol’ fifty-gallon drum of all pervading ennui. Ain’t no way around it---one’s ambitions always seem to exceed one’s actual capabilities. Intentions, however sincere, somehow become thwarted, and then it’s throw-away-the-list time, or let-me-downgrade-my-goals time, or even. let’s-have-a-few-drinks-and-obliterate-it time.
I’m right there with the stumbling herd, jotting to-do lists down with pent up ferocity, modifying mental notes all the livelong day, awakening daily with a new found and etched-in-sincerity pathway. Then, of course, I really wake up.
Ironically enough, one of the more pleasant aspects of the whole holiday season –the reception of presents—has made me somewhat blue, bringing into sharp focus yet another of misspent endeavors. Try as I might, with the noblest of intentions, to read more books, and get my nose outta the dozens of publications I subscribe to, or the three daily newspapers I peruse in hard copy, never mind the predictable daily attention-grabbers like the Internet, the television, the radio, the CD player, at the end of the proverbial day the unread books seem to gather around me, much like the silent and predatory winged creatures in Hitchcock’s The Birds, piled above my shoulder on the end table near the couch, loosely placed on the outer edges of the built-in book shelves, artistically splayed throughout various nooks and crannies of the house and office.
I finally get through one, energized again by the extended and engaged experience of reading, yet there is always three or so (ever-changing it seems), in the on deck circle, and a heap more crowding the edge of the dugout bench, all vying for a brief spot in the to-be-read line-up. (I think I’ll call my team the Sisyphean Nine.) Having just finished Frankly My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell (Yale University Press, 2009), I easily transitioned into Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master by Michael Sragow (Pantheon, 2008), and then, came the thrill (and burden) of the Christmas deluge. My challenge for the months ahead (couldn't make this up):
A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement by Amy B. Dean, David B. Reynolds, and Harold Meyerson (Cornell University Press, 2009)
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, by Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009)
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin, 2009)
Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein (Norton, 2009)
Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame, by Zev Chafets (Bloomsbury, 2009)
Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, by Larry Tye (Random House, 2009)
The Greatest Game: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the Playoff of ‘78, by Richard Bradley (Free Press 2008)
Baseball Americana, by Harry Katz, Frank Ceresi, and Phil Michel (Smithsonian, 2009)
Frank Sinatra: The Family Album, by Charles Pignore (Little Brown, 2007)
Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales, by Clarence Clemons and Don Reo (Gran Central Publishing, 2008)
High on Rebellion: Inside the Underground at Max’s Kansas City, by Yvonne Sewell Ruskin (Thunder Mouth Press, 1998)
The Authorized and Illustrated Story of The Stooges, by Robert Matheu (Abrams, 2009)
The Velvet Underground: New York Art, Edited by Johan Kugleberg (Rizzoli, 2009)
Warren Oates: A Wild Life, by Susan Compo (University Press of Kentucky, 2009)
Tell Me How You Love the Picture: A Hollywood Life, by Edward Feldman with Tom Barton (St. Martins, 2005)
Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, by Mitchell Zuckoff (Knopf, 2009)
Whew, wow, damn, I just, well, … don’t know. Maybe I can conveniently break my leg, that oughta truly free up some time. My kind of resolution.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Overheard Friday Night (12-4-09) at Nick-A-Nees ,
Providence, Rhode Island
(Purty much reported as close to verbatim as possible.)
“I went from apocalyptic Christian to aspiring Jew to semi-agnostic to a possible Wiccan.”
“Can I come over to your house tomorrow and use your computer to pay my gas bill?”
“I had a thoroughly unproductive night Tuesday. I just kept drinking and listening to music and sitting on my couch. By the end of the night the notes were just hovering over my head.”
“My Mom and Dad adore this dude ( as Dylan’s “Mississippi” plays in the background) , but he always sounds like an escapee from Area 51 to me.”
First guy: “ I’d like to see her do the old school twist.” Second guy: “I’d like to see her in a cat suit.” First guy: “You ought to borrow one from your mother and give it to her.”
“Everyone constantly talks about rich kids and I am not one, but right now I am so one.”
“I gotta learn how to operate a vacuum cleaner real soon.”
“The thing about drinking is the thought of drinking precipitates the act of drinking which is often more glorious than the end result of drinking, and a lot less thinking seems to go with a lot more drinking.”
“If I have any more of this buca I’ll probably try to screw some of those ants that keep pouring out of my kitchen cupboard.”
“Deval Patrick tipped the scales in the wrong direction. All the blue New England states must have a Republican Governor. It’s all about balance, man.”
“They talk about Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson and that GG something guy but I think Lady Gaga is scarier that all of ‘em.”
“Whenever a stable boy pops up in a western, he’s a goner for sure.”
“Text me in a half hour to remind me I’m long, gone, and done.”
Friday, December 4, 2009
(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple Word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating. Weighing in this time is Robot A. Hull, one of the all time great Rock and Roll nitcrits, and the man behind the curtain at PopKrazy.)
The Hombres--Let It Out (Verve/Forecast FTS-303,1967)
This is one of the great American garage albums that just don’t give a hoot. A Memphis combo, the Hombres opted for the lighter side of garage-punk. The Hombres’ album cover (which is their only album cover since no record label was brave enough to release another record by them) is an obvious reference to the Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird LP, released in ’64, which shows the infamous surf band from Minneapolis clustered around a garbage truck.
Ironically, the Hombres had originally intended to be a surf band. In 1967, they traveled through Houston posing as a pop version of a West Coast surf group and somehow got tangled up with Texas producer Huey Meaux. In ’65, Meaux had already transformed a band of San Antonio punksters into an ersatz British Invasion act, the Sir Douglas Quintet (featuring a very young Doug Sahm). And so, with the Hombres, Meaux saw an opportunity for reshaping the rebellion of a garage band into a comedic sensibility.
With Huey at the helm, the Hombres’ first 45 was “Let It All Hang Out,” a clear parody of Bob Dylan’s vocal style. It is still the only pop hit that’s ever begun with a raspberry. In late ’67, the single went to #12 on Billboard’s pop chart—but only after the title had been censored to “Let It Out.”
This irreverent album includes all of the Hombres’ self-penned attempts to follow their initial punk/novelty hit—“Am I High,” Mau Mau Mau,” and “It’s a Gas.” (The latter song is not to be confused with Mad’s Alfred E Newman’s infamous song of the same name.) The Hombres’ gas record features the inspirational verse: “Don’t worry about the future, forget about the past/Whether it’s good or bad, its’ a gas!”
Most of the material on this album is marked by an offhand good heartedness as if the group is perfectly aware that their own musical ineptitude is beside the point. Meux’s typically lackadaisical production-style only enhances the sound of the cheesy organ and sloppy guitars.
Perhaps the most telling moment on the album occurs during the middle of yet another garage version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” It is a remarkable version. The song is untamed and yet focused, but it remains remarkable because it appears, suddenly, all six (6) minutes of it, out of context in the midst of a Southern-punk work of utter buffoonery. And then, right at the heart of the song, the Hombres forget—or seem to forget—the tune they’re playing, detouring into a charming, albeit primitive, stab at the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.”
With warmth and spirit, the Hombres album seems to explicate Alfred E. Newman’s famous maxim: “What, me worry?”
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I agree with most of the charges, gotta face up to the basic facts. Yep, I am a hipster dinosaur. Yeah, I spend far too much time on pop culture artifacts, and not enough exploring contempo happenings. Sure, I can’t resist a whopping dose of kitsch whenever (and however) it’s served. Certainly, I do despise 95% of what might be termed remakes, or even (gulp) reimaginings, and 70% of any and all tributes. The past is a gas, the future uncertain, and any attempt to put a firm finger on the pulse of the pop cult as it unfolds in front of yer ears and eyes can often be strained, pretentious or unholy. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me yet from boldly extending my rusty antennae or spuriously whipping out my gnarled and flaky divining rod, all part of a lifetime quest for that which is adventurous, tasty, beckoning, thrilling, ethereal, transcendent, piercing, stupefying, disquieting, detestable, and, well, basically just cool, daddio.
My lastest find is a relatively new blog site, PopKrazy, devoted to a wonderful array of pop cult junk, trash, treasure, ephemera, found objects, lost sounds, 60’s and 70’s heirlooms, campy antiquities, eye-winking relics, mainstream nuggets, sideways pleasures, with (uh-huh) even an occasional dose what’s happening today. (Or at least yesterday.) PopKrazy is overseen by the one and only Robot A. Hull, one of the more gloriously inspired gonzo writers from the Great Rock Writing Period of Yesteryear and Sarah James, another smarty pants and true hostess with the mostest, and it mutates daily, spotlighting a wide array of eye-poppin’, head-spinnin’, ear-teasin’ plain ol’ good stuff, with a neat array of revolving writers, pop cult philosophers, and cool daddy ethnologists, including (ahem) myself. Nuff said.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The following column is reprinted from the december issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem neccessary to leave out):
Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel
It ain’t exactly a mental nutcracker imagining bits and pieces of writer/producer/director Roland Emmerich’s childhood interests. He had to be the kid ensconced in his German backyard meticulously cobbling together stick castles, toy railroads, or plain old ant farms, and then eagerly destroying his creations with the heavy heel of his boots or a fiery homemade explosive, all of it carried out with architectural precision and guided by a childhood mantra to truly search and destroy.
With movies like Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) and The Day After Tomorrow (2007) Emmerich has become the contempo movie-movie Master of Destruction, a true bastard child of The Wizard of Spectacle, Cecil B DeMille (The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments), the dictatorial director of such overwrought Hollywood glossies as, and The Duke of Disaster, Irwin Allen, the cheesy maestro responsible for the box office bounty claimed from The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Emmerich is front stage and full center once again, singlehandedly bringing the world to its collective knees with 2012, a swaggering treatise of full scale destruction and computer-generated film imagery, chock filled with directorial barnstorming worthy of DeMille, the sharp, aged cheese once favored by Allen, and Emmerich’s sure-handed air of plasticized movie chicanery—Destruction 101: Snap, Crackle, and Pop Goes the Weasel.
As much as it’s tempting to simply eviscerate Emmerich and his ultra-popular movie work, one can’t help but acknowledge and examine the age old thrill and desire attached to the extremely voyeuristic and indelibly thrilling act of bearing/ sharing witness to havoc being wreaked. Movies suit themselves ideally to this guilty pleasure, the surface mix of pleasure and fright directed at the sight of a familiar or imposing object being rendered asunder is easily transferred to the buzz of awe and appreciation derived from watching an expensive set, an elaborate set piece, or some high-level special effects being torn down, blown up, or rocked and socked. No less than the ever high-thinking Susan Sontag straightforwardly claimed that disaster was one of the oldest subjects of art, and that even pop art like mainstream Hollywood science-fiction was based around a concern with the aesthetics of destruction, the peculiar beauties of making a large scale mess.
2012 offers a plethora of such aesthetics: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and tidal waves, roving dust clouds, blistering sunrays, Los Angeles dropping into the sea, a White House collision with an kinda/sorts immovable object, the crumbling of Las Vegas, the implosion of Yellowstone National Park, India drowning, an endangered cruise ship cousin to the Titanic and the Poseidon, and (no doubt about it--the unadulterated crowd favorite) a walls-come-tumbling-down disaster slide show at the Vatican. All of the obliteration rolls out like a well-polished and well-financed demolition derby, fully ludicrous and overtly preposterous, making Emmerich a sort of Alfred Hitchcock without layers, depth, or even a point-of-view, yet excusing much of his celluloid bamboozlement since the whole shebang seems overridden with an eye-winking (and gold-digging) self-consciousness.
As the disaster formula demands, 2012 is anchored by an everyman central figure with the attendant personal (i.e. familial) problems, a sci-fi novelist played by John Cusack (who, with this role and other ones like Con Air or America’s Sweethearts, seems to be making a truly concerted effort to join the Nic Cage Club for Serious Movie Actors Who get A Pass for Slumming in Blockbusterville.) Cusack’s failed writer and his kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) wind up hooking up with his ex-wife and her new beau (Amanda Peet and Tom McCarthy) and, Looney Tune-like managed to miraculously stay a hop, skip and a jump ahead of every harbinger of destruction while people like Woody Harrelson (a high priest of conspiracy), Danny Glover (the U.S. Prez), Chiwetel Ejifor (big timey geologist), and Oliver Platt (imperious cabinet member), chew the scenery with the prerequisite mumbo-jumbo whys and great whatists.
Despite the first class special effects, despite Emmerich’s dazzling ability to render his filmic earth asunder, the movie never amounts to much more than another joyless ride of the schlock express. The plotting is laughable, the characterizations trite, and the suspense is largely missing and mostly well below even juicier B-movie standards. The on screen depiction of highly recognizable geographical landmarks and buildings blowing, up real, real good can’t help but conjure (however shadowy) images that connect to the iconography of 9/11 yet 2012 is absolutely devoid of political content. Finally, there is not a death within the whole whiz-bang death trip that will affect an audience in any significant manner, even in the traditional disaster pic tradition of high camp. It’s all weightless and thoroughly soulless, mere popcorn Armageddon, a dose of hot-buttered apocalypse. Hint: When in doubt, root for the dog.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel
I’m certainly not the first film nitcrit to draw on the parallels between the equally transfixing effects of being entranced by a first class movie as a full blown adult and the initial deep boned reaction upon hearing or reading a childhood tale as a dreamy youngster. The raw materials of story-telling, visualization, and self-projections of imagination can prompt the most primal of feelings, synthesizing images unburdened by freedom of the artist, creator, or interpreter. Yup, movies hit the gut and stay in the head like the very stories that enchanted one as open-eyed child, and movie pundits have always referred to certain imaginative filmmakers as perpetual teenagers, aging children, or petulant adults with a lifetime case of the Peter Pan syndrome.
So it comes as no surprise that three of the more intriguing contempo American directors have chosen to utilize their respective celluloid techniques and convert some classic, or at least neo-classic, children’s tales into full blown movies. The one surprise is that same three have finished movies that are virtually finding the big screens simultaneously. One could make an easy argument that Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Spike Bonze are movie-movie kindred spirits, all of them sporting an overall archness in their approaches, all of them drawn upon a variable understated tone of humor, and certainly all of them are undeniably devoted to providing a differentiating visual latticework in each of their cinematic efforts. Tim Burton’s version of Lewis Carroll’s estimable Alice in Wonderland is due in theaters in early 2010, Wes Anderson’s got-to-be-droll version of Roald Dahl’s much loved Fantastic Mr. Fox hits the screens in November, while Spike Jonze’s expanded take on Maurice Sendak’s unforgettable 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are is in current release. If the latter is any indication, this may signal a very welcome cinematic trend.
It’s difficult to recall another film that so effectively captures the raw-nerved landscape of emotion and physical energy, of the ever-burgeoning states of sexual and psychological awareness of pre-adolescence. Where the Wild Things Are opening sequences—with a hand held camera holding close to nine-year-old Max (newcomer Max Records) as he bounds through his house and yard, bursting with anger, imagination, and a flinty loneliness—create a heady and immediate impact. It’s a vividly detailed depiction of collapsing innocence and childhood awkwardness and somehow ineffably faithful to Sendak’s tone and style.
Yet, it’s a strange tease too, when Max, as in the Sendak book, finds his way to the mysterious island inhabited by the Wild Things (which takes up the bulk of the movie’s time), Jonze goes into a deceivingly languorous mode, and his film becomes a seductive fable propelled by sideways glances, mumbled enunciation, ambling inaction, and hanging emotions. The island’s very make-up leaves behind Sendak’s earthy backgrounds, as it contains a vast desert, hulking crags of mountainous rock, and an autumnal forest alive with growth, although the whole of it drips with melancholy. Kiddie time? Not exactly. About kiddie time? Exactly.
Sendak’s book was made up of 338 words and 18 illustrations in its entirety. Jonze and co-scenarist, novelist Dave Eggers have smartly elected to flesh out the original tale, all the while keeping close to the author’s spare and subtle depiction of Max as Freudian childking. The creatures, a combination of puppeteering and computerized facial expressions are still recognizable from Sendak’s pages, although given names and distinct personalities by Jonze and Eggers, and also given voice by some select name actors with Chris Cooper as the recalcitrant Douglas, Catherine O’Hara as the puckish Judith, Forest Whitaker as the low key Ira, Paul Dano as the ever wounded Alexander, Lauren Ambrose as the feisty KW, and a pitch perfect James Gandofini as Max’s doppelganger Carol.
Jonze has managed to paint an impeccably textured cinematic fable, both sweet and sour, about the inherent implosion of childhood, with vivid brushstrokes given to the inflated traumas and tongue-tying complications of growing up, a just about perfect reinterpretation of Sendak’s modern classic that’s part idyll, part nightmare, part real, part fantasy, all of it with a subtle emotional underpinning. The presence of the always stellar Catherine Keener as Max’s put-upon mom is another exquisite touch, as is the neatly off-center score by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Carter Burwell. As we all know, Max’s pursuit, his self-inflicted adventure, his expressive search for self-control, ends with a return to a simple but deeply satisfying hot meal and the eternal nurturing of quintessential motherhood, and that’s just enough to probably bring a tear to the eyes of Sendak, Freud, even Walt Disney, and certainly myself.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Movies, like most pop art, tend to require repeated viewings, often simply to confirm the pleasures derived from the initial viewing, occasionally to douse an overtly passionate reaction caused by a singular performance, a nerve-tingling subject, a hypnotizing theme or maybe just pure directorial panache, and once in a while to somehow enrich or deepen the film going experience by gleaming a deeper meaning or a more penetrating misc-en-scene then an initial viewing may evoke.
Being a huge believer in Clint Eastwood’s directorial acumen, and a sucker for any film about the ever mystical Los Angeles (either past or present, especially past), I recently rewatched his Angeline Jolie hosanna and impeccably burnished period piece Changeling, and essentially saw it in a whole different light.
Back in December of 2008 I opined, among other things, that the movie was sinfully old-fashioned and terminally flawed:
“Jolie plays the one truly virtuous character, and Eastwood trails her like a golden-haloed heroine of some long ago silent film parable. Jolie in period costume is a truly iconic sight, and she delivers a delicate, even comely performance. The problem is the 78-year-old director’s classicist tendencies--the movie unfolds with a stately, methodical tone and proceeds with his assured feel for cinematic storytelling-- but ultimately it never bears down and scratches the surfaces beneath the readily apparent emotional and moral concerns.
It still doesn’t prevent Jolie’s single minded performance from becoming repetitive rather than enriched by the expanded canvas. One hates to damn Eastwood, as fine a working contempo director today, with faint praise, yet Changeling is more admirable than affecting, more contained than disturbing, more passive than passionate. It’s an old-fashioned movie that just about rises above its own mawkishness and inherent stolidity. Rare as it, maybe Eastwood the filmmaker has crafted a well-made offering that is essentially a misfire--a sharply drawn shell that too firmly covers up its raw entrails. Jolie’s much vaunted turnabout doesn’t crack the shell either; it’s far too gilded without an iota of the rawness and grit the framework seems to call for.”
Watching the film unfold again, I was equally impressed with Eastwood’s overall package--the set direction, Tom Stern’s cinematography, the smoothly flowing nuts-and-bolts story telling. Yet, the overall stolidity of the movie didn’t bug me again, and where I originally saw a jumble of an historical cautionary tale, a feminist ballad, a gothic chiller, and an open-ended mystery, I now see a purposefully (even defiantly) old school star vehicle, a movie solely devoted to the primordial gaze, a movie shaped around a long lost centerpiece: The Hollywood Heroine.
The inherent irony that as a macho a figure as Eastwood (his reputation as a filmmaker still skewers that way, part fact, part illusion drawn far too much from his on screen acting persona) would overtly machinate a “woman’s picture”, one worthy of such acknowledged masters of the genre as George Cukor or Josef Von Sternberg, is a major obfuscation. Still, a close examination of Eastwood’s progression as a director reveals him to be an ever maturing classicist, obviously steeped in a Hollywood of the past that he was never part of, as the studio system was dissolving during his early leap into stardom.
Changeling ain’t all about Eve, it’s all about Angelina, and Eastwood’s lens is as devoted to her as the gilded cameras of the once-upon-a- time dream factory that smoothly fetishized the faces of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, or Marlene Dietrich. Eastwood continually spotlights her lanky frame, her bee-stung lips, her inexplicable exoticism without sexualizing her, seemingly half of her lengthy screen time is spent with a natty hat half obscuring her delicate features. One can’t help but think of Garbo, and what Roland Barthes infamously postulated: “Garbo’s face represents this fragile moment when the cinema is about to draw an existential from an essential beauty, when the archetype leans towards the fascination of mortal faces, when the clarity of flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.”
Is the movie worthy of such a high-minded exegesis? Maybe not, it’s still not a one-of-a-kinder. Still, it remains a fascinating intermeshing of a highly developed directorial vision and a strong, iconic actress, and it stands as a fully formed and thoroughly intentional cinematic throwback, both a paean and a link to a type of well-made, populist American filmmaking that has long ceased to exist.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Until 1965’s Cat Ballou, the indomitable Lee Marvin was yet another working actor, flitting from the big screen to the small, making appearances (usually as a toughie, baddie, or at the very least, a character with heavy attitude) in such standard TV fare as The Virginian, The Untouchables, or Bonanza, and also popping up in meaty stuff like The Twilight Zone, Combat and Route 66, among others. Lee and his eyes also held down a starring role for 117 episodes (1957-1960) in a bare bones cop show, M Squad, finally available on DVD.
M Squad (which was directly parodied in The Naked Gun) featured Marvin as Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger, a dry-as-toast and tougher-than-leather copper navigating through the mean streets of Chicago. Disappointingly, the black and white half hour episodes are neither taunt nor sharp, and mostly without a hint of noir. Directed by a batch of familiar TV helmsmen (Virgil W. Vogel, Bernard L. Kowalski, Don’s Taylor and Medford), the shows aren’t exactly turgid either, bumped up a little bit by Marvin’s laconic voice-overs and his tough guy sway. (Outside of maybe Lancaster and Mitchum, two other poetic macho man, was there ever quite a sonorous prole voice like Marvin's?)
Some claim that the series was original in its depiction of TV violence and it did indeed sport a fantastic theme song, and a cool opening, a jizzy jazzy score throughout each episode, a nuts and bolts procedural panache, legit Chicago location shooting, and, of course Marvin.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel
The recently late, not-so-great Patrick Swayze was easily among the most earnest of actors, a toned-up, adult Boy Scout with a modified mullet, a near perfect dancer’s ass, a model’s toothy smile, and the perpetual air of an aiming-to-please golden retriever. His career was a strange one, filled with cheesy box office hitaramas, grade C actioneers, confectionary TV mini-series, topped off with a bold splash of truly awful movies. Not without legit and sincere fans, he’ll be remembered for his athletic grace, his easy sincerity, and his low key yet pretty coyness
Not me though, I’ll remember him chiefly for two very specific film maven credentials, the first being his steady and often awe-inspiring run of exquisitely named movie characters. Think about it: He was Darrel Curtis in The Outsiders (’83), Jed in Red Dawn (’84), Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing (’87), Sam Wheat in Ghost (’90), and, oh yes sir, Bodhi in Point Break (’91), and, uh-huh, Vida in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (’95). With character monikers as resplendent as that, the acting stuff was gloriously secondary.
Lest we forget, Swayze also played another one- name figure, a lead role that perpetually resounds by simply uttering (in a quiet, but oh-so-tough, monotone) the eternally poetic sobriquet, Dalton. His second, towering forget-me-not credential is his nonpareil portrait of Dalton, the Zen/magisterial/mystical/ultra-masculine/mythical Wandering Bouncer in one of the baddest of all contempo bad movies, 1989’s Road House.
Although there have been some adventuresome film nitcrits willing to offer up theories that Road House (helmed by the you-couldn’t make-this-up Rowdy Herrington) is a subversive tone poem bent on undercutting the very blueprint of the exceptionally macho action film (evidenced by a co-writing credit of a female, Hilary Henkin, later responsible for Romeo is Bleeding and Wag the Dog), or, in direct contrast, an overt cinematic ballad of plainspoken homoerotic worship (evident in Swayze’s ever balletic fighting moves, or the camera’s continually adoring shots of his aforementioned rump), I will continue to celebrate Road House as a masterfully terrible movie, one that holds the viewer in a horrified hypnotic sway.
Road House centers around Swayze’s Dalton, entering a one horse town in order to preserve the sanctity of the holy Double Deuce, the iconic road house of the title. Dalton, tooling around in a Mercedes convertible and proudly holding a Ph.D. in philosophy from NYU, is a warrior-Buddha, and apparently makes quite the living straightening out juke joints and dive bars throughout our wary nation. Steeped in the wisdom of the Far East, ably to stitch his own gaping knife wounds, he possesses all the Big Answers, and seemingly glides through the air while performing bare-chested tai chi, old school face pummeling, and modern day throat-ripping fu. He turns down sex from the long-legged and big haired women that drool on him in between drinks, literally tosses out dirty bartenders and knocks out petulant customers, and probably cleans the bathrooms stalls hourly with his own ever luxuriant locks. He is forever poised, unshakable, Wyatt Earp with a doctorate, and he even brushes his teeth with a powerfully abiding sense of harminiousness.
When in doubt he calls upon Wade Garret (acting dynamo Sam Elliot), his mentor and the former A#1 Wandering Bouncer, while also seeking tenderness and stand-up sex with Doc (the dual-expressional Kelly Lynch), who happens to be, yup, the town doctor, while simultaneously waging war with criminal kingpin Brad Wesley (melting method man Ben Gazzara). (The screenwriters have subtly tagged everyone with cowpoke handles.) The town is an Edward Hopper painting made up of a car dealership, a general store, the bar, no visible police presence, a lake, and, shades of Samuel Beckett, two houses sitting across it and in full view of each other, the metaphoric ranches of the avenging Dalton and the villainous (and oldie-singing) Wesley.
No fervently rotten movie comes up without eminently quotable dialogue, and Road House is awash in pearly cinematic wisdoms:
“I want you to be nice until it’s time not to be nice.”
“That dog won’t hunt”
“Pain don’t hurt”
“Nobody wins a fight”
“I don’t fly…too dangerous”
“It’s my way or the highway”
“That gal has entirely too many brains to have an ass like that”
There’s absolutely nothing funny about pancreatic cancer, and I just have to believe that neither Johnny Castle or Sam Wheat, or even the Bodhi would approve of movie buffs either laughing or crying about the early passing of La Swayze. Do a Dalton instead, steering steely into the home screen, the later at night the better, the fiercer the gaze, the more controlled the movement, the sharper the mind, the better, and slip full away into another viewing of the immortal Road House, so very bad that it almost transcends itself. RIP Patrick Swayze, 1952-2009.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Ernest Borgnine was in town recently, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and I wanted nothing more than to share a beer and an easy conversation with the guy. It’s a hoary cliché to bemoan the fact that they just don’t make ‘em like they use to, but it’s equally hard to argue that there’s a whole lotta equivalents to Ernie Borgnine in contempo cinema. Borginine, particularly in action films, war movies, and western’s brought a sort of proletariat authenticity, whether playing grizzled, ornery, malevolent, or wizened.
Borgnine’s greatest screen moments may have been as William Holden’s right hand man in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (’69), but he enjoyed some fruitful collaborations with the often underrated Robert Aldrich (one of the masters, alongside Howard Hawks and Sam Fuller of men-in-conflict sub genre), getting the job done in Flight of the Phoenix (’65), The Dirty Dozen (’67) and The Legend of Lylah Care (’68). Aldrich is also responsible for one of good ‘ol Ernie’s toughest, all-out, son-of-a-bitch roles, that of train conductor Shack in 1973’s Emperor of the North.
A box office failure upon its release, it was a hard to categorize effort, a train tale, a depression fable, and a very weird coming-of-age story, set in Oregon in 1933, and co-starring the indubitable Lee Marvin as a kingpin hobo called A-No. 1 and newcomer Keith Carradine as footloose punk puppy dog known as Cigaret. (The movie also underwent a title change from The Emperor of The North Pole to its longstanding one-word-less appellation, the original title being an ironic moniker applied to the boss hobo, aka The King of Nowheresville.) Aldrich steadfastly claimed it to be a representational bit of cinefiction, a sideways commentary of the generational fission taking place with America at the time, but it played out as a period piece peppered with brutality despite a few picaresque zig-zags (a loose turkey and a sad sack cop played by Simon Oakland in hobo camp, a comical riverside baptism, some cat and mouse shtick between Carradine and Marvin).
Aldrich, always a filmmaker who knew exactly how to stage, frame and cut an action sequence, delivers throughout, and the action and its inherent violence are filmed with an unfussy muscularity. The hobo patois (and Marvin's rat-a-tat delivery) is ear pleasing and the train set pieces are vivid. The characterizations, especially Carradine’s irritating braggart, don’t quite jell, but Marvin fully commits to his raging roosterisms and my man Ernie just clenches those powerful choppers of his and squints his way right past evildom. I saw this movie in the theatres during my late adolescence and was held in sway by it then, and thought that the final one-on-one match-up between the two manliest of men, Lee Marvin and Ernie Borgnine, was pure action nirvana--hard, smart, thrilling, and too cool to be true. I’m still there, some 30 wizened and ornery years later.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating. The latest guest effort comes from my long ago high school pallie-and then rock and roll guru--Chas Chesler.)
This Is Hardcore-Pulp (Island, 1998)
I’ve always had a thing for groups that were “too British”; quintessential but poor selling late ‘60s Kinks, the original Small Faces, Bonzo Dog Band, etc. When Scotty D requested a contribution, I looked to bands without much US success yet more recent histories. Oasis? Too famous. Blur? Too obvious. Pulp? Ahh, yes. Our topic: 1998’s This Is Hardcore. Reaching #1 in the UK, it didn’t even chart here! Can’t get more “too British” than that.
More than ten years on, This Is Hardcore is still creepy. When Pulp leader Jarvis Cocker whisper/sings during opener “The Fear”, “You’re gonna like it, but not a lot”, the “All About Eve” Bette Davis line “Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" comes to mind.
This is an album of damaged people asking the mirror why they should go on. Cocker spins tales of excess nightlife and promiscuity and the inhabitants’ feelings of emptiness and worthlessness these appetites provoke. They recognize the physical and emotional self-destructiveness of their actions but seem powerless to stop. As the protagonist in “Party Hard” demands “If you didn’t come to party, why did you come?”
Over a pastiche of styles, Chris Thomas’ production is sharp-edged and remote. Elements of glam, pop, arena balladry (think Bob Ezrin-era Alice Cooper), disco and a bit of dissonance can be found.
There is no respite here as each song gets under your skin and the cycle repeats. “This Is Hardcore” unintentionally acts a warning to married with children couples with second thoughts; a much darker vision of The Kinks’ “Two Sisters”, one of whom chooses the home life rather “Than the wayward lass that her sister had been”.
Cocker lends his own name to the opening lyrics on “Dishes”, about a self-loathing kept man: “I am not Jesus, but I have the same initials”. A rare light moment on a highly recommended dark masterpiece.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
By Scott Duhamel
Quentin Tarantino’s often told personal tale, that of a brash, young know-it-all video clerk who writes his way into the heady upper regions movie industry, writing and making his directorial debut with the in-yer-face Reservoir Dogs in 1992, dashing off the screenplay for boldly rococo True Romance in 1993, contributing the story to attention-grabbing Natural Born Killers in 1994, and ultimately co-writing and directing up-the-ante Pulp Fiction that same year, spurred on a subsequent generation of movie scribblers and film nibblers, all bent on skipping over film school or industry apprenticing and vaulting directly into movie-making power, glory, and box-office ching-a-ling, equipped with nothing more than an audacious concept or two, some twisted dialogue, and the tippity-tap of the lap top keyboard.
In the decade plus that’s followed there has certainly been dozens of Tarantino (or QT, as he is known to his more ardent followers) approximators, imitators, followers, and cinematic brothers-in-arms, none of whom have held a candle to his single-minded filmmaking wonder world—a particularly peculiar filmic view that welds together genres, movie history, and pop culture fervor in vastly entertaining packages that are always part spectacle, part low concept, and part (yup) pulp fiction. His latest, long rumored to be in the works, is Inglourious Basterds, an ostensible take on the old school World War II movie that could have almost been made by tipping a few shelves over in the hip video store around the corner, and spicing together a heady batch of both disparate and kindred found footage culled equally from the mainstream and the exploitative.
Inglourious Basterds is bound to be intensely polarizing (as the initial nitcriticism indicates), as it rolls out as if derived from an aesthete’s blueprint, yet seems crafted with pulp cartoonishness, continually nudging the artful into the low-down, craftily airing out the florid excesses of melodrama and outright tawdriness. It is, without question, QT’s ultimate video clerk film fantasia, a movie boiled in the oil of melted down film nitrate stock (ironically enough, also one of the movie’s plot points), a film that unequivocally operates in a readymade cinematic vacuum. Tarantino’s movies have never been intended to peel back the shell and reveal anything of moral or psychological import, and this—a Holocaust revenge fantasy—doesn’t even hint at any significance outside of tickling the pleasure sensors. It’s a wacked-out paean to the delirious beguilements of the cinema, happily self-indulgent and brazenly self-assured.
Inglourious Basterds is 153 minutes of pop-art felicity, a rollicking collision of the absurd and the visceral, and there will be those (like myself) who can’t help but be swept along in its chortling, blazing, transparently outrageous pop-cult blender. In the blink of an eye, the film conjures up or draws upon huge dollops of film iconography, ranging from and to The Great Dictator, The Alamo, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Devil’s Brigade, The Dirty Dozen, Ennio Morricone, Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah, Aldo Ray, Peter Sellers, Emil Jannings, G.W. Pabst, Marlene Dietrich, Josef von Sternberg, war movies, westerns, splatter flics, and film noir. To top it off, the movies very finale is set within the plush confines of Tarantino’s very own “Cinema Paradiso.”
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Submarine Bells- The Chills (Slash, 1990)
I probably wouldn't have known much more about the Chills than the catchy “I Love My Leather Jacket,” if it hadn’t been for one of those blessed mixed cassettes that friends would give me when the mood struck them. I never saw these 90 minute gems coming, which was a good thing since the surprise of the music had a better chance of working different levels when that happened.
Jen M. gave such a tape to let me know what the radio kids at Wheaton College were digging; this was maybe Spring, 1992. On the tape, there was a lot of Yo la Tengo, Pavement, a wonderfully strange Connecticut outfit called Uncle Wiggly, an even stranger Wiggly spinoff called Fly Ashtray and the sublime Chills from New Zealand. “Leather Jacket,” was in the mix, but that was just the key that opened the door to two songs from their 1990 album Submarine Bells: “Heavenly Pop Hit,” and the title track. “…Pop Hit” was impossibly bubbly-sounding. Paced by an echoey, ascending organ, it might float away if it were not tied to Martin Phillipps’ skeptical writing:
And I’m growing in stages,
and have been for ages,
Just singing and floating and free. Dum de dum dum
Its a heavenly pop hit
If anyone wants it.
The bolded line brings things back down to earth. Not a lot of people wanted “it” despite the Chills wit, charm and musical intelligence. The title track is flat out beautiful, with Phillips putting the finishing touches on the ocean motif that floats under the entire record (which I have to admit, did not come into my possession until years later).
Between the alpha and the omega, there are ten more elegant tunes, the best of which rock hard, “Familiarity Breeds Contempt,” soft, “Don’t Be-Memory,” and weird, “I Soar.” Submarine Bells is one of those records you always listen to in its entirety and wonder what it might have sounded like live.
I imagine the Chills toured the States in the 90’s, but sadly, I didn’t see them. If only I’d been paying more attention
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Although this was only Polanski’s second feature, and his first English language film, his sense of detail and unnervingly chilling pacing demonstrate his youthful cinematic mastery. Of course, as always with Polanski theme plays a dominate role, and this tale of alienation and sexual repression unfolds sublimely, with the picture perfect Catherine Deneuve (all 21 years of her) at the center as Carol, a Belgian manicurist sleepwalking through the spidery sidewalks of 60’s London. Carol is being chased by a handsome young man (John Fraser), and being affronted by her roommate and sister’s (Yvonne Furneaux) invading (and probably married) lover (Ian Hendry). Left alone for a week, she slowly dissipates, and as Polanski positions the viewer into sharing her subjectivity we witness her creaky apartment come alive with unnerving noises, shadowy glimpses, and walls that seem to almost breathe and sigh as she entombs herself, both psychically and psychologically.
Although the similarly plotted (and themed) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is the work of an obviously more mature filmmaker, Repulsion is a commanding film, beguilingly composed and effectively stitched together, and creepy as all get out. In a strange way this is an anti-Hitchcockian thriller, although it shares Hitch’s penchant for mixing up sex, dread, and violence and it also is an effort that acutely utilizes the visual as a code for the psychological. Hitchcock enticed viewers with a surfeit of surface cinematic bedazzlement, and only audiences that chose to penetrated deep below the surface. Polanski, on the slips and slides and burrows into the subterranean psychosexual blues, accompanying it with a visual scheme that always seems poised to veer into the surreal, creating supreme tension because it never quite does. Yet, like any of the more powerful Hitchcock efforts, Repulsion will stay with you and linger ever so tantalizingly in the mind's eye, long after your viewing experience.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
It ain’t Sinatra’s Vegas any more, although a brief excursion through so-called “Old Vegas” provided some temporary stale but outside breathing and a chance to walk among the more middle-class dreamers and beamers in a slightly upgraded version of the Atlantic City boardwalk. Just to make sure that I was fully aware that I could never walk in Frankie’s venerated footsteps, my colleagues decided that we should (for once) go to a show, rather than just eat, drink, and gamble till the wee wee hours.
My boys, good guys all, are not exactly culturally discerning, and some how the choice was made to sit through a performance of Cirque du Soliel’s Mystere. (Yeah I know, not even the Beatle’s show!) The sight of us, nine grown men in various states of inebriation and head titling sleepiness, seat by seat next to each other awaiting this hocus-pocus mix of mime, acrobatics, and artificial meaningfulness had to be, without a doubt, the gayest image I’ve ever been part of. After nodding through most of it, recoiling at half of it, and, despite my struggles, fully inhaling the acid aroma of stale showbiz cheese, I burst out onto the streets and left my union brethren behind, desperate to find my inner manliness, to go John Wayne on someone, to plunge down the Vegas strip with the Zen toughness of Burt Lancaster, the brutish male soul of Robert Mitchum, and the hard and clear oh-so-masculine eyes of Lee Marvin.
I immediately bent right down on the sidewalk and sniffed the first pretty girl’s ass that I saw, elbowed aside a couple of frat boy jokers and flashed ‘em the psycho stare, broke up the hand-clenching of two starry-eyed young lovers, got on my hand and knees and scooped up every grimy call girl playing card stuck to the curbsides, asked two silicone-injected west coast divorcee types to do the funky chicken with me, tore up the stairs to one the saddest McDonalds of all time and swallowed a Big Mac and left the goo right on my lips, threw a few fries at some Frenchy looking bastards with poofed-up hair walking below, then zigzagged across the street challenging any one of the Pakistani cabbies to run me over, demanded two Cuervo Gold shots and a Budweiser at the nearest bar and loudly asked anyone in the vicinity to tell me if there was a better sports town on earth than Boston, and by the way did they know that the 6-0 Celtics were marching directly towards the NBA crown, that Bill Belichick oughta just tap dance on the grave of Vince Lombardi, and that the Red Sox just might roll through the next coupla World Series. The bartender cast a weary eye on me, pointed a finger a the torn Cirque du Soliel stub sticking out of my top pocket, and told me in a quiet but stern voice that the next round was on him, nodding sagely all the while.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I grew up thoroughly intrigued by Las Vegas, a place I only knew through the movies and television, a place that I saw as filtered through the cool daddy shades of The Rat Pack, a locale I viewed as an opposing camp to the rock and roll army I imagined I was attached to, a weird American kind of Oz, bursting with kitsch, camp, and middle-class Americana yet also built upon the shattered bones and long dried blood sprinkled in the desert by dying breed of raffish, brutal, and ruthlessly ambitious criminal warlords.
I never saw that Las Vegas, whether it existed or not. The Vegas I know, the Vegas I’ve landed in quite a few times in recent years because of my job, doesn’t sport the mystery or the allure of the one I imagined during my dreamy adolescence, nor does it pop and crackle with coolness or retro hipness. It’s a working town, peopled with hardworking service people, cocky Euro-kids, sideways glancing businessmen, moneyed Asians, burgeoning young Republican party boys, red-faced Canucks, the-big-one-is-coming seniors, and apple-pied Americans, all hell-bent on sniffing the plasticized aroma of the continual canned spectacles plodding on all around with clockwork predictability while catching an OSHA-prescribed, seat-belted, tickety-tack theme park ride vibe that’s easily safer than milk. Sure, if you work the outskirts hard enough, roam the floors late enough, and poke your nose into the joints with the dimmer lights you’ll spot the hustlers, the hookers, and the hard cases, each of ‘em working the same slow capitulation scheme that their cousins and ex-next door neighbors are doing in whatever passes for a big city in yer own neck of the woods, none of them any brighter, better looking, or more hard core.
Each time I visit this mythological place, propelled by new vigor and backed up by my past archaeological digs, I’m convinced that there’s gotta be a piece of that old black magic desert paradise still in existence, maybe even a few hot spots that transmit the sweet sweat of Sammy Davis, Jr, the cocksure propensity for transcendent drinking once and forever carved out by Frank Sinatra, or even the breezy path to hot desert/air conditioned unblinking showbiz bliss briefly exemplified by zen master Dino Martin. Maybe Fat Elvis screwed the joint up, leaving behind a rust pile of broken spangles and the stench of discarded pill-poisoned scarves, opening up the stage doors to a parade of pot-bellied crooners, light shows with songs, well-coiffed Grade B television spawned vaudevillians, manikin-like divas, and audiences that would rather cheer themselves shuffling off to Buffalo.
Al Jolson’s ghost couldn’t stomach a stopover in today’s Las Vegas, but I am still made of mortal coil, and I am Sam Spade-determined to solve this ongoing Las Vegas caper, my friends. Let me turn off the keyboard and slide into the elevator rolling down into the lookalike play pen they call my hotel. I’m on this case for free, you see, and I have to pursue the elusive great whatzit before it wiggles into my gut and corrupts my soul. Viva la that.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel
Vitriolic, vehement, and undeniably exhilarating, The Hurt Locker may turn out to be the least talked about but most well-fashioned and provocatively sculpted major studio release of the summer season. It’s bracingly directed—a popular movie driven by a truly cohesive directorial vision—and it delivers its framework of action with a particularly fine-tuned frisson, rock and rolling with balls and intelligence, shooting out the lights with an unsettling but mesmerizing friction. It also, after some cult success and a relatively steady career, finally announces filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow as directorial force to be reckoned with.
Ostensibly another in a long line of recent Iraq war movies, The Hurt Locker focuses on a unique three-man U.S. Army bomb squad, the not-so-lucky guys whose day job it is to defuse and dispose of IEDs, which typically account for 50 percent of the causalities in Iraq. The make-up of the team is just this side of predictable, with the nervous youth and designated sniper Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), the tough and wary intelligence officer Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and their newly arrived bull goose loony Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), whose say he has (so far) disarmed 878 of the suckers. The former two are in the final 38 days of their rotation and outside of desiring no more sand in their teeth alongside days and nights of playing duck and cover, they clearly want no part of the latter, the newest team member who seems part soldier/part ninja and keeps re-upping his hitch.
What distinguishes The Hurt Locker from checking in as a moral-parading exploration of our current Middle Eastern engagement, or simply another pop and crackle action ride covered up in a war movie uniform, is Bigelow’s acutely unique overview and her more-than-scrupulous technique. The movie really isn’t about Iraq, nor is it an excuse to trot out a newfangled formula for contempo action; it delves into the grace (and devastation) of heroism in war, and it rolls out like a kinetic art piece replete with spatial distancing and a visceral flair. Essentially divided in a half dozen missions, each choreographed with sinuous hand-held camerawork and accented with off-balance tilts, full speed zooms, and nervous editing that doesn’t echo the MTV-styled cutting that usually substitutes for filmmaking acumen within Hollywood product, Bigelow’s movie arches into a rigorous self-propellant, with style flash pointing into substance. Stripped bare, the movie contains no story arc, no character development, and no big or resounding (aka meaningful) finale. It’s a potent dip into the adrenaline of recklessness and disorientation of cinematic action, and not in the usual manner which is usually merely meant to artificially simulate so-called real life action.
Bigelow, an ex-artist, has long carved out two distinct filmic reps: As a woman director who inexplicably makes macho movies, and as a filmmaker who delivers atypical action movies, i.e. ones that somehow manage to contain both smarts and catchy visual pay-offs, films in the style of populist masters like Samuel Fuller (Pickup on South Street, The Big Red One) or Robert Aldrich (The Flight of the Phoenix, Kiss Me Deadly), movies that don’t trip up in their own stylization but deliver with the accretion of detail and the dynamism of style and movement, wholly chalking up their respective action markings by crafting time and space in an effective cinematic manner. Near Dark (1987) was a punk rock vampire trip, high on adrenaline and cough syrup funny. Blue Steel (1989) was an over-the-top Dirty Harry riff, with Jamie Lee Curtis, her legs, and her gun virtually imploding through the pulpy screen. Point Blank (1991) is a Zen-nihilist-heist-undercover-surfer offering, the kind of movie which it’s ever growing aficionados watch again and again as it flickers across the cable menu. Even the slightly off kilter Strange Days (1995) and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and the seemingly out-of-character The Weight of Water (2000) easily boast a number of merits, signifying the actual presence of a legit authorial voice.
The Hurt Locker wallows in intensity, while never inching an iota towards the standard videogame cinema. Its three principles (especially the bay-faced Renner) turn in blunt and vividly etched turns, echoed by the passing-through up-the-macho-ante appearances of David Morse, Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce. A war movie that avoids politics, the film also functions as a highly-drawn examination of a rather throwback notion, that of a job (and that truly mans any job) well done. Combustible, unpredictable, and dazzling, over brimming with a jangly immediacy, it deserves to be sought out by those filmgoers who can actually take their popcorn served straight up, no chaser.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating.)
Sylvain Sylvain (RCA), 1979
Syl’s assembled band includes three members of his Mr. David Jo Doll’s first band, bassist Buz Verno, guitarist Johnny Rao, and keyboardist Bobby Blain, alongside drummer Lee Crystal (Joan Jett) and sax man Jonathan Gerber. Syl, once again an often overlooked songwriter as a Doll, obviously brought a certain esprit to Thunders Keith Richards-gone-punk riff rock and David Jo’s ironic NYC twisting of the Chicago blues. His first solo effort is essentially a straightforward and heartfelt paean to Dion, the Brill Building, and the sweet sounds of 60’s girl groups, with a nod to The Rascals. Best of all, it is all delivered with an unabashed sincerity and unaffected straightforwardness, equally high-spirited and coolly retro, all of it done with a craftsman’s touch.
“Teenage News” the opener, is a bright dash and bash of pure pop, while the album’s most memorable song, “What’s That Got to do With Rock’n’Roll” is an ersatz Rock-Is-It declarative number that the likes of Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, or Brian Seltzer would kill to have written. “I’m So Sorry” could have (and should have) been a combative siren song belted out by Ronnie Spector or Nancy Sinatra, and boy, and it’s hard to believe that some sorta hipster filmmaker hasn’t grabbed it for a soundtrack by this point. “Without You” and “Every Boy and Every Girl” are sweetened nuggets written in the same vein (piano driven, do-wah-diddy background vocals, unblushing lovesick pop tales) while “14th Street Beat” is pure retro, but also pure New York, in a thoroughly unaffected way. “Deeper and Deeper” should have been delivered by Willie DeviIlle, another 60’s pop torch song woven with slightly updated stylistics. “Ain’t Got No Home is a decent take on the venerable Clarence Henry classic, nothing ventured, nothing gained, while “Tonight" is a saxophone-filled coda, a neat instrumental finale to a truly neat recorded offering. Tip of the hat to Egyptian-born Syl Mirhazi, epitomizer of one piece of the ever pounding New York sound puzzle, able precursor to the future punk rock sweepstakes, possessor of rock and roll true blood, with a debut solo you almost haveta dance to.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
As soon as I hit the bigs I knew I’d end up here, cuz I knew from the gitgo, just looking around and seeing what I could do and how I could do it, that I had to be one of the greatest. Rickey always believed that, and Rickey made that happen, and Rickey made sure all them others knew it too. Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Redass Ty Cobb, they had nothin’ on me, I was stronger, faster, and had balls twice as big as any of ‘em. Rickey don’t care much about speeches or speakin’, cuz Rickey was never about that anyways.Rickey never played that shit. Rickey’s gotta say what Rickey wants to say. Rickey played hard, and Rickey was a hard man hisself. Sure I played for my home town team the A’s and for that fat-ass redneck Charlie O, but I never really gave two shits—Rickey was in it for the dough, Rickey was in it for the show. Pay me enough, and I played it all out. Fans loved to watch Reggie Jackson, but all that bigheaded show dog could do was hit the ball into the cow patches. Rickey angled walks, Rickey banged doubles, Rickey stroked the long ball, Rickey poked it the opposite way, Rickey look right down all them pitcher's beady eyes. Rickey scored all sorts of runs, and then scored some more, and Rickey could steal a base whenever he set out to. Rickey do what Rickey had to do. I looked fine doin’ it too. I just didn’t catch a ball, first I caught up to it and then I snatched it down. Satchel Page he had the style. Baseball easy, it don’t change, you gotta bring the style to it.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I’ve certainly waxed eloquent about Big Ol’ Robert Mitchum on more than one occasion: Mr. World Weary, sometimes a lug, often a thug, an unforgettable mug, sleepy-eyed and perpetually laconic, barrel-chested, with a voice emanating from some cavernous depth of his soul, a heart polluted by irony and a head filled with the simplest of desires--to be left alone, daddy. The newly released The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) has long resounded as one of Mitchum’s finest, despite and because of the fact that he’s in his later stage, more lumpen, decidedly slower, unsettlingly vulnerable, an aging but still wily lion in a jungle that’s become overtly desaturated.
Despite the unarguable fact that Mitchum as Coyle was indeed a both brilliant stroke of casting and a stirring and remarkably unselfconscious execution of a role, the movie has a bit more going for it. Brit director Peter Yates (Bullit, Breaking Away), possibly infected by temporary wisdom that many practioners of 70’s American cinema seemed to have collectively drawn upon, crafts a crime movie that simultaneously impacts as bonafide (and effecting) character study and a sideways exploration of the slow deterioration of the codes of masculinity. Yates, virtually working on the pinpoint level of a Robert Altman or a Hal Ashby, doesn’t flaunt a plot point, underline the action, or even zigzag around the merry-go-round. The movie just unfolds, a series of modulated interactions, predominately set in parking lots, way stations, coffee shops, dive bars, suburban enclaves, trailers, neighborhood banks, with nary a hitch in its everyday rhythms.
Of course, author George V. Higgins central conceit was that Eddie Coyle, third-string criminal, was nothing but a working stiff, albeit one with a slowly eroding set of codes, a simple guy with a simple desire-middle class survival. Yates, appropriating another 70’s transmutable element, just lets the movie unwind with no particular emphasis on any of the connective tissue, one way or another, regular citizen, low level law enforcer, big thief , little thief, those times they were a-changing, and your sinkhole is just, well, my sinkhole.
Mitchum lumbers gracefully through it all, a splintered square peg who can’t even find a round hole, a club fighter gasping through the later rounds, a tug boat slowing tearing away from its moorings. He’s bad, he’s sad; he’s a sap without poetry or flair, filled with old school doggedness and a philosophy borne out of inner city tenement origins. Yates surrounds him with some terrific players of the period, each one adding a dash of muted color—Richard Jordan as the curdled justice agent, Steven Keats as the hepped-up gunrunner, Alex Rocco as the blue collar heist man, and the impeccably inscrutable Peter Boyle as the low level bartender/informant that plays them all.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Remember that oh-so-friendly term “convenience store”, meaning the corner milk store, the corner drug store, the Ma and Pa joint down the street from your house where you bought your daily newspaper or a pack of smokes? Well, it’s so far from convenient now that those same places are making headaches achier and ulcers ulcier and tempers not-so-tempered. The first part of my daily routine is almost monk-like in its serene simplicity. I leave my house, typically somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30AM, get gas if needed, grab a coffee, and head to the once-upon-a-time-convenience store in order to purchase 2 newspapers and a much needed ten-pack of cigars.That's That. Should take all of a minute and a half, two minutes tops, right? No way jack. Invariably, inevitably, somehow, all-the-time, EVERYGODDAMNDAY, the people in line if front of me seem to be there for one reason: TO SLOW MY DAY DOWN. Are any of these, my fellow life-sucking consumers, in a hurry to do anything or go anywhere? Do they love the vibe of 7-11 or Quik-Mart, or Brooks, or Ma and Pa Land? Do they love the décor, the ambience, the mostly zombie-like employees who both hate their job and their customers?
These time-killers appear as a few distinct types. There is the Senior Citizen A, the type that must, under all circumstances, reach slowly for their hidden away cash, and count out EACH AND EVERY dollar, dime, and penny, making society a better place by always paying with exact change. There is Senior Citizen B, who has learned the first name of the clerk, his or her family situation, whether they route for the Yanks or the Sox, and engages them in full discourse, at great length and detail, about the possibility of rain or sunshine EVERY SINGLE DAY. There is The Great Discounter A, armed with a mountain of clipped coupons, bent and determined to enhance their lives by saving 34 cents a day, even more determined to argue the validity of each coupon till death or savings, whichever comes first. There is The Great Discounter B, with a shopping cart as weapon, filled to the brim with multiple purchases of toilet paper and dish soap, buying bulk to fulfill their dreams and keep their basement shelves stocked with the true necessities of life. Finally, there is my fave, The Gambler, grubby fingers clutching scratch cards and lottery slips, knowing way deep down inside that they’re gonna hit the big one, ever ready and diligent to make the new purchase of that one-way ticket to the American Dream, taking their time at the register for good reason—the choice between a baseball scratch card and the tic-tac-toe one could very well be the diff between dust and gold.
I used to tell my pals that went I finally decided to let the years of accumulated rage kick in I was going to scale the roof of Providence’s Hot Club like a monkey on meth and set up for a sniping spree that would truly jumpstart a Friday night. Changed my mind. Man, when I finally flip my lid, I've decided to don some proper apparel (neat photo op, after all--plus I want my mother to see me in my best light when the tabloids run the story--haveta sport at leastone of my cooler-than-cool shirts), hook myself up with some bows and arrows, stamp them with a clear image of a ticking clock, sprinkle ‘em with gas or paint thinner, torch ‘em up, and stand atop the hood my car in the corner of the CVS on Reservoir Ave in Cranston, RI and pick off every single shopper who goes in or out before 7:00 AM on a random Tuesday or Wednesday, all the while giggling hysterically like Frank Gorshin-on-acid, hypnotically watching the flames leap from the fleeing bodies onto coupon inserts, neat little piles of scratch tics and big bundles of toilet paper. That ought to send a message, right?