News and Notes
Beg, Scream & Shout!
The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul
The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul has a little bit of everything: from James Brown to Maxine Brown, from Bar-Kays to Mar-Keys, from Sam & Dave to Bob & Earl -- and from "Gong Gong" to "Wack Wack" to "Oogum Boogum." With 144 songs spread over six CDs, it's guaranteed to put your backfield in motion, shake your tail feather, and get right down to your real nitty gritty.
This slim, sardonic entertainment from the merciless, hilarious pen of critic Max Beerbohm offers six preposterous yet familiar fin-de-siecle characters interacting with the author, himself the seventh man. From Enoch Soames, a dim and easily bypassed poet, to James Penthel, a risk addict, this delicately wrought period piece demonstrates that pretense and delusion haven't diminished much in the last hundred years. Accompanied by the author's own caricatures.
Before David Letterman and Saturday Night Live popularized droll, off-beat comedy on television, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were making an art of it with bizarre radio parodies of everything from soap operas to the nightly news. Sly sketches like "Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder," "One Fella's Family," and "Webley Webster," about a book critic with a weird penchant for pirate stories, practically serve as a blueprint for the smart, ironic comedy of today. Astoundingly, much of it was done without a script.
The award-winning Maus tells the story of Art Spiegelman's father, a Polish Jew caught up in the Holocaust. This grim past is offset by the present-day tale of the making of the book, in which the neurotic author is shown tape-recording his even more neurotic father. In order to make such a story bearable, Spiegelman casts the characters as different animals. As one reads the two volumes of Maus, one is often startled by the realization that these things really happened, not to mice but to ordinary people.
Some people call this an "existential" car chase movie. Barry Newman -- as a sort of nihilistic Richard Petty -- eats tons of speed and hallucinates about his troubled past while attempting to drive his supercharged Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in less than 15 hours in order to win a bet. Goaded on by the voice of Cleavon Little, a stoned DJ who trumpets our amped-up driver as a sort of folk anti-hero, Newman has plenty of strange and groovy experiences out in the desert. The ending is about as starkly powerful as a movie gets.
Daze of Our Lives
Billed as "State of the Art 19th Century Humor," Daze of Our Lives is a diary of bizarre engravings paired with absurdist captions. Martin Archer and collaborator Neil McKernan clearly toil over this labor of love, offering an exquisite-looking site, rich with extras (desktop icons, greeting cards, an associated hardcover book). But nevermind the gewgaws, just read Daze for the dry humor, the magical images, and the inevitable laughter that they evoke.
Ghost in the Machine
As a third-grader, I spent a large amount of time listening to the hit-packed Side A of this cassette while trying to draw the LED-inspired cover portraits. It wasn't until I bought the album on CD that I discovered that it actually had six more tunes, including rare contributions from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. Put this one on shuffle-play and see how familiar tracks like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" stack up against forgotten gems like "One World (Not Three)" and "Darkness." (TR)
The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
After a long career in Hollywood, Fritz Lang returned to Germany to revive the spirit of Dr. Mabuse. Producer Artur Brauner had wanted Lang to remake his 1932 classic, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. The director didn't see much point in that, but agreed to make a new film instead. The 1000 Eyes... is a low-budget, yet stylish thriller filled with murder, voyeurism, and plot twists galore. And while Brauner did eventually produce a remake of Testament, as well as five more Mabuse pictures, this was Lang's final film.
In this bleak vision of America, the influence of costumed crime-fighters has kept Nixon in office, whipped Vietnam into shape easily, and brought the world to the brink of Armageddon. Writer Alan Moore began this novel as a reworking of the Charlton Comics heroes of his childhood, transformed it into an operatic dark-comedy of super-hero archetypes, and ended up with a chilling commentary on cold-war America. Artist Dave Gibbons, usually a hired gun in the comic-book world, delivers a tour de force of graphic introspection, knowingly deconstructing the scaffolding beneath his feet. Though created almost 15 years ago, this Pynchon-esque graphic novel remains the final word in super-heroics.
Epiphany in Brooklyn
"Life is a frijoles negros wasteland
of all things bottled, quartered, and canned
he's a drunk and a fool
but he makes me laugh
and that's better than you do . . ."
--from "She's In Love"
Like many acoustic-based songwriters, Brenda Kahn is a natural storyteller. Bitingly sharp and intensely personal, her songs are filled with humor and warmth, and delivered in a voice that can go from rapture to longing to frustration in a single line. As splendid as it is, Epiphany in Brooklyn remains out-of-print. Needless to say, it is well worth tracking down in used CD bins.
This is one of the web's few virtual museums that actually allows you to walk through virtual rooms (rather than showing you a 360 degree photograph), and zoom in on the detailed brush-strokes of Van Gogh's masterpieces. But what really makes this site unique among digital museums, and for that matter among brick-and-mortar museums, is the ability to enter two of the paintings (The Bedroom and The Yellow House), and explore their ersatz worlds. There is also the option of viewing and discussing the works with others taking the online tour. As for me, I prefer to have the Van Goghs all to myself.
The Things They Carried
"They were just goofing. There was a noise, I suppose, which must've been the detonator, so I glanced behind me and watched Lemon step from the shade into bright sunlight. His face was suddenly brown and shining. A handsome kid, really. Sharp gray eyes, lean and narrow-waisted, and when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and and vines and white blossoms."
Like a mug of hot chocolate with a shot of the hard stuff in it, Luna's lighter-than-air sound is punctuated with singer Dean Wareham's quirky, sandpaper pipes to a warm, fuzzy effect. Taking inspiration from the Velvets' third album, Luna's second album will wrap itself around your ears from the first lilting chord.
Stephen Frears' charming retelling of Nick Hornby's novel features John Cusack as self-absorbed audiophile and indie record store owner Rob Gordon. Inspired by the departure of his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), Rob lists for us his top five breakups of all time. The likable romantic narrative is a vehicle for brilliant cameos, great compilation tapes (and soundtrack), the aforementioned top-five lists, and glorious shtick from Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Jack Black, and Todd Louiso.
The Next Hundred Years
As a street performer on Venice Beach, Ted Hawkins played a unique blend of soul, blues, folk, and pop. While his debut, Watch Your Step, offered a raw solo sound, on The Next Hundred Years, Hawkins is complemented by a full band. Inspired covers like "There Stands the Glass" and "Biloxi" share the stage with originals like "Green-Eyed Girl" and "Strange Conversation." Only Hawkins' untimely death on New Year's Day 1995 kept him from building on the success of this work.
A modern painting sparks a debate about art, splintering the relationship between three old friends. When Serge pays a large sum of money for an essentially white painting, Marc takes it as a personal betrayal. Yvan just wants everyone to get along, so naturally he's the one that gets punched in the ear. In the end they are forced to examine not only their friendship, but their lives. Reza's cleverly insightful comedy has won best play honors in the U.S., France, and England.
every 4 years
A third-party spoiler. Overzealous media outlets. The electoral college at odds with the popular vote. Wow. If you are one of the 100 million or so eligible voters who decided to sit this one out, you owe the rest of us for providing you with one hell of a roller-coaster ride. Any way you cut it, 2000 will go down in history as a classic.
My Life as a Dog
A boy on the cusp of adolescence, Ingemar is sent to stay in a small village because his mother is dying. He reads lingerie catalog blurbs aloud for the pleasure of an old man, boxes with a pubescent soccer teammate who's not quite ready to become a woman, and befriends the village goddess. Opening with Ingemar's musings on Laika, the space dog who starved to death, and closing with Swedish boxing champ Ingemar Johansson knocking out American heavyweight Floyd Patterson, the film is a tender story about hope and kindness that somehow manages to dodge cliche.
While there are plenty of DVD sites out there, many offer basically the same thing. The DVD Journal distinguishes itself through witty writing, technical savvy, and lively features, among them DVD MIA -- a gathering of most-wanted, yet still unreleased films -- and lists of the editor's top 25 and worst 10 DVDs. The site's ultimate bonus feature is a healthy irreverence for just about everything, including itself.
and The Pop-Up Book of Phobias
This dreadfully imaginative, luridly colored, pop-up picture book is guaranteed to evoke a response at a spooky soiree or an Addams family gathering. Opening with dentophobia (clench, grind, drill), and traversing the grim realms of aero-, ophidio-, and claustro-, the phobias keep coming at you (literally) until the end, which is, of course, necrophobia (rest in peace?). And while Halloween is safely behind us this year, there's a long dark winter of discontent just around the corner..
A tightly crafted courtroom drama covering an unlikely subject -- the advent of guerrilla tactics during the Boer War. Three Australian soldiers -- played masterfully by Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown, and Lewis Fitz-Gerald -- are court-martialed for the murder of enemy prisoners and a German missionary. Based on a true story, Beresford's film makes skillful use of flashback and multiple points of view, all in service of a stirring story about the changing nature of warfare and the timeless practice of finding convenient scapegoats.