News and Notes
Vaughan Oliver has created stunning artwork for the 4AD record label since 1980. Under the name 23 Envelope, he and photographer Nigel Grierson helped define 4AD's visual identity through graphics for Modern English, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil. By 1988 Grierson had moved on and Oliver re-christened the studio v23. Collaborating with various photographers, he continued to create images that complemented and enhanced each group's music in a unique manner. Some of Oliver's most unforgettable designs grace the covers of albums by the Pixies, Lush, Ultra Vivid Scene, and His Name is Alive.
You Can Count on Me
On paper, this looks like a maudlin downer. After losing their parents in an accident when they were children, Sammy seems to have gotten her life together while brother Terry wanders aimlessly from place to place, only returning to their hometown to ask his sister for money. But writer/director Kenneth Lonergan knows when to hit you and when to hold back. The result is a touching and funny film, aided in no small way by the performances of Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick, as Sammy's pathetic boss.
Fefu and Her Friends
Fefu and Her Friends follows eight women throughout the rooms of a house on a single spring day in 1935. It's impossible to convey the emotions that this play conjures up, or even what it's about, really. But here are some words that one might use in the attempt: Avant-garde, absurd, insightful, honest, engaging, disturbing, outrageous, hilarious.
FEFU: ... A black cat started coming to my kitchen. He's awfully mangled and big. He is missing an eye and his skin is diseased. At first I was repelled by him, but then, I thought, this is a monster that has been sent to me and I must feed him. And I fed him. One day he came and shat all over my kitchen. Foul diarrhea. He still comes and I still feed him. I am afraid of him. (Emma kisses Fefu) How about a little lemonade?
Hearts of Palm
The first thing that hits me is the piano. Simple, spare, gorgeous; laid in a bed of subtle electronics. And then the drums kick in. And finally, Jeff Martin's voice. Before the first song is over I realize that this isn't quite the same Idaho I've come to know and love over the years. This is better. There's more space, more depth, more detail. Martin has shifted focus from the band's signature four-string guitar buzz to his singing and, ultimately, to the songs.
They say long-distance running is a lonely sport. They must have said it before Steve Prefontaine rolled onto the scene. A hippy who liked to run fast, he was an anti-jock superstar when he started breaking records (and hearts) at the University of Oregon in the early 1970s. In this quiet gem of a film, Billy Crudup channels the renegade spirit of "Pre," a guy who partied harder and ran faster than anybody else before crashing (literally) at a tragically young age. Sports films tend to get mired in cliches or overwhelmed by their own irreverence, but what Towne has crafted here is a dignified, unsentimental portrait of a complicated hero.
Writing in Restaurants
The playwright's first collection of non-fiction offers short, powerful blasts of intellect, insight, humor, and venom. From the dead-on indictment of faddish art in "Decadence" to a beautiful recollection of place in "Pool Halls," Mamet's prose is clarion and his observations are keen. Do not miss "True Stories of Bitches" and "Things I Have Learned Playing Poker on the Hill."
Flip Your Wig
I've always been amazed at how prolific Hüsker Dü was. In their salad days (1984 to 87), they produced five dynamic records that married punk intensity to pop songcraft --and two of them were double-albums! But with two distinct voices in songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart, neither the quantity nor quality of their output is really surprising. Home to such memorable tunes as "Makes No Sense at All," "Flexible Flyer," and the title track, Flip Your Wig was the last album the band recorded for SST Records before moving on to bigger (if not necessarily better) things at Warner Bros.
Bill Duke directs a brooding, stylish exploration of a man who stares into the abyss for too long. Laurence Fishburne plays an undercover cop who becomes hopelessly entwined in the drug world. His predicament is summed up in one of his voiceovers: "Was I a cop pretending to be a drug dealer or a drug dealer pretending to be a cop?" Both Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum deliver possibly their best performances in a movie with great character development. By the end of the film, these men are forever changed. The director takes us into well-worn movie territory with this story of the undercover cop, but he does it brilliantly.
This online gadget is the straight truth when it comes to java applets. Using simple points and lines -- the latter contracting and expanding like muscles -- you can create an amazing variety of fascinating geometric "organisms." Of course, like me, you may be an incredibly impatient creator and instead opt to browse the Zoo -- a menagerie of stunning designs by expert constructor geeks.
Best known as former guitarist and songwriter for Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout has more recently gained acclaim for three solo albums of charming, slightly skewed pop --as well as for his new band, eyesinweasel. While fans and critics alike have recognized his musical talents, Sprout may be even more gifted as a painter. His striking photo-realist paintings feature such domestic details as storefronts, stovetops, and kitchen appliances. His work can be found on album covers and in galleries throughout the Midwest, including his own in Michigan, The Petrified Fish.
We didn't need a movie to tell us that used car dealers are trying to rip us off, but Used Cars hammers that point home anyway, with riotous results. It has elements of screwball comedy, but at its heart, Used Cars is a savage satire about America's drifting values and cynical politics in the post-Watergate era. Kurt Russell reeks of oily charm as a car dealer with aspirations of running for Congress, a place he figures he would fit in just perfectly.
Birth of the Cool
After two formative years in Charlie Parker's band, Miles sought an alternative to bebop and its endless soloing. Together with arranger Gil Evans and a core of musicians that included Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis, Davis developed a sound that integrated bop's improvisation with more controlled arrangements. Played with an expanded instrumental palette (French horn, trombone, tuba), the music ushered in the "cool school," and marked the first of several times that Miles Davis would change the face of jazz.
The HAL Screen Saver
Stanley Kubrick did not live to see the year 2001, but the key protagonist of his classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey is alive and well. An anonymous designer has gone to great lengths to recreate the HAL9000 computer screens, down to font and color accuracy (the process is documented on one of the site's pages). The results are available free to the public as a FLASH animated screen saver which not only pays homage to a great movie, it also makes your computer look way more important than it really is.
No one writes more insightfully than Jane Austen on the family politics of marriage and property, wealth and poverty. In this smart adaptation, young Fanny Price is sent off to live as a poor relation (unpaid servant) at Mansfield Park, her cousins' estate. Eventually her purity of heart triumphs over corruption and adversity -- she even wins the man who loves her. Understated cinematography reminds us artfully that this social commentary/romantic comedy is set on a damp and chilly island in a squalid and underheated time.
A member of John Lee Hooker's road band, Paul Pena recorded this album in 1973, but it was shelved and never released. Now 27 years later he's been rediscovered and may get a well-deserved chance at stardom. One track you may find familiar is the original version of Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner." Pena is like a cross between Van Morrison and Lenny Kravitz, and plays a mean blues guitar. Although recorded in another era, New Train may be the best album released in 2000.
The Official U.S. Time
There is something oddly empowering about setting your timepieces to the exact time. Notice the train is always running late? Feel free to fire off a haughty letter because, hey, it's not your watch that's off. Does the HOV lane open up to non-carpools at exactly 7pm? Well, you're never going to be caught jumping the gun, not if the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) have anything to say about it. Try not to let this power go to your head, though.
Urgh! A Music War
You're 14 years old. It's 1982. You live in Squaresville, USA. You listen to Journey. One day, you stumble upon Urgh! A Music War on cable TV, and everything changes. You have about as much in common with the punks as your parents do, but you don't care. You've been freed from the shackles of your jejune midwestern life and are hurtling toward the nearest mosh pit. A collection of pre-MTV concert performances by X, Wall of Voodoo, Devo, the Police, the Go-Go's, Dead Kennedys, the Cramps, XTC and many, many others, this movie saved my life. Let it save yours.
Smell of Steve Inc., an international group of artists, has been on a crusade in recent years to re-invent the comic strip. Their characters include "Pope Fonzie," the enigmatic "Bougle Gluce," and ethnic copyright-desperado "Black Aquaman." Until now, these strips could only been seen in local newspapers. They are now viewable by any poor soul with web access.
Plowing The Dark
You don't read Richard Powers for characters or plot. You read Richard Powers because no one sifts as many ideas through the fine weave of plots and characters as he does. You read Richard Powers because he offers you architecture, AI, art, and Arles on a single page -- and those are just the 'A's. Plowing the Dark returns to issues raised in Galatea 2.2, offering a pair of stories that question the limits of technology. In one case, anything is possible, while in the other, nearly nothing is possible. In the end, Powers leaves you with the sort of knife-sharp cut so clean you appreciate it aesthetically before noticing how it hurts.