News and Notes
The Friends of Rachel Worth
You'd be hard pressed to find a better pop album released in the year 2000 than The Friends of Rachel Worth. Featuring songs that are jangly and soaring, bitter and sweet, the record is a breath of fresh air from a band whose career seemed to have ended twelve years earlier. Whether or not Robert Forster and Grant McLennan will continue the Go-Betweens' unexpected second life remains to be seen. We can only hope they will introduce us to more friends like Rachel Worth.
Like Chaplin and Keaton, Jacques Tati was a master of comic timing who emphasized action over dialogue. And like Chaplin's Modern Times, Mon Oncle is a hilarious commentary on technology and the clash of old and new ideas. (Both films make inventive use of sound, as well.) Tati's bumbling Monsieur Hulot brings mischief and laughter into the life of his nephew, who lives with his gadget-obsessed parents in a spotless, ultra-modern house that is itself one of the movie's most fascinating characters.
With graphics inspired by children's book author and illustrator Eric Carle, Loop stars Ada the butterfly collector in a delightful picturebook of color and music. Use your pencil to loop enough butterflies before the sun travels across the sky. Sounds simple enough. But you have to loop the right color combinations, and you have to catch more and more butterflies each "chapter" while avoiding assorted spiders, snails, stinkbugs, and beetles. Loop some of the special stuff floating around, and really interesting things start to happen.
Imagine the hard-boiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler as written by a mechanical engineer with a taste for hallucinogens. But that only scratches the surface of this amazing debut novel. The characters we encounter are as polluted and dreary as the city in which they labor, save for Lila Mae Watson, the city's first black female elevator inspector. When an elevator she inspected crashes in a heap of metal and smoke, Lila Mae believes her next task is to save her reputation. But Whitehead sets her on a much more fantastic course. The result is a stunning, darkly comic exploration of race, sexuality and the metaphysical world.
State of Grace
Gritty performances by Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris elevate this moody gangster flick above typical genre stuff. Dark and brooding, the story of an undercover cop and the Irish mob offers enough betrayal, revenge, paranoia and gunplay to keep you involved from beginning to end. Gary Oldman puts in the finest performance of his career as the impetuous younger brother of a ruthless mob boss played by Ed Harris. And of course, Sean Penn plays a really messed up guy with lots of emotional problems. And he does it perfectly.
"I wanna be your Joey Ramone."
The Ramones may not have been as outrageous as the Sex Pistols or as smart as the Clash, but boy, they sure were fun! Filled with pinheads, cretins, and other assorted losers in need of medication, their version of the human condition wasn't pretty, or hopeful, or even cool. But that wasn't the point. Or rather, there was no point. Just two minutes, three chords, and attitude. Today punk rock, tomorrow the world.
The Deer Hunter
A powerful take on the Vietnam War and the crippling effects it had on those who experienced it, The Deer Hunter features excellent performances by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, and John Cazale. The Russian roulette scenes are some of the most intense images ever captured on film.
At Folsom Prison
In the most troubled year of a most troubled decade, Johnny Cash thought it would be a swell idea to take his tragicomic, country-gothic repertoire into one of America's hardest hard-time prisons and do a little show for the boys. What makes At Folsom Prison stand out is not so much the power of Cash's songs, or the tension that you can almost taste and smell coming off this record. No, it's the unspoken compassion Cash has for the inmates he is singing for. He didn't go there to preach, and he didn't go there to grandstand. He just figured that everybody deserves a good show now and then. And that's exactly what they got.
Based on the novel by wunderkind Michael Chabon -- it's a comedy of errors in which washed-up novelist and potsmoking professor Grady Tripp, played by a rumpled Michael Douglas, rejects self-inflicted stupor, gains a sense of humor, and gets the right girl (a goofy and effervescent pregnant chancellor played by Frances McDormand). This movie is a romp through soggy academe, set in red-brick Pittsburgh, with some of the most disheartening weather since A Perfect Storm, and winning performances by Robert Downey Jr., Rip Torn, and others.
Pathetic Geek Stories
You can get your weekly dose of schadenfreude via Schneider's wicked little cartoon strip (via The Onion's AV Club), in which an absolutely mortifying experience from someone's awkward teen years is retold in graphic style. What makes Pathetic Geek Stories all the more biting is that these are true stories, sent in by readers. It's painfully good fun, because we've all been there. Right?
In the fall of 1993, I had a job driving credit reports to real estate companies around the Bellevue-Kirkland area, east of Seattle. The most exciting part of that miserable job was hearing the Breeders' song "Cannonball" played on the alternative radio station. I would get so excited by the wavering, siren-like guitars, that it's surprising the little green Saturn I was driving remained in one piece. Along with "Cannonball,' the upbeat "Divine Hammer," bass-heavy "Saints," and sweetly sour "Drivin' on 9" make Last Splash a high water mark in '90s power pop.
A "unique shelter magazine" which puts to shame all other interior design mags, nest is a lavishly produced extravaganza of color, swank, and style. Past issues have peeked into the interiors of prison cells and igloos as blithely as they cover the obligatory (yet fantastic) Parisian apartment. The current issue includes features on "How to Clean a Haunted Hotel" and a studio visit to an industrial designer. While nest sometimes makes you want to roll your eyes, most of the time it just delights. Numerous design awards have been bestowed upon it, but the best accolade of all is a quote from John Waters: "I subscribe to 92 magazines a month, and I always open nest first."