News and Notes
Jay's Journal of Anomalies
Here Ricky Jay -- magician, actor, archivist -- leads the reader through an awe-inspiring pantheon of entertainers plucked lovingly from antiquity. This volume collects 16 issues of Jay's original Journal, each concerning a different historical example of a popular entertainer who made his/her/its living through some kind of oddity or chicanery, and each magnificently illustrated with printed artifacts from the time. We meet Monetto, the time-telling dog, as well as Signor Hervio Nano (aka Henry Leach), the "gnome fly," who was able to walk on ceilings. The flea circus, human levitation, dentist magicians -- all your favorites are here. And if they're not, judging by Jay's prodigous body of knowledge, you might just find them in his other book, Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women.
House of Sand and Fog
This adaptation of the novel by Andre Dubus III is one of those rare films that made me very angry. I'm not talking about being pissed off because I've wasted my time and money watching something completely vacuous or being let down by a movie that copped out in the end. I was angry because of the events that played out before me on the screen. How could these people let this happen?! And then I remembered that these were characters in a movie, not my neighbors or co-workers. So kudos to Dubus, Perelman, et. al. for manipulating my emotions so skillfully. You bastards!
Sundays, Fox TV
I guess now that Arrested Development, the brilliant ensemble comedy about an oddball family and their internecine warfare, has won just about every Emmy award it was nominated for (Best Comedy Series, Best Comedy Writing, Best Comedy Directing), Fox can go ahead and cancel it. During its entire first season, which comes out on DVD in a few weeks, viewers of Arrested Development were kept in a state of perpetual doubt, both that a network sitcom could actually be this funny and that the show would garner enough viewers to keep it afloat in a sea of vacuous reality stunt-programming. Happily, it looks like Fox's patience may indeed pay off. That is if the "Emmy-winning" prefix can convince more of the Everybody Loves Raymond crowd to tune in and give Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, Jeffrey Tambor, and the rest of the superlative cast a try.
How do you deal with brain overload? Well, you can throw your hands up and bemoan the fact that the average person is confronted with more than 14 gazillion pieces of information every day. (An effective strategy, I'll admit.) Or, better yet, you can employ the latest hardware and software to help you manage the media avalanche. If online periodicals are your info-drug of choice, then you'll want to start mainlining content via an RSS aggregator, which is an application that lets you subscribe to many, many websites (blogs, news sites, or even the Media Nugget) and other assorted feeds (searches, weather, and personalized info like your Netflix queue). The aggregator automatically checks for updates to your subscriptions on a regular schedule (usually every few hours) and you get to enjoy the results without having to click through dozens of websites and scan for new information. If you want to ease into the world of RSS, you couldn't ask for a better introduction than Bloglines, an online aggregator that gets you up and running quickly, but also offers a ton of powerful features.
When dealing with certain recordings, you just can't help feeling that any positive comments will seem like stating the obvious. In these cases, I like to overstate the obvious. That said, London Calling is a major landmark in the geography of human history. This coming week you can kneel down and tremble in the long shadow of its 25th anniversary by purchasing the new 3-disc edition (2 CDs, 1 DVD). The second CD contains the legendarily missing "Vanilla Tapes," offering demos from the London Calling sessions, including 5 tracks that never made the final release. Of course, if you don't already own the album, you can be forgiven if you opt for the plain-vanilla version, since London Calling is a masterpiece and, as such, doesn't require any extraneous adornment.
You Back the Attack!
We'll Bomb Who We Want!
Former U.S. Army Ranger Television writer and animator Micah Ian Wright had a moment of clarity in 1989 after witnessing the effects of stray American bombs on a poor residential neighborhood during the invasion of Panama. The culmination of that disillusionment is this clever and chilling book of "remixed war propaganda." Forty pieces of vintage World War Two artwork with Wright's new text are accompanied by commentary from the Center for Constitutional Rights. The original posters are included, so you can see that the source for Wright's pre-Abu Ghraib "Torture Works!" poster urged 1940s factory workers to guard against industrial accidents. A foreward by Kurt Vonnegut and an introduction by Howard Zinn are also included.
How's Your News?
If you're not nervous about watching a comic documentary starring a cast of disabled reporters who hit the road to do a series of "man on the street" spots, you're a braver moviegoer than I. That said, all How's Your News? really asks for is a little bit of trust. Suspend your worries about exploitation and embarassment and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful film full of humor and not an ounce of humiliation. The reporters from Camp Jabberwocky are peculiar, persistent, and, truth be told, a lot more compelling than most of the people you'll see facing the camera on TV news shows. The DVD, which was just released by Shout Factory, has a wealth of extras, including audio commentary, the original "pilot," a segment from This American Life, and reporter Ron Simonsen's interview with his idol, Chad Everett. Also of note are the recent exploits of the How's Your News crew, who continue to pound the pavement in search of stories and have just finished covering both the Democratic and Republican conventions.
For a magazine that's about restriction (calories and fat), Cooking Light certainly comes across as a predictable source of abundance. Every month seems to bring more content than the last -- from their nutrition column and the fact-packed front section ("First Light") with pages on food, health, and fitness, to their feature sections on cooking techniques, lightening up high-calorie reader recipes, vegetarian cuisine, seasonal fare, quick meals, wines, and much, much, much more. They recently added home design and beauty sections, which, for my money, may signal the the editors are getting a little carried away. However, as long as each month Cooking Light delivers more than 100 recipes that help me eat well and watch my weight, I'll be a dedicated fan.
What a year! 2004 has brought us the return of the Pixies, Mission of Burma, and Joe Gibbs. As the boy in Animal House said when the half-naked woman flew through his window, "Thank you God!" After an eleven year absence from football, the Hall-of-Fame coach who led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl victories in twelve seasons returns to the sidelines today for the team's regular season opener. And while the game may have changed while he was gone, and we might all suffer the consequences of our overinflated expectations, the beginning of the new Gibbs era gives Redskins fans something they haven't had in a long time: Hope.
50 Foot Wave
While Kristin Hersh's new band has two out of three members in common with her recently revived Throwing Muses, this self-titled debut ep demonstrates that 50 Foot Wave is an altogether different force of nature. Loud, fast, and furious, the six songs here will leave you barely enough breath to beg for more. It shouldn't be a long wait, as Hersh plans to release a new ep every nine months rather than the industry norm of an album every two years.
Within the pantheon of films adapted from the comic crime novels of Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty reigns as the box-office boss. Its upcoming sequel, Be Cool, will probably take over without much of a fight. (How can a John Travolta / André 3000 vehicle miss?) Still, I have an affection for the underbosses -- both Out of Sight and Jackie Brown are artfully crafted caper movies centered on genuinely likable characters. Of course the latter, being a Quention Tarantino flick, is incredibly violent and profane. Not to worry, though, the blood and 12-letter words are just cover for the sweetness at the movie's heart. In Brown, Tarantino does his career-rekindling magic with both lead actors, guiding Pam Grier and Robert Forster to a pair of remarkably humane performances. Samuel Jackson, on the other hand, finds his most menacing role to date, as the brutal and brutally funny Ordell Robbie.
The Milk-Eyed Mender
I've only got a few minutes to write about Joanna Newsom, since it's hotter than a kiln here at Nugget HQ and we must evacuate the premises shortly. It's a shame, really, since Joanna deserves more ink, not less. Here's the story, in short, sharp shots: She plays the harp. She sings in a quavering childlike voice that many listeners either love or loathe (count me among the former). She writes some great lyrics -- Svetlana sucks lemons across from me, / and I am progressing abominably. / And I do not know my own way to the sea / but the saltiest sea knows its own way to me. There were two self-released EPs (Yarn and Glue, Walnut Whales) before Drag City put out The Milk-Eyed Mender. Everyone is pretty much gaga for this unique-sounding record. It will probably end up on many "Best of 2004" lists. Of course, the key is not that it's different, but that it's so incredibly good.
Here you'll find more than fifty nifty little Flash games. From cupcake-craving pigs to butterfly-rousing mice, the main theme that emerges from Orsinal -- beyond beautiful animation, orginal gameplay, and oddly hypnotic new-age music -- is a fascination with cute wittle animals. Koalas, bees, fish, raccoons -- you name it, the Orsinal zoo contains it. Plus, there are robots, UFOs, and more abstract creations (reminiscent of another wonderful game). Every few months, designer Ferry Halim adds another selection to the ever-growing menagerie.
Our Band Could Be Your Life
Subtitled Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, Michael Azerrad's book profiles thirteen pioneering bands that picked up the various embers of punk rock and fanned the flames into something altogether different. Indie rock, Alternative, Post-punk: whatever you want to call it, it wouldn't exist today without bands such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Minutemen, Mission of Burma, and Big Black. Azerrad relates the well known band origins, but also more personal stories of individual members. He even sets straight some Indie myths that have long been held as gospel: the circumstances of Lou Barlow's exit from Dinosaur Jr., and the fact that while Husker Du's Bob Mould and Grant Hart are both gay, they were never involved with each other. So whether you're a certified fanboy or you think that Thurston was the old, rich guy on Gilligan's Island, Azerrad's book makes for a compelling read.
This Year's Model
From its a cappella opening line "I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch...", Costello's
third second studio album explodes with great song after great song. "No Action," "This Year's Girl," "The Beat," "Pump It Up" -- all classics, and the list goes on. If you pick up the Rhino reissue (2002), you'll get the original masterpiece, a bonus disc of 12 outtakes and extras, and some nice liner notes from the original Napoleon Dynamite. It's great to read Costello's take on his first US tour, which ended with The Attractions' classic Saturday Night Live appearance, where they played the unreleased song they wanted ("Radio, Radio") after a 4-bar fakeout on the tune the producers wanted. Classic.
There are some magazines I won't subscribe to. I.D. is at the top of that very short list. You see, magazine subscriptions sometimes arrive after the current issue has hit the newsstand. Tragic, but true. I never want to be a position to have to pass up a copy of I.D. just because I've got one coming in the mail. In any case, why am I so fond of the International Design Magazine? After all, I'm not a designer. To put it in the words of editor-in-chief Julie Lasky, "almost everything has to do with design." Happily, I.D. feels free explore the whole spectrum of human creativity, whether it's Lasky's wonderful comparison of Michael Moore's recent documentary and the book that inspired it, or amazing design competitions that offer dozens of awe-inspiring objects and ideas, or just design-focussed reviews of products, books, exhibitions, web sites, and more. The look of I.D. is just what you'd expect -- it's well designed, but not overdesigned. It's definitely not "design for design's sake." It's just a design for a really good magazine.