Friday, February 27, 2009

Haiku Book Reviews

Could barely get on the computer this week due to a very sick child, plus adult illness as well. Everyone's sick! Luckily there's Umpqua ice cream's flavor of the month, Oregon's 150, featuring honey, huckleberry marble and Oregon Hazelnuts. It goes well with antibiotics.

What's on my bedside table? Stacks of books, that's what. In the past, I've periodically reviewed my big stack o' books, hoping it would make me seem more intellectual and literary. I took a shot.

The problem is that book reviews take quite a while to write up, proof and edit, and--let's face it--I'm not getting paid for this. So here's my solution: Book Review Haiku™ -- short, concise, poetic reflections from a compulsive reader. I'll be attempting to use the Westernized rules of Haiku with its diligent 5-7-5 syllable, three-line format. Don't roll your eyes. I've been sick and there's nothing on TV.

Polanski: A Biography by Christopher Sandford

A house of horrors
Death camps, mad killers, child rape
It's complicated

Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies by Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz

It was the 80s
First Boston, then the whole world
cried, "What the-?" Pixies!

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

It's been many years
since I last read this story
Surprise! It's sexist
(only a little)

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman

It's OK to be
messy. Some great minds have been
messy. Just relax.

Pro Drupal Development, Second Edition by John K. VanDyk

600 pages
I have avoided reading
for several weeks

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I love satire so.
And this book is so brilliant
But also sexist
(oh well)

Special Magazine Section!

Bust Magazine
I fear I may be
too old to appreciate

Pity, Domino
Publication is no more
I will miss your rooms

Visit Nick Olsen
Domino's wonder blogger,
recession buster

Do I really need
to plant a terrarium?
Yes, I do. I do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Foxes" 1980

Hey! I didn't realize "Foxes" has been on DVD for a few years now (nobody made a big announcement or anything). Starring Jodie Foster just before she headed to Yale, Adrian Lyne's ensemble piece on Southern California teenagers riding on a bummer during the last gasp of the 70s looks like it was filmed through a dirt-caked filter.

Drugs, sex, alcoholism, skateboards, divorce, absentee parents, incoherent swingers--"Foxes" crammed every excess of the preceding decade into one helluva teen drama. Dressed in Dittos' bell-bottoms and sporting ├╝ber-feathered hair, the angst of its four teen protagonists is a little too grim and a little too real. All this, and Scott Baio too!

See it for Cherie Currie's drug-addled performance. Her timing is awesome.

A would-be intimate dinner for eight turns into a crashers' party from our high-school collective nightmares.

Foxes movie poster Cherie Currie, lead singer for The Runaways, is interviewed in a most awkward fashion - 1977

- David Savage remembers the underrated "Foxes" - Cinema Retro.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where are you going to put your Oscar?

At long last, I get to ask someone that particular question. Congratulations to Craig Barron at Matte World Digital for winning Best Visual Effects for "Benjamin Button" last night. Craig is one of those quiet, hard-working guys who doesn't like to call a lot of attention to himself. But I'm here to say: Shout out to Craig! Master of visual effects supervisors!

And way to hop that gate, getting up to the stage. I know he wanted to hurry along the proceedings--always thinking of others and the overall "presentation."

Here's a reel of the MWD effects for Button. I also wrote about some of Craig's work for David Fincher's "Zodiac" recently. Very compelling shots throughout that digital noir film.

Craig also co-authored the only history book on matte painting in film. He had been collecting stories, interviews, reels and stills from the traditional matte painters and technicians who had worked on so many classic films for more than a decade. The book, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, published by Chronicle Books, is a real beauty and belongs in any serious film library.

I'm really lucky to have worked with Craig over the years on his multiple projects. He's always putting together something interesting and his standards are high--sometimes higher than what is humanly possible. That's why he's won an Oscar in such a difficult and competitive field.

More good news: "Smile Pinki - A real-world fairy tale" directed by Megan Mylan, won for best documentary short. Pinki received free plastic surgery from SmileTrain volunteer doctors, who operate on children all over the world to repair cleft lip and palate birth defects. I donate to SmileTrain whenever I can and I was really happy this film won. This little girl is so compelling.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Embryonic Rockabilly Polka-Dotted Fighter Pilot send off

Conan O'Brien's final "Late Night" is tonight (technically Saturday, 12:35 a.m.). I can never stay up late enough to catch his silly, silly brilliance but I've seen many memorable Conan specials over the years, so here are some of my favorite bits (thanks, obsessively posting YouTubers). If you ever see me posing like a heavy-metal rock star while intoning "Inappropriate!" in a full-on British accent, now you know why.

Clive Clemmons' Inappropriate Response Channel.

Dog Debate Channel

I still miss my boyfriend, Andy Richter.

Conan returns in June, taking over for Leno on "The Tonight Show." 'Bout time!

If you happen to come across this post and it's 9:30-ish PST in your 'hood, the show is live here: Thanks ONTD tipsters.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra is Skalicious

In honor of our neighboring county of Skamania, WA. Here's Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

Hole In One

Hazumu Rhythm (with Puffy AmiYumi and very LOUD)

Jungle Boogie - a cover of an Akira Kurosawa composition last seen in his film "Drunken Angel."

Live with excellent trombone solo.

For your Wiki needs.

Skamania General StoreImage borrowed from Joel W. Rogers/Corbis.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Modern Lovers Revisited

The Modern LoversIt's no big deal but every couple of years I dig this 1976 Modern Lovers album out and marvel at its simplistic, heartfelt genius. All kinds of youthful rock energy from David Robinson (future drummer for the Cars), pre-Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison, and John Cale as producer for half the album. Front man Jonathan Richman would go on to endearing fame with ditties about little airplanes, dinosaurs, martians, and the ice cream man, but his first effort will always be my favorite for its guts, loopiness and driving beats.

Road Runner - rare 1998 live performance with original bassist Ernie Brooks at Joey Ramone's birthday party, NYC.

Mike Long dances to Astral Plane.

Pablo Picasso

I'm Straight - found footage from a retro anti-drug film.

She Cracked - the 1972 demo rendition.

Someone I Care About - one evil video.

Modern World (demo) - the album version with its delightfully twangy lead guitar is sadly lacking in Internet presence. I will remedy that situation with a little thing called streaming MP3.

Modern World - The Modern Lovers

So You Want to Start a Band

After more than a year I have set up my drums again. I don't have a rehearsal space and the garage is full of "things to get rid of" so they're behind the couch in the living room for now. Nothing says "good neighbor" like a full set of drums behind your couch. I'm sure one of my neighbors won't mind because he drums next to his kitchen. I can look down on his head from our upstairs window while he plays (I'm not stalking--I'm checking out the view and his head is shiny). He always stops playing at 8:30 p.m. That's rock & roll, good neighbor style, and it's inspiring.

Are you thinking of forming a band? Let my past experiences edify you. With age comes wisdom and sometimes senility; hopefully not at the same time. First off:

1.) You'll need to play an instrument, or at the very least: sing. I'm sorry--there's no getting around this, although people have tried, especially in the early 80s.

2.) You got that pesky music-playing part out of the way. Now what? You'll need some bandmates, of course. Unless you want to be a solo artist but it helps to have a band first before you "go solo." Where on earth do these people reside?

If you're lucky maybe some of your friends or your significant other(s) are musically inclined. Great! You've formed a new social club AND you get drink tickets. But wait--there's a catch: if you end up getting in a fight (and you will), the band will suffer and it's all about the band, so approach with caution. Like having a roommate, not every friend makes a great bandmate. Witness the amount of bands not speaking to each other who started out as friends. The Ramones didn't speak to each other WHILE they WERE a band. That makes collaboration trickier.

So you don't have friends, or friends who play music. No problem. Just put an ad in Craigslist, or if you want to go old-school, on a bulletin board somewhere or in the back of a weekly. Who will be in touch? Scads of wanna-be musicians and a few people who can actually play. You'll have to listen to their demos and decide who gets to audition with you. What a pain! Welcome to being in a band. The pain has only just begun!

3.) So you found some bandmates--excellent! You'll need to rehearse. A lot. Otherwise you'll sound like shit and you don't want that. Where will you play? A handy basement? A garage? A rented rehearsal space? Here's where I've rehearsed over the years, lugging my drums from one room to another in the hopes of mastering the perfect roll (not even close yet):

a) My friend's living room - the neighbors immediately and tearfully complained.
b) Hourly rented rehearsal studio - lugging equipment on a once or twice-weekly schedule is not too terribly fun but it's possible. You have to plan your evening/days in advance so you don't use up your valuable rental time simply setting up. Kind of stressful.
c) A shared monthly rehearsal space with other bands. Just like having roommates but with more beer and inexplicable garbage to take out. If you're lucky you'll like your rehearsal bandmates and you can play gigs together. It's like The Brady Bunch when they all decided to be musical and they got their own variety show. In the 70s, these things really happened.

5.) You have managed to cobble together some songs (I won't get into that part--that's another post for another blog)--now what? It's time to take the big step and put on a show! I used to play at this scary dive in the Tenderloin in San Francisco called The Sound of Music. On Tuesdays, we'd often play with our friends in The Wee Doggies and see who would show up to stare at and heckle us. We weren't very good. In fact, we were slightly terrible, but everyone liked us anyway. Go figure. Sometimes we'd invite people on stage to play along and so our band would grow from three to twenty-six, depending on who was in the audience and who could fit on stage. It was a good time. Kind of like a garage sale but with bands.

Later when I got older and actually tried to sound "together" with my band, we threw a party and played in our bandmate's living room. This way, we could decorate the house, wear shrouds and play very cool old animated films on the TV behind us to keep people from getting bored. We controlled the environment and even though we kind of sucked, it was fun. That's how the first and only Heaven's Gate Cult memorial party kicked off. I never said we had good taste.

Your first show in a "real" club. How does that happen? Sorry, but you'll have to call or email some people who run the bar or club. It's called "working it." They'll want to hear your band, so send them something--an MP3, or a burned CD, or a wax cylinder--I don't know what the kids send anymore. You'll need some promo material, like a photo and a band name. Make sure someone in the band has a reliable contact number or address. This is sometimes harder than you think. Do your best.

You got a call back! Someone cancelled on a Wednesday night NEXT WEEK. Can you play? Say, "YES!" or be cool and say, "Let me check with our booking agent. Oh--she says OK." Then call your bandmates while your heart beats too fast.

On the night of the show, show up when the booking person says to. They always tell you to come too early but that's because they're trying to avoid flakes. Make a good impression by actually showing up when they say to. If you get more shows, you can come late and join all the other bands who do so.

You might get to do a sound check. Congratulations--the club is somewhat professional. Hopefully your soundman (or woman, though I've never met one) will not be on drugs or drunk and can actually hear. Did you remember to tell all your friends and relatives to come out to the show? About a third might make it if you're lucky and a normal person. If you're super-popular, well, too bad for your huge audience--the first show is not always the greatest. Don't sweat it. Just do your best and have a GOOD TIME ALL THE TIME. Your audience will pick up on that and they'll probably follow suit. The rest is up to your ability, talent, being in the right place in the right time, that elusive thing called charisma (or not), etc.

If you're an average, decent band, you'll break up within a year-and-a-half. If you manage to stay together past that--congratulations--you're married to each other, at least musically. You'll probably end up recording some songs and I'll tell you how to store hundreds of CDs in your garage for the next ten years (another time).

Hope your band experience is as exciting as this genius mashup made from Ron Howard's Cotton Candy: "Hot Rash!" by Rawbtube.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's David Carradine Friday - You Got a Problem With That?

Last night David Carradine dropped in on "Loveline" and hung out with Dr. Drew. Keith heard the show at the gym and pronounced David Carradine, "cool"--something his fans have known for some time now. It doesn't matter that he was drinking a Mr. Skipper while on the show (they joked about it quite a bit with Dr. Drew asking, "What kind of drink is that?" before Carradine admitted it was a Dr. Pepper knock-off from Safeway).

It doesn't matter that his post-television/film career consisted mostly of Thai chi and Qi Gong exercise tapes for many years before Quentin Tarantino brought him back to film life in the "Kill Bill" series. David Carradine just emanates a sort of "seething cool" as in, he is cool, but don't mess with him. Americans love that.

David Carradine walks out of the desert and into our lives in "Kung Fu"

They couldn't fool me--I knew David Carradine wasn't Asian, even though he was constantly fighting racial prejudice in this show--it was very confusing and really diluted the message. Plus the non-violent stance was compromised in every episode. The 70s were really fucked up.

David Carradine dodges bullets in "Kung Fu The Legend Continues"

David Carradine teaches you the secrets of Thai Chi Kung Fu

"Kill Bill" trailer

(Still haven't seen this--too violent. I'm wussy that way.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mike Leavitt - Professional Visual Artist for Hire

Cardboard shoes, custom-made, fully articulated polymer action figures, detailed landscapes painted on pennies found within those landscapes, media heroes trading cards, wedding cake toppers -- must be a Mike Leavitt art show. The hardest working man in the art world, Leavitt alters the everyday objects among us with his blazing technical skill and wit. You will never look at your world the same way again. Watch out--you're becoming more "arty" by the minute.

The Tesh-Bolton-KennyG Monster.

Andy Warhol 6 from The Art Army series.

Harold and Maude wedding cake topper.

Mt. Rainier from Bainbridge Island from the Penny Places® series.

Cardboard Vans from the HipHopjects series.

I think this is my favorite. Sunset Bowl painted on an actual pin from the alley.

- Mike's cardboard shoe show "Don't Stop Object Shopping" will open March 21 at Fuse Gallery in New York City.
- Art shows can be fun!
- See Mike Leavitt in his Seattle studio in 3D! Very cool.
- As seen on Urban Outfitters: Blog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Make Tuesday Blog Appreciation Day

Here's another recession buster tip. Not for you--for bloggers! I've decided to make Tuesday my blog appreciation day and so can you. How? Easy! If you read a blog or multiple blogs, whether at home or at work (shirking? no--just taking a little break), click on two or three ads per blog. Where are the ads? Look around--I'll bet you'll find some in the margins somewhere. Not every blog has ads, but many do and by clicking on them, you give your friendly, neighborhood blogger some much-needed chump change. And in these dire economic times--chump change means: groceries. So click on those ads. Your blog editors will appreciate it and you'll feel good, knowing you kept that free content going.

Confession: I always forget to click on blog ads, even for blogs I read every day. That's why I decided to make a conscious decision to always do so on Tuesdays. Why Tuesdays? Well, Mondays are too busy. Fridays are for getting wasted. Wednesdays and Thursdays are for doing all the things you said you'd do on Monday. Tuesday's just kind of hanging there, not much good for anything. So make it an enriching advertising free-for-all.

I just clicked on several ads on several blogs that I read. I learned where to get Fleetwood Mac concert tickets; how to attend the Chicago Auto Show and the New York Comic Con; took a trip to a place called Code City; pondered; and heard the latest vocoder duet from Rhiana. Did I want to experience any of this? No. But it only took about 40 seconds of my life to do so and it gives the bloggers SO MUCH in return (like .0002 cents per ad or something).
So do all of us bloggers a favor. And by all I mean ALL bloggers. Make Tuesday Blog Appreciation Day. I know I will.

And for you, blog readers, EVERY day is appreciation day around here. For you, here's the Waseda University all-boy cheerleading team.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Go See: Coraline in 3D

I already wrote about "Coraline," the book and the movie. Today I went to a 3D matinee. I wore the funny glasses and everything. OMG. Just go, GO see "Coraline." It's one of the best things I've seen in a long, long time.

Remember when Terry Gilliam blew our minds with "Time Bandits" and "Brazil"? "Coraline" will do that to you as well. And you'll take your blown mind and you'll love it. Not only is it artful with amazing stop-motion puppet animation and set design, but it's also one of the most dreamlike films I've ever seen. And I usually don't go all crazy for voice artistry (other than appreciating a good cast in an animated film), but Dakota Fanning makes Coraline such a real girl in this film. I don't think the film would be as good without her talent.

It's true--I'm ga ga for "Coraline." Please, if there is a god of cinema, let LAIKA continue to astound and entertain us with their artistry, right here in overcast Oregon. Note: "Coraline" takes place in Eugene, OR with a short stop-over in Ashland, featuring a few Shakespearean Festival characters. Har!

Trailer (again)

And look! You can make a self-portrait with button eyes on the fantabulous Coraline site.

If you click around, you'll find some amazing behind-the-scenes videos of the making of the film, including an interview of the woman who knitted the tiny, tiny clothing that the puppets wear in the film (click on "films" and scroll through to find amazing art in the making).

Share Your Story about the Economic Crisis

Obama's Internet juggnaut continues. Share your (or someone else's) economic crisis story here.

Can you imagine the Bush administration asking us to do the same? AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lux Interior 1946 - 2009

The Cramps have been a part of my musical background for seemingly forever. They were very respected throughout their hey-day in the 80s and continued to play Halloween shows at the Filmore in San Francisco for the following decade, cementing their fanbase well past the life-span of most bands.

Singer Lux Interior and his (very underrated) guitarist wife and partner of 37 years, Poison Ivy, were always true to their original concept: shockabilly, grade-B horror iconography, and rarest of all: humor. There are very few competent, humorous pop bands around. It's a really unusual talent I guess. In the 80s Camper Van Beethoven, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, Eugene Chadbourne, the Ramones and various sardonic punk outfits could bring on the funny, but The Cramps were consistently dark, twisted and funny, pretty much at all times. Lux was a star, as you'll see in this montage from 1984, featuring my favorite Cramps song, "You Got Good Taste." Condolences to Ms. Ivy. He will be missed.

I once made a self-important artiste laugh out loud by quoting the Cramps song, "Human Fly." Here are the lyrics. Perhaps you'll laugh out loud as well.

Human Fly
Well I'm a human fly
It's spelt F-L-Y
I say buzz ,buzz, buzz, and it's just because..
I'm a human fly and I don't know why
I got ninety six tears in my ninety six eyes.

I got a garbage brain, it's drivin' me insane
And I don't like your ride, so push that pesticide
And baby I won't care, 'cause baby I don't scare
'Cause I'm a reborn maggot using germ warfare. Rockin

I'm a human fly
It's spelt F-L-Y
I say buzz, buzz, buzz, and it's just because..
I'm a unzipped fly, and I don't know why
And I don't know, but I say

Buzz...ride tonight
And I say buzz...rocket ride
And I say buzz...I don't know why
I don't know I just, don't know why.

Human fly - The Cramps

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Zodiac" (2007) Gets San Francisco Right

I avoided seeing "Zodiac" for a couple of years, not wanting to follow the frustrating true story of the elusive Bay Are serial killer who would never be caught. I wondered why David Fincher wanted to film this story, which doesn't have the typical Hollywood triumph of the "man behind bars" scene to wrap everything in a nice bow. Fincher actually wanted to film a story of obsession. His characters, a newspaper writer, a cartoonist, and a detective (who would become the basis of Dirty Harry), track this bogey man throughout the years, getting close, but never snagging their prey. Is he prey? Didn't he prey on others? I think Fincher wanted to explore these questions. Who's hunting who? The theme of "hunter" comes up quite a few times throughout the film.

But I don't want to get into the Zodiac killer. That guy was famous not only for his crimes but because he worked on his fame, sending letters and gruesome souvenirs to the media and freaking everyone out for years on end. I'm not going to give him any more fame (however minuscule) here. I watched the film because I was thinking lately about how lacking the film world is when it comes to portraying my home city, San Francisco.

I'm not an expert in 70s-era San francisco. I was living in the suburbs by that time and wouldn't return to the city until the early 80s, but I have friends and family who grew up in the city during that time so I was always about, checking out the weirdness. I wanted to move back there so badly throughout my entire adolescence and finally did as soon as I turned 18. Not too many films really capture the essence of San Francisco, even though many are shot there. Alfred Hitchock's "Vertigo" with its lovely scenery and chilly (and creepy) emotional obsessions is a good pick. "Bullitt" gets the spectacular car-chase geography wrong but the emotional disconnect is so right. There's been some low-budget films that reflect quite well on the SF scene. "Living on Tokyo Time" comes to mind but it's never been released on DVD. That's another post.

I thought David Fincher, who's lived and worked a lot in the Bay Area, would probably be a good bet for atmospheric and emotional San-Francisconess and he doesn't disappoint. Here, we present an entirely San Francisco-focused edition of "Zodiac." What makes a film "San Francisco" in scope? I'll try and figure that as I type. And now:

The opening shot of the Ferry Building bodes well. Why? Because the now long-gone and long-hated Embarcadero Freeway is visible. It was finally torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, causing sighs of relief in aesthetic urbanites everywhere. That thing was dark, loud and stupid, right next to the Bay. Now it's quite pleasant to walk along there and the views are marvelous. This is a thoughtful choice by Fincher: focusing on the beauty and really bad City planning in one shot.

Note: this fantastic shot (which is a big zooming pan into the city) was created by my friends at Matte World Digital. They feature their amazing work on their Web site. Personal aside: my parents first met while working in the Ferry Building!

THIS guy is really San Francisco. How can I tell? Because he's wearing a funny jacket, yet he's grumpy and unfriendly, yet funny at the same time. Classic San Francisco traits.

Robert Downey Jr. plays dissipated Chronicle reporter Paul Avery. He deserved an Oscar nomination for this role. You could argue: hey, he's just playing his own self-destructive self! But no: he's shooting all his guns, portraying an intelligent, diligent and funny man who's burying it all within his addictions. Effortless yet artful: very San Francisco.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Robert Graysmith, cartoonist and obsessive. The movie is based on his book and he may have tracked down the real killer (as far as I've read). Gyllenhaal's big staring eyes work well in this role.

Another Matte World shot (I thought it was real). A lot of the tension of this film is in the already knowing what happens next. So a taxi driving through the City is not scenic or transitional, but quite frightening.

Look closely. What do you notice? Typewriters! The world ran on typewriters then (and did so throughout the 80s as well). If you could afford a self-correcting model: good for you. Otherwise White Out correction fluid was in your immediate future.

A lot of San Francisco interiors still look like this (minus the pay phone). It's old and despite attempts at modern architecture of late, it'll stay old.

Brian Cox as Melvin Belli. Masterful casting for one of the City's most famous narcissists.

Belli's baroque office. I used to pass by his digs near the Transamerica Pyramid while temping downtown. I always peeked in (he wanted people to do that). It was even more over-the-top and Victorian than in this shot. But I give points for even planning this shot in the first place: VERY San Francisco!

San Francisco isn't always about the pretty. Like every city, it's got plenty of ugly too. Division Street under the freeway looks the same today.

Driving on the freeway to Richmond, you'd see these Easter-egg colored tankers for years—finally painted in Earth-tones now, I always wondered who's idea it was to paint them in pastels in the first place. Whimsical-industrial anyone?

Another incredible Matte World Digital shot: time-lapse of the building of the Transamerica Pyramid. Not just to wow us, but to actually give an accurate portrayal of time passing during the investigation.

The Bay Bridge always gets short shrift in Hollywood films. But it's got the best view driving into the city, as Fincher shows us (darkly) here. How my heart would soar as we neared our San Francisco destinations. I NEVER got tired of this view and its hopeful promise of exciting urban life.

The Sausalito/Larkspur houseboat scene, back when on-the-skids drug addicts could still afford to live there.

No San Francisco film project gets the green light until there's a Golden Gate Bridge shot scripted in, whether the story calls for it or not. Fincher parlays with an awesome view from the tower. Another Matte World Digital dream shot.

Fog, cars, boats, walkers and bikes--SO San Francisco!

That's City Hall in the background, so you know this phone booth smells like piss.

And let's finish up with a Daly City neighborhood, where scads of commuters moved in the 60s to avoid the urban ills of "the City." Yards, plenty of (little) bedrooms and lots of fog. Fincher knows his San Francisco and his San Franciscans, even his ex-San Franciscans, and chose his scenes wisely: A+.

- Memories of Murder: VFX for "Zodiac" - Recreating 1970s San Francisco for Director David Fincher