Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Goodbye, Caring Place

Maple Ridge residents can breathe a sigh of NIMBY-tinged relief now that, after years of mis-serving the community, the Salvation Army "Caring Place" is being given the boot. For far too long, the Salvation Army has been importing a substantial homeless/ jobless/ frequently addicted-and-mentally-ill contingent into a community that really doesn't have much of a problem with these things, CREATING a problem for people who actually live there. That would be fine, I suppose, if they actually followed up on their "care" - if they saw people through a process of cleaning up, getting jobs, getting their lives together, becoming productive citizens or such. Instead it seems most of the people they bring to town end up sleeping in tent cities clustered around the Caring Place, taking what's offered to them and apparently doing very little with it, all the while making the locals - including a goodly number of senior citizens - rather nervous as they rifle through their recycling or sleep in their doorways or... Maybe the Caring Place has done some good things for the people it serves - but it hasn't done much visible good for Maple Ridge, and in fact seems like a half-assed and misguided institution, less about actually HELPING than making themselves feel good about their lame gestures towards the same... which is a very different thing. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are lots of people who they've done right by. I see no evidence of it, and as a sometimes Maple Ridge resident, I say... good riddance.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Goodbye, Mr. Woo!

So Erika and I are working our way through the Mission Impossible movies, hoping - if we get through them in time - to be prepped for a theatrical screening of the new one (is it still even playing? Are we too late?). I love the first one in the series, which is a masterfully-crafted, rather old-fashioned (if somewhat loud) thriller. It's as good a film as Brian de Palma ever made - I'm a fan, by the by - without it being an overtly "Brian de Palma" movie, if you see what I mean (he has projects that are obviously more personal than others; MI 1 does not seem to fit among them). Anyhow, we both liked it when we watched it a couple of weeks ago, and are now finally tackling the second - a hurdle for me, because it's a film I totally hated on first run, when I saw it in Japan. I hated it so much, in fact, that it threw me from attempting any of the subsequent films in the series.

So far - we're paused, about half an hour into it - I'm being reminded why I hated it, mostly. While I admit that there IS a kind of style and craft at work, it's such an obvious, cliched, unsubtle, over-the-top sort of style - the stuff of rock videos, perfume commercials, and maybe Robert Rodriguez when he doesn't have Quentin Tarantino writing for him - that I can only chuckle derisively at it and roll my eyes. I can't get involved in it as story; the characters that it invests with beauty - Cruise and Thandie Newton - mostly just annoy me; and if Woo's hammy, corny, bigger-than-life directional style wasn't enough to put me off, we have one of the hammiest, corniest screenplays that Robert Towne ever penned (did he DO anything good other than Chinatown? Have I seen it?). Everything about this movie seems to suggest that it thinks its audience are a bunch of fucking idiots. Since it was the third most successful film of the year 2000, we gather, maybe the filmmakers were actually onto something at the time...

But audiences are getting smarter, I suspect. Windtalkers and Paycheck, both of which I had forgotten were John Woo movies until just now, both tanked at the box office and were commercial failures to boot. And I now discover - since MI2 got me wondering what Woo is up to these days - that Woo in fact, though still living in America, has actually returned to making movies in his home country.

In honesty, I don't mind. I haven't enjoyed ANY of his American movies (though Face Off had moments). I liked his Hong Kong films well enough, though I haven't seen any in years. But I think for whatever reason John Woo is someone who does better work in his home country, in his home idiom... I will not miss his presence in American cinema. Sorry, Mr. Woo, and goodbye.

Anyhow, Erika's off the phone now... We should get back to MI2...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Yes Men follow up, plus Zombies, Cowboys, Danny Trejo, Chuck Norris, and... Commando? WTF?

So Andy of the Yes Men was walking up the aisle at the Rio (see previous post), and I happened to be right behind him. I'd already asked him my "public consumption" question during the Q&A (about how they kept a straight face during their pranks; Andy, gay, immediately began teasing me - "does this face look straight to you?" then eventually explained about suspension of disbelief in reverse - how the boredom and lack of interest of the audiences he pranks are kind of infectious to him, make it far easier for him not to crack up, to treat his presentations like they're the dryest things imaginable). Anyhow, there he was, and there I was, and for a second, no one else was flocking around him, so I got to ask him a private question that had been niggling - how the Yes Men know Bob Ostertag, who has some honorary affiliation with them, as I recall. I like Ostertag a lot from my days of enthusiasm with noise music, and even saw him live, doing the Between Science and Garbage performance with Quebec animator Pierre Hebert. Andy seemed surprised or impressed that I knew him at all ("how do you know Bob Ostertag," he asked in reply), and explained that Ostertag and he are really old friends... which is more or less what Ostertag told me awhile back via email, if memory serves, but it was nice to scratch the itch. It is interesting that Andy comes out of the closet explicity in the new film; his doing so doesn't fully pay off, so you kind of expect it to be something he's doing for future purposes, like it's an area they plan to explore further, which can only enrich the Yes Men "series"... I may try to talk to him about it someday...

Anyhow, it's been a weekend of movies: a ridiculous amount of cinema has been consumed, since I've been on a visit with my 84 year old, speech-impared Mom, and there's not a lot else we can easily do (we did take a nice walk this morning, mind you). Since Thursday, the films we have seen:

The Last Castle (2001): a rather old-fashioned prison movie with Robert Redford (as a respected military man who goes to jail), James Gandolfini (as the di rigueur sadistic warden), and a really well-used Mark Ruffalo (as the prison bookie and general hustler involved with both the principals; he kind of steals the show, by virtue of having the most morally complex character and playing him perfectly). A thoroughly average and not very surprising film, but well-made and enjoyable. Dad would have liked it (he was both ex-military and a retired jailguard), but I doubt he ever saw it.
Bad Ass (2012): also thoroughly average, and not entirely well-crafted, but a very fun film to watch with Mom no less, starring Danny Trejo as a senior citizen getting revenge for a friend's death. Some nice images of the non-white side of LA, a surprisingly tender and complex performance from Trejo (who usually is just asked to grimace, glower, and be violent; he actually has a scene where he's required to cry in this film!), Also some nice work from Charles S. Dutton, a character actor I'm partial to, as the main bad guy (gangland henchman to corrupt politico Ron Perlman). It was fun to see Patrick Fabian, who carried The Last Exorcism, in a different role, as a cop, but he's almost a token white, is given nothing much at all to do in this film. Bizarrely, tho' I haven't heard of Bad Ass before, I discover that there are two sequels... I don't think I'll seek them out, but I was entertained.

Speaking of Danny Trejo, his presence on the box art for the 2012 Syfy channel Walking Dead knockoff Rise of the Zombies (AKA Dead Walking) is definitely misleading, since he only has a small role (though he does get to turn into a zombie, which is about the only thing he does in this film that he hasn't done in a dozen others, unless you count his somewhat zombie-looking vampire in From Dusk til Dawn. Don't get me wrong, I like Trejo - a bit less since he's suddenly started appearing in every low budget action film out there, but no matter. The problem is, really, that he doesn't usually get asked to extend his range very far, and his brief zombie scene aside, this film is no exception).  The real stars are Mariel Hemingway and Ethan Suplee, that guy with the permanently tense forehead who pulls off the trick of looking to be intensely stupid and in deep concentration at the same time, all the time. You've most recently seen him on the screen as one of DiCaprio's stable of loyal brokers in The Wolf of Wall Street, probably. He's not as good in this. There's some inventive gore - never saw a father (Levar Burton) cut a chunk of his own flesh out of his arm to feed it to his zombie daughter, never seen an infant stomped to death when it suddenly goes zombie - but it really is just a Walking Dead knockoff. Not a bad one, but they could have seemed a bit more original without the young Asian man, who obviously is meant to suggest the character of Glen, or, say, the prison setting of the film's first third. The only thing the film does that isn't in The Walking Dead, in fact, is make use of helicopters, but gee, what other zombie films have we seen those in...?
As far as zombies go, Mom and I also took on the Shout Factory remaster of the Romero classic Day of the Dead, on Blu. Nevermind that it's kind of an essential film in the history of the modern zombie film, with early/ major involvement from Greg Nicotero, who these days occasionally directs The Walking Dead (and does gore for it): this film has probably provided me, over the years, with more pleasure than any single other movie, believe it or not. I've seen it at least twenty times, listened to the commentary, showed it to friends, and have owned it in five different versions (censored Canadian VHS, uncensored US and Japanese VHSes, Anchor Bay DVD and now this). I've had the poster on the walls of a few apartments, too, so that "Bub" and "home" are kind of synonymous. I even use bits of it in class now and then, when discussing censorship with my students. As familiar as I am with the movie, in this enhanced hi-def version - even on Mon's decidely NOT hi-def TV - there were nuances to facial features and other details that I'd never seen before, that surprised and impressed me and made the film that much richer. But that's only half the story, sadly, because in preparing it for Blu Ray, the film has been made almost too bright at times, enhanced to the point of damaging it slightly, making certain moments look quite fake. For example, makeup you could never tell was makeup in any previous presentation I've seen - like the dark hollows under the eyes of the male "lab zombie" that Logan chains up and admonishes to think, shutting the lights on him - looks OBVIOUSLY and DISTRACTINGLY like thick greasy facepaint. Of course, you know that it IS just that - but it shouldn't LOOK like it, and it never has before now.

Still, great fun, even though I last saw it just a few months ago (making my girl watch it as part of her birthday gift to me!). The actor who plays Bub, Howard Sherman - AKA Sherman Howard - brings the greatest emotional range to a zombie role I've ever seen, and always manages to fill me with glee in his big scenes - saying hello to Aunt Alicia, practicing his gunmanship, answering the phone, shaving, and emoting when he finds his mentor killed... Here he is listening to the Ode to Joy...
I pushed my luck with Mom for one other zombie film this weekend: the first Resident Evil. I here confess that I am among the people who enjoy this film. Mom is not, it turns out. As I have nothing much to say about it - besides mentioning that I enjoy its almost surreal, dreamlike quality - I direct people to read this essay for more. My only anecdote here involves a recent ESL error of some delightfulness, where a student of mine, writing on the film, meant to say "the heroine is very cool," and wrote instead, "heroin is very cool." Seldom does one get errors that delightful in student papers. It made me very happy.

Not everything Mom and I caught this weekend was on video, mind you. We also looked at a TCM screening of Fritz Lang's goofy, charming 1952 western melodrama Rancho Notorious - subject of a perfect double bill with Nick Ray's Johnny Guitar last week at the Cinematheque, and playing one more time on Sunday (today, that is, for most of those reading this) in a 35 mm print. I mean, Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer and Jack Elam in one movie? Melodramatic cowboy songs that serve as a chorus, propelling the narrative, linking themes? A scene where Dietrich - never mind singing, which she also does - rides a cowboy quite literally as part of a barroom "horse race"? The film is a must-see. I hadn't seen it since my pre-teen years, where I caught it a couple of times on TV and rather fell in love with it. My fondness for Billy Joel aside, I had pretty good taste when I was a little kid, though I'm kind of surprised that this film in particular would have resonated with me back then.
Speaking of westerns, Mom and I didn't quite finish the 1983 actioner Lone Wolf McQuade tonight, one of three films you can snag on a "best of Chuck Norris"-type Blu set at Vancouver HMVs for a mere $10. But so much about that film has exceeded my expectations, took me totally by surprise that I'm prepared to praise it as it stands. I had no idea, for one thing, that it is very much an homage to spaghetti westerns, right down to a soundtrack actually composed by an Italian (Francesco De Masi). I don't know anything at all about director Steve Carver, though I believe one of his other films, Bulletproof, has a small following. This film lacks the cynical wit of the best spaghettis but it still works, and there are other nice dues-paying casting decisions (like having Peckinpah vets RG Armstrong and LQ Jones in roles; & speaking of metatextual film nods, there's also an Eastwood Hospital at one point in the film). David Carradine is the main bad guy, and William Sanderson is a weaselly lowlife who rats on him; Nicaraguan-born Barbara Carrera, who I know best as the Leopard-girl of whatever she is from the 1970's Island of Dr. Moreau, is sexy and strong as the female lead and love interest. It's not a great film, maybe, but is so much better than I ever would have imagined that I'm entirely impessed, and wondering what else of Steve Carver's I should see. (I have seen nothing else he's done, to my knowledge). And are the other Chuck Norris films on the set equally as good? I'm going to have to do a major re-evaluation of him, if so; I had always thought, having barely seen any of his films, that he was a bit of a joke, but he sure isn't here!
There's more we watched this weekend - like the very well-made, well-cast year 2000 ransom negotiation thriller Proof of Life, which involves a Gilroy - Tony, of Michael Clayton, not Dan, of Nightcrawler. After those two films I keep my eyes open for Gilroys. We also got through about 40 minutes of Iron Man, which I've come around to liking, having thought it deeply trivial when I first caught it theatrically (my willingness to embrace politically questionable crap in the name of entertainment is at an all time high these years, possibly as a survival strategy in the current media-scape). Mom couldn't follow it, so we switched movies. But it's late, I'm tired, and I'm running out of things to say... and I have one more film that I have to get to...
In some ways, to my utter surprise, the high point of the weekend thus far was the director's cut of Mark L. Lester's 1985 film Commando, which I think just edged out Total Recall and End of Days as my favourite Schwarzenegger movie. (Apologies to the Terminator franchise, but it's not even in the running). I had last seen it at age 17, when it came out on VHS, and remembered about it only that Schwarzenegger carries a tree in one of the first scenes, though I do recall that my buddies and I enjoyed it back in the day. That doesn't always mean much, unfortunately: a lot of these 80's hits, looked at now, don't hold up very well, and Schwarzenegger in particular can be nearly incomprehensible as a one-time fan favourite; he can't act, he has no emotional range, and he's frequently miscast (as with Total Recall, where he's absurdly supposed to be playing some sort of everyman). Plus there's all those stupid self-conscious catch phrases ("I'll be back" and such), which were presumably meant at the time to identify and solidify his fan base, reward them for being in the know and gratify/ satisfy them - like they were someone's idea of a formula that made an Arnold movie a hit, such that they HAD to be included in every film. They seem kind of embarrassing now, almost insulting to the audience's intelligence, like forcing Bruce Willis to say yippee-kai-yay in every fucking Die Hard movie ever made. But say what I may, Arnold is perfectly used here, and the film more than any other I can imagine makes it possible to understand why anyone loved his movies ever. Nothing feels forced; the story suits the actor; and there isn't a scene that doesn't work. A lot of that is down to Mark Lester, who has always been an able exploitation filmmaker, and has made other favourites of mine, like Class of 1984. But there's also a great supporting cast, including Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon "Wez" Wells, Bill Duke, and best of all, David Patrick Kelly (of The Warriors and another favourite of mine, Dreamscape), who almost steals the show before he's dropped by our hero off a cliff. The corny Schwarzenegger jokes don't seem like they've been hammered into the film under duress, so they have a chance to actually work ("where's Sully?"/ "I let him go").  The director's cut adds a bit of gore and a couple of character lines. It doesn't radically change the film, but hey, that's just as well. I never would have imagined that I'd enjoy one of Arnold's films so much, but I cannot tell a lie on this one, folks...

Anyhow, it's been a movie-intensive weekend, and there will be more tomorrow. They may go unremarked upon, however. Peace.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Yes Men in Vancouver tonight!

Didn't get a chance to write much about this - or much of anything lately! - but the new Yes Men movie screens tonight at the Rio, with Andy and Mike apparently in attendance. Kind of a must-attend, if you ask me. Also, the utterly essential They Live will screen, in honour, we presume, of Roddy Piper (RIP). Love that movie, though I doubt I'll get to stay for both...

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Bison this Friday!


My God is it tough to get out to shows these days. Time and again, when gigs I want to see are happening, I'm exhausted, double-booked, out of town, buried in work, or broke. I was neck-deep in a move when Danzig played the other week. I had been giving some thought to seeing High on Fire and Pallbearer at the Rickshaw, but I didn't have the space to even think about it until the day after it happened, which is to say, today (I was talking it over with Erika, walking to the train station this morning - "I might go to a show tonight" - when I clued in that I was a day off schedule). The last time I actually made it to a Bison show - save for peeking into the Electric Owl to say hi to the guys and buy their new EP - was, I think, on Vancouver Island, maybe in 2012, and I didn't even stay for the whole gig; I just wanted to show Erika one of my favourite bands, briefly, without forcing her to stay until it got painful. (Music that heavy is generally not for her). This Friday tho', at 23 Cordova, home of a former incarnation of the Cruel Elephant, Bison is going to play - in their post-Masa incarnation. I'm going, dammit! And leaving my girl at home...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Madame Bovary, plus some notes on the Vancity Theatre

I have always loved the Vancity Theatre more than other theatres in Vancouver.

A big part of that is the design. They have fantastic seats, for one. They're like flying first class on a plane. No other theatre comes close in this town, except maybe International Village (formerly Tinseltown). The projection equipment and sound system are state of the art, of course, but when it comes to theatres the way to my heart is apparently through my ass, because it's the seats that have always stood out for me. They're just that great.

Another part of my fondness for the place is that for years they were an underdog: they'd program these amazing film events - this is back in the day when Cinema Scope's Mark Peranson was picking them, mostly - and no one would show up. Films you'd never see anywhere else: I remember attending a screening of Bela Tarr's seven-hour long Satantango, one of the most ambitious, achingly beautiful, provocative film projects out there, and the audience was me, my friend Marina Sonkina, future programmer Tom Charity, and maybe three other people. That continued for years: major new film events, or super-cool repertory picks like Cronenberg's Rabid, Romero's Martin, Bill Gunn's Ganja and Hess, and Larry Fessenden's Habit, all of which I saw as part of a series of vampire films there - with only about five or six people in the audience. It was enough that when Tom Charity introduced Cassavetes' magnificent Love Streams, coincidentally on my birthday, I interviewed he and Alan Franey about both the film and the then-very-disappointing lack of interest in the cinema. None of us knew what to make of it.

Then *I* began hosting the odd film event there, and my feeling of attachment deepened. It became much harder for me to actually get my bum on the seat, mind you - moving back to Maple Ridge in 2009 greatly reduced my abilities to make it out - but I still feel very fond of the cinema, and still scan each new program for interesting films, knowing full well that I probably won't get out to see them. That's part of the reason that I write about the films there less than I once did. Another issue is that to preview a movie these days, you basically have to watch an online screener, which, with my crappy computer monitor, slow and jolty hi-speed connection, and general lack of time spent in my own apartment, is not really something I crave doing.

Perhaps the final reason I'm less passionate about writing about film there though is a happy one: they no longer seem to need the attention, need the press so much; more often than not, screenings sell out. There's the sense that finally the place has caught on. Tom Charity, in private conversation awhile back, chastened me for plugging a recent Ed Wood porno screening instead of the major Orson Welles retrospective that was staged both at the Vancity and the Cinematheque, but what can I say, I really didn't feel like Orson Welles needed the help. (Apparently he did - attendance wasn't very good, I gather - but hopefully I can be forgiven for assuming people would go to those films without my praises).

Anyhow, I'm glad to see that finally people have figured out how cool a place the Vancity Theatre is, generally speaking. You still have to kinda tell folks now and then where it is - but only the sort who don't know where the Cinematheque is either. There are several upcoming movies of note this summer: I've been wanting for awhile to expose my girl to Taxi Driver, for example, or to revisit Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing - and what better way than on the screen?

Actually there is a bunch of cool rep stuff upcoming, like Midnight Run, a really fun 1980's bounty hunter comedy with Robert de Niro and Charles Grodin, which people seem mostly to have forgotten about. (There has been talk of a sequel, so that could be especially fun, if the film is coming just in time for part two; I don't actually know what's happening on that front). Trainspotting, too, is a very worthy film to revisit, though I took it in again just a couple months ago, so I might not make it out to that.

Can't say much about the new films upcoming, mind you, mostly because I haven't seen any of them. There was a lot buzz about Violent when it played the VIFF. Sublime Frequencies fans should make it out for the documentary on Cambodia's neglected rock'n'roll. The trailer for Khalil Gibran's The Prophet - an animated anthology film from the director of The Lion King - was pretty impressive, though it's an atypical choice for the Vancity; surely it will please the masses, though! Plus there are some interesting-sounding bicycle themed films that should do well by Vancouver audiences (see here and here); and there's even a new Joshua Oppenheimer film - the fellow who made The Act of Killing - which, as it happens, is currently playing.
This is all to bring me round to talking about Madame Bovary, alas. Caught it yesterday; believe it's the first film I've made it to there since that last horror festival, back in March. There's plenty that's curious about the film. It obviously owes at least some debt to the films of Lars von Trier, replacing the expected cool detach of classical European arthouse with motile handhelds and what often seems to be natural light. This brings out the von Trierian aspects of the protagonist's sufferings: her dissatisfaction, what it drives her to, the judgment of the community, the cruelty and hypocrisy of the men she deals with: it all plays rather like Dogville or Breaking the Waves or a relatively sex-free Nymphomaniac. Too bad Sophie Barthes is nowhere near the filmmaker that von Trier is, though! I liked her previous film, the oddball item Cold Souls, well enough - and was happy to see Paul Giamatti continue his collaborations with her here - but Madame Bovary barely managed to involve me in its title character's plight. Maybe it's that the film frames the story with Emma Bovary's suicide, so that even if you haven't read the novel, you know where things are going from the gitgo; or maybe there's material missing from the sequences of the title character's early years, that would have engaged me in her hopes and her disappointments more - but I had a really hard time making the necessary identifications with the main character. My only point of connection was Emma's passion for shopping as a remedy for smalltown drudgery; I'm as "je suis Madame Bovary" as they come, which makes the lack of emotion I felt at her downfall kind of puzzling. I wanted to feel so much more, and to see more, too - to see the mechanisms of cinema used to increase my identification with the character, which I guess would mean more closeups of gorgeous clothing and maybe some hotter sex scenes... (Mia Wasikowska does do a nude scene but Jesus, Barthes should watch Roeg's Don't Look Now to see what a filmed sex scene can look like).

In the end, I'm really not sure what was missing, but I just couldn't care that much about this film. Emma Bovary just seems like a mediocre person, bored by her husband and community, betrayed by the promises and lies of commerce, and taken advantage of by horny men, so that her final fate seems less a tragedy than a shabby end to a shabby life. Wasikowska's performance, further, seemed mannered and self-conscious throughout - I generally like her but felt at all times like I was watching an actor emoting rather than a character suffering. The Belgian sets are gorgeous, as are the textiles, and *I* would have considered fucking Ezra Miller, who has the mien of a doomed romantic poet, but you know what, this film really isn't very good...

So go figure: I finally make it out to the Vancity Theatre, for the first time this summer, and I'm totally disappointed. About the only point of interest is that I find myself in agreement with Ken Eisner, for once (though not about the "stately cinematography;" my impression of the camerawork was quite different - I could have used a bit more stateliness, in fact).

As the Japanese would say, shikata ga nai. 
Note to self: read the article about how "I am Madame Bovary and You are Chewbacca" sometime soon. (It has references to HP Lovecraft!).

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Bernard Shakey Film Retrospective: Neil Young on screen at the Cinematheque

Oh, I do hope I get to see some of the Neil Young retrospective at the Cinematheque, opening this weekend. Adrian Mack has written a fine overview. I think maybe Human Highway - which I've never seen - and Muddy Track (which I think almost no one has seen!) might be the must-do double bill... and my girl has never seen Dead Man (screening on an imported 35mm print!). Again, some fine programming this summer at the Cinematheque. Just noticed for us Nick Ray fans that on August 24th there's a double bill of In a Lonely Place and Johnny Guitar, too... Both fine films, but very different!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Well, that's it...

No more No Fun compact disc box sets! Meanwhile, I'm sorting out my belongings: what's going into storage, what's coming with me to my girl's, what's going to the thrift store... Moving week is here. Still a couple items I'm not sure what I'm going to do with, exactly, but...






By the by, that's a bamboo plant there... I think that's going to end up at Mom's. I bought it for her in the Eagle Ridge hospital gift shop after she had her stroke in the summer of 2009. She was doing rehab there - speech therapy, physical therapy. It was about a foot tall. I left it by her bedside and explained that it needed to be kept pretty wet, but she didn't remember and the next time I checked it, it was bone dry and dying. So I resuscitated it and have taken care of it since. It's about six feet tall now, and my girlfriend doesn't really want it in her apartment. I think it's going to go live at Mom's again, very soon...

Anyhow, that's probably my final selfie in the Maple Ridge apartment. I'll be cleaning and sorting for a couple days yet but I don't imagine I will feel the need to document the experience beyond this...

Monday, July 27, 2015

He means it, maaaann...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Moving day approaches, plus the Cinematheque

I'm moving this week, and I have a back injury. Ill-timed, wot? My upper right ass quadrant and the muscle above it scream in pain if I bend it or tense in the wrong way. Off to the doctor's to see if he can fix it before I have to move, in a few days' time.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned that I will be giving up my apartment in Maple Ridge at the end of the month? I will still be visiting Mom and sleeping on her couch but I spend so little time in this space - where I now sit, in fact - that it has stopped making sense to pay the rent on it. Will be splitting rent instead at my girl's, and living in Burnaby. There's a ton of writing I want to do but with the move I may be a bit distracted. Plus my back doesn't really like my office chair right now, y'know?

But meantime, holy shit, have you seen the Cinematheque program for the summer? Not only do they have some of my favourite noirs ever - like In a Lonely Place and Pickup on South Street (which I was very pleased to hear Chris D. pick as his favourite Sam Fuller when I spoke to him; and speaking of Chris D., they'll be playing the film that No Way Out - the 80's Kevin Costner thriller with the memorable part for Chris - is an adaptation of, The Big Clock, with a great Charles Laughton performance) BUT (this sentence is getting unmanageably long but I blame the codeine) they will ALSO be having a noir sidebar of pscyho westerns (Johnny Guitar and Rancho Notorious!) AND - oo! screenings of de Palma's Blow Out  - his greatest film and the one all de Palma dissenters need to actually see before they write him off as a faker -  and Pakula's legendary, strange The Parallax View, as part of another noir sidebar of 70's conspiracy thrillers. This is some seriously inspired programming, and may actually get me out to the theatre, once my bum heals. How can it be that this is the only screening of The Parallax View I can actually recall happening in Vancouver? (Granted, my memory doesn't go back to its initial release, but given the rep of this film, shouldn't it play every few years or something...?).

Plus there's also a Neil Young film retrospective! Hmmm....!

China Syndrome at Lanalou's Friday! (like, later today!)

China Syndrome by bev.davies, not to be reused without permission

One of the nicest people I've met on the local music scene is Tim Chan, the frontman of the former 64 Funnycars and current leader of China Syndrome, pictured above on the left. I suspect Tim's got a very interesting story to tell. It connects the dots from Victoria (where he played in one of the punk bands on All Your Ears Can Hear, I believe known as Ryvals, and worked in various other projects, including one with Tom Holliston of Nomeansno and the Show Business Giants called Hathead) to Seattle (where 64 Funnycars, friends to the Young Fresh Fellows, recorded an LP and EP with Conrad Uno), to Vancouver, where he's now based. I've been pestering certain local papers for awhile about doing a feature on him, to no avail as yet, but I have no plans of giving up - I mean, I was able to get a No Fun story into print after maybe ten years of suggesting one every few months, to correspond with the odd David M. gig, so who knows, maybe persistence pays off? Nevermind Tim being a nice guy, too - I genuinely like his music, think it's smart, catchy, and creative stuff (bandcamp here). They're one of the more engaging local pop bands out there at the moment, not that you'd necessarily know it from the amount of attention they're receiving! 

That said, I got nothing much to say at present bout the gig on July 24th at Lanalou's, except people should go see it. China Syndrome's last show at the Railway featured a kickass cover of Squeeze's "Another Nail In My Heart," which, it turns out, works just great with a bit more of a guitar driven power-pop presentation. Seeing it thus embedded the song in my head for weeks afterward. And then there's great originals, like "My Pal Dan," a song sort of about envy and failure and the sort of emotions that might inspire one not to attend high school reunions. It's my favourite song on their second album, The Usual Angst (which is presently available on a very limited-run vinyl pressing, by the by). I actually shot a cool little video of it on Erika's phone when mine ran out of room at the Railway, but we haven't quite figured out how to upload it yet, there have been some complications, so... uh... this is all I got right now!  

Anyhow, I'm not in Vancouver tomorrow, have been sidelined by both a bad back and an upcoming move (a bad combination, actually). I got no other press to offer. But I wish China Syndrome a very happy gig tomorrow, and hope some of y'all check them out. Hell, I won't even be seeing the Danzig gig on Monday (I thought when they switched venues to the Commodore I might make it out but it just can't be done. I'm pretty sure it will be my last ever chance to see the guy, too!). 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More on the No Fun moratorium

Another poster on Facebook... David was kind of sort of adamant that this would be a permanent moratorium... These may be your last few days to buy a No Fun 10 CD set! (Though there are future sets yet to come, like an "old" set of pre-Paul material, or a live set...).
By the way, did I ever mention that I saw the Werewolf T-shirt at the No Fun garage sale a few years ago? To my understanding, there was only ever one of them made, but there really is a t-shirt. Any man who would name a record label after a single shirt he silkscreened should be taken at his word about a compact disc moratorium. Act now!

Monday, July 20, 2015

David M./ No Fun moratorium

So David M. is declaring a moratorium on No Fun box sets, which I just interviewed him about the other week. You have til July 27th to buy yours. It is now an eleven CD set, to my understanding, including a No Fun Greatest Hits compilation, with an early No Fun rarity, "Planned Disaster." The iTunes release of this music will also be subject to the moratorium (I believe. Some lack of clarity may be present here). Act fast - and if you have questions, please direct them to David M. himself, okay? (See the No Fun: The Beatles of Surrey Facebook page for more...).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Tranzmitors and the Sonics at the Venue: Live Review

Hard to believe that the last time I saw the Tranzmitors I was writing about them for the Nerve Magazine (remember them?) when they played the birthday celebration for Scratch Records (remember them?). I guess that must have been ten years ago, now, but it seems the more things change, the more the Tranzmitors remain a consistently kickass live act. I even nabbed a bit of video of them playing my favourite Tranzmitors' song, "Look What You're Doing," which is also one of my favourite songs ever that complains about corporate media culture, right up there with X asking in "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" for the "last American band to be played on the radio" to "please bring the flag." As always, the band was fun, tight, and tuneful. glad to know they're still out there!
It was also a delight to see the Sonics, though it looks like the band had a pretty harrowing, fraught time making it happen for us - not that that detracted from our experience as an audience! Y'see, as embarrassed as bands can get when things go wrong, people have to understand: there's a certain kind of chaos that can only make an audience love and identify with you all the more, that can only make a gig all the more memorable. Perfectly played, perfectly planned, perfectly executed concerts seldom linger long in the mind, in fact. They sort of just turn into "more TV," by virtue of their ease of consumption, leaving only the dimmest impression a few years down the road, whereas gigs where it is unclear if the band is going to actually make it through without some major malfunction have an energy and dynamism to them that is unique and powerful and emotionally engaging, even if they include a few flub-ups.  
Case in point: of all the gigs I attended in the 1980's (not many) and the 1990's (quite a few), the one that stands out the strongest for me was seeing the Volcano Suns, led by Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott, at the Cruel Elephant on Granville, when that venue was about a week away from total collapse and condemnation. Warm summer rain was streaming from the ceiling into several industrial-sized white buckets on the stage; big sodden clumps of insulation were flumping down everywhere from above; the overhead lights were all shorted out and dark, while the floor lights were mostly lighting steam as it rose; and the band was playing soaked and shirtless in the midst of it all. No clue how it could be that no one got electrocuted, but the whole ambience - of three guys trying to make a gig work in some of the most harrowing circumstances imaginable, almost like they were playing in a cave during a tropical storm - made it maybe the most exciting rock concert I've been at. It's certainly the one I have the fondest attachment to, that lingers huge while several other shows from that time, like Tad (whom I love), are now completely forgotten.... though as is typical I barely remember what songs the Suns played that night. I think it was on the Bumper Crop or maybe Career in Rock tour, though... 
The Sonics didn't have it half that bad at the Venue, but they had a pretty rough time even getting into Vancouver, as it turns out. Saxophonist Rob Lind, who served as the voice of the band, explained during his first bit of between-song patter that they'd made a five hour drive into an eleven hour one, with a long portion of time stuck behind a fatal traffic accident on the 99 and a few extra hours spent marooned at the customs office, despite their general unthreatening middle aged demeanor. They barely made it into Vancouver in time to get their stuff to the hotel, rushing to get dressed (with a few literal wrinkles in their freshly unpacked clothes) and get to the gig on time, all the while aware of a strict 10:30 cutoff so the place could turn into some sort of hip hop club (the subject of several boos from Sonics fans in the audience, whenever Lind mentioned it). 
The general chaos meant several things: that the Sonics had to make a few adjustments with mikes and cables and such while playing their first couple of songs (!); they also had to substantially abbreviate their setlist, with several songs visible on the page not appearing at all, or popping up in some order other than what was written. A bunch of tunes weren't played - "Bad Betty," "666" (entitled on the album "I Got Your Number"), "Head on Backwards," "Money," and I think "He's Waitin'" - a favourite of mine - didn't make the cut. And here I was, already sad to see that "Save the Planet" wasn't listed!
The impromptu nature of all these changes seemed to leave certain members somewhat flustered. I particularly smiled to see Gerry Roslie, vocalist and keyboardist and author of several Sonics classics, having to turn pages of sheet music while the rest of the band played "Louie Louie," whuch is not generally a sheet-music kind of song. I suspect that he was actually looking more for the lyrics, since it was one he sang. "New guys" Freddie Dennis - who inherited lead vocals on several classic songs like Roslie's "Cinderella," and who appeared to unexpectedly have to take over for Roslie on "The Witch" for reasons unclear to me - and ace drummer Dusty Watson seemed to have the easiest time rallying and keeping things high energy, while Lind's apologetic manner was kind of endearing, and guitarist Larry Parypa just seemed to smile it all off. But the main point is, the band still rocked, overall: the set was actually far more exciting because it felt like the Sonics were negotiating an obstacle course just to survive it. The singalong for "Strychnine" was especially engaging. Alas, my one video, of their cover of the Kinks' "Hard Way," off their (just fantastic) new album, This Is The Sonics, cut off halfway through, because I didn't have enough room left on my phone....
Anyhow, take heart, Sonics: not only were we not disappointed by the fact that things weren't quite to the level of professionalism you obviously expect of yourself - we could see y'all felt bad! - but we probably got more out of the show for it all. Our hearts and good will were with you, and the chaos lent a tension to the night that was exciting to be a part of. It was a highly memorable show, and we're already ready for you to do another one! Come back soon, once these pesky European tour dates are done....
(And thanks a bunch for signing my album!).

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I dream of playing in DOA (but not really)

Right, so... half awake, half-asleep, in a strange state thanks to a Tylenol with codeine that I took for some dental pain issues I'm having, and I dream that Joey Shithead has asked me to play bass for a DOA show. I explain to him that I don't really know how to play bass and that I'd just be faking it - but he says okay, it doesn't matter, we just have to get through this one gig and we're stuck for someone to play. So I do it! We kick things off with the Subhumans' "Fuck You" - long part of DOA's set. I have no idea what I'm doing but I make some stuff up and it seems to sound okay. Later I watch myself on Youtube, and it's a very strange sensation indeed...

This is probably apropos of putting a video of Gerry Hannah, who wrote "Fuck You," on Youtube, performing at the WISE Hall the other week. I don't know yet if he's okayed the video yet (the easiest way to get his approval, since the file is so large, was just to put it up and send him the link, which he was expecting; he will yay or ixnay it presently, I presume).

In no way do I actually want to play bass for DOA, note...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Neglected gems new on Blu-Ray: Report to the Commissioner

It baffles me, having caught up with Report to the Commissioner last night, seeing it for the first time in 30 years, that the film (to my knowledge) never saw release on DVD in North America. There are so many things going for it that I can't begin to praise it enough. The stuff I remembered finding a little too overt when I saw it as a kid played just fine; the stuff I remembered being incredibly intense was exactly that; and the things I had forgotten... oh, the things I had forgotten...
First off, does anyone remember how excited I got on Facebook, in a post I made a couple of years ago, that it was none other than Bob Balaban who blows Joe Buck (Jon Voight) in the movie theatre in Midnight Cowboy? I consider myself a bit of a Balaban buff - he's one of those character actors who often ends up being my favourite part of the films he appears in. I mean, Charles Haid gives him a run for his money in Altered States, but it's such a terrific role that it's up there in my top ten character parts in cinema history. The smug, chilly, self-important movie critic he plays in The Lady in the Water is priceless. Balaban is sanctimonious and kind of evil in Prince of the City, but definitely memorable (though you can't compete with Treat Williams in that film). As a partner, too, Francois Truffaut is hard to outshine in Close Encounters, but Balaban is still a welcome presence. And of course I love his first feature film as director, the twisted Freudian meat-fear comedy Parents, starring Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt - a must see for those who like their humour dark. There's been more than one time that I've had someone propose a movie to me that I wouldn't normally leap to see where I've gone along just for the presence of Bob Balaban (sure, I'll watch Moonrise Kingdom, why not? Bob Balaban is in it! Though I kind of drew a line for The Monuments Men). He's not the only such actor out there, but if I were to formulate my own version of the M. Emmett Walsh/ Harry Dean Stanton rule that Roger Ebert proposed - that no movie can be entirely bad if it has either of those men in it - I think it might be "Balaban/ Shawn" rule (because you know, I really like Wallace Shawn as an actor, too).
Anyhow, considering my fandom here, imagine my surprise to discover that it took me several minutes of seeing Balaban onscreen in Report to the Commissioner before I realized that he plays the greasy little homeless man whose legs don't work, who bursts out in rage at passersby on the New York streets, bites jaded cop Yaphet Kotto in the leg, and occasionally drives his push-cart out into traffic. My girlfriend and Mom, for whom I was playing the movie, were treated to my practically leaping up and saying, well into the movie, when Balaban appears for a second time, "HOLY SHIT, THAT'S BOB BALABAN!" They glanced at me, as I pointed, grinning and clapping, then glanced at each other, and we got on with the film, but I was stunned. Not only is it a very early, very significant role, it's remarkably out of character for a guy who usually plays fairly buttoned-down, fussy types. He gets an AMAZING scene, too, which I'm tempted not to spoil, since it's so exciting. The film - a gritty 70's police thriller - has a couple of great chase scenes - including a foot chase worthy of Peter Hyams, involving a black drug dealer in his underwear, being pursued through the streets of New York by an idealistic young cop (these great lobby cards I found through Yahoo international image searches have a German title for the film, which translates roughly as "the lone job" or maybe "the lonely job"): 
As stunning as that scene is, the earlier moment where Balaban helps track down the drug dealer in question for Michael Moriarty is even more harrowing. I don't think I will describe it in detail - it's a very novel chase scene, but neither a foot nor car chase, exactly - but the thing that's really special about it - besides some great photography - is how much emotion goes unstated. Balaban's character is done a great cruelty by Yaphet Kotto early in the film, which is then undone by Kotto's partner, Moriarty, leaving Balaban in Moriarty's debt. When he gets a chance to pay him back, he does so with self-endangering devotion and fervour, none of which requires overt explication in the film (a lesser movie, of the kind we have now, would feel the need to put dialogue into the film to explain what's going on - "I'd do anything for him, he really saved me that one time" - but this film never once insults its audience's intelligence). It's one of those character roles - sort of like a few of Brad Dourif in The Eyes of Laura Mars - that is so good it threatens to upstage all the other action of the film.
It doesn't, though - it's merely one of many "holy shit" moments on hand.  (And rest assured, Report to the Commissioner is a damn sight better than The Eyes of Laura Mars is!). The main story of the movie goes like this: a young female undercover cop (Susan Blakely, who bears some striking resemblance to Katherine Isabelle, especially when she smiles) has been shot dead by a fellow cop (Moriarty). There is the possibility of an enormous scandal in the police department if the real story of how he ended up killing her gets out, but certain higher ups want to know the unvarnished truth, before they decide whether to cover it up or not. The investigation into what really did happen forms the meat of the story, and we get testimony from various involved parties that works us up to the present day. Along the way, there are great small turns from Hector Elizondo, Richard Gere (in his first film role!), and William Devane, among others. The film is more or less a blaxploitation movie, in the most earnest, politically-charged sense of the word, even though most of the characters are white; the grit and grimness and  70's urban despair are all akin to, I don't know, Across 110th Street or something (to say nothing of the funky soundtrack), and there's a real despair to the story of a naive idealist caught up in a cynical, hardened, self-serving system. As for the final set piece where Moriarty and the drug dealer are trapped in an elevator together, pointing guns at each other... I remembered it as an amazingly powerful scene from when I saw it on VHS in the early 1980's, and it's every bit as strong as it was to me then.
And can we say just a few words in favour of Michael Moriarty? Another great character actor from American cinema, who now lives in Maple Ridge, as far as I know - he did for years, anyhow. He has apparently been clean and sober for some time, but the only time I got to speak to him there, it was apparently during the period when he was not; he was hanging out at a coffee shop after what, from his somewhat haggard state, I inferred might have been a bit of a rough night (we gather he's had a couple of those - there was a story about him getting beaten up in the bar of the Haney Hotel that pretty much every film buff in Maple Ridge has heard). I had to briefly disturb him that one time to praise his performance as John Converse in Who'll Stop the Rain - the decisive interpretation of that character, as far as I'm concerned; there are all sorts of things I don't care for about that film, an adaptation of my favourite American novel, Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers, but by god it is PERFECTLY cast, also with great work from Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Anthony Zerbe, Ray Sharkey, and especially (besides Moriarty) an utterly terrifying Richard Masur, doing his career-best in the role of Jules Danskin. Anyhow, Moriarty segued, that day, into talking about how he admired Robert Stone, and how he'd written a few novels, too. I'm afraid I kind of cut him short at that point and went to get my coffee, because, you know, sorry, but I don't really need to read Michael Moriarty's novels, any more than I want to watch Alice Cooper golf - just because I admire the guy in one realm doesn't mean I need to commit fully to his work! (Plus he's some sort of Christian conservative now, and that could just get weird). But all that aside, if I ever see him again, I think I'm going to try to get him to sign my Report to the Commissioner, and tell him how much I love his work in that film, too, because damn is he good in this movie. Damn is he good. I mean, he even outshines Bob Balaban (and Yaphet Kotto, too!). That isn't an easy thing to do. 
Kino Lorber did a fine job finally getting this film out on Blu. It has a graininess to it, but it's perfectly appropriate; I'm not really a huge fusspot over image quality, but thought it looked fantastic (Glenn Erickson was impressed, too). Thanks so much for having brought this film back from oblivion; shame there are no extras, but I don't have time for them these days, anyhow. Now maybe we could see When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder, by the same director, Milton Katselas? It also sounds really interesting...
Now maybe I can use my girlfriend's enjoyment of this movie as a pretext for playing her Q? (Oh, and do note, David M., that I have just ordered Bang the Drum Slowly on DVD, on your recommendation. Yes, David M., you get the last sentence of this blog entry).