Saturday, May 02, 2015

Outsider burlesque: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The Young Marrieds

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is one of John Cassavetes' most interesting films, and one of his most self-reflexive; it stands in regard his body of work roughly where The Belly of an Architect stands in regard Peter Greenaway's canon, as a sort of self-mocking confessional, a portrait of the artist as an utter loser (though Cassavetes is kinder to his loser than Greenaway is to his and allows him a bit of redemption). Its upcoming screening on May 12th as part of a Vancity Theatre Cinema Salon is a must-attend, being the only theatrical presentation of the film in this city in recent memory, and I'm excited to revisit the film, and on the big screen no less; thanks to presenter, photographer Greg Girard, for picking it.
That said, I think even Cassavetes' admirers have to admit that, for all its noirish qualities, for all its striking imagery, The Killing of a Chinse Bookie is a bit of a failure - an interesting failure, maybe one of the most interesting film failures out there, but a failure nonetheless. The existence of two very different cuts attests to as much: after the film failed to win any attention/ acclaim in 1976, Cassavetes - who, after the success of A Woman Under the Influence, was in charge of distributing it himself, and in complete control of the film - substantially altered it, seemingly attempting to streamline the ungainly aspects of the film, rearranging scenes, including new material, cutting a lot of footage that doesn't drive the narrative forward, mostly of interminable, embarrassing song-and-dance-routines. That version, released in 1978, is the one that will screen, and it's the superior cut - there's a detailed comparison of the two versions online here - but it also failed to win much of an audience at the time. And I've always been somewhat surprised to read that Cassavetes (or anyone) was surprised by the film's failure, as interesting as I find it: the movie just doesn't quite work, structurally or artistically, is an imperfect, confusing, embarrassing, disconcerting experience in any version you see it in. The shorter version leaves you wanting more, wondering what happened at various junctures, feeling like something essential has been left out of the story; the longer version, which finally came out on home video a few years ago on the Criterion box, leaves you wanting less, and raises more questions than it answers.
The plot goes roughly like this: after accumulating a towering gambling debt, a stripclub owner, Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) is strongarmed by gangsters (including the always great Seymour Cassel and the absolutely legendary Timothy Carey, above) into murdering a Chinese rival of theirs. The Crazy Horse West, Cosmo's establishment, puts on absurd burlesque shows, filled with sentimentality and playfulness and precious little in the way of actual titillation. The shows are at the same time wonderful - in their innocence, sincerity and apparent naive ambition - and godawful in their execution; it's outsider burlesque, which Cosmo glowingly gives himself credit for directing. "I’m the owner of this joint," he boasts from the stage. "I choose the numbers, I direct them, I arrange them." His pride, his ego, is obvious, but is undercut by the fact that most of what we see onstage is facepalm material, is so cringe-inducing that you can't even bring yourself to laugh at it.
People - including Gazarra - have spoken about the film being a metaphor for Cassavetes himself, the artist versus "business," but if these burlesque shows are meant in any way to be a representation of Cassavetes film practice, they're quite self-mocking. The fact that Cosmo - who Cassavetes has described as a "conformist" - ends up defending his club, and willing to do extreme things to protect it, is in a way admirable - he is the artist heroically defending his work against the money men, a position Cassavetes often found himself in - but it's also, when you consider exactly how daft the "work" in question is, kind of pathetic, kind of absurd. If Cosmo is in any way a self-portrait of the filmmaker, it's a shockingly humbling one, from a filmmaker not particularly noted for his humility. That's kind of what makes the film so compelling: it seems to be offering an almost bottomless insight into Cassavetes' himself, while frustratingly making it very challenging to determine what exactly is being said. Like I say, it's one of the most interesting failures out there...
An speaking of failures... an interesting side note, for enthusiasts of Ed Wood and for cult cinema in general: Alice Friedland, the buxom, airy blonde on Cosmo's arm through much of Bookie (pictured in the limo above), also appears in The Young Marrieds, a porno directed by storied film fuckup Ed Wood near the end of his life. Long believed lost, and only recently rediscovered by "porn archaeologist" Dimitrios Otis, that film will screen at the Rio May 15th-16th, Haven't seen it - I am not actually a connoisseur of Ed Wood - but Alice Friedland may just be the selling point for this screening. Pretty interesting that these two films should screen in Vancouver in such close proximity to each other! Think I might just do both...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Inherent Vice: Meh

After a friend who shall remain nameless expressed his admiration for Inherent Vice, I resolved to see it, but I didn't necessarily mean to buy it. Then on the first day when it hit the shelves, I stumbled across an error at a HMV location, where they'd mis-labeled the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack at the price of $18.99 - a very low price for a new release, one which they amended that same day to $24.99. They were willing to honour their error, and I was willing to take advantage of it, since I'd only ever considered buying it in the first place because the price was low. I mean, who has $30 to spend on anything these days? The fact that the price was going to go up $6 as soon as I left the store made up my mind for me.

Call me foolish, if you will, for still buying ANY film, in the age of free downloads and such, without having SEEN it first. Still, having seethed against There Will Be Blood - surely one of the most over-praised films of the 21st century, which led me to re-evaluate all of PT Anderson's previous films and kind of erase him from my list of filmmakers to follow - I actually was quite impressed, when I begrudgingly got around to it, by The Master, finding it a highly interesting (fictionalized) look at Scientology. The film is critical, but also able to make the "appeal" of Scientology comprehensible, which it previously hadn't been for me. I admire anyone who approaches an argument against something by granting it as much value as possible, prior to picking it apart; that's the correct way to destroy an opponent, from a place where you can demonstrate that you have tried your hardest to sympathize and see the truth in their point of view. Beats the hell out of burning straw men (which is easy enough to do when it comes to the evil overlord Xenu). Plus it had terrific production design and performances, and compared to some of the excesses PTA can get up to, a nice restraint to it - it was relatively small scale compared to, say, bloaded "masterpices" like Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, and I like PTA best on a smaller scale anyway (Hard Eight, Punch Drunk Love). Maybe Inherent Vice would pay off, too?

Inherent Vice BEGINS brilliantly, granted. I mean, using Can's "Vitamin C," apparently in its entirety, for early scenes of Joaquin Pheonix doing his hippie-PI-in-LA thing is just delicious, and it's made even more delightful by the decision to put ANOTHER Can song on the soundtrack right after ("Soup"). Great ideas - I haven't heard Damo Suzuki on a movie soundtrack since I caught up with Deadlock a few years ago. More people should use Can in movies. There's also one absolutely brilliant gag, so to speak, where Josh Brolin, as a menacing, square, but not completely virtueless cop nicknamed Bigfoot, eats a chocolate coated frozen banana in closeup, while driving, and we see both this and Joaquin Phoenix' horrified/ quizzical observation from the passenger seat on the far side. It is unmistakably the figure of straight white male authority blowing a big black cock, and it's very entertaining to watch. Alas, it's the high point of the film, and takes place about fifteen minutes in.
For those who don't know, Inherent Vice very much comes from the world of hip/ hippie/ counterculture PI films; someone out there has described it as a cross between The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep, without realizing (apparently) that The Big Lebowski is itself a playful riff on The Big Sleep. Other writers, in describing the film, have mentioned Altman's version of The Long Goodbye and Cutter's Way (a must-see, if you've missed it, especially if you like Jeff Bridges; though the show is stolen by John Heard, who rises so far above his usual range to be pretty much unrecognizable). I love all those movies, in different ways. The problem is that once you take away all the things that Inherent Vice is referencing, all the nods to other texts, all the "homages" - including the idea of a rehab clinic dealing drugs, lifted directly from Dick's A Scanner Darkly, there's not much else left to the film, just some jokes about a massage parlour with a "pussy eater's special" (though they reminded me of From Dusk Til Dawn) and cliche'd chuckles at our pothead hero's dirty feet. There are very few original ideas that I noticed, and nothing much in the way of a gripping narrative. Plus the fucking thing goes on for two and a half hours; it sprawls with a lazy indulgence on the screen, giving you too little for too long, while not even seeming concerned that it is doing so. I mean, I didn't like The Big Lebowski either, the first time I saw it, but at least I didn't have to sit there not liking it for two and a half fucking hours. That's just rude.

Mind you, part of it might be due to Thomas Pynchon. I think I only ever read the first few chapters of a couple of his books, found Gravity's Rainbow daunting and incomprehensible as a teen, then tried Vineland in my 20's and found it surprisingly trivial and uninteresting. (I think I actually began that book twice, on different occasions, and came to the same conclusion each time). A friend of mine delved a bit deeper, actually completing The Crying of Lot 49, but we both came around to proclaiming (between ourselves, anyhow) that Pynchon was all about funny names, countercultural posturing, and pseudophilosophical/ psychedelic cutesiness, but by no means the equal of Robert Anton Wilson, say, or even writers like Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins. We couldn't see any reason why anyone cared, why he had the rep he did. I can't say I ever did the man justice, but nor was I ever inclined to, after my early dips into his pond. In fact, I forgot all about him until about halfway through Inherent Vice, which suddenly started to remind me of him in force, as characters with names like Flatweed and "Dr. Buddy Tubeside" start to manifest, EXACTLY the sort of thing I didn't care for about Pynchon when I actually tried to read him.

But that's not to say that the film's failure is Pynchon's fault. PT Anderson has already shown his willingness to cut vast swathes out of a novel in adapting it for the screen, chopping, for There Will Be Blood, pretty much the last half from Upton Sinclair's Oil, wherein we gather the meat of the book lies: the father and grown son compete against each other in the oil industry, one using the principles of ruthless capitalism, and one the principles of socialism. (So I read in a review in Z Magazine, anyhow; I didn't actually finish the novel). I might have actually liked Inherent Vice better had he done a similar thing here. Perhaps Stephen Soderbergh could make a 90 minute edit for us?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Old-school Vancouver punk: Dirt, Cadaver Dogs, and The Furies

Couple of cool gigs upcoming for old time Vancouver punks, or those like me who weren't really a part of their first generation scene, but have a fondness for the music. Not much chance I will be at either show at this rate but I can mention them here.
This coming weekend, Dusty Doug Smith and Randy Bowman will be celebrating their birthdays at Lanalou's, on May 1st and 2nd, with reunion shows from Dirt and Cadaver Dogs. I've only ever seen Doug play live with the Strugglers and Little Guitar Army, but I've always gotten a good vibe off the guy, and imagine he's been in a billion bands, beside Dirt and the Cadaver Dogs (he also mentions the Beladeans and Piggy). I remember him telling me he actually pops up in the crowd for the Pointed Sticks big scene in Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue, but God knows where he is among all those people. Meanwhile, Randy Bowman is, of course, on No Wishes, No Prayers, the Subhumans album that the band recorded for New Alliance, I think it was, that Brian Goble once told me was subject to meddling on the production level, saying they sped it up ("no way were we playing that fast," I believe was his exact quote). It's still a great album. No idea what he'll be doing, or what else he's done, but this should be a fun gig - and what's this about "surprise guests?" Hmm. Music starts at 9pm!
The Furies at Chapel Arts, by Vincent Kuan, not to be used without permission

The weekend after that, when I have at least two fairly low-impact medical procedures scheduled (one of which involves jerking off into a plastic container, which should be, umm, interesting), the Furies are going to play a venue called The Hindenberg. I have no idea what the exact addy of the Hinderberg is, except that it's in Gastown and has formerly housed The Hungry Eye (named, perchance, after an old Robert Bloch short story?). It's also apparently one of the two or three past incarnations - not the one I frequented - of the Cruel Elephant. "Someone said I played there before in the 80's," Furies frontman Chris Arnett writes, "but I can't quite picture it."

It's another early show (old people like us like these) with the Furies coming on at 10pm for a 1/2 hour set. I gave Chris free reign to catch us up to speed about what's happening in the world of the Furies, and/ or his academic pursuits. He writes:
Getting lots a new fans -younger crowd who dig our speedy Grateful Dead meets garage style (according to Taylor) Had 'em in the palm of our hand at the Rail last time! Playing "Vancouver is a Graveyard" again. We've got some new songs ("Brother 12." about the charismatic gulf island guru Wilson who played with hearts and peoples fortune as they awaited the end of the world in his machine gun guarded utopia the 30s). AND we'll be recording a four song EP ("Double Singles") soon with 4 rocking tunes to make us famous. Academic news? Writing up my Phd , got 5 articles coming out this year Oh and if you havent already, check out my interview with Sheryl Mackay that finally aired: http://www.cbc.ca/nxnw/ see March 22. Plus giving lots of community talks in Lytton, Galiano, Duncan outside of the ivy covered academic venue. Have agood one and C ya !

Later Chris added that he would be "also playing a new old song, "Public Enemy" that he "wrote for the Dishrags (a live version sung by Dale appeared on their latest LP), updated to include the latest PE, namely Harpersaurus." Believe me, Chris, between jerking off into plastic and seeing the Furies, I'd rather see the Furies...!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Miami Blues on Blu-Ray

Caught up with the 1990 thriller Miami Blues tonight and was delighted at how fun it is. It's a rare film that I like more on revisiting it than I did the first time around (circa 1991, on VHS). Maybe it's just that I've been watching a lot of films noir in the interim and have attuned myself to the ways that crime texts can play as assaults on and/or critiques/ send-ups of the American way of life, but I found the film brilliant, tonight, in ways I didn't previously. It's kind of essential, a film well-worthy of its Blu-Ray release (happening this upcoming week).
Truth is, I haven't cared for George Armitage's other films so much. I thought Grosse Point Blank kind of juvenile (sorry) and I think I shut off his last one, The Big Bounce, before half an hour had passed - so maybe at least some of the credit for the intensity of wit on display should go to the author of the novel, Charles Willeford. Willeford may be best known now for the book Cockfighter, filmed by Monte Hellman, but he was a fine crime writer whose work dates back to the glory days of vintage David Goodis and Jim Thompson. 1955's Pick-up, in particular, is an amazing early read by him, a rare novel that forces you to completely reevaluate everything that has gone before in the final sentence, which gives the novel (enjoyable enough before that sentence) a provocative political heft and depth, making it seem much more than it had been up to that point (sorry, but I can't spoil it; if you like bleak hardboiled writing as a vehicle for criticizing America, just read it, trust me). Later in his career, Willeford also wrote the Hoke Moseley series of police thrillers, of which Miami Blues is the first; I haven't read any of those, however, so I can't say exactly what of the film his his, and what is Armitage's.
Anyhow, as for the film, Armitage does an able job with the material, making it fast and fun, and he also has a fantastic cast to work with. Fred Ward, one of those criminally under-used, constantly engaging actors, who I will watch in almost anything, stars as a humiliated cop who, along with his badge, has the indignity of having his false teeth stolen, briefly earning him the nickname "Gums." Jennifer Jason Leigh - in her late 20's, but looking like she's in her mid-teens - does great work as a young, naive prostitute who falls in love with a sociopathic criminal, played by Alec Baldwin, pretty much at his best, even tho' his performance is more than slightly unhinged. The two set up a white-picket-fence version of happiness and satisfaction and play house in a way that is both heartbreaking and very, very funny. It's seldom a film can satirize people's shallowness, confusion, and willful self-delusion while at the same time making you feel sorry for the characters - Jennifer Jason Leigh in particular - for being the unwitting victims of said satire. There's a great final line of dialogue, too, which I was pleased to discover myself anticipating, remembering it word for word from my last viewing of the film, some 25 years ago. (I believe I only ever saw it once, or maybe twice, so that's one resonant line).

Anyhow, fun film. Haven't much else to say about it, but it would make a great double bill with Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. (And if a certain video store guy happens to read this - you're right, Ward totally channels Warren Oates). There's an entertaining and much more detailed read from a fellow blogger on the film, here, if you want more (he has clearly read much more Willeford than I). Check this film out, folks - it's great.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Catching up with Dexter

So Dexter, the first time around, threw me just after Season 6. I have friends who got thrown around Season 5, though as a fan of Julia Stiles, it was one of my favourites. Season 6 meandered, and season 7 completely lost me with a couple of very unconvincing moments between Dexter and Debra. (I'm also a big fan of Jennifer Carpenter). I elected not to finish it, and only just now came back to the series - since my girl hadn't watched it and I could start it anew with her - to discover that Season 7, while uneven, actually has its fair share of brilliant moments, and that Season 8 co-stars The Night Porter's Charlotte Rampling, which would be interesting enough as a reason to watch the season, even if it weren't well-executed (so far it seems to be).

So I guess I will finish off Dexter. I wonder how many other people out there got thrown from the last couple of seasons? I've read that some people were quite pissed off by Season 8, but so far it seems solid enough...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Electric Wizard live at the Rickshaw

My show review, with great pics from bev davies, is here. A few bad photos that I took are below:







The ongoing saga of suburban video store failures: Once Upon a Movie

I have no idea how long Once Upon a Movie, an independent video store, has existed in Maple Ridge. I'm presuming they opened, like Little Shop of Movies, after the megastore die-off of a few years ago, but I only became aware of them by chance about four months ago. Since they're in a location not at all convenient to me, out at 230th and Lougheed, where I seldom find myself, they could have been around for longer, for all I know. I only came to discover that they exist, in fact, because one day I got on the wrong bus by mistake, was whisked out to the wrong end of town, had to get on another bus to return, and spied them from the window as we passed. I wasn't even sure where the bus was at that point, hadn't been paying attention. I made a note to go back there, to check the shop out, but first it was going to involve finding their address and so forth. I didn't exactly rush it.

My second encounter with the store was when I took a taxi to a walk-in clinic nearby and realized exactly where their location was - closer than I'd realized, if still inconvenient. It was, however, a morning trip. I peered through the window. It looked like they had a lot of DVDs in there, but they didn't open until 1pm. It was only 10am. I vowed to come back at a later date.

A few weeks later - perhaps in early March - my girlfriend and I did some garage saling that took us to the neighbourhood again, and we briefly discussed going out of our way a bit so I could satiate my curiosity. My girl was willing to indulge me. But it was a weekend, it was fairly early in the afternoon, and I had my doubts about whether the shop would be open or not at that point. I didn't want to make us walk a couple of extra blocks to find the store closed, then walk back. So we skipped it. Soon, I thought. I wanted to see their stock, peruse their PV bins, the usual...

Finally, today came my chance. Mom wanted to go to the casino, which is only a few blocks away from the store. I figured I would leave her at the casino, make the store, and come back. As sometimes happens, though, I didn't feel comfortable leaving Mom unattended, so we spent half an hour or so at the casino, after which I took her for a short walk.

Hey, she needs the exercise. We rested plenty. It was a nice day. She only asked me how far it was about twelve times over the course of three blocks.

Eventually, we arrived at the location, and I bought Mom a diet pepsi at a bar across the way, the Frog Stone grill, explained where I was going, and ducked out. It was nearing 5pm on a Saturday. Any video store would be open then; the timing couldn't have been better. I was practically salivating.

Except Once Upon a Movie closed for good on April 5th. The door was locked. There was an apologetic sign posted on the glass. There were still a few videos on the shelves, but no way to access them. Not only had I missed perusing their stock, but I'd missed the closeout sale. Arrgh.

When I returned to the grill, Mom got a good laugh out of the story, and then I got us a taxi back to her apartment. So much for Once Upon a Movie...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ah, the $5 Blu-Ray; plus Mud

It's kind of bizarre to me that HMV have opened up a Robson Street store in, I believe, the same location where they used to be - or surely only a few doors away - before their ill-fated venture into the space left by the Virgin Megastore. It's a strange trip back in time, in a way - an assertion that physical media is not dead, just undergoing a lesson in humility. Now that I'm actually able to watch Blu-Rays - having picked up a used, RCA-cable compatible one to plug into Mom's old TV - I find myself unable to resist picking the odd one up, and it's quite convenient that said HMV is very, very close to where I work. One phenomenon of interest is the 3/$15 Blu-Ray - a bin of which has provided some very respectable/ entertaining titles, mostly DVD upgrades, like Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate - which I would have resisted at $25, but can't at $5... It's encouraging that the prices are becoming reasonable for Blu's, though no doubt it's too little too late, in terms of keeping the format afloat in the long term...

Anyhow, a bit of a gem I picked up from said bin that I wasn't at all prepared for was Mud, which I bought simply hoping for a competent drama/ thriller to keep Mom entertained. I did not realize the director was Jeff Nichols, nor had I really been paying close enough attention to his output to recognize his name before tonight, or to realize that he had made two films I'd admired previously, Shotgun Stories - which I sometimes still kick myself for not picking up when it was abundant in the PV bins at Rogers Video - and Take Shelter. The thought crossed my mind watching Mud that it may well have been made by the same filmmaker, since it shares elements, particularly in terms of Shotgun Stories' rural Southern locations and its humanizing portraits of people that might in other contexts get dismissed or depicted negatively - I'm thinking Winter's Bone, here - as violent, degraded white trash. I was pretty sure I was on the right track when Michael Shannon popped up in a memorable bit part, but it's only now that I'm checking the internet that I know for sure that I was right (I'm also very pleased to learn that Nichols is presently making an SF film, called Midnight Specialwhich he's likening to the works of John Carpenter!).

Mud tells a pretty moving story, of two young boys who encounter a strange man (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on an island, who is fleeing retribution for a murder and hoping to be reunited with the woman he loves (played by Reese Witherspoon, in one of her many unglamourous roles of late; she seems an unlikely candidate to get typed for playing slightly coarse, salt-of-the-earth working-class characters, but nonetheless appears to be heading in that direction). Wikipedia describes Mud as a coming-of-age tale, and I'm betting it's no accident that it more or less replicates at least one shot from the film Bright Angel, which is definitely a coming of age film, not otherwise very similar. It seems more to me to be about how young people perceive adult relationships and make investments in them according to their own needs, projections, and ideals: what adult love looks like to a child, and how children will sometimes try to mediate relationships they don't much understand. Saying more should be unnecessary, but there are all sorts of good reasons to see the film, though it should be enough that both Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard are in it. Oh, and so is Joe Don Baker! Though he's not given much to do, it was surreal and surprising when he popped up, since a Facebook friend is apparently a big Joe Don fan, and I've had the man on my mind a bit. I'd been meaning to check him out on Wikipedia to see if he was still alive and working, and I guess the answer is yes.

Anyhow, I have no great insights into the film but it has an unusual depth of character for an American-made drama; it's a fairly conventional use of cinema as a method of storytelling, but there's nothing at all wrong with that, when the end product is as authentic, engaging, and consistently interesting as Mud is.

So, errm, rush to your nearest HMV sale bin and snap it up! (By the way, you don't actually have to buy all three movies to get the deal - you can just get two and still get them for $5 each. There's some pretty good films to be found in those bins...).

Monday, April 13, 2015

China Syndrome and Polly this Saturday in New West!

Hmm...... New West, you say? That's actually a little easier for a suburban commuter to handle... Might just go!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Huckle reissues hit Vancouver...

I first heard of Huckle from Todd at that Davie Street record store that's not around anymore. He had a first press of Upon a Once Time - cover pictured above - come into the store and was telling me it was worth hundreds of dollars to collectors of rare private press Canadian folk. He wasn't exaggerating, either; it's a seriously rare record, which came out in 1974, with roots on Gabriola Island, where Huckle had relocated from Ontario. It's very pretty stuff, and surprisingly solid in its craft and playing for private press material. It's good enough that it's kinda hard to believe no labels picked him up back then, it's really good. Anyhow, those first two Huckle albums - the other is Wild Blue Yonder, which I'm told is even stronger, and leaning more towards folk-rock - have just gotten a very limited repress through Mapache Records; I picked mine up at Audiopile just now. Even more surprising than the repress is that Huckle - in his 70's now, I guess - has a website where you can check out his music, with lots of streaming capacity. I'm not sure how much this music is going to grow on me but I don't want to risk the chance that I end up in love with it, to find out that it's back out of print again; there were only 500 of either of these represses done. So act now!

Vancity Theatre must-see: All the Time in the World

If you haven't caught All the Time in the World yet, it's equally charming and important: a film about a family who goes off the grid in the Yukon for a winter, without gadgets to distract them, having to make their own entertainment, to find meaning in LIFE ITSELF and not electronic distraction and illusion. Shot by the mom of the film, Suzanne Crocker, it was a surprising must-see at the last VIFF and it's back for its longest run yet at the Vancity Theatre, starting tomorrow. I can't recommend it highly enough - it can't all be horror movies, folks! One of the most truly likeable films I've seen that manages also to be enlightening and intelligent...

Thursday, April 09, 2015

On bottled water in Vancouver

The antipathy towards bottled water in Vancouver truly puzzles me. Yes, yes, our tap water is fine. No, no, Nestle shouldn't be allowed to steal as much of our groundwater as it can for pennies per litre. Water is a public good, close to a human right, and saying we should privatize and capitalize on it is putting us on a slippery slope towards the privatization of sunshine and oxygen. However, I wonder if anyone who has campaigned to end the sales of bottled water - at institutions like UBC, say, where you can't get the stuff in the cafeteria - has ever seen the net result: that you're left with a billion OTHER drink choices, ALL of which ALSO are mostly WATER, but have food colouring, sweetener, and other chemicals adulterating them...! Sometimes at that school I found myself in the situation of wanting to buy a bottle of water so I could carry it around and refill it and drink from it in class, only to discover that water wasn't an option unless I opted to get it at an inflated price and with a ton of sweetened adulterants. Why is bottling water as water bad, but bottling it as Coke, or Pepsi, or Vitamin Water, or whatever other adulterated water drink you favour entirely okay?

And do we really need a hundred different varieties of sugar water to choose from?

So here's what I say: either let places sell bottled water, OR - a Utopian proposal for modern society - make everyone carry a drink cup at all times, dispense with bottles and cans altogether, and make all restaurants and stores sell only fountain drinks of five or six varieties - a pop option, a couple of juice options, a carbonated water option, and a water option. We really don't need all the choices or flavours that we're given. Hell, you could just come up with one hybrid beverage and call it DRINK. (Maybe give it a bit of a punch, too, so it's kinda like Orwell's Victory Gin...?).

Unless you're going to commit to that (most rational, you must admit) path, why not sell bottled water? It makes no sense to me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

This Saturday!


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Catching up with Trick 'r Treat, just in time for Easter

My girlfriend doesn't always understand my excitement for poking through used DVD racks, but when I find a gem like Trick 'r Treat for sale for $5, well...

I actually hadn't seen the film before. Tom Charity programmed it to play the Vancity Theatre last Halloween, and it looked like a lot of fun, but I can't always get out to the movies I want to see these days: excuses are up, energy is down, & movies get missed all the time. In fact, I'm only about twenty minutes into the DVD, as I write this, but I'm already in love with it. Nevermind that it was shot in Vancouver - something that can make even Fifty Shades of Grey more enjoyable to a local movie geek: there are also the fun details that Brett Kelly, AKA the fat kid from Bad Santa, seems to have been cast with an eye towards his character in that film, and that one of the main gross out gags so far has him projectile vomiting chocolate, after he eats a tainted candy - which obviously echoes, for the geek, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but also reminds one fondly of the general chocolate overindulgence that accompanies Hallowe'en. How has there not been a Hallowe'en themed chocolate projectile vomiting scene before now, I ask?

Better still, the candy is given to him by Dylan Baker, who appears to have been cast with an eye towards riffing on his character - the pedophile dad - in Happiness. (Great anecdote from him about playing the film for his daughter, here). And Anna Paquin as Little Red Riding Hood? Really? I mean, it makes me want to dress in a big bad wolf costume and follow her through the woods, to be honest. (I realize she's taken). I'm kind of enamoured of Anna Paquin - so many cool things she's been in, and she's a powerful actress to boot, as anyone who saw Margaret will know. (Watch the long version, and thanks to David M. for telling me so). I hope she continues to get away with the trick of looking about 22 for another ten years or so - she's kept it up longer than most, is 32 now, and still seems quite ageless.

So yep, I'm in love with this movie already. Sometimes a film gets me so excited after I start watching it that I have to stop it and vent some of my excitement. So, here: I'm excited about this movie! I'm presently missing a party at my girlfriend's parents, as well as the Andrew Jackson Jihad at the Rickshaw and a screening of Cronenberg's Naked Lunch at the Rio, but this film is making a sick night in much, much more enjoyable. Thank you, Michael Dougherty, for making this film! Also, thanks go to Tom Charity for making me aware of it...

I've actually been seeing some pretty fun anthology horror films of late - like the Amicus twofer of Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, both of which are also excellent... It's a form I've neglected. I may try to remedy that. Fun stuff...

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Stephen Nikleva's Square Moon: weirdo space-age surf lounge for the terminally hip and playful

Totally enjoying Stephen Nikleva's new solo album, Square Moon. I had no idea what to expect; having seen Nikleva play guitar with provocative Vancouver New Wave art-punks Red Herring, country swing/ roots music band Petunia and the Vipers, and with the Lache Cercel Roma Swing Ensemble, I had no idea where his solo work would go, though I was pretty sure I would like it. Indeed I do! Turns out Square Moon sounds like a music geek fantasy LP dug out of a thrift store bin for 25 cents and immediately elevated to heavy rotation in the stack of albums closest to your turntable, because it's so damn fun: it's, I dunno, weirdo space-age surf lounge, kind of like John Zorn's The Gift wanted to sound, but infinitely more sincere, and without the trappings of Japanese pedo kink that was popping up in Zorn's album art at that time. (Pardon the digression but I still resent Zorn for that stuff - like the hidden insert in Taboo and Exile. I am not confused as to why he did that - in fact, I think I have a fair guess as to his motivations - but my interest in Zorn sort of dropped off radically after that point, which is kind of funny, I guess, because none of his other album art - images of lynchings, disembowelments, S&M, and murder - had that effect on me, I guess because he wasn't hiding it, making you complicit in a crime in unwittingly purchasing it...). 

Anyhow, to return to point, Nikleva's record release is just a few days away (April 9th at the Waldorf, I believe in the Tiki lounge - the Tabu room, or whatever it's called, which is just PERFECT for this music). Here's an email interview I did with him, about the album... see y'all at the Waldorf.
The art takes me back to weirdo lounge albums of yore - was that the concept? Was there a lounge influence on the recording?

Great! I do enjoy listing to those lounge albums, especially ones that have guitars on them, eg., the jazz guitarist George Barnes did a few albums where he would arrange 'standards' for a few guitars. I also enjoy picking up those albums just for the cover art, and then listen to see what the music is like. I didn't set out to do or recreate an album like that but I realized it was a way to incorporate all these different influences, the same way that some of the albums from the 50's & 60's did, and I was fortunate to work with a graphic designer Saveria Renucci who totally understood that approach. 

About the cover art, check out this site: http://lpcoverlover.com

The surf elements seem new to me - where did you get into surf music?


When I was growing up surf music was on the radio, The Ventures, The Beach Boys.. and it's all about guitar and sounds, in fact it was the Fender reverb that really helped to create that surf sound!

I kind of am reminded of an album by Spike Jones, covering Hank Williams, that I dug out of a thrift store for a quarter by this. The music is dissimilar but it has a very similar playfulness - the album feels like a thrift store find! Y'know?


I used to go thru the thrift stores looking for records and I remember I was in Gibsons and the records were 25 cents and I saw one by Les Brown (big band doing tired standards), but it had a great vibrant colour photograph of a couple on the beach. I thought, well the cover is so great even if the music isn't any good, I'll still buy it. That was when it started. Another time in a thrift store I bought an album and there was no record in it, the cashier pointed this out and I told her "I like the cover", and she said, "I have a relative in NYC and he does that," that was the first inkling that there were others. Then I came across the books Incredibly Strange Music Vol 1 & 2 put out my ReSearch and I discovered there was a whole bunch of people finding weird, odd, or beautiful music/covers. As I travelled down to SF & LA with Ray Condo I noticed other people were doing this as well. For a number of years as I travelled around the US with Ray Condo I would often get up early while the rest of the band were sleeping and head off to local thrift stores and rummage around. There was a fantastic record store in Pittsburgh (Jerry's Records), and Jimmy Roy & I would always beg the band to make a stop.

Where did the title "Road Lizard" come from? Why Square Moon? Is "Montmartre" named for the Parisian Montmartre or the restaurant where Petunia used to gig?

"Road Lizard" Well, again all this road touring… it seems in the US you see these shreds of black rubber from truck tires on the highway and sometimes they are big strips and I called them Road Lizards. Square Moon was a title that Ray Condo came up with, another friend calls it 'Mind Blues". "Montmartre" was for the area of Paris, I don't know why but I did visit there a couple times while on tour, as a matter of fact with Ray Condo we even played Cafe Montmartre in Paris. But anyways, there are some older less touristy areas that have that feel of 'days gone by' a wistful feeling…

Is "Macedonian Polka" actually a Macedonian polka? Does this Eastern influence on the album have anything to do with your playing with Lache?


"Macedonian Polka". Well I don't know too much about Macedonia music yet, but my dad found a place called Nikleva Springs on a map in Macedonia so had this connection. A few days after my CD release I fly to Istanbul to do a week tour of Turkey with Lache Cercel, the Romanian violinist I play with. I am then taking a few days to go visit this place. I will also try to check out any traditional folk music. I just talked to an Albanian accordion player that sometimes comes down to sit in with Lache, he said the music of Macedonia is wild-just different, as are the people. Should be an interesting trip!

So yes, playing with Lache has brought in this "eastern' influence. As a kid I had always wanted to learn something about that music. As a young adult I had a sitar and studied it briefly, but was also wanting to learn about jazz and realized that it was too much to do both.

How will this translate to a live show? Who is the live lineup, and how closely will you follow the album?

I have already starting doing live shows using the rhythm section that recorded on the album (Patrick Metzger, bass, and Paul Townsend, drums). However Marc L'Esperance who engineered, co-produced and also played drums on some cuts will join me for the CD release on drums as Paul will be on tour with Lache. I was also fortunate in having Noah Walker join me as part of my band on 2nd guitar. Because I did overdubs in the studio it is nice having a 2nd guitar to help fill the sound. For this show I will have the Tunisian vocalist that did vocalizing on a couple songs join me, Meriem Ben Amor, as well as Simon Kendall (Doug & The Slugs) on accordion for 2 songs and Baritone sax Max Murphy for the song "Hot Rod." 

For this special show I will also bring down some of the guitars I used on the album that I might not always bring out for live shows - my Nylon string for Montmartre, the Django style guitar for L'Avenue, and my fretless for "Eastern Surf." 

The first set will feature 11 of the songs from the album and I am preparing to have scans of record covers from my collection being projected to the side of the stage to match the theme of the different songs! Which ties in with the theme of the venue and of the album! Later in evening we'll do a 2nd set of mixed material, including the other 2 songs from album more for fun. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Magma for Big Takeover, and at Zulu and the Venue

For some reason, people in Vancouver don't seem to be excited about Magma. They have a kind of low profile over here, but I have no idea why, they're a seriously creative, long-lived band who gets a lot of respect worldwide - odd that we're missing the bus a bit. I interviewed Christian Vander of Magma here. I think that Thursday's show at the Venue is a bit of a must-attend, and there's an in-store Wednesday at Zulu...!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stephen Nikleva record release gig!

Well, I know where I'll be April 9th!

RIP Target, Future Shop - and good riddance

Hey, first off, apologies to anyone dependent for their income on Target or Future Shop, eh? I'm not talking, below, about the employees of these stores. Basically anyone who has to wear a uniform as part of their job is given a free ride in what follows, gets my sympathy and well-wishings and so forth. I have nothing against the workers at these locations, feel kind of sorry for them - on the one level, because they ended up working at these kinda crappy jobs in the first place, and on the next, because they're going to be unemployed soon. I hope we will still be living in a world, ten years from now, where such jobs exist for people to do; the death of a certain kind of retail paradigm, in evidence here, kind of chills me, like we're looking at massive unemployment sometime in the near future, and I don't mean to seem uncocerned about that. I'm as terrified as anyone of what's coming, even if, for now, I still have a job. Pardon me if any of what I say below reads as being insensitive...

...but the fact is, I take a fair bit of gratification out of the deaths of Target and Future Shop. Whatever dark trends they point to for our future economically, the failure of these businesses is kind of funny, kind of satisfying, kind of fair and just. 

On one level, it's because I actually am one of the more avid shoppers in my circle, always with one eye out for Blu-Rays, DVDs, CDs, records, books, and other media that strike my fancy, and - from the outset in the case of Target and for the last five or ten years in the case of Future Shop, notwithstanding the latter's too-little-too-late attempt to stock Criterions - these businesses have completely failed to raise my interest as a consumer. I'm more likely to find interesting movies at a fuckin' Value Village, at a Surrey pawn shop, or in the delete bin at any department store that still has delete bins, than in either of these vastly crappy, boringly-supplied, corporate-bullshit-only stores, which both (by-and-large) stocked only the safest, most obvious, most mass-produced titles out there - stuff that movie and music lovers either don't buy, or already have. What good were either of you to me?

(Also, speakin' as a fat guy - good luck finding your size in Target!)

Sure, Future Shop had okay deals on equipment sometimes, but how often can you afford to buy a new stereo or TV? How often do you really need one, and when you do, wouldn't you prefer to go to London Drugs, anyhow? (I say that as a disinterested consumer - but they're a store that continues to impress me with their alert and savvy choices, by bringing back vinyl, having some cool things on their DVD and Blu-Ray racks, having interesting delete and sale bins, having knowledgeable, polite staff, having reasonable prices and excellent warranty options... They're just terrific by comparison to Future Shop, and will always get my return business and support).

And I mean, fuck me, Target, could you have tried harder to sabotage your own business? Step one: unceremoniously and unnecessarily get rid of all the Zellers employees, creating a feeling of ill-will and mistrust in the communities where these employees live, which, ha ha, happen to be the same communities you hope to win over as your customers. Step two: after years of being associated with "good deals across the border," make sure that your prices are higher both than the stores you've replaced AND the stores in the US that have that positive image. Along the way, impose massive renovations before opening on all buildings, doing ridiculous, unnecessary, and VERY EXPENSIVE things like making sure the escalators that ran East-West in Zellers are replaced with brand new escalators that run North-South, because, hey, that's going to really impress people, right? That's what brings you customers: shiny new escalators. And be sure to keep the buildings closed for months, too, so that all the people who used to shop at Zellers have time to find new places to shop, so that when you finally do open after months of renos, people have other shopping routines firmly in place, and look at your inflated prices and steakless sizzle and shake their heads and proceed to ignore you.

I mean: ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Fuck you, Target CEO's. You must be some of the most incompetent and/or corrupt people in the world of business. You really should run for political office, because it usually takes a government to fuck up as bad as you've done. It's too bad you no doubt made lots and lots of money regardless of the closures; I'm sure your asses are covered. But they would be stripped and whipped, if there were justice in the world. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

In truth, my only regret as a consumer about Target's closure is that they didn't have very much interesting stuff to begin with, so that now that they're in liquidation, there's barely anything there that I want to buy. The Maple Ridge store closes tomorrow or such, and with all remaining inventory at 80% off, I was still hard pressed to find two DVDs this afternoon: I snagged Tom at the Farm and the first season of Ray Donovan. With taxes, they'd have been $70 or more - or at least $60 at London Drugs or some other more reasonably-priced location. After the 80% discount, I got'em for $15. Thanks for that - but not to seem ungrateful, even in liquidation, your stock doesn't impress me much.

I guess all these liquidation sales we're seeing won't seem so funny when we're all homeless and reduced to begging or stealing to survive, but right now, they're actually kind of amusing. Hope you're all getting good deals, folks! See you at Future Shop, it's bound to be a bit better than the Target closure... or maybe we can meet at Chapters Robson? Or the next big box to go under... who knows what it will be...?