Monday, February 28, 2011

Zev Asher to attend Noise Night!

A last minute addition to the bill: Zev Asher (Scratch recording artist behind Nimrod and Roughage, who has also recorded with Norwegian noise artist Lasse Morhaug under the name the Sleazy Listeners) is slated to attend Noise Night at the Vancity Theatre - an event I'll be hosting, featuring live performances (including, if all goes well, a performance by Zev, and sets from Ejaculation Death Rattle and the Minimalist Jug Band) and films (Tunnel Canary: 1978-2008 and Subcultural Revolution: Shanghai.) More on this later! The event is Monday, March 7th - my first film event on my actual birthday - and will cost $11 to attend, which is a paltry price considering the quality & quantity of entertainment! Hope to see you there!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Long live Funky Winkerbeans (plus Titan's Eve & more)

All photos by Femke van Delft (except Titan's Eve album art and promo shot!). Not to be used without permission! Thanks, Femke - I owe it all to you!

Femke and I used to attend the Cobalt regularly, at one point. The Skinny was functional, I lived in Vancouver, and it felt like we were doing something meaningful to support the scene by going there and documenting whatever interested us. We met there for the first time during a Eugene Chadbourne show with Robots on Fire; we attended several Fake Jazz Wednesdays, checked out the Rebel Spell, the Furies, Chi's version of SNFU, the Subhumans, the Sorrow and the Pity, and others. Bev Davies was oft-seen there, too. I enjoyed going to the Cobalt enough to transform my experiences into a comic strip (part one, part two), about the night a drunk punkette enthusiastically recommended I check out the Golers (whom I still haven't seen perform, but whose CDs I greatly enjoy). It was a great place, even if it smelled pretty rank, and though I was still somewhat more of an outside observer than an actual participant on the scene, it felt more like home than any other bar I've been to.

Pardon the cliche, but - you really can't go home again.

(Funky Winkerbeans food seller by Femke)

The Cobalt still functions as a venue, but I'm not sure who goes there; since wendythirteen got the boot, I have no interest in it - not sure the people who took it over or the landlords who nudged wendy out understand or care what's been damaged. Of course, "damage" is a relative thing: wendy's booking Funky Winkerbeans (AKA Punky Thrasherbalts) now, is there most nights (though on the wrong side of the bar, with a different jacket on; but by her hair you shall know her!) But things really aren't the same - they can't be, and not just because you can't step in the same piece of water twice. It took me awhile to put my finger on it: is it that the walls - relatively bare, painted a deep red, with vintage burlesque images all around - aren't plastered with wendy's art and a billion gig posters? Is it that the metal-to-punk gig ratio is now two-to-one in favour of metal? Is it that the area in front of the stage is actually smaller than the 'balt's, or that the stage and the layout of the pit aren't quite as cool? Is it the weird wooden barrier at the front of the stage - a new addition since my last trip there a few months ago - that protects the monitors and likely impedes stage diving? Is it that you can inhale deeply through your nose without fear?
(Hands above the barrier, by Femke)

Surveying the place the other night, it seemed to me that what really was decisive was the people. For all the familiar faces - wendy, the sound guy, sometimes Chi - there are no doubt a lot of Cobalt regulars who haven't made the transition - including Fem and myself; it was only my second night there since wendy started booking it, and Femke's first. The crowd there now reflects the gentrification ongoing in the city, are more representative of the people that our Olympics-loving city fathers would LIKE entertainment in this city to be for; for every punk or headbanger transplanted from the Cobalt to here, or every crusty DTES local come to check out the music (or just get sauced), there are three or four reasonably presentable, drunken twentysomethings, none too different from what you might see whoopin' it up along the corridors of the Granville Atrocity Exhibition. They can't hold their liquor, they lack any of the tribal accountrements of punk or metal, they mosh like like thugs, and some don't even seem that interested in the music - because several seemed to spend the whole show sitting in the front area of the club, socializing They're altogether too cute for me to feel at home amongst them, too. That's not necessarily a bad thing when you're talking about girls - because there were lots of fetching ones about - but (not counting the girls serving the beer) very few had dyed hair or ripped fishnets or combat boots or such, which used to be visible everywhere in the Cobalt. Come to think of it, I didn't see a single Crass patch the whole goddamn night. Not sure where those people got to - maybe some of them have just gotten older and/or changed their fashion to match the march of progress (trampling over the bones of punk, or at least "growing out of it"). The kids who were there looked, more than anything else, like they had more money to spend than the old stripe. They're still kids, looking for a place to be, and it's great that they'd rather be at a Thrasherbalt's metal show than watching UFC somewhere, but surveying them, it was really, really hard to feel like they were "my" people; they belonged to some other Vancouver, which is slowly being drawn over the one I used to live in.

Would The Cobalt be experiencing the same change, if it were still The Cobalt? Could be. Is Thrasherbalt's still a valuable thing? Definitely. Am I in any position to whine about it, given how much my own life has changed? Nope. There's always the possibility that I'm just experiencing something that happens as you get older - the scene you were most involved in becomes a thing more of memory than of present experience, a high-watermark against which all new things get measured. But you've got to support the scene you HAVE, rather than wax nostalgic, like certain first-gen Vancouver punks, over the scene you HAD. Besides, Funky Winkerbeans has all sorts of its own charms - from the weird wooden boat (the SS Bean Ship) that overhangs the front area ("This must have been a bar for sailors," Femke observed), to the bespectacled, European-lookin' old guy making the rounds, table-to-table, selling some sort of dinner pastry - maybe calzones? If I still lived in Vancouver, I'd probably be going there often, "home" or not. There's nothing to come of whining - get over it, and move on...

(Opening band with mysterious name, by Femke!)

...And focus on the music. Four bands played the other night. Antecede, on the posters and in the listings as giving their debut show, have either changed their name or weren't there, replaced by some other equally new band whose name I couldn't quite catch (but it sounded nothing like "Antecede."). They were, in any case, a band with proggy ambitions, who, between straightforward bursts of pummelling thrash, frequently attempted to break open their song structures and explore them, noodling around artfully. A praiseworthy thing to attempt, but it requires chops they didn't yet have, to pull it off; only their bassist seemed wholly confident in what he was doing in such passages, and occasionally, things fell apart quite wince-inducingly, with missed beats and misplaced notes and a few nasty glances between guitarists. They've got the pummelling thrash part down, anyhow; they markedly improved as their set progressed; and really, there was nothing wrong with them that a whole lot of playing together won't fix. Just as well, for their sake, that I'm not clear on who they were. They should keep workin' at it - all great bands are entitled to at least a few rough early gigs.

(Makaria by Femke)

Two bands from Victoria came next, Makaria and Reaver. Makaria - described on the poster for the show as "progressive metal of death," as if the language of metal needed to be tortured further - were heavy, brutal, and proficient, and like the opening act, boasted a six-stringed bass. They played a dark, angry, technically deft but not particularly hooky metal that is hard to evaluate after one live show, and would perhaps be more accessible on a CD (which is a nice way of saying it didn't really grab me, but it's also true). It happens, in fact, that their new CD release party is tonight, starting pretty much as I write this, with First Reign, Ravensun, and Scythia. (Two ferry trips in one week? Rough.) Reaver were definitely catchier, with song structures and a vocalist that reminded me of a slightly sped-up Lamb of God. The PA didn't seem to be quite cutting it through their set, with some noticeable distortion marring things a bit, but they got a few people dancing, notably a pogoing skinhead - or was he just a bald dude? - with an impressive bounce, and a somewhat drunken longhair in an Overkill shirt that drew heavily in its design on a certain classic punk song penned by a well-respected Vancouverite. I liked the overall tunefulness of what they were doing, and probably would have picked up a CD, if I hadn't bought those beers; no doubt, they can be found in the "local metal" section at Scrape.
(Reaver by Femke)

The nice surprise for the evening was Titan's Eve (see also here). I'd received the CD with a review request a few weeks ago (and hope this suffices in lieu of that). A theme album inspired by either the Book of Genesis, or maybe Milton's Paradise Lost (from which, I believe, the title comes), The Divine Equal is a strong metal album, with one foot in the land of thrash and the other in the tuneful, anthemic 1980's. The choruses are infectiously memorable - in fact, they kind of remind me a bit of Amon Amarth, who I know get described as "melodic death metal" (though I don't really hear a lot of death here, and there's no trace of Ragnarok to be found - their mythology is decidedly Judeo-Christian). The quiet passages - the moody instrumental opener - are not particularly impressive, and I can understand why one friend present for their live show thought their songs were a bit too similar to each other, but the idea is actually pretty inspired, at least as I read it: because, by turning the story of Lucifer's rebellion and fall into a metal album, it highlights a sort of "Oedipal teen rebellion" element that isn't that obvious in the source text, with Lucifer filling in for any teenager who ever told his father to go fuck himself. (There's even a hint that the rebellion involves drugs, alcohol, and "fast living," and that it ends in suffering and regret, rather than any Garden-of-Eden temptation scenarios, since the story stops before we get there). It's thought-provoking enough to make me want to listen to it more than once, and catchy enough in its songcraft that with those repeat listens, I've actually come to like what they're doing a great deal; it's actually a pretty fuckin' cool album, and right up there with, say, the Without Mercy disc as a "recommended local metal experience."

(Titan's Eve by Femke)

Seeing them live augmented the experience in three ways:

1. Once you actually know their songs, it's really a pleasure to hear them performed, because - while there are bands out there who struggle to get their best performances onto the record, and never quite live up to them live - Titan's Eve sure as fuck ain't one of them; they were tight, fast, in perfect synch and live-wire energetic in their delivery, reaffirming that they aren't just able to make a good record, but that they're a goddamn good live act.

2. Lyrically somewhat akin to Bison BC's "Wendigo," their song "Becoming the Demon" changes its meaning when performed live in very satisfying ways. Some songs do that - Nomeansno's "Rags and Bones," for example, is rife with imagery that evokes, when you see it done live, the experience of moshing, of being lost to yourself in the physicality of the pit, so much so that I once asked Rob Wright if that was what he had in mind when he wrote it (it wasn't, but I got a wee giggle out of him). So, too, the lyrical invocation to "replace what's human/ become the demon": on the disc, it relates to the overall story arch, of Satan's rise and fall, but when sung to a crowd of young people going wild, it takes on new life, with more than a few of the moshers going a long way towards becoming demons during the set (so much so that I eventually went to seek refuge by the SS Bean Ship; if the moshpit hadn't been quite as ugly - a lot of shoving, testosterone, and glaring interactions between the brute principals that threatened to descend into fisticuffs - I would have enjoyed the show much more).

3. Somehow, though - it's gotta be said - their new song, "Life Apocalypse" - as gut-punchingly strong as it may be - sure reminded me an awful lot of Dethklok!

Titan's Eve press photo by Shimon Karmel

I didn't last the whole set - I had a girl waiting and it was getting close to 2AM by the time I ducked out - but I'd see Titan's Eve again (especially if they played Maple Ridge!). Outside, making my way to the bus stop, I noticed posters that read "One million low income people live in Chinatown. Condos will push them out." Femke had commented over a beer earlier that artists are always the first wave of gentrification, and I guess to some extent that Funky Winkerbeans itself (or the Rickshaw, or any other performance venue based in the DTES) is part of that wave... but more than that, it seems to me that Thrasherbalt's is a vital community centre, for anyone, wherever they come from (even Yaletown, even Surrey... even Maple Ridge). And there was at least one old guy getting drunk there the other night who was clearly an oldtime DTES resident, a senior citizen who let the music distract him not one whit from his beer.

And sure, it ain't the Cobalt, but neither is the Cobalt, anymore. That was then, this is now. Onwards.

Titan's Eve by Femke
Upcoming Thrashers Listings:






























...and so forth! Keep up the good work, wendy!

wendythirteen by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Swans - astonishing - more to follow

Swans was one of the greatest rock shows I've seen. One of the greatest live shows I've seen. Ever. Swans are amazing. Gira is amazing. My ears are still tender. I will have much, much more on this experience online (not here, but I'll let you know and link to it) later on. If you have the chance to see this band, do.

My God.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Swans tonight!

Swans by Daniel K. Miller

With apologies to The Rebel Spell (whom I know well and love - their new album is great!) and Man or Astroman? (whose music I barely know, but based on their Myspace, find amusing - and check out these photos!), I once again declare that Swans at the Rickshaw is The Gig To Be At tonight. It's a rare chance - perhaps the only one Vancouverites will ever have - to see one of the most daring bands of 1980's New York - a band who stripped rock down to primitive, harsh essentials, with oft-transgressive, memorable lyrics, like, say, those to "Raping a Slave" - performing live, touring what many critics agree is one of the strongest, heaviest (post?-rock) albums of 2010. Look below for a link to Michael Gira's interview with Nardwuar (no foolin'!). See you at the Rickshaw!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Okay, I'm amused (...and having just watched Urotsukidoji for the first time, the words "tentacle burlesque" are pretty alluring indeed!).

Swans February 25th: a must-see show

Swans by Lino Brunetti

Working on a major piece for a print magazine on Swans, in which I speak with Michael Gira at some length about his formative years, his current music and the absence of Jarboe from the current line-up, among other things. Gira was very forthcoming and agreeable and it's one of the best interviews I've done in a long time; I'm not quite sure what I want to use from it for the print mag, so I can't offer quotes or excerpts here, but in lieu of that, let me mention that the new Swans album is a GREAT rock record (especially the more epic moments - "Eden Prison," say); and that the show at the Rickshaw on February 25th is a rare chance to participate in a historically important show - because besides the realtime merits of seeing a powerful band play powerful songs, the reactivation of Swans is an event of some magnitude, a Big Ripple on the Pond of Things That Matter, and one of those shows you might deeply regret missing once it passes into local legend - one of those "Were you there? WHY NOT?" moments that always leave ME kicking myself... like that Grinderman show a few months ago...

For those unconvinced, or for devotees, might I recommend tuning in to Nardwuar's show this Friday? He'll be playing a pre-recorded interview with Gira...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Petunia and the Vipers, February 18th

Petunia at the Railway, photo by Lee Shoal, not to be re-used without permission

Roots musician Petunia was in fine form during his solo set at the Creaking Planks' anniversary show a couple of weeks ago. He's been touring and travellin', workin' on a new record, and might just end up permanently relocated soon, given the amount of time he's spending away from Vancouver - so if you haven't seen him yet, and you're fond of authentic Jimmie Rodgers/ Hank Williams-style country music, with perhaps a slightly morbid & hyperreal twist, it might be a good idea to head down to the St. James Community Hall, at Trutch and 10th, on Friday the 18th, starting at 8pm, to catch his first Canadian show with his "West Coast band" The Vipers since last April. The Vipers, for this incarnation, are Petunia, Stephen Nikleva (electric guitar), Jimmy Roy (lapsteel guitar), Sam Shoichet (stand up bass) and Marc L'Esperance on drums.
From the press release, here is what Petunia & the Vipers have to say about this show:

"We finally get to play a place with a great big dance floor, excellent sight lines, good lighting, great acoustics and excellent atmosphere. It's not too late, not too early. Starts at 8pm.

"We are producing the show ourselves and organizing everything. This is how we would like to do our shows here in Vancouver.

"South of the border we have been getting great reviews and we pack the place out every month just an hour away in Bellingham, WA. Americans love what we do and have been showing it by supporting our tours down south all the way to Los Angeles. We'll be heading as far as Texas next winter...on the heels of our Vinyl Record release tour in September, 2011.

"We are proud to finally be able to present ourselves in Canada the way we think it should be done, on our own steam and on our own turf. In Canada! Come on down, it's Valentine week. Bring a date. Bring your dancing shoes, we're going to have a ball!"

Cradle of Filth, toilet of puke: illness cuts short show

Cradle of Filth signing by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Went to see Cradle of Filth today - at the signing at Scrape, earlier, and then for their show at the Commodore. A wee bit of constructive criticism, to whom it may concern: while I understand that circumstances weren't optimum, as soon as anyone had the idea that the band weren't coming back to do an encore, to fill out what was supposed to be another half hour of performance, some bad vibes could have been averted if someone had announced that Dani wasn't feeling well, rather than keeping the house lights down and allowing suspense to build... because, in lieu of such announcement, the way things went down - people waited eagerly, and cheered and cheered and cheered, and chanted "Cradle," and built themselves into a state of heightened expectation, fully expecting that their long wait would be rewarded with at least a "Lord Abortion"... The dawning realization that the band wasn't coming back made the more, um, aggressive fans turn a bit ugly, with testosterone-loaded chants from the pit of "What the fuck" and then, ultimately "bullshit!" lasting a few minutes each. When someone finally DID make the announcement (from the margins of the stage, lest he get pelted with something; no idiot, he) - telling us that Dani was sick, and had "tried really hard," but that the show was over - one fan I spoke to suggested this was a lie: "It's a rip off, they just didn't feel like playing anymore," or words to that effect.

While I understand his disappointment, personally, for what it's worth, I think that Dani actually was sick, because - about ten minutes prior to the announcement from the stage, someone at the merch table assured me that Dani had been up puking all night, the night before. From a great remove from the stage, she could guess what was going on long before anybody had the guts to tell the crowd. Also, the band were quite generous earlier in the day with fans at Scrape, signing multiple copies of a vast array of items (CDs, LPs, a Cradle of Fear DVD, no doubt a few shirts, and even a guitar!) - which they did for nearly an hour, until all fans got what they came for. A band that does that for their fans doesn't call a show short for nothing; Occam's Razor cuts in the Cradle's favour, in this case, and I think the "Christian" thing to do would be to applaud Dani for delivering for as long as he did.

Does Cradle of Filth WANT us to do the Christian thing, though?
Anyhow, the band did do excellent verions of "Lilith Immaculate" - the catchiest tune on their new release, Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversea - as well as a "fast song - for the boys out there," "The Principle of Evil Made Flesh," which no doubt was a high point for true devotees. My signed Midian LP goes a ways towards making up for things, too.

Observation: might be wrong, but punks in mosh pits don't push each other around quite the same way moshers in metal shows do (or at least metal shows of this somewhat "less underground" variety; I know from experience that Theocide fans, say, know how to mosh). Tonight, a lot of these guys' idea of moshing was standing on the margins of the pit and shoving people who came close to them - not self-protectively, it seemed, but for the sheer Joy of Shoving. It was a bit of a meathead pit...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lou Barlow, Sebadoh

I was a huge Sebadoh fan, back in my self-destructive, dysfunctional, lazy-and-terrified 20's. Pulling my head out of my ass around age 27 somehow shook my fondness for their music loose.

Still, this has to be the best rock video ever made. Should I go to Zulu's Lou Barlow in-store on Friday?


Hard Core Logo live: the aftermath

I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the Straight lately, but it turns out that Alex Varty wrote a rather scathing review of Hard Core Logo Live, which attracted quite a few comments and served as the starting point for an angry debate about gentrification in the DTES. Good to see that people are passionate about these matters, since my own views on the play, below (that it seems best read as a fan gesture, fun but gratuitous) amount to an agreeable shrug... still: I wonder what Mr. Varty expected from the experience?

(For a recent negative review of my own, having shelled out good money for Destroy All Movies!!! - an attempt to catalogue and write about every movie that has a punk in it - I felt compelled to add a bit of a caveat on the Amazon review page).

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Infidel movie review, plus thoughts on comedy

I generally don't enjoy comedies. I enjoy laughing as much as anyone, I just find most of what passes for humour in film to be dumbed-down, content-free, and juvenile, as if - particularly with mainstream American cinema - most filmmakers believe that since something is a comedy, it is less serious, and can thus play by more relaxed rules than a film in another genre, allowing for vulgarity, racism, sexism, narrative incoherence, and simple silliness - the use of childish coincidences or unlikely and too-obvious plot devices - to take hold; often, what is "supposed" to be funny in mainstream comedies just looks stupid to me. Having been disappointed so many times in trying to find things that actually amuse me, I rarely rent anything in the genre. Even a (relatively) recent "hit" like Little Miss Sunshine seemed so trivial and poorly constructed (despite a terrific performance by Alan Arkin) that it put me off renting other raved-about comedies for months.

The comedies I do have regard for are few and far between:

Happiness: it's dark and troubling and transgressive - including images of young boys as seen through the eyes of a pedophile, whose family is the center of the drama - but it's also the funniest, smartest film I've seen Todd Solondz do (although on first viewing, if you have a heart, you'll be too stunned and horrified to laugh - or writhing in sympathetic pain as the characters in the film are humiliated and disappointed again and again and again). It says something about my faith in Solondz overall that I haven't even seen the sequel, but Happiness is my favourite film comedy, bar none. (I had similar fondness for the British version of the TV series The Office, which often sets out to make viewers squirm).

The films of Alex Cox: while they're not necessarily best described as comedies, all of them are rich with humour, often of a surreal, in-jokey, perhaps even slightly elitist sort - because you have to be a fairly alert person to even "get it," in some cases (cf. the "no swearing" rule in Straight To Hell - it certainly took me more than one viewing to figure out that all the characters were restricted to saying things like "darn" or "gosh" or "dag-blasted" - or whatever it is they actually say; I haven't taken notes). Paying attention is half the fun; as outlandish as his films sometimes are, overall, Cox's cinema is like a pencil sharpener for your brain. And of course, I also have great fondness for the "comedies" of Luis Bunuel, like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie, which Cox's Three Businessmen resonates with - though my bar-none favourite of those of the Bunuels I've seen, The Brute, is not particularly funny.

The films of Gregg Araki: not all of them are comedies per se, and they're not of equal value to me, but certainly one of Araki's films, Smiley Face, is utterly hilarious: a very smart, valuable film about America today, using marijuana (and a young woman who is very fond of it, wonderfully played by Anna Faris) as its focal point. It is the least stupid and most provocative of the recent crop of pot comedies. Also a fan of The Living End and The Doomsday Generation, his two funniest, sharpest gay-themed films.

The films of Terry Zwigoff: there's something a bit too light and a little too agreeable about some of them, but at their best, Zwigoff offers a very jaundiced perspective on his targets; of his non-documentaries, I'm particularly fond of Art School Confidential and Bad Santa (which, say what you will about it, is the only Christmas movie I've seen that I'm prepared to watch again).

There are a few others. Of the now seemingly spent Mumblecore "movement," I genuinely enjoyed the Duplass brothers' Baghead, which I wrote about somewhere below. Their new film, Cyrus, has some brilliant moments, and is a must-see for fans of John C. Reilly; it also deserves an award for "the best use of the Human League's 'Don't You Want Me' in a film" - though not all of the relationships in Cyrus are particularly believable. Cassavetes' Minnie and Moskowitz is arguably a comedy, and certainly fun to watch; I have a harder time thinking of Husbands as one, even though it was described thus on its poster, so am not really considering it here. If Monkey Warfare can be best described as a comedy, I'm down for that - or Don McKellar's Last Night and Child Star. I enjoyed, but have not seen in a long time, the Jules Feiffer adaptation, Little Murders. Ditto Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud and Robert Downey's Greaser's Palace. And of classic cinema, though it is often cynical, I have great love for some of the work of Billy Wilder, especially The Apartment, A Foreign Affair, and Sabrina (I am not a fan of Some Like It Hot or The Seven Year Itch, mind you - even some of his films are too light). There are probably a few films that I'm forgetting, but overall, these are the sorts of comedies I truly enjoy - and yes, I've deliberately left out the comedies of the Coen brothers (too broad and trivial, though Burn After Reading scored points for its depiction of the phenomenally confused state of American intelligence) and Woody Allen (too self-obsessed and pretentious, though threaded through with moments of brilliance).

All that being said, the new comedy The Infidel is very, very funny, and will appeal to anyone with a taste for political, ethnic, or religious wit; one could imagine Russell Peters fans having a great time watching it, since like his stand-up routines, it's sharply observed, highly pointed, and unafraid to poke into taboo areas. The premise alone should convey at least some of the humour in it: Mahmud Nasir, a highly "relaxed" middle-aged British Muslim, discovers in the same week that he is to be related by marriage to a controversial Islamist cleric, AND that he was adopted shortly after his birth. In fact, his birth parents were Jewish, and his name at birth was Solly Shimshillewitz. While his son is pushing him to be a better Muslim, so as to win the approval of his soon-to-be father in law, Mahmud - wonderfully played by comic Omar Djalili - is more concerned with winning the approval of his newly discovered birth father, Izzy, on his deathbed at a senior's home: the Rabbi looking after him won't even let him in the door unless he can "prove his Jewishness." There are all sorts of delightful details in the film (like a brief background shot of the Mosque parking lot, with its marked "Imam" spaces) and one brilliantly funny set up involving Mahmud's new yarmulke. The film does resolve its drama in a somewhat silly fashion, with Mahmud finding an unlikely bit of "dirt" on the Islamist cleric and confronting him, but it's funny enough throughout that you'll forgive the slightly weak ending. What's particularly nice about it is that while other comedies touching on the Middle East generally are skewed to one side of the conflict there or the other - I don't imagine You Don't Mess with the Zohan has many Palestinian admirers - I think both The Infidel will appeal to Jews, Arabs, Muslims, and pretty much anyone with a taste for comedy (tho' perhaps Islamist clerics won't like it much, or people who defend the state of Israel in principle against ALL the objections made to its excesses, since the film does presume a liberal position on the occupied territories). While I owe it to my readers to mention that it IS now available on video, I should also add that like most other comedies, given the social nature of humour, this film is best seen with an audience, and begins a theatrical run in late February at the Vancity Theatre. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 07, 2011


...for those who haven't heard it yet, the heaviest, most lyrically interesting song on the new album is "Brotherhood of Man." Surely they'll play it tonight? So cool to get another chance to see these guys...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

RIP Tura Satana

Damn, man - Tura Satana died the other day, at 72. Sad news for any wretch who's harboured fantasies that somehow, someday, she would beat them up! ...I would have LOVED to be beaten up by Tura Satana...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Let Me In DVD review

I was going to skip Let Me In, now on the New Arrivals wall of video stores. The Swedish film, Let the Right One In - weirdly completely effaced from the filmmakers' conversations in the "Making Of" extra on the Let Me In DVD - is such a skillful and moving variation on the vampire story, so interesting in its own right, that I resented the very idea of having it "translated" into English. Just go rent the original, for fucksake, the story doesn't need to be told again two years after it came out, with the main difference being the language that's spoken: it's like having someone offer to chew my food for me, when my jaw is working just fine. I avoided the film theatrically and scoffed as I passed through Rogers - no way was I going to rent it. Stemming from such an apparently lazy impulse, to capitalize on a recent foreign hit for the me-no-read-subtitles demographic, how could the film possibly be any good?

Actually, it is, quite. A buddy of mine fixated on the character of Hit Girl in Kick Ass discovered that the actress who played her, Chloë Moretz, was playing the vampire, and deeply wanted to see it; since, like me, he has also read Linqvist's novel and seen the Swedish film, the opportunity to compare notes was too inviting, and suddenly a film I wasn't interested in seeing at all on my own became a must-see, for social purposes.

It far exceeded my expectations. The things in it that work, work very well; director Matt Reeves - last seen doing something rather puzzling with images of 9/11 in the monster movie Cloverfield - gets terrific work out of a young Australian actor, Kodi Smit-McPhee - "the boy" in The Road, here playing Owen, the film's variation on Oskar. While Kåre Hedebrant, the Swedish actor playing Oskar, presented him as a vaguely effeminate wimp, a pure "innocent victim," helplessly seduced into evil, Smit-McPhee has a vaguely punky/ Gothy/ bookish/ queerish vibe about him here, and conveys at least a hint of a feeling of superiority to those who bully him (the bullying is in fact initiatlly motivated by a smirk of his, as he watches some older kids get in trouble; we - and they - sense he judges them). There is also more conviction to his attraction to evil, as a response - his rage is more palpable and more frightening than Oskar's, his menace more Columbine-sincere. Compared to femme Oskar, Owen seems more likely the sort of boy who might be tempted down a Very Wrong Path, given sufficient nudging.

The film does something else that really worked for me, backdating its story to 1983. For my demographic, anyhow, there was enough of a connection to the years when *I* was being occasionally bullied - give or take a few - that a personal connection was established between myself and the kids that I did not feel as strongly with the Swedish film. At least for the first half - before the recycling of the Swedish original kicked in in earnest - I felt much more interested and emotionally invested in Owen and Abby than I had in Oskar and Eli. Also interesting are the choices to set the film in Los Alamos, New Mexico - where one of the greatest evils America has produced, the atomic bomb, was born; and to use a recording of Ronald Reagan (!), about the potential for American evil, to preface the main story of the film, which set all sorts of bizarre chords clanging in the back of my head. There is a bit more play with gender ambiguity (tho' none of that "damaged prepubescent genital area imagery" that is so startling in the original film), more of a possible homoerotic reading - Moretz convincingly presents Abby as a boy in one scene, and her protest that she's not a girl is repeated more than once, though never explained. One feels, too, that the filmmakers have more of an interest in (and insight into) the ways that children can be drawn into doing bad things, out of loyalty to each other and a lack of other options. Some of the film is startlingly effective - and to its credit, at least in the first half, many scenes bear very little resemblance to the Swedish original. We begin, for example, with an emergency ambulance ride to the hospital, after Eli/Abby's "protector" has disfigured himself with acid. At least one of the murder scenes is completely different from how it is handled in the previous film, too, involving a brilliantly shot car crash, as shown from inside the car...

Alas, however - though the film is better than I expected and bears looking at, a lot of it doesn't work at all. Contrary to the Swedish film, you don't get as much of a sense of community or landscape, the wonderful sense of Nordic suburban desolation; the film does not begin to capture the specificities of growing up in Los Alamos, if it was ever meant to, such that Owen's alienation is more of a feature of his personality than his social context. And though the choice to backdate the film is inspired, without the opening title announcing the year, one would never even know it was a period piece, save for the relative absence of computers and gadgets and the kind of songs that play on the radio; it doesn't really "capture" the 1980's so well. The narrative, further, is generally more hurried - the film is considerably shorter than the original - and leaves a great deal to be inferred; while the Swedish film, for example, spells out Oskar and Eli's use of Morse code to communicate, so that at the end, when he taps out a message on her trunk, everyone knows what is happening, in Let Me In, when we see this, it is actually the first time that Morse is shown being used - which I'm sure some audience members will be lost by, if they haven't seen the original. And while some scenes are brilliantly re-imagined, others (the hospital visit, the swimming pool massacre) are directly lifted from the first film, if bloodied up a bit. Sad, too, that the film DOESN'T have anywhere near the guts of the novel, in approaching the theme of pedophilia - too much of a hot potato for American mainstream cinema, though the film could have been a BIT braver...

Finally, I have to mention that I was occasionally deeply frustrated by the soundtrack, by Michael Giacchino. The music for the film has three rough modes: the creepily atmospheric one, the tensely menacing one, and the Hollywood Love Story one. You may be able to guess which of the three I found out of place... Seemingly because the filmmakers lost faith in the actors' ability to convey growing love and interdependence between our bullied boy protagonist and his vampire boy/girlfriend, they choose to underscore each "tender" scene between them with some of the most annoyingly cliched strains imaginable, so obvious, so trite and so WRONG for the overall mood of the film that I wanted to plug up my ears and shout obscenities at the screen when they were on (or at least "No! No! No!"). Giacchino handles the creepy and tense modalities so well that one might assume his hand was somewhat forced - like he was perhaps instructed to re-record certain themes by some money-man, instructed to make them more cloying, more obvious, more saccharine. Or perhaps he really is to blame: suffice to say, damage is done to the film by this score.

All the same: Let Me In is far better than I thought it would be. It's not necessary, it's not a film I'm recommending, but it's at the very least evidence that someday, Matt Reeves might make a really good horror film.

He hasn't quite, yet, but he deserves points for trying.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

See Saw VI (but Skip Saw VII).

To begin, a confession (a sincere film recommend-ation will follow.) I rather enjoy the Saw movies, and, worse, can offer no clever critical retort for people who think the entire lot of them are trash.

In an article in CineAction 80, Gregory A. Burris makes a very good case for taking the Hostel series seriously, from a liberal point of view, but dismisses the Saw films as reactionary and conservative, simultaneously pandering to a puritanical moralizing element in American culture and a nasty streak of voyeuristic sadism. One feels, from Burris' vantage, that the Saw series is about as defensible as public executions. He may have a point. While I agree with him about the greater merits of the Hostel films (though I think he does an injustice to Hostel 2), and could, perhaps, augment his defence of them with a few arguments of my own, I have no defence at all of the Saw films to offer at present. Are they really just "torture porn?" Can they possibly withstand enlightened inspection? Is my failure to come to terms with them critically the result of a desire to avoid facing the embarrassing truth? Am I enjoying having my worst impulses "pandered" to, in the time-honoured tradition of fans of Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and football? For someone who holds the 24 series in contempt as reactionary, dangerous crap - or at the very least, morally and politically suspect - am I not also obliged to reject the Saw series, as well?

Maybe. I haven't gotten very far in my thinking about them, I'll admit. As embarrassing as it is for me to confess, I've been watching them because, um, they amuse me and make for compelling viewing; I enjoy the strong reactions they provoke, the cleverness of the traps, the relative skill and positive daring of the gore effects, and the freshness of them as cinema - because nothing quite like them exists in horror cinema (though perhaps, in addition to 24, there are occasional echoes of Se7en, Cube, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes). I like them, in part, because I don't fully understand WHY I like them; it titillates me, even tho' I fear that if I asked too many questions, my pleasure would crumble. In fact, I enjoy the experience of watching them sufficiently - have found them so curious and strangely engaging - that I've come back time and again. To date, I've seen six out of seven of the Saw movies; I watched I-V in sequence, missed VI, and caught up with the seventh and allegedly final chapter of the series, which was a disappointment. I have now gone back, and am at the moment about halfway through VI - it is paused on my DVD player as I write. I must say: I am loving it.

Accordingly, Saw VI is the film I wish to tell people about. It stands head-and-shoulders above most of the other Saw films, because, as other critics have observed, it's actually about something. Unlike other episodes of Saw, where it often feels like the moral failings of the characters reflect back on themselves alone, avoiding any institutional or political readings, Saw VI has a meaningful target: the American health care system, and the role private insurance companies play in it. (Another critic has quipped that it would make a good double bill with Michael Moore's Sicko; it's an obvious but true comment, and reveals how unique the film is among recent horror films). Furthermore, the film is anchored by a highly talented Canadian actor, Peter Outerbridge, best known (to me, anyhow) as Molly Parker's love interest in Kissed and as a sexually complex poet in Paris, France. In both of those films, there is something slightly untrustworthy and reptilian about Outerbridge, a moral ambiguity in his features and delivery that makes his presence slightly unsettling, "creepy;" he is attractive and repellent at the same time. Who better, then, to play the role of a ruthless insurance executive caught in one of Jigsaw's traps? (...We have to be attracted enough to him to care about his fate, and yet convinced enough of his moral failings to not object overly much to seeing him toyed with, tortured, and very likely killed). I wouldn't, without embarrassment, heartily recommend any other films in the series, at least in public (which is unfortunate, because it really does help to know who the recurring characters are before launching into this film). But for those who are at all curious - fans of horror cinema, and especially horror cinema with political ramifications - Saw VI is well worth a look, a much, much more interesting entry in the series than the current one. One feels that of all the series, even Robin Wood himself - who, as Burris notes, rather unfairly dismissed these so-called "torture porn" films out of hand, having seen only one or two of them - would be able to get on-side.

Maria Schneider RIP

I've only ever seen two of her films - Last Tango in Paris and The Passenger - but she left a significant mark on my consciousness from her roles in them (more the latter than the former, actually). Condolences to the friends and family of Maria Schneider, departed at age 58.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No Fun City No More?

Things are stirring in the city, dealing with loosening the restrictions on live music performances; Vancouver's Safe Amplification Site Society has just issued a series of proposals that deserve to be made public. I quote in full:

To: Members of the local media who may be interested in the City of Vancouver’s Regulatory Review for Live Performance Venues

From: The Board of Directors of the Safe Amplification Site Society

In October 2009, the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Services launched a Regulatory Review for Live Performance Venues, a process that promised to “harmonize and modernize” the City’s regulatory systems surrounding live performance spaces. When the Regulatory Review was announced over a year ago, many of us in the cultural community were ecstatic to hear that finally, the City was going to legalize live performance and fix a messed-up system that has sealed the fate of countless local venues. We remain positive about the Regulatory Review and are cautiously optimistic that it will have a lasting positive impact.

As a non-profit organization that seeks to promote the legitimacy of music and arts communities within the city of Vancouver, the Safe Amplification Site Society is naturally interested in following the progress of the Regulatory Review. This Review is an exciting and historic opportunity, and as Cultural Services prepares to make their Administrative Report on Phase I of the Review this Thursday, February 3, 2011, we are issuing this statement. The Phase I Report makes many recommendations to Council, and in the spirit of trying to help make the Review as effective as possible, Safe Amp would like to add the following suggestions:

A- That Council direct Cultural Services to welcome input from Vancouver’s embattled music communities by giving them representation in the Cultural Facilities Implementation Team.

We believe that the Review should pay closest attention to the cultural communities most victimized by existing regulations, namely the small amateur organizations that usually host ‘loud’ / ‘edgy’ music and dance events. While these voices were included in the 2009 ‘roundtables’ which led up to the Review, we are deeply disappointed that they have been excluded from the Cultural Facilities Implementation Team, the group mandated to provide Cultural Services with advice and community input. Of the eight non-City of Vancouver team-members listed in the Report, many represent large professional arts organizations. MusicFest Vancouver is the only music organization included on the team, and this group focuses on classical, jazz and world music only; the venues that host these genres are not the sorts of spaces that have historically been targeted by existing regulations. We are concerned that Cultural Services is getting their advice and community input from an imbalanced group of organizations, and that the advice and input this team provides will not help the cultural communities who need it most. We ask Cultural Services to expand their Cultural Facilities Implementation Team to include representatives of small and medium sized music organizations who are involved with loud and historically problematic live performance events.

B- That Council adopt the proposed Interim Program in a fair and attainable fashion.

If passed, the Interim Program proposed in this report will offer a probationary period to venues that fall victim to regulatory enforcement, allowing venue operators a grace period to bring their space within the City’s requirements before further enforcement action is taken. We support the Interim Program. In our opinion, this program will be a success if the terms of the probation are reasonable, affordable, and negotiated with adequate input from the venue operator. It must not be seen as an unattainable ultimatum forced upon venue operators by City inspectors.

C- That Council adopt the proposed ‘all-in-one’ license for temporary indoor events with clear, affordable and attainable requirements.

Much of the Phase I Report deals with making it legal to hold occasional “temporary” live performance events in spaces that are not legally permitted to be permanent performance venues. This policy would enable the operator of a retail space, for example, to apply online for an ‘all-in-one’ license which would allow one performance event. While we support this streamlined process for licensing live performance events, we are concerned that the term “temporary” is left ambiguous. How often will a facility be permitted to hold temporary events licensed with the ‘all-in-one’ license? We ask Cultural Services to clearly define “temporary.” Furthermore, many of the criteria for obtaining an ‘all-in-one’ license (such as emergency lighting, approved fire extinguishers, a fire alarm system or “designated trained personnel”) lack clear definitions and may be difficult to meet. Must emergency lighting be powered by an alternate power source? Who must the trained personnel be trained by? These questions must be clearly answered and all the requirements must be affordable and attainable by event organizers. If they are not, organizers will ignore the new license, continue holding illegal events, and the locations where these events are held will continue to be shut down.

D- That Council assist Cultural Services with putting their work online in a clear, specific and jargon-free manner.

The problems with lack of clarity on the ‘all-in-one’ license criteria are symptomatic of a larger issue surrounding communication and the Review. The Review is now almost sixteen months old, and the amount of information that exists online is extremely lacking. We ask Council to give Cultural Services the resources necessary to put all of their work online as soon as possible, including the establishment of the new online centralized information system promised in the Report, clear explanations of all the different criteria for the new ‘all-in-one’ license, and detailed information about joining the new Interim Program.

E- That Council do anything possible to speed up future phases of the Regulatory Review.

Since the Regulatory Review began sixteen months ago, at least four affordable live music spaces (Little Mountain Gallery, ROY G BIV, Red Gate, and Scratch on Richards) have either closed their doors permanently or have been forced to stop hosting live music events. While we are cautiously optimistic that the Interim Program and other future impacts of the Regulatory Review will keep venues like these open in the future, we worry that by the time these changes are implemented, there may not be any cultural spaces left to save. The focus of Phase I of the Review seems to be largely on damage control. If the Interim Program is implemented fairly, it should help decriminalize illegal venues and allow them to remain open. If the requirements for the ‘all-in-one’ license for temporary indoor events are made clear and attainable, it will be possible to hold occasional legal events in spaces that are not recognized as permanent legal venues. The Phase I Report contains some important steps towards fixing the regulatory problems facing live performance venues in Vancouver, but unfortunately, these are just steps. The real long-term solution lies in making it uncomplicated and affordable to open legal venues on a permanent basis, and we are cautiously optimistic that if Cultural Services continues to improve their methods of communication and welcomes input from smaller louder music organizations, future phases of the Review will accomplish that goal. We recognize the commitment that Council has made to this Review by not cutting back Cultural Services’ staff in an economic environment where many other City services have been cut, but we also firmly believe that this Review is vital if we wish to elevate our city’s status as a cultural capital. If there is anything that Council can do to speed up the development and implementation of all phases of the Regulatory Review, we ask them to please do so immediately.

The text of the Regulatory Review Phase I Report can be found here.


The Board of Directors,
Safe Amplification Site Society

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Strange Dream...

Hanging out at the Railway last night, before the Planks went on, Al Mader and I briefly chatted about dreams - the recurrent pattern, found across dreamers, of being somewhere (on stage, at school, at work - the place varies depending on what the dreamer does) - and being completely unprepared for what one is supposed to do. Perhaps cued by the conversation, I had a related dream last night. I'm presently considering going back to school, to UBC; in the dream, I am already a student, except UBC is strangely located at the site of Maple Ridge Secondary School, where I went to high school (class of '86), and I'm back living at my childhood home, at 216th and Dewdney, with both my parents still alive. I have signed up for several classes (and apparently, as in high school, have a mandatory P.E. class, but that's a bit foggy, now). I go to one class, have a bad experience, and react badly; suddenly I stop attending ALL of my classes. A local kid on a bike sees me on the street - he's taking a few classes too, and we chat a bit; he recognizes me 12 weeks later - still skipping out - and advises me that I'm in trouble. I don't know why I'm avoiding my classes - is it a fear of failure, or do I just not want to be back in school? I decide to receive a bit of counselling, and go to a sort of "Career Day" in the school gym, with all sorts of paperwork laid about on tables to help us get a grip on what we want to do with our lives; but instead of researching classes, I'm drawn to a "help wanted" ad soliciting helpers to go into the jungles of the Amazon and capture anacondas. I think, "screw university, THIS is what I want to do...". My desire to catch snakes is not entirely a non-sequitur, since it was in the fields of my elementary school, Glenwood, also in Maple Ridge, that I first took to said activity as a childhood pastime - though it was garter snakes, not anacondas...

Creaking Planks news: Rowan has shaved off his beard, and they've amended their version of NIN's "Closer" so the lyrics now seem to refer to the multiple crises of being a preschooler ("Help me - I think I've got a boo-boo" was one line I picked out; and of course, the chorus, "I want to hug you like a teddybear.") A fine night was had, even if I had to sneak out early to catch the last train home.

By the way, Petunia has a show with his band, The Vipers, at St. James Hall, February 18th!