Thursday, June 21, 2018

Scott McCaughey?!

Whoa. Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, with guests Carolyn Mark and Mike Mills, played a set - including several YFF songs - at the Imperial in Vancouver last night, opening for M. Ward.

I didn't find out about it until I was already in Surrey to work. And really, I wouldn't have been able to take the night off, so it's just as well.

Anyhow, Scott - come back soon, so I can see you! Glad you're touring again! I still really would love to see the Young Fresh Fellows....

Thanks to Tim Chan for passing on the news that Scott was in town... 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Car-Free but not Cold-Free

Just what I needed: a health problem. Again!

Just a cold, mind you, but I feel crappy. Taking time off work to recuperate. Erika is out for the day so I'm hanging out with the cat, blowing my nose, sweating, and listening to music most of you wouldn't approve of (Terrapin Station by the Grateful Dead at the moment, but maybe some Tragically Hip or Robert Plant next).

By the by, I finally got up the courage to check out Gord Downie's The Secret Path and was, as expected, cryin' all over myself in response. Real moving late gesture by him. I still haven't processed his death, really. I wasn't a huge fan but I do like some Hip and really enjoyed seeing them live the one time (at the Commodore on the World Container tour).

I have pretty much nothin' else to say at the moment, though. I did do this for the Straight, about tomorrow's Car-Free Day celebrations. They didn't credit Rowan's photograph or say who it was a picture of - Katheryn Petersen - but otherwise the article is pretty much as written. Rowan later winced to realize that actually he does know a bunch of people playing - he's not THAT out of the loop - but he was otherwise a sport about not bein' credited and appreciative of the press.

I got not much else at the moment. Hoping my cold will pass a bit so I can enjoy a few shows tomorrow. I will possibly also make it to the DOA Fight Back festival, in July, since I like the new DOA album quite a bit, and want to see David M., Ford Pier, and Doug Andrew supporting Joe. Did you know that DOA's Triumph of the Ignoroids was recorded on David M's four-track? He's thanked on the back. He has fun stories about the battle of the bands that DOA, No Fun, and Doug and the Slugs all were in when that was recorded (none of them won; the bands that did are totally forgotten now).

...Ah, here's the chorus: "Terrapin!" I remember Ty Scammell at the Flea Market declaiming "terrapin" as he recommended the album to me over 30 years ago. It was the first Grateful Dead album I ever heard. Now it's the only one I have - but I like it a lot, especially this side. Though it's not actually a side, since I'm listening to it on CD.

Whatever.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hereditary yes, Cineplex No

I seldom have good experiences at Cineplex movie theatres, but I still occasionally go see movies there. Sometimes - as with Hereditary, yesterday - I really enjoy the movies that I see at Cineplex. But going to Cineplex often also means:

1. Having staff walk in front of the screen to perform some sort of obscure security check, more than once during the film. They send an employee cross the screen to do whatever they do at the box on the far wall. I've seen this happen more than once during a screening, and since I tend to sit somewhat close to the screen, that usually means a bobbing, capped head ghosting along the bottom quadrant of the image. Not sure what purpose this practice could possibly serve, other than distracting viewers from the film; if it is meant to reassure me that my security is being looked out for - it does not. 

2. Having the lights go up in the movie house before the film is over. I've had this happen more than once, including during a film where there were still images on the screen, accompanying the credits: blam, as soon as the credits rolled, the lights were full on. It doesn't always happen this way - but sometimes it does. They don't have a very good sense of timing. I tried to explain why this was problematic to a cinema manager, last I encountered it, and was blinked at by him like I had come from another planet, with no apparent comprehension of why this would be a problem.

3. Watching a constant barrage of annoyingly shouty "advertorial" trivia, pitched at the rock-bottom of the barrel of cinema consumption, usually about very pretty stars whose names I can't even remember as I write this and can't be arsed to look up. This followed by an onslaught of ads, with the whole experience lasting at least half an hour before the trailers even start. Sure, that's part and parcel of the commercial movie experience nowadays - except I don't have to watch A SINGLE FUCKING AD if I stay home and watch Netflix or a Blu-Ray (except for movie trailers, of course, which are fine, though it would be especially nice if cinemas made sure these trailers fit the film they're playing; the trailers for Hereditary yesterday were a random mix of other films distributed by Elevation Pictures, including what seemed a cringeworthy Afro-American telemarketing comedy and two other non-horror movies which have passed, thankfully, from memory, but which were about as far from the content of Hereditary as could be imagined). Nor do you have to watch ads, generally (except for a few trailers) if you go to the Vancity Theatre or the Cinematheque. As I recall, even the Hollywood 3 discount chain, which serves second-run movies at half the price, is ad-free, except for trailers. When I see Hollywood movies theatrically, these days, this is usually my preferred means. Caught I Feel Pretty and Rampage with Erika as a double bill out in Surrey not long ago. Neither of them were great movies, but some of the sting gets taken away when you're paying less than half what you would for a Cineplex screening, and not being bombarded with car ads to boot.

4. Paying exorbitant prices for films. We paid $13.25 per ticket for what I considered a matinee yesterday of Hereditary at Metrotown, and that wasn't even with all the annoying bells and whistles - 3D, hi-def, seat shaking gimmicks, smell-o-vision - that they use to justify charging even more. $13.25 for a single ticket of a film screening at 4:25 PM seems obscene to me (especially when I can wait a few weeks and see the same film for $5 or so at the Hollywood, or pretty much for free on Netflix).

5. Being serviced by robots. This, again, is the way of the world lately - Landmark New West, which has vastly better seats, also has a predominantly kiosk-based service - but I was still shocked by the latest manifestation, again at Metrotown: the front-of-house human tellers have all been replaced by automated tellers, with the people who previously took your cash now running back and forth between the machines, helping you work them. This is ridiculous and alienating, but worse, it isn't even an improvement in service, because Cineplex Metropolis, in their wisdom, have also removed the kiosks that were PREVIOUSLY to the side of the human tellers, so you still have to line up, to be served by the same number of machines as they used to have human employees. There are, I believe, in fact FEWER places to buy tickets now at that cinema, for their "technological improvements" - though of course you can order online, something I never do; I would rather buy a ticket from a person, personally. Maybe I have questions. Maybe I enjoy the social exchange. Maybe I like the idea of people being paid to work somewhere, so I feel less like a pawn in a profit-generating machine, and more like a human being myself. Maybe I just like to be thanked in person, rather than read words on a screen (somehow being thanked by a computer seldom seems sincere). Note that there is apparently an option of lining up somewhere else at Metrotown if you want to pay by cash, but it would have involved following an usher's vague directions and finding the appropriate teller, in some nebulous other region of the cinema. I had someone to meet at front-of-house, and I wasn't paying cash, anyhow...

In short, going to Cineplex at all, ever, these days means holding my nose. But there are still some things they get right. It's great that they're even playing Hereditary - a singularly ambitious weird-ass horror film that will appeal, say, to fans of Zulawski or people who know about The Evil Within, except you won't see Zulawski or The Evil Within at a mainstream movie theatre. To see such a culty, odd film in a 3/4 full house at a mall cinema was bizarrely appealing - a sign of a smarter, more demanding, or at least better-informed audience, maybe.  It also must be said that Cineplex has never yet, that I've seen, misprojected a film. I have had cause to complain at competing chains that the images have seemed under-lit, so much so that - a problem at Landmark New West - the red lights of the "exit" signs, reflected on the screen, were actually brighter than the film itself, so you could see red patches at either extremity of the image. This has never been an issue at Cineplex. So I have - up until yesterday - still been willing to pay them money, occasionally, even if they're pretty much LAST on my list of cinema choices (which are, in descending order, the Vancity Theatre; the Cinematheque; the Rio; any location of the Hollywood 3; Landmark New West; and finally, anything run by Cineplex. Bear in mind that I live a five minute walk from Metropolis, so it really is quite significant that I feel this way; the least convenient movie theatre to get to, for me, is in fact my first choice, and the most convenient, my last).

Hereditary, let me mention - by way of setting up my final big complaint - is really a worthwhile film. People are saying it's on the level with classics like Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist (a film I have mixed feelings about but it certainly deserves its rep). I'm not quite sure about any of that, but it's at least as good as or better than the last few cult horror movies to rise to the surface in recent years, like It Follows and The Babadook, and will definitely warrant a repeat viewing. It is inventive and original, has some genuinely scary and disturbing images, and it will keep you guessing as to where it is going. (It is another good film to watch with as few spoilers as possible, though I was pretty impressed that the one trailer I saw didn't even reveal that Gabriel Byrne, the film's biggest star, was in it). There's a whole boatload of suspense built up by the end of the film, as it draws to a climax that pays off in terms of both meaning and action (which is to say, the last big scare is also the point where you finally get to understand what's been going on; a friend has quibbled rightly that they get a bit too spoon-feedy there, with a voiceover from an offscreen character that explains more than it needs to, in case you are lost, but I must admit, there were bits I had not caught in that explanation, myself.) It's brilliant to have a film that pits your desire to understand what you've been seeing with the fear that something really scary is going to happen; I'm not even sure how to begin to describe that inward tension, but it's about as potent a confrontation with the fear of the unknown as you can get. You cannot understand UNLESS you face your fear. I like this. (And I like that, as is not the case with most films, I have absolutely no handy interpretation as to what it all REALLY means; I can't begin to suggest what the film is about thematically).

Here's where Cineplex Metropolis REALLY blew it yesterday. At the very peak of suspense of the film, four cleaning staff, pushing two giant carts with garbage bins, opened the doors, rolled up the aisle, and stood at the margins of the cinema, waiting for the movie to end so they could get to work. Not only were the credits not rolling, THE FILM STILL HAD NOT REACHED ITS CLIMAX. It was in the very process of doing so. It was OBVIOUSLY not over. And yet, not only did they not stop what they were doing as soon as they saw the film was going on - leaving the carts and waiting outside; they continued up the aisle and just stupidly stood there, doing NO WORK AT ALL, so it wasn't even aiding them much. It had the overall effect of making their waiting to clean up the spilled popcorn a part of the cinema-going experience, and our still being in the theatre an inconvenience to their jobs.

During the LAST. FIVE. MINUTES. OF. THE. FUCKING. MOVIE.

One member of the audience - because there was some discussion about this afterwards - said he actually jumped when the garbage carts rolled up the aisle, like it was somehow manifesting the scary things going on on screen. There was a minute of sheer confusion on my part as well - oh no, the movie is coming up the aisle! (Thoughts of William Castle's The Tingler flickered).

Admittedly, as soon as the credits rolled, I got angrier than I perhaps should have. I lost my temper, as I sometimes do when confronted with gross, blinking incompetence. I addressed the staff directly: "Are you dumb, or is this policy?" I applaud the guy who had wit enough to respond, "Well, we're not dumb, so you should probably go talk to the manager" - which was a pretty composed smartassed reply, even if it had the effect of escalating my irritation and having me repeat my question, louder, to the other staff, who stood there stupidly (and possibly not understanding the question; they didn't seem to have much in the way of English-language skills, seemed to have that look of complete impartiality you get when being yelled at by someone using words you don't understand). On the way to actually talking to the manager, I got chewed out in turn by a female audience member, who admitted she also thought the cart manifestation was ridiculous and unprofessional, but who emphasized that you cannot be so disrespectful to the staff ("do you know what they're being paid?" To which I really should have replied that *I WAS THE ONE PAYING THEM,* because in a way, that was true; certainly I was being paid NOTHING to be there, myself, which, whatever paltry wage they receive, is still a smaller amount. They were plus at least $20 for the two hour runtime of the film, while I was down $13.25!).

When I found her, the manager - a chubby woman in her fifties, who looked like she could be as easily managing a Canadian Tire - manifested that same blinking indifference that I have seen so frequently when complaining at Cineplex. She did say, in the most neutral terms possible, that she was sorry; she did say that the staff was not supposed to wheel in the carts before the movie was over. She offered me no recompense (maybe because she rightly assumed I would have told her to shove it). I told her I would never again come to the Metrotown Cineplex (which was true, especially after I had made a scene; I'm really good at such moments at burning bridges). As she stood impassive, I then told her in fact that I would think twice about seeing any movie at Cineplex (which in fact is what I already do). She maintained her impassivity - she may have repeated, lamely and neutrally, that, again, she was sorry and shouldn't have happened, but again, her blandness gave me no satisfaction. "It's disrespectful of the audience!" I shouted. "It's disrespectful of your paying customers! It's disrespecful of the film." I probably waved my arms a little, as she stood there, blank and blinking. "In fact," I declaimed, digging out my wallet - "here, I've got 600 points on it, and you can KEEP it." I threw my Scene card on the floor. She made no move to pick it up, made no move to say or do anything further, so, having said my piece, I walked away.

(Note: I didn't realize til after that a friend of the friend I was with retrieved said Scene card for me; thanks, man. I got a bit worried after I walked away that maybe someone would use the card to access my information in a nefarious way. It was very considerate of you).

So here you go, dear Cineplex. Since you seem confused about it, THIS IS WHY your revenues are down. It isn't just that you mostly play giant shitty blockbuster movies. It isn't just that you gouge every penny out of your customers, or speak to them with your ads and pre-show trivia like they're total idiots, or that you generally strive, with your automation, to make the experience as impersonal and robotic as possible. It's that you send the message loudly to your audiences that you respect neither them nor the movies you're screening; that our love of cinema and desire to intimately engage with it is in fact an inconvenience to you, a necessary evil at best, rather than THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THE ENTERPRISE. And then, when we get annoyed with you, you blink stupidly, say you're sorry, and wait for us to leave. 

Boo, I say. Bollocks. There's lots of other ways to see movies, and they're ALL better than doing business with you.

Repent and change your ways.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

An Angelic Coincidence: No Exit Twice in One Day!

I've been mildly obsessed with artful 1970's Australian pub-rockers the Angels for a few years now - since their original frontman Doc Neeson commenced his ultimately losing battle with brain cancer. I spent a year listening to them almost non-stop on my phone in the hopes that somehow appreciating Doc's music might help - superstitious nonsense but whatever - in his recovery. In fact, my revisiting them in a big way dates back to even before hearing Doc was sick: there was a brief period maybe ten years ago where he was reunited with the band and they were touring Australia, and I had hopes they might make it this way. The band had, after all, a brief period of success in North America, back in the early 80's - though their label (Epic, I believe, at the time) had them redub themselves Angel City, for North American consumption, lest they be confused with that glam rock band Frank Zappa was so mean to, Angel. I was following news of that reunion tour on Myspace, back when Myspace was the social media site of the moment, long before Doc was diagnosed. They never did make it back this way - so I never did get to see them live - but it was a definite return to my roots, rock music-wise, and the beginning of several years of backwards-looking music consumption for me - because as a teenager, I had Dark Room, Face to Face, Night Attack, and Two Minute Warning, and thought they were all fine rock albums, creative and thoughtful but also riffy and tuneful and fast. They're just this side of punk, with a definite Australian flavour, which made it really easy to imagine them in the company of bands like Rose Tattoo or even AC/DC; except their lyrics were way smarter, with Neeson occasionally getting downright Dylanesque (see "Wasted Sleepless Nights/ Darkroom," for instance.) Turns out what I liked as a teen sometimes has become what I love as an adult. Since getting back into them, I have spun their North American releases more frequently than I ever did back then, and even stumbled across a few Australian releases of their early albums, sometimes in quite unexpected places (including a Coquitlam thrift store). They're terrific albums, under-appreciated, and way up there on my list of favourite underdog rock bands, along with Goddo or, I guess these days, the Blue Oyster Cult...

Anyhow, when I started to actually hear some of their Australian releases - and started to explore online - I also began to realize that some of their best songs, like "Save Me" and "Mr. Damage," weren't even included on those North American LPs, which freely cannibalized the first four Angels albums, presenting the songs that most appealed to record executives, but in different orders, with different recordings of them, and sometimes moved from album to album. Their first album and No Exit, their third, got the worst of it, since - unlike Face to Face, Dark Room and Night Attack - there was actually no corresponding North American release; about half the songs on No Exit end up spread out on the Angel City Face to Face and Dark Room releases, replacing songs that I guess the execs didn't like ("Outcast," say, which is on the Australian Face to Face but not the Angel City version). The changes were sometimes painless - "Ivory Stairs," which closes No Exit, ends up the second cut on the North American Dark Room release, but is great on either album. But why not, as a fan, hear the albums as they were first released, in the country the band actually was based in, as their original fans heard them? (And check out all the songs that didn't make it over here, to boot...?).

It certainly hasn't been a hobby that I've had any competition in. There are a few other local fans that I've run into, including Billy Hopeless, wendythirteen, and Steve Newton,  but I should imagine they are all content with the Angel City releases. If they have original Angels albums, they haven't been trading them in; I've only seen (and bought) three of them since I took an interest, tho' I've seen plenty of the Angel City albums while I looked, diligently peeking every time I go to Audiopile or Red Cat or Neptoon or Noize or Zulu or any other used record store, in case they had something. I finally wearied of the search a few weeks ago, and asked to see if Red Cat could get in No Exit on CD. There are people selling the LP on eBay, but they want $25 for shipping from Australia, and none of the sellers I've written are willing or able to combine shipping to send me OTHER Angels albums that I want, to make an order more practical. I even wrote an Australian record store, Clarity Records, who told me that the Angels were enjoying an upsurge in popularity over there and they had nothing in at the moment (which was disappointing on the one hand, but on the other, it did my heart some good to hear that the band was enjoying a resurgence in their homeland. I wonder if Canadian kids will ever get back into Goddo?).

Anyhow, yes, Red Cat, I was told, could bring in the album on CD. I'd really rather have it on vinyl, but to heck with it. I resign myself to the fact that I will never, ever see it at a Vancouver record store, and that I just can't justify ordering it from Australia. I can make do with it on CD.

It takes about two weeks. There's a side story to all this where Dave Gowans, I think, leaves me a phone message in a pretty convincing accent pretending to be a member of Tears for Fears, to tell me that the CD has come in. I still don't really understand what that was about. It was pretty funny, but a bit random; I mean, Tears for Fears? They aren't Australian, are they?

That was earlier this week. I made the trek today to pick up the CD (via Ford Pier, who revealed that the "sexist" album cover for Expensive Tissue people are complaining about below is in fact an image of David P. Smith's armpit - but again, that's a side-story). So now I have it. There are no bonus cuts, sadly, and it even looks a bit burn-on-demand, but fine.

While I'm in the neighbourhood, I mosey down to Neptoon, to see if they have other albums I've been hungrying for, and, like I always do, I check the section, just in case.

Guess what they just got in?


Brawl in Cell Block 99


I like S. Craig Zahler. Haven't read his novels, haven't seen all the films he's associated with, haven't met the man personally, but I've said plenty about Bone Tomahawk (here, for example), a very fresh genre film that shows intelligence at every turn and makes choices - especially the casting of Sid Haig - that suggest Zahler is a kindred spirit as a movie fan. Zahler can be outlandish - for example with some of that film's gore - but MOSTLY operates with a restraint that makes you feel confident that his success (should he have a mainstream hit) won't go to his head, unlike certain other movie geek filmmakers we might mention (one of whom, hint-hint, is mentioned on the poster above). I'm pretty excited to see his upcoming, Vancouver-shot police brutality thriller, Dragged Across Concrete, starring Mel Gibson; I'm seriously hoping it gets a theatrical run. Meantime, I felt trusting enough to buy Zahler's new film, Brawl in Cell Block 99, having read nothing about it, when I stumbled across it at Sunrise the other day.

I was most pleased. Some of its gore is extreme enough that it made not only my wife but ME flinch - I actually missed one of the varied "head/ face crushings" on display because I yelped and looked away when it happened, and didn't want to rewind and see what I missed (I am confident that it was very, very gross). But if you can take that sort of thing, and if you don't mind very male-centric, violence-heavy prison films, and (best of all) if you want to see someone completely and utterly rehabilitate Vince Vaughn from his smarmy/ cutesy / smirky tendencies and make a credible, menacing tough guy out of him, this is a movie that will please you. There are maybe some quibbles possible - Jennifer Carpenter's character is under-developed a bit, perhaps because Zahler didn't want to get too distracted from the film's ruthless trajectory, and there are unanswered questions about Vaughn's character that will leave you wanting more... but it's still really, really good - terrific craftsmanship, gripping set-pieces, and a very likable dark humour throughout. Plus the Sid Haig this time is Udo Kier. (Have those two ever been in a movie TOGETHER, I wonder?). It kind of reminded me at some turns of the Barbet Schroeder remake of Kiss of Death - which holds up a bit better these days than it did on first run, by the by - but it is, I think, a better film. (Or at least doesn't have Nic Cage going off the rails in it; Zahler, you get the feeling, insists on restraint and discipline from his cast, and gets great performances out of them. Especially Vaughn, though Don Johnson is pretty fun, too).

I have said almost nothing about the film, mind you, in writing this. That's by design. I am sure there are lots of reviewers out there who will describe it in detail, if that's what you want. You should just trust me (and S. Craig Zahler) and see it fresh, though. It's a good film to see that way. Like, when Vaughan goes inside the house at the start of the film, what's he going to do?

I think the suspense there is pretty important to maintain. To say nothin' of the rest of the film...

Awesome reversable cover on the Blu, too.