Thursday, June 27, 2013

Werewolf T-Shirts Records' Just Like Nettwerk Records' Only Spelled Properly For God's Sake Memorabilia Sale

A David M. garage sale is just like having No Fun At Christmas (photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused, etc).

Hey, No Fun fans! David M. fans! Obsessive Vancouver punk rock memorabilia collectors! People with loose cash! Garage sale addicts! Here's an exciting opportunity to exploit the poverty of David "used to work at Chapters" M. and buy up all his precious one-or-two-of-a-kind collectibles for PEANUTS, probably: the Werewolf T-Shirts Records' Just Like Nettwerk Records' Only Spelled Properly For God's Sake Memorabilia Sale, this Saturday, in Surrey, of course! Be there!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Art Bergmann for dummies

Photo by bev.davies, not to be reused without permission

There was a time when I didn't have much interest in Art Bergmann's music. I had him filed on a shelf with "Canadian rock stars" - an oxymoronic concept, that placed him along Paul Hyde, Carol Pope, Doug Bennett, and Kim Mitchell... all people with brilliance to them, but whose music never really broke that big outside our country, was dependent on Canadian content broadcast regulations for the exposure it got, and whose recordings often bear the mark of a struggle to get radio play and notice outside the regions that supported them, especially (dare we hope) across the border. It almost always happens that the earliest recordings are the best, with artists like this, before the grab for the brass ring dilutes their genius, introduces the dread concept of "commercial compromise" to their recordings...

Art's stuff from the Vancouver scene is brilliant mind you - especially his two EP's with the Young Canadians (formerly the K-Tels). Check out: "I Hate Music," "Hawaii," "Automan," and the best of them, "Data Redux," all on Youtube (sadly, "No Escape" isn't, but you can get audio of it on the Art Bergmann fansite). A fantastic trio - but one that will never again play, sadly; Jim Bescott, the bassist, furthest in the background in the pic below, and Art's co-songwriter, was killed in an accident a few years ago. These are must-have albums, bristling with energy and inventiveness (and available on a terrific CD retrospective that also contains live tracks, songs off compilations, and so forth).
In the 1980's, Art Bergmann put out an EP and a cassette with his band at the time called Poisoned, that showed him going for more of a mainstream singer/ songwriter thing, even though they mostly only had local distribution. The music doesn't age so well; there's some real songcraft present, but there's also a visible attempt to make Art palatable for the Much Music scene - for instance, with the rock video for "Yeah I Guess." ("Emotion" was first recorded around this time, too, though I'm not sure when the video got made). There's also a song from this period called "Deathwatch" on Youtube - I think this might have been one of the cassette releases, originally, though it surfaced on CD much later. Art's voice is great, but the production isn't...
And that's the thing. You have to learn how to listen THROUGH stuff, around it, over it, because that commercial compromise thing is there, already, the attempt to present Art for the widest possible audience. But there's also brilliant songcraft present - something that actually deserves national exposure. It gets better, too - the demos produced for what was going to be Art's major label debut surfaced a few years ago, as Lost Art Bergmann, and they show Art and Poisoned in fine form. "The Junkie Don't Care" has a bit of a bad Billy Idol-esque  intro that doesn't age so well, but once Art starts singing, you realize it's a great song.  There's a bitter, biting aspect to the lyrics, and some terrific storytelling, and it sounds better than the Poisoned EP - there's a strong, self-confident band here, ready for the bigtime. Another example - "My Empty House," about murdering your family. Chillingly effective stuff, and not even my favourite song off the album! 

Enter John Cale. Cale had some amazing, edgy albums to his credit as producer - the Stooges, Patti Smith, the Modern Lovers, Nico - and had written songs that bore affinities to Art's material, dark and introspective (like "Fear is a Man's Best Friend," say, or "Sabotage" - that last being some of his toughest rock, from 1980, with Cale in a heavy place, no doubt - drinking and drugging a fair bit - but making powerful, honest, highly creative music). Unfortunately - for Art, anyhow - by the time Cale was brought on board by Duke Street Records to produce what was to be Art Bergmann's national breakthrough, Crawl With Me, in 1988, he had cleaned up, was doing things like JOGGING, and his own music was changing considerably, towards something with a lot fewer teeth. 

Sadly, that toothlessness was exactly what Cale brought to Art Bergmann's music. He neutered it, watered it down, overpolished it - pick a metaphor, the production on that album kind of blew. The single off it, "Our Little Secret," with Cale on background vocals and piano, was sung from the point of view of a man dating a woman who had been sexually abused by her father. It's a good song - the version on Lost Art Begmann was much better, naturally - but the Cale treatment was syrupy and fake-sounding, and came complete with an embarrassing, old-fashioned rock video that got pretty heavy rotation on Canada's video channel, Much Music. For someone like me - who, in the mid-1980's, actually was doing things like weeding out albums from his collection that he didn't think were "punk rock" enough (like, say, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere), Crawl With Me was pretty disappointing - as we gather it was for everyone in Poisoned, too.

There were a few songs that Cale didn't ruin, mind you. "The Final Cliche" is pretty great however you slice it, or "Inside Your Love" (not on Youtube). There's not a lot of stuff online that allows you to really compare the demos with the Cale production, but everything you need to know about what the album could have been and what it finally turned out to be can be gleaned by comparing Art's later recording of "Crawl With Me," with Chris Spedding, with the Cale version. I can barely listen to the Cale, but the Spedding collaboration - off an album called Design Flaw, which is my favourite of Art's solo output - is spare, soul-scorched, and absolutely brilliant. So is the cover of the Flying Burrito Brother's "Sin City," which I hope we'll get to hear Monday night...

After the Crawl With Me fiasco, people like me were tuning out. I remember standing in the now long-defunct A&A Records on Granville Street - the relationship of the name of that chain to A&B Sound remains mysterious to me - and contemplating for some time whether to buy Art's next album, 1990's Sexual Roulette, or not. CFOX was spinning the single "Bound for Vegas" - which is pretty great, bad rock video or not - and it sounded a lot heavier than Crawl With Me - seemed truer to what I understood Art Bergmann to be about. And indeed, the album is; it's probably the best recorded example of Art's songcraft from his solo years; check out "Gambol," here, or "Dirge No. 1". ("The Hospital Song," the best - and creepiest - song on the album, appears not to be online; it takes a wry, caustic look at spousal abuse).
The thing about Sexual Roulette, though, is that these are songs of EXPERIENCE, songs that require an adult listener to really enter and appreciate. I was 22 and listening to Black Flag and the Butthole Surfers; suffice to say that I didn't get it. I did end up buying the album - and while it was clearly better than Crawl With Me, I only played it a few times, and decided that I didn't really care about Art Bergmann anymore and sold it. I kept my Young Canadians EPs and that was all I really felt I needed. 

So then there's the 1990's. I might have liked songs like 1991's "Crackin' Up," if I'd heard them - there's some noisy, Lou Reed-y guitar-rock grandeur there - but I didn't even notice this album. And isn't "Faithlessly Yours" a great piece of popcraft? Maybe it is, but - this is how I felt at the time - so what? Bergmann had two big label albums in this period - for Polygram and Sony -  and won a Juno, for 1995's What Fresh Hell Is This, but sales were slight and the albums soon were allowed to go out of print; I heard neither of them at the time. Art was relocated to Toronto for much of this, which futher alienated me - he wasn't playin' for the home team anymore - and when he did show up in Vancouver, there were stories about trainwreck gigs, where the self-destructive, addictive aspects of Art's muse pushed him beyond being able to present his material professionally. At least some of his old fans hopped off the train, content to spin his earliest albums, and a new, more mainstream fan base - of who, Bryan Adams fans? who was ever going to "get" Art Bergmann in the mainstream? - simply didn't materialize. And so it went. Art went through some pretty tough years - I remember hearing about him washing dishes in Toronto, arthritic and destitute - and for awhile seemed to be on the verge of being forgotten; I remember standing at the now defunct Otis Music on Davie Street, maybe ten years ago, contemplating a signed copy of What Fresh Hell Is This? that Todd was selling for under $8, and not buying it.  

I kick myself for that, now (I do now own the CD but it ain't signed). It took a couple of friends and coworkers (thanks, Will; thanks, Kevin) to get me to reconsider Bergmann's music, starting shortly after that. (Susanne Tabata's essential documentary of the Vancouver scene, Bloodied But Unbowed, helped a lot, too, though the Art Bergmann stuff therein is pretty painful to watch; he is, you might understand, a little bit bitter about his career trajectory). I was really glad to be at the 2009 Poisoned reunion gig - a complex but memorable event, which I blogged a bunch about back then at some length. Though I'd met the man previously, I had never actually seen Art play until then, and was very, very grateful for the opportunity (there are a couple of great clips of the show on Youtube, like "Dirge No. 1," one of the high points of the night).

It takes a bit of WORK to get into Art Bergmann, like I say. There's stuff you have to play past, to work around, to contextualize. It's worth the effort, though. Eventually you might just come around to a place where you realize that he is one of the finest songwriters that Vancouver (or, um, White Rock - or maybe it's Canada?) ever produced - maybe THE finest. It's a great privilege to be given a chance to see him play again, July 1st at the WISE Hall. I have no idea what to expect, but I hope you'll be there (and I'll be looking at the Straight tomorrow to see if there are any clues as to what's to come...).

Oh: and come early, because the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio kicks ass.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

James Gandolfini Tribute at the Vancity!

There's not a lot I can say about James Gandolfini. I haven't yet gotten around to The Sopranos, haven't really followed his career closely; I loved his sequence with Patricia Arquette in Tony Scott's Tarantino adaptation, True Romance, and I loved him in Killing Them Softly, but I didn't bother with an obit when he died since I have no special insight into his work or personal connection to it. However, Killing Them Softly is an interesting enough film, sorely under-appreciated, politically brave, and at times brilliantly acted - especially by Gandolfini, in the role of a washed up hitman on the brink of total personal failure - that I am considering seeing it again this Sunday, as part of a matinee tribute to Gandolfini at the Vancity Theatre, and would urge those who have not seen it (which is pretty much everyone, I imagine) to consider giving it a look. My own past writing on it was quite critical, but since the film is good enough that it should be seen, regardless of any imperfections, perhaps I might direct you to Tom Charity's perceptive, but more forgiving review of it, instead? I agree with everything he says, was just more irritated than he was by the unsubtlety of certain choices, which I hope will be less annoying the second time around...
 For true fans of Gandolfini, note that the film will play with Not Fade Away, which I have not seen, but which also stars Gandolfini and is supposedly quite good. For cinema die-hards, or those with something to prove, note that if you feel really ambitious (and have nothing else to do on Sunday), you can also catch Margarethe von Trotta's film Hannah Arendt - starring the excellent Barbara Sukowa, who acted in Fassbinder's Lola and Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lars von Trier's Europa, Volker Schlondorff's Voyager, David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly, and many other films.... and then round out the day with the Vancouver-made thriller Blood Pressure,, directed by Sean Garrity, who made a strange and fairly Phildickian SF film called Lucid a few years back (the only one of his films I've seen; I don't remember it that clearly but I remembered enjoying it).  Four films in one day, in a theatre with seats so comfortable your ass won't hate you afterwards! (Hopefully there are long enough breaks between films to caffeinate and snack and such).

Monday, June 24, 2013

RIP Richard Matheson; in praise of Hell House

Note: the following piece has been edited and improved slightly since first posted.
I was thinking just this morning, while checking the obits page, that it was kind of pleasant that no one I particularly had investments in had died in the last while. I knew that it couldn't last long.

I cannot say I knew all his writing, but one of my favourite novels in any genre is Richard Matheson's Hell House. While offering what on the surface seems like a sexually-charged Gothic ghost story, it actually is - according to me, anyhow - a parable about the ways in which ego investments can foil ostensibly cooperative endeavours; or maybe a work of Nietzschean psychology, showing how different "Wills to Power" clash in the arena of belief. The plot goes like this: four people are given the challenge of spending time in a haunted house - "the Belasco house in Maine," we are told in ominous tones - where past investigations have ended in disaster, earning the house its other name. Two of the investigators - a crippled, skeptical male scientist seeking a rational, natural explanation for the horrors on hand, and an emotion-driven female psychic who needs to feel she can redeem the lost souls that she encounters - clash over what is happening, and are each driven by the other's maddening insistence on their own framework of interpretation into stubborn entrenchments and excess, determined to prove they are right. Along for the ride are a cynical former psychic who is the sole sane survivor of a previous expedition to Hell House - he's wonderfully played by Roddy McDowell in John Hough's film adaptation, The Legend of Hell House - and the wife of the scientist, who is supportive and kind and stays very much in her husband's shadow, until the house starts to work on her frustrated sexual needs...
I won't spoil the ending by describing how things go wrong - and I can't rightfully compare it to The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, since I've never read the book, which I gather from the film has similar elements - but the ways in which Hell House works its theme of ego, hinting at patterns and meanings, while remaining entirely character-driven, only very briefly getting overt at the climax - fascinated me as a kid: how simple the book is - a mere horror novel, a thriller, a piece of pulp - and yet how richly meaningful, how perfect! I discovered it in junior high school, before I knew what the word "subtext" even meant, and was so taken by the ways the drama between the characters hinted at a deeper meaning, and was so engaged by its more obvious theme, of conflict between New Agey and skeptical/ rationalistic interpretations of the world, that I read it four times through, end to end: I finished the book and started it again, immediately, taking it with me to class, reading it in my bed at night, and loving it more with each read. Never since have I even felt tempted to do that with a novel. The copy I had - bought at Haney Book and Novelty, a used paperback shop on the Dewdney, which later became Haney Books and Comics, then got bought out by a gamer geek, and now stands vacant - had the cover below; if I ever see this edition again, I'll buy it for its sheer sentimental value, even though it is neither a story of "demonic possession," nor a "novel of the occult," as is claimed (I think they were trying to cash in on the success of the The Exorcist with such copy):
Back then, I was reading mostly Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Bloch. None of those writers mean so much to me these days - though I occasionally revisit them as the mood strikes me. The thing that I love most about Hell House is that it holds up; I picked up a copy again a few years ago, almost on a nostalgic whim, and read it and found it just as compelling and entertaining. (I've read it again since). It stands as my favourite horror novel, and no doubt I will read it again someday).
As I say, I don't care about everything Richard Matheson wrote, however. Even I Am Legend fails to excite me much (though note that no one yet has done a faithful adaptation of that novel; since it does have a fairly unique and provocative ending, it deserves to be adapted properly at least once, eh?). I haven't read The Incredible Shrinking Man or Stir of Echoes or Duel - though I enjoyed the movies based on them. In fact, about the only other things I've actually read by Matheson are short stories - I used to like a fairly dark one called "The Distributor" a lot, which is sort of a concise, suburban distillation of the evilest of Jim Thompson. Oh, and of course Matheson wrote my favourite-ever Twilight Zone epîsode, "Nick of Time" (as well as many others, including the more famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet").

As I`ve said before, I don`t feel that mournful when someone makes it to a ripe old age after a momentously productive life. Richard Matheson is a case in point - an immensely prolific, highly creative writer who deserves to be much more widely read. Rather than waste time with sorrow, then, let me just urge you, if you haven`t done it - if you`re at all fond of horror fiction, or just like a great, rich work of pulp - read Hell House. It`s a lot of fun...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mom channels Nardwuar

My 82 year old Mom and I play around with language a lot. She suffers from aphasia from her stroke of 2009, and has a hard time articulating herself; she's regained a lot of her ability in the last four years but she's likely running around 50% of her pre-stroke speech ability or less, and she occasionally still loses control of her sentences. Though sometimes she gets frustrated with herself, and ends up growling and shaking her fist in rage at her difficulties, sometimes she just surfs along with her errors, producing nonsense syllables - "I want buy me... some... co... ku? ... ker... kogodoogoodoo!" She then laughs at herself and tries again, which is probably healthier for her than getting angry. I try to encourage this sort of playfulness a bit, as a coping mechanism, so sometimes we have short conversations of nothing but nonsense - for instance, in well-routinized social circumstances, as when I'm calling to say hello, instead of the usual "how are you"/ "I'm fine," we might have something like:

Allan: Habadoo?
Mom: Ackackack.  

...Which serves the purpose just as well, though perhaps wouldn't make a lot of sense to a bystander.  We also have various routines that make things easier for her. She raises her cup and points into the kitchen and I know it's code for, "make me a cup of tea," for instance; no language required. At other times, we employ set phrases that she's gotten down pat, like when we say goodnight to each other: she stands at the door and says, "toodaloo!" and I say "toodaloo" back.

She usually doesn't have trouble with phrases that she uses often, but tonight, at the door, instead of "toodaloo," she said something a lot more like, "doot doola doot doo."

To which I responded "doot doo." Hearing which, she broke into a laugh; the pop culture dimension of the transaction was lost to her - she has no clue who Nardwuar is, I'm sure - but she enjoyed the moment no less.

I, however, do indeed know who Nardwuar is, so I went, "doot doola doot doo" myself, and she went "doot doo" right back at me, having fun with it.

I would like to thank Nardwuar for this sweet moment with my Mom.

Moon, water

Went down to the Fraser River with my girl at magic hour tonight to check on the rising water and see the big moon. Funny how the moon can look huge in the sky but only comes out as a tiny dot in a picture...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Terms and Conditions May Apply

The most entertaining story I have encountered about a surveillance state misfire involves The Clash's song "Tommy Gun." As Clash fans may know, there is a segment at the end that was frequently not rendered in songbooks and on lyric sheets, back in the days prior to the Internet. A portion reads:

So let's agree about the price
And make it one jet airliner
For ten prisoners

In 2004 Bristol man named Mark Devine, who played bass in a Clash tribute band, attempted to text these lyrics to the band's singer, who apparently couldn't decode Joe Strummer's blustery vocal; he reached a wrong number, and shortly thereafter was visited at work by members of the Special Branch, concerned that he might be a terrorist (original news story here).
Though this anecdote does not appear in Terms and Conditions May Apply, the new documentary about state surveillance and the complicity of  various internet companies (including Google and Facebook) in facilitating it, having watched the film, the part of the anecdote involving a "wrong number" seems fishy. It seems more likely that the government was simply monitoring internet traffic and text messages, even back then, and just used the "wrong number" story to cover up their activities; if they weren't doing such things as a matter of course in 2004, they certainly are now.

Terms and Conditions May Apply - screening this weekend at the Vancity Theatre - offers ample stories of equally absurd (and sometimes quite brazen and frightening) misfires, such as that of a tourist who says he's going to "destroy America" in a text, and then finds himself welcomed at a US airport like he's Maher Arar. Anyone with any real-world knowledge can see he means the word "destroy" as a metaphor for irresponsible drinking and carousing, particularly since he signs off with a little "x," indicating a kiss; security-state spooks apparently aren't that skilled in decoding such things, alas. The film doesn't offer any examples of how infringement of online privacy has actually been EFFECTIVE in averting crimes or terrorism - it didn't seem to do much good in Boston! - but while surely such examples could be found, the entire idea of monitoring internet behaviour to PREVENT crime raises some serious red flags for director Cullen Hoback, who cuts at a key point to scenes of the Minority Report "pre-crime" unit at work, to underscore the scary implications of the idea of preventative surveillance...

The film is quite adept at stitching pop-culture references into its tapestry, actually - including the South Park "Human Cent-i-Pad" episode (which should be viewed as soon as you finish reading this, if you haven't seen it already). Such nods give the film considerable entertainment value, as Adrian Mack notes here, while not detracting from its seriousness. There's also a Michael-Moore style ambush of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, and, I gather, added material in the cut to screen Saturday to take in the highly relevant Eric Snowden NSA whistleblowing affair. (Trivially, Jello Biafra weighs in on some of these matters here, in a recent webisode of What Would Jello Do?). About the only way they could have made the film better, by me, would have been to include The Rebel Spell's "It Can't Be Just Me" as the credits rolled - but that's obviously a bit much to hope for...

All the same, the truth is, I'm personally not really one to care that much about matters of privacy or the surveillance state; no doubt there has been some attention paid to my behaviour online, given some of the things I write about and some of the people I'm in touch with, but for the most part, I like the idea of living somewhat transparently anyhow - I'm a bit of "TMI" kind of guy; the only compromising information that CSIS or such is going to get about me involves my masturbatory habits. If they've got nothing better to concern themselves with, the nation is doomed anyhow - which I believe it is, by the by; as dwindling resources, growing unemployment, social disenfranchisement and increasingly authoritarian government policy lead to greater and greater social unrest, I think the day will come that much of the apparatus being built below-the-radar to monitor everything we buy, say, or jack off to will prove comically irrelevant, useless, superfluous. You won't have to monitor internet activity to find out who is threatening the status quo; at some point soon, you'll just have to look out the window.

The film is still essential viewing, if any of these matters move you...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Melechesh returns to Vancouver: welcome!

I doubt I will have the jam to make it to the show, but Melechesh plays the Rickshaw tomorrow night, and they deserve at least some sort of welcome to the city. Those unfamiliar with the band should note that they started in Jerusalem, are now based in Amsterdam, and make a unique variety of black metal that draws on non-Christian Middle Eastern sources (which I know next to nothing about; they describe themselves as making Assyrian metal, apparently, and make references in their lyrics to djinni and sphinxes and such). For reasons unclear to me, I haven't been able to get my hooks into their last album, 2010's The Epigenesis, but I absolutely loved their previous release, Emissaries. Those unfamiliar with the band are highly advised to click that link and give them a taste...


My music-loving self has been depressed that (it seems) I'm going to miss BOTH Black Sabbath and Kris Kristofferson, the two concerts this summer that I really, really would like to see. Tickets too expensive, good seats gone, no way to justify it when I'm a broke-ass, barely-employed bum.

So I'm totally stoked that an even MORE exciting concert has been scheduled: Art Bergmann plays the WISE on July 1st!  Plus the opening act is the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, which I think of as the "maximum Ford Pier unit thus far attained." (My glowing review of their CD here). Those unfamiliar with Art Bergmann's caustic genius (or who only know the Young Canadians material) should check out Design Flaw, if you can find it - acoustic renderings of some of Art's best songs, done with Chris Spedding. Not so easy to track down these days, in fact, but the version of "Crawl With Me" on that album is on Youtube... check it out!

Double Indemnity this weekend!

A striking number of the truly great films noir are deeply, deeply Oedipal. Take The Postman Always Rings Twice, for one example: the errant "son" (a hitchhiker just passing through) schemes to replace the father (a benevolent Greek businessman) and get the mother (a steaming sexpot whom the father can no longer satisfy) all to himself (a fate which, I should note from experience, is not all that it's cracked up to be). Out of the Past and Criss Cross work similar angles, but in each case the man-to-be-replaced is himself occupying an illegitimate position - he's a gangster, a tough guy, deserving his fate, so the protagonist's plot is made a bit more sympathetic. For maximum noir poignancy, James M. Cain (or Jim Thompson) style, the protagonist should be transgressing the law of the father from the gitgo, entirely illegitimately, his desire understandable but sinful from the roots up. We know he's doomed, but we can't help wanting him to get away with it, because our own transgressive desires have been so powerfully invoked...

Such is the case with Double Indemnity, playing this weekend at the Cinematheque, which is surely up there in ANY critic's top five list of films noir in cinema history; it also features one of the great femme fatales, played by Barbara Stanwyck, and one of the most touching "father-son" relationships in the subgenre (between Fred MacMurray, as an insurance salesman drawn into a murder plot, and Edward G. Robinson, a senior investigator at the same firm, who is the real father figure in the film, not the man that Stanwyck and MacMurray plot to murder). The film has such a dark vision of human psychology that Charles Brackett reputedly walked away from it, being replaced by Raymond Chandler; yet you're wholly caught up in the story, even knowing from the outset that things will end badly. (This is no spoiler, since the film is narrated by a man who has been shot, taking the form of a confession; the shadow of doom hangs heavy over the entire film). If you haven't seen Double Indemnity, it's a great film, deserving to be seen in a theatre (though my experience of seeing it at the Cinematheque a few years ago is that it came across as far funnier to the audience than it was intended to be - so it also merits a private viewing, where its darkness can actually still unsettle...). The Cinematheque is screening it over four nights - it's the most-played film in their Wilder and Brackett retrospective - so you have lots of chances to see it; I'll be checking it out again myself...

What you missed: Jello Biafra's Birthday Bash

The Jello Biafra birthday bash on Monday got off to a slightly rocky start - neither Nardwuar's videos nor Ani's film were very well-projected, which is unfortunate, considering that the Rickshaw is obviously a former movie theatre. Maybe a real, screen-shaped screen and a better projector would be a good investment for events like these? Ani's film was a bit glitchy, too - so it might be worth your time to check it out on Youtube, even if you were in attendance; Jello does some of his best acting work as Francis, the sculptor (because we all know he can do broad and intense, but he's quite subtle here, seems broken and sad and defeated, which are not attributes of his character I've ever noticed...).

The scariest thing Jello brought up during his spoken word was the "NAFTA on crack" Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal, which almost no one (including me) had heard about before he spoke on it (he surveyed the audience, but spared us blame for our ignorance, since apparently this malicious bit of corporation-privileging international politicking is a well-kept secret at present). Jello was sharp as ever, despite having to don what he called "old man glasses" to read his notes; I can't recapitulate the whole thing (an hour long talk at least) from memory, but it was nice that he ended on an updated version of an old crowd pleaser, a routine I remember from his earliest spoken word albums, about ideas for band names. Cuntstubble and Brown Sabbath were my favourites; I remembered the Earthfahrt one from the original recording, and his joke about a metal band named Cheney harkened back to the his past proposal for a metal band named Mondale, which lets you know how long this routine has been around. (Jello updated the idea of an album called Lest We Forget by Six Million Jews by putting the face of Bush II on the album cover, instead of Reagan; he seemed appropriately outraged that Obama has done nothing to shut down Gitmo or prosecute the Bushies for their crimes, something more Americans should be vocally upset about).

Strangely, considering that spoken word was mentioned everywhere that I read (or wrote) about the event, some people were actually upset, on arriving, to find Jello talking, when they wanted to be hearing music; I gather there were even a couple of walkouts, and a few people seated near me were none too quiet while Jello was up there - something I don't really understand; why attend a Jello Biafra birthday bash if you aren't prepared to listen to him?

Jello and Thee Goblins, by Erika Lax

The evening picked up considerably with Thee Goblins, beginning in Acetone-and-drums mode before Jello and various Evaporators got onstage. Nardwuar recruited various members of the audience to contribute expressive dance and background grunts. He's every bit as entertaining in Goblins mode as he is as the Evaporators frontman, though his Goblins persona is considerably different from his Evaporators one; he comes off like some warped fairytale grandmother, is really quite odd to behold. The more I see of Nardwuar the more I'm convinced he's some sort of genius; I know people who still think of him as irritating and aggressive, as an interviewer ("the doot-doo-doo-loot-doo is all about power, he forces you to do it with him..."), but they really, really should see him play music to begin to understand what he's about... He's truly one of the MVP's on Team Vancouver's music scene...

The night's real fun began with a variant on "Mario Cuomo Works At Domo," with Jello getting onstage in a Domo uniform provided by Nardwuar (which reminded me of an orange Gitmo jumpsuit, appropriately enough). The songs that followed were the high point of the night; while Fuel Injected .45 disappeared into the role of Jello's backing band every bit as skillfully as the Melvins did a few years ago (though they didn't don masks to hide their faces), Thee Goblins kept much of their identity - since they just have too much identity to ever really efface themselves - and thus recontextualized Jello in such a way to really foreground his playful, music-fan side. Hearing "Let's Lynch The Landlord," "California Uber Alles," "Too Drunk To Fuck," and "Viva Las Vegas" played with Nardwuar on Acetone organ was new and unexpectedly delightful, as was the final song: David Clayton Thomas' "Brainwashed," with Nardwuar joining Jello on vocals - an amazing piece of Can-rock that I didn't know before last night; thanks to Jello and Nardwuar for educating me. It was every bit as special as hearing Jello do Wesley Willis' "Rock'n'Roll McDonalds" at the Croatian Cultural Centre a few years ago...

Sadly, given how special that set was, the Rickshaw was nowhere near capacity. I sure am glad I was there...

If Thee Goblins plus Jello was a giddy delight, Fuel Injected .45 were formidable and forceful and a far more serious heavy-rock commitment, with a very sexy Ani Kyd strutting about in business attire (maybe reflecting an apparent burst of ambition on her part; she's changed her image a lot, and has a bunch of projects in the chute, seems to be preparing for a big push out there, which I hope to document more of in the future). I was wearing out by then - I'd slept poorly the night before - but stuck it out for their entire set, mostly drawn from Past Demo(n)s; the coolest song by me was entitled, unless I got it wrong, "Is This a Joke?" - a great idea for a tune and a reaction to life that I am all too familiar with. Jello, when he got onstage, seemed kind of at a loss as to how to react to Ani sitting him down centre-stage and performing "The Sex Song" for him, with her making a joking reference to a lapdance and initiating a fair bit of contact between them; when he started performing back, it was with exaggerated, theatrical discomfort, rather than lechery, which might say something about how he actually felt! Ani definitely had the upper hand for that one...

Still, once Jello and Ani got on the mike together, we got a very cool punk rock climax to the night,  with a rare version of the Dead Kennedys' "I Spy," a song I'd all but forgotten, as well as "Police Truck" and, of course, "Holiday in Cambodia." By that point, it was after midnight, four hours since I'd entered the theatre, so I didn't have a whole lot of energy left, and slunk away without giving Jello his birthday present - a Christian themed album with a great cover, very much in keeping with his aesthetic (the Reverend Bob Bateman's No Place To Hide, which he doesn't have). I'll mail that to him tomorrow, along with my Oscar Brand album with the "Guantanamo Bay" song on it, and an album I snagged by the NORAD band - the North American missile defense of yore... He probably has that, though... how could he not?

Happy birthday, Jello! Thanks for celebrating it in Vancouver... come again with the Guantanamo School of Medicine sometime soon, okay?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pigeon home invasion

Sweet Jesus. I've had pigeon issues before - see here and here for more - but never anything quite like this.

Despite preventative measures I've taken to make my balcony not so welcoming, like strategically placed strips of packing tape and fishing wire complicating their access, my involuntary pets of last year have been persistently trying to reclaim the space that they regard as their own. Every time I hear them land or start their cooing I pound on the window with an Indonesian wooden rattle that I own and scream and flail to startle them away, and I've swept up tentative sticks they placed in the hope of building a new nest, but they won't take the hint, and keep returning. Today marks the height of their boldness, though - they've taken things to a new level.

Understand: I don't *think* I left my sliding screen open when I left for the Jello Biafra event last night. Usually I lock the balcony door outright; that much I accept that I forgot to do, but I always make sure at least my screen door is closed, precisely so no birds can get in. If I did close the screen, that means that the pigeons found a way to force it open about five inches with their beaks - something I am willing to accept is within the urban bird skill set - because when I got home this morning from my overnighter, there was a pigeon sitting on each of my arm chairs, looking rather pleased with themselves.

After a moment of stunned silence, in which we regarded each other, I yelled, I flailed, and they gave a panicked flight into the half-shut screen, then flew in the opposite direction, into my kitchen. I opened the screen wider, went into the kitchen, and shooed them out, briefly having both pigeons flying directly over my head, making that high-pitched whooping sound they make. I covered my head, fearing they might shit on me. They made another flight to the screen, found it open, and took off.

I inspected my armchairs, and sure enough - they've shit on both of them. I had to scoop up five little deposits of bird poop just now. I only hope they haven't shit in my bed.

This, of course, means war. I kind of regret not  having swatted at them when I had them in close quarters, to be honest. Anything less than actual violence seems not to be working.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ani Kyd on Jello Biafra's record collecting habit

Jello and the Acetone! Photo courtesy

The following is a quote from Ani Kyd which, to my knowledge, didn't get worked into The Skinny interview  pertaining to tonight's Jello Biafra Birthday Bash at the Rickshaw; here, we were talking about Jello's record collecting:
We’ve been to different cities before, and he can’t go anywhere without going to record stores or buying something. If there’s a record store, I’ll be like, "you should go in and take a look," and he’s like, "Oh, no, it’s not just taking a look. We’re going to be here for a couple of hours." And he is - he’s in there, he’s in the back room, he’s talking with the owners. It’s crazy. When he comes to town - he used to stay with me all the time and I would pawn him off on Nardwuar, because they’re super record freaks together, right? I would call Nardwuar and say, ‘You want to take Jello record shopping for the day?’ And of course Nardwuar loved it, and they’d spend ten hours in a record store… I’d say his record collection is like, four floors of records, in every room; he had these cabinets built from the floor to the ceiling,  just these big wooden type of cabinets, for records. And you walk into another room and it’s like - "oh, records, imagine that!" It’s mind blowing. And he has some obscure records, from all over the world. Sometimes he’ll do the thing where it’s like, "Look at this cover!" He’ll have no idea who it is, but he’ll be like, "this is ridiculous," and so he’ll love the cover so much that he’ll buy the record. I'll ask, "Do you even know who that is?" "No, but it looks fantastic!" And he’s run into so much stuff that he knows what half of the stuff out there is; someone will ask him about some obscure record and he’ll be like, "yes, I have a copy of that, and I saw one at the Value Village" - he’ll know every member of ever band; he’s like, an uber-fan. And one of the things he used to say to me is, "Well, I don’t actually play an instrument, so for me, knowing all this music and knowing all the history is my way of being a musician."

Jello, of course, is a former customer of the late Ty Scammell (or possibly Scammel), who had a booth in the back of the Vancouver Flea Market for years. Ty was the man who discovered The New Creation's Troubled in a Salvation Army LP bin - one of 100 extant copies of the original vinyl, which he salvaged from total obscurity; the last copy to surface on eBay of the original vinyl sold for $1700. Ty also was the man who introduced my youthful self to many, many great recordings - for instance, the Love Sculpture's momentous version of the Sabre Dance, with Dave Edmunds on guitar. I actually remember Ty telling me while I shopped his bins that he was quite excited that Jello Biafra was coming to town; Jello laughed when I had a chance to relate that anecdote the other week, since no doubt Ty's excitement had more to do with his desire to sell stacks of records than any DK's fandom - he was more an old hippie/ psych guy than a punk, after all...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Of Oscar Brand, Guantanamo Bay, and the state of being Blinded By Turds

Unbeknownst to me, I had my first brush with the music of Winnipeg-born folk singer, CBC-TV personality, NYC radio host, and ribald humourist Oscar Brand when I bought a Meat Puppets DVD, Alive in the Nineties, which includes footage of a weird little ditty labelled on the DVD case as "Wonderful Song."  The lyrics aren't that easy to discern in context, but the song definitely does appear to deal with rather feculent subject matter - "it's a wonderful song but it's all about turds," as the head Kirkwood sings. The proper title of the tune, I discover, is "Blinded By Turds," and it's written by Oscar Brand, appearing on his album Bawdy Western Songs Volume 6 (which, trivially, you may just be able to download in its entirety here). I love a good silly novelty song, especially a rude one, and this one is at the top of my charts at the moment - it's sort of Chaucer by way of McLean and McLean. Brand's many (many!) albums of bawdy songs - also including several rude sea shanties - are consistently amusing and easy to find on the cheap at thrift stores and garage sales and the like. Brand himself is still alive (and just like that Meat Puppets DVD suggests, in his nineties), so this goes out with my regards and respect for him, since I wasn't able to submit a comment via his website; I am most amused by his music. One of his tunes in particular, off Every Inch A Sailor - which I found yesterday for a mere 25 cents! - deserves a modern reworking, with new lyrics; it's called "Guantanamo Bay." You don't even need to change the last couple of lines - just brilliant!

The flushing of my late father's tartar sauce

Dear Dad;

So. You've been dead for, what is it, now... three years and seven months? It's been a long time. I no longer cry about it or beat myself up for the things I didn't do well enough towards the end with you, though I still regret that we never got closer than we did, and there are still things that I wish I'd done differently. I should have stopped lecturing you about your using alcohol as a way of coping with your cancer, for one. I'm pretty sure the drinking hastened the failure of your liver - how could it not have? - but I think you would have appreciated it more if I stopped judging and got drunk with you at least once. I wish I had.

My big regret, tho' - besides your not being around anymore - was always my telling you that Mom was talking about going to the casino during the week of your death. I was kind of "narking" on her as a way of drawing on your authority to keep her from going - because I was surprised that she was thinking about it myself, and didn't want her to leave me alone while you were in the hospice - but I don't think I explained well enough that (I think) she was a bit addled because of her recent stroke, that she didn't really understand what was going on, and that maybe an element of hopeful denial was involved. It's not that she was being "hard-hearted," as you took it - more that she was kidding herself that you were going to be around a lot longer than you were (as it turns out, you were dead the day after that conversation; for the record, she did not go on that trip). I scrambled to make up for my error as soon as I saw how you were taking it - but really, I shouldn't have said anything about it at all.

Some of what I've been doing since that time counts as penance - taking care of Mom, mostly, without doing a great job of taking care of myself. There's also an element of admitted indulgence - because I've gotten to sit around watching a lot of movies with Mom when I could have been working - but it's been hard for me to deal with the thought of being off somewhere else while she's left all alone and rather fragile in the apartment, with no one to keep her company besides the TV, and no one to help her through life, which is pretty challenging for her now since her stroke. She was always a little too dependent on you, even before the stroke; now, with nearly no one else to look after her, she's way too dependent on me. I imagine you saw that coming, and maybe felt a bit guilty to be leaving me alone to take care of her; though sometimes I wonder if you also strategically made sure I was left feeling pretty guilty about failing you, towards the end, so I would do a better job with her? It worked like heck, if that was what you had in mind...

But that's not what I'm really concerned about here. I thought you'd like to know that I finally seized the moment to flush your homemade tartar sauce (note: made by mixing relish and mayonnaise) down the toilet today. This was a big deal - and which, properly understood, should ameliorate any hurt I caused when I narked on her about her casino trip.

Because here's the thing: she's repeatedly refused to allow me to get rid of that tartar sauce, not because it's especially good or because it's hard to come by the stuff, but because you made it. We had to eat the last of your homemade pizza and the buns you baked when our old freezer failed a couple of years ago - it thawed completely, and I insisted that we couldn't re-freeze it, that it had to go - but she's had a sentimental attachment to that sauce, and it's been in the fridge for... cripes, when did you make it? It might have been in there a couple of years by the time of your death - it's not like we ever went through a lot of fish and chips, as a family, and you weren't cooking that much in the last months of your life. So if we say it was made in 2008 - the shit was five years old! It looked and smelled like tartar sauce, still, and I really don't know what the shelf-life of the ingredients was, but I stopped trusting it around, say, 2010. I've mostly kept fish and chips off the menu since then - easy enough to do, as the household cook. Around 2011, Mom insisted on having them, and insisted on using it as a condiment, and we had a big fight, her practically screaming at me NOT TO THROW IT AWAY. "But Mom, it's at least three years old!" She wouldn't do it. She ate it that night with her fish; I chose not to. She didn't get food poisoning, but... I put it back in the fridge with great reluctance, and have occasionally considered just sneaking it out, tossing it, and replacing it with a fresh concoction.

The other day, she was talking about wanting to have fish and chips for a change, and I seized the opportunity to gently bring it up again. "Look, Ma... I know you're attached to Dad's tartar sauce, but he's been gone for almost four years now, and he might have made it, what, in 2007? 2008? That's some pretty old tartar sauce, I really, really don't think it's safe to consume."

To my surprise, she agreed with me without the slightest struggle. I didn't bring it up again. I just - in preparation for fish and chips this weekend - picked up some nice storebought tartar sauce and took the jar to the toilet, to dispense with the stuff once and for all. No ceremony, no sentiment, no attachment, no time for regrets or sorrow: I just flushed it away, washed out the jar, and it's done.  (Well, I took a few pictures, because I thought it would make an amusing blogpiece, but that hardly counts as ceremony).

It comes as a relief to say that (as far as I know) we no longer have any food in our fridge or freezer that you prepared (though some of the canned goods in the cupboard were no doubt bought by you back in the day... I might have to start weeding some of those out soon, too, since I bet half that stuff is expired - there's probably something like eight cans of fruit cocktail that you bought back in 2005...).

That relief is strictly a matter of food safety, though. Believe me, we both miss you a lot. 

Your son,

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Juice for Jello!

Photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission! (Click for larger version!).

Two more stories in The Skinny, which will also appear in Beat Route online- interviews with Nardwuar and Ani Kyd about Jello Biafra's 55th Birthday Bash on Monday! Happy birthday, Jello! (The Straight article has been moved and is now here).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ani Kyd and Jello Biafra in the Georgia Straight

(photo courtesy of Ani Kyd)
 The first of the articles planned on Jello Biafra's birthday bash, Monday, June 17th at the Rickshaw, focusing on Ani Kyd's short film, I Love You... I am the Porn Queen, to screen that night. (The event will also feature a trip to Nardwuar's video vault, a Jello Biafra spoken word performance, and music with Thee Goblins and Ani's band Fuel Injected .45 - with the idea being that Jello will join both bands onstage for encores, likely of Dead Kennedys' favourites. You wouldn't know from the Straight interview, but Ani was actually self-deprecating about the film in conversation, emphasizing that "We had a lot of things that we wanted to do that we couldn’t, on zero budget… I was happy just getting it done, as my first film" - but I left all of that out; it's a pretty entertaining little film, after all (though it does feel more like a tasty appetizer for a longer feature than a full meal). See Ani, Jello, and makeup man/ producer Toby Lindala being interviewed by Nardwuar on the set of the film here.
Photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Will the fetus be aborted? A dream

In the dream, I'm part of a class studying something related to film. The professor is conservative, but excellent (he may have been based on Anthony Stewart Head - Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). Many people in the class are young and not so knowledgeable or passionate about film, but one young man knows a great deal, and seems a very impressive, intelligent, sincere person - if, perhaps, slightly aloof, slightly arrogant. This young student nonetheless wins my respect and the respect of the professor, by knowing his stuff; then suddenly it comes up in class that at one point that he and his wife made the choice for her to have an abortion, sometime in the past. The professor, who, apparently, regards abortion as murder, chides the man in class for this moral lapse, speaking as if everyone must share his point of view, that abortion is never necessary, always the greater of two evils; he does this very briefly and at least somewhat subtly - he doesn't rant, is at least somewhat circumspect in how he lets his views be known - but it makes a huge, uncomfortable impression on the me (I'm not sure if anyone else even notices). A few days later, the issue shimmers in the background during a discussion, and I speak up. I start a defense of the young man - even leaping to the center of the room, sitting on the floor between them (the desk/chairs in the classroom are arranged in a circle). I begin by saying that he seems a sincere and earnest fellow, if - I say this while looking at him - perhaps a bit cold (he tries to speak to this point but I shush him down, asking him to let me make my point). How dare the professor presume, I continue, that just because he believes abortion is wrong that he has the right to make that judgment for everyone, without even knowing what circumstances in the man's life led he and his wife to the decision to abort a fetus? (I realize as I say this, my voice raising, that I am probably sacrificing my own grade, and sense the unease of my fellow students - who say nothing - but I continue). They were, perhaps, acting out of a feeling of responsibility every bit as moral and sincere as any pro-life crusader's, to not have a child unless they knew the time and circumstances were right...

I am a few minutes into my impassioned defense of the pro-choice position when a car alarm outside my window goes off. My brain, as I wake, continues to try to formulate my argument, tries to cling to the dream - because it's interesting, and I want to continue it - but gradually I have to give it up, surrender and let the dream go and reconcile myself to being awake. It's just after 9am. At least I had a decent night's sleep (if somewhat strangely conflict-ridden - I have no real clue where any of this abortion or classroom stuff is coming from).

By the way, the title of this blogpost relates to Jello Biafra's 55th Birthday Bash, to be celebrated at the Rickshaw next Monday, June 17th. Jello and Mojo Nixon, on their album Prairie Home Invasion, recorded a song called "Will The Fetus Be Aborted," based on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken": check it out. More on the birthday bash later...!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Classics of Lowbrow Surrealism: Drawing Dicks on the Herald Sun

Nathan Holiday of Tunnel Canary digs up some neat stuff on Facebook - he's often posting strange and provocative art (and vegan agitprop); but I hadn't seen him post anything from Drawing Dicks on the Herald Sun before today. There's something really satisfying about these images, if nonetheless kind of juvenile. I like.


I have no idea if the Golers' new album, In'n'Outlaws, will be available at their tour kickoff tomorrow - or, well, technically tonight, since it's past midnight - at Funkys, but for people who like intense punk/metal with a really sick idea of class warfare, they're pretty damned satisfying...

Friday, June 07, 2013

A defense of Uwe Boll and M. Night Shyamalan

A recent Steve Newton blogpiece on Uwe Boll has me thinking about how certain filmmakers, once they alienate critics, can have a hell of a time repairing their reputation.
Boll is a particularly interesting case - he's been behind some colossal failures, like In the Name of the King, the scope of which understandably overshadows his successes - which tend to succeed on a much smaller scale than his failures fail on. Still, he's made at least three solid films in recent years: Rampage, Darfur, and his new one, Bailout: The Age of Greed - also possibly known as Assault on Wall Street - which at the very least is an earnest and interesting attempt to make an angry, politically minded exploitation film. I don't think it entirely succeeds - it's remarkably unsubtle, and the ending borrows a little too much from genre films like The Punisher - but nor does it fail by a long shot, and I respect that it tries; so many Hollywood films either have no political conscience whatsoever, or else toe the most reactionary line imaginable, that it does the heart good to see Boll "sticking up for the little guy," and taking many, many shots (figurative and literal) at the bankers and brokers and Yuppie exploiters who constantly fuck his central little guy over. Darfur is similarly politically earnest and impassioned (if, again, unsubtle); while Rampage is one of the most gleefully misanthropic films I've seen, starring the highly talented Canadian actor Brendan Fletcher as a man in homemade body armor who goes on a shooting spree in a small town. I admit that it adds to the fun for me that the film was shot in Maple Ridge, the small town where I grew up, nurtured my own misanthropic fantasies, and where I now find myself stuck, but I think anyone with a taste for darker cinema would have a lot of fun with it. Katherine Isabelle, currently enjoying some buzz for American Mary, is in it, too!
Doubtlessly critics (like Steve Newton) who still want to abuse Boll for Alone In The Dark or such have not seen these films. You can't really blame them: why would anyone who has had to watch three or four grand-scale cinematic car-wrecks by Boll knowingly seek out an unheralded, direct-to-video, no-buzz low budget film by him? Whose word could Mr. Newton possibly take (other than mine, of course) that the man responsible for Alone In The Dark is finally hitting his stride as a filmmaker - particularly when he continues to crank out sequels to some of his worst films? (In The Name of the King 3 is slated for release this year).
Even more interesting than Boll is the case of M. Night Shyamalan. I'm no great fan of Shyamalan's films, but find it sad that, while making no truly awful films (even the laughable Signs had effective moments, and was very entertaining and original, even when ridiculous), he's turned into a figure of universal abuse. Plus two of his most abused movies, Lady In The Water (24% on Rottentomatoes) and The Last Airbender (a staggering 6%) are, by me, brilliantly entertaining, visually rich, and highly inventive and original films. It's no great mystery that Lady In The Water failed to impress critics, of course: Shyamalan, ass still sore after the drubbing he received for his previous film The Village - admittedly one of his weaker efforts - offers a return salvo in the movie, in the character of an arrogant, wrongheaded film critic (delightfully played by a stuffy Bob Balaban, pictured below) whose presumptions about storytelling nearly lead to disaster, and who suffers, as a result, A Very Nasty Fate, which Shyamalan clearly enjoys immeasurably. It takes a certain type of film critic to not take the bait, there - and a certain type of independent-mindedness to be willing to even approach the film, when almost everyone professionally writing about it assures you it's lousy. In fact, it's so entertaining - Paul Giamatti is great in it, too - that everyone I know who has actually seen it has expressed nothing but bewilderment that it should be so savagely treated by reviewers. It's no great work of cinema, but it certainly deserves more respect than it got.
Sadly, I'm not immune to the effects of such critical dogpiles, myself. Even after discovering that, hey, Lady In The Water is pretty entertaining, I stayed away from The Last Airbender for some three years, largely because of its uniformly lousy reviews. I only just watched it this very night. I can't speak to its fealty to the source material, which I gather has been a source of controversy for some, but taken on its own, the film is a delightful fantasy, very inventive, with many fresh and exciting images (like people who can manipulate fire, air, earth and water using their powers to wage elemental war on one another, while doing what looks like Tai Chi... That's the stuff of some great effects sequences - of which the film boasts several). It feels more like a Miyazaki than a Shyamalan, in fact - something along the lines of Princess Mononoke, except it's far more concise and elegant than that film, which I always felt sprawled a bit. I'm not sure what to make of certain aspects of it - Shyamalan uses human race in an odd way, ascribing his different elemental peoples a distinct ethnicity (the fire tribe is South Asian, the water tribe Caucasian, the earth tribe Japanese, and the air tribe maybe Tibetan); what any of that is supposed to mean is a mystery. Nor am I sure if the film is attempting to make any real-world statements about warfare (the aggressive fire tribe standing in for the Bush administration, say; Shyamalan was pretty prudent to not make them the white folks). Receiving it merely as an entertainment, however, I was very much entertained, and could watch it again easily...
If After Earth is still playing next week, I just might make time to check it out... It's currently running around 11% on RT, but this seems pretty meaningless as a measure of the value of the film, considering...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

New interview with Chris Walter in the Straight

 I don't know why I enjoy interviewing Chris Walter so much. I've probably spent more time interviewing the guy than I have reading his books! To date, I've done things for Discorder, Razorcake, Big Takeover, the Straight, and Ox Fanzine in Germany, though I'm not sure they ever ran it. His new novel, Chase The Dragon, is a totally enjoyable read - one of his best yet, at least of the ones I've tried (so far, beside Chase The Dragon, I've read East Van, Wrong, Welfare Wednesdays, Punch the Boss, and his SNFU bio, as well as bits of his other writing - short stories, chunks of his Dayglos and Personality Crisis books, books I read a few chapters of then got distracted...). I'm pretty happy with this new interview (the online version may be longer than the print, so be sure to check it out that way, if you haven't).

Maple Ridge Rental Roundup

Yes, folks, once again, the staff here at Alienated in Vancouver has resorted to that old-fashioned, inefficient, nostalgia-in-your-pocket method of acquiring film experiences: I rented four DVDs today, at the downtown Maple Ridge Little Shop of Movies. These were A Good Day to Die Hard; Promised Land; The Impossible; and Alex Cross.

A Good Day to Die Hard wastes a phenomenal amount of money and spectacle on a strikingly boring Die-Hard-by-numbers walk through. There are, of course, astonishing stunts, many explosions, car crashes like you haven't seen car crashes, and ample opportunity for Bruce Willis to mug and smirk and be a smartass, and it's all slickly made, but there's almost no believable human drama, little wit, and the plot is so threadbare that they don't even bother letting you know what it really is until the last half hour; plus you have to sit through what feels like half an hour, at the start of the film, of what surely must rank as one of the most expensive car-crash/ chase sequences in cinema history without knowing who exactly is chasing who or why - because who cares about story when we can flip and roll trucks? I am stunned to find - given my obviously low expectations - that the film managed to slip beneath them; several times I asked Mom if she wanted me to just turn it off, but we slogged it out, which is not how watching an action movie should feel... they really need to stop milking this bloody franchise...
Though ultimately I enjoyed and respected it, Promised Land was a film I had reservations about when I first became aware of it during its theatrical run. While I care about the environmental issue at stake (fracking) and admire the work of at least one of the cast members (a strangely puffy Hal Holbrook), I have, as would any sane cinemagoer, mixed feelings about the work of its director, Gus Van Sant. I only ever really enjoyed two of his movies - his first, made in 1986 and 1989, which is a long time ago... A few of his films since (including Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, and Paranoid Park) have been or become cringe-fests; others (My Own Private Idaho, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, To Die For, Psycho) have no lasting appeal or seem best forgotten; and while he does occasionally attempt interesting and ambitious things (Last Days, Gerry, Elephant) none are actually films that one wants to see more than once... Plus there was the question of the material, since I presumed that Promised Land would offer a cliched, predictable story: a fundamentally decent man, caught up, with the best intentions, in a despicable business, comes to a small town where the wholesome values of the people there transform him so that, at the climax of the film, he changes teams. Why bother seeing it, when I knew exactly what it was going to do at the outset? To Promised Land's great credit, though, it tells its story so well, with solid performances from Matt Damon and Frances McDormand and John Krasinski, and enough believable psychological detail, that it wasn't until the climax of the film - the big team-change moment - that I realized, in fact, that the film *had* followed the predicted template almost to the letter. So in the end, it seems a well-told story about an important, socially relevant issue, which manages to do its thing without resorting too overtly to cliche; this puts Promised Land on a scale with the other admittedly pretty good Gus Van Sant movie I have not previously mentioned, Milk. Gasland is still the better film to watch if you want to learn about fracking, but Promised Land is certainly worth looking at...

I have not gotten to the other two films rented as of yet; they'll have to wait til Ma gets back from the casino tomorrow. I'll keep you posted if they're anything special...