Sunday, April 30, 2017

Welcome back, Kid Congo!

Kid Congo Powers in 2015, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

On Wednesday, storied Gun Club/ Cramps guitarist Kid Congo Powers returns to Vancouver, this time for a show at the Commodore Ballroom, with his band the Pink Monkey Birds; they'll be opening for punk rock "supergroup"/ cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - a band I have not followed, but who sound like they might be amusing indeed (their last album featured covers of "I Will Survive" and "My Heart Will Go On," apparently. I actually hadn't realized until just today that Kid Congo wasn't headlining!). I spoke to Kid Congo Powers at great length when he played the Rickshaw last year. Portions of that are viewable on the Westender website; others are on my blog. Much of it only saw print in Germany in Ox Fanzine and in two recent issues of Big Takeover magazine. There was some great stuff, which I will leave enthusiasts to find for themselves (Big Takeover should be easy enough to locate, and has vintage bev davies photos that haven't seen the light online, of Kid Congo playing at the Commodore with the Cramps, almost forty years ago. I wonder if he's been there since?).

The 80's return! Of Robyn Hitchcock, the Psychedelic Furs, and some very fun spring listening

Vintage shot of the Psychedelic Furs in Vancouver, Oct. 13, 1980 at the Commodore Ballroom, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

First up, a riddle: how is Robyn Hitchcock like Motörhead?

He isn't, really - BUT:

Maybe the most unfortunate thing about being a prolific, long-running artist is that there is a good chance that the people who loved you when they were in their teens and early 20's will stop following you by the time they hit thirty, and then continue for 20 years to evaluate you and appreciate you based SOLELY on the albums you put out when they were in their teens and early 20's, which is where they formed the deepest connection to your work. It's natural and inevitable - because maybe you only need two or three albums by a given artist in your collection; following someone through their entire catalogue is expensive and time consuming, and later albums by the same band sometimes lack the freshness and vitality of their early work. But it CAN be really unfortunate and unfair, when the artist in question continues to put out incredible albums, some very fresh and surprising, that only a slim portion of their demographic notices.

Of course, Motörhead is the archetype here: their reputation rests, even with proclaimed fans, on the albums up to Iron Fist and the departure of Fast Eddie. Which takes us up to 1982, when they still had seventeen studio albums to record. People who have delved have different takes on which are the best of those seventeen - I vote for Another Perfect Day, Bastards, Inferno, Kiss of Death and Motörizer. They're all incredible albums, and I think I would rank them above any of the "classic trio" recordings, which to me, despite a few favourites ("Stone Dead Forever," "We Are the Road Crew," "America") sound like a rough draft of the band they became. Stunning that people can go around proclaiming their love of the band without having ever even having heard their later records, though. It speaks of how iconic those first few albums are, but also of how conservative and limited people's musical explorations can be (I include myself in this, by the way - up until I had an interview scheduled with Lemmy, I hadn't gotten much past Iron Fist myself).

And then there's Robyn Hitchcock. My "peak" years of listening to him involved, first and foremost, Invisible Hitchcock - my first discovery of his catalogue, bought one day out of sheer curiosity, based on the cover art alone, at Odyssey Imports. It's still in a way my favourite of his releases, even though it's "only" a compilation of outtakes from his actual studio albums of the day. Most of the material on it, maybe all, came out as part of that Yep Roc box set, as a series of five LPs called While Thatcher Mauled Britain, but it's spread out among other tracks (many of which are brilliant, but lack that glow of familiarity). Every song on Invisible Hitchcock is a winner (well, a few are tossed-off experiments, but very fun and funny) - but especially "All I Wanna Do Is Fall in Love," which I've heard Hitchcock introduce (on a live fan recording I happened across) by explaining that he left it off his first solo album because it sounded too much like a hit. That's exactly what I always thought. It's one of those tunes the utter catchiness of which totally proves that there is nothing of a meritocracy in radio programming, because - even as an outtake - it should easily have risen to the surface of pop rock radio if the waters there weren't so sludgy with pollution.

"Vegetable Friend" is pretty delightful, too.

Anyhow, having started there, my "baby duck" years with Robyn Hitchcock included I Often Dream of Trains, Fegmania!, Element of Light, Globe of Frogs, Queen Elvis, and Eye - which takes us up to 1990. It was on the Eye tour that I saw him live, the only time I have, at the Town Pump with NO FUN opening (my first time seeing them live, too). I am not sure why I set him aside after that; I enjoyed the show, and loved at least bits of all those albums - Globe of Frogs especially - but I also saw him, around that time, say something on Much Music to VJ Christopher Ward that kind of hurt my feelings, since I enjoyed Ward most of the VJ's on that channel. As I recall it, he said that Ward smiled like someone you would offer a bribe to, and Ward visibly winced, stung; it seemed a cruel and gratuitous comment. Who knows what the interaction between the two had been like off the air, but I felt some sort of nationalistic defensiveness ("comes here and insults our TV personalities, bah!"). Plus around that time, I was getting into TAD and Soundgarden and grunge, craving music that was heavy and slightly nihilistic. At some point, I sold off my Hitchcocks and forgot about him - until he came through Vancouver a year or so ago, playing the Biltmore. I re-purchased Globe of Frogs and re-discovered how great it was: equal parts textural folk, almost approaching the fragility and beauty of Nick Drake, mixed with Syd Barrett and at least an awareness, on songs like "Sleeping With Your Devil Mask," of punk, albet a snarky surrealist's version of the same.

I didn't make it to that show. It was doomed on a couple of fronts: first, it was on the same night as a Reverend Horton Heat show at the Rickshaw, which I also wanted to see. As I hemmed and hawed, having to choose between them was taken out of my hands by my weird spell, last March, of infection and arthritis and swollen arms and feet. I saw neither show, but having productively re-explored Globe of Frogs led me on to harder things - like the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight, which I'd never owned (I'd had Invisible Hits once upon a time, briefly). With a little help from file-sharing, I discovered that hey, a lot of the albums I used to like, I still liked!

But I'm as frail and baby-duckish as anyone, because it's over a year later, and though I've probably listened more to Robyn Hitchcock than any other single songwriter out there in that time, I've only just started exploring albums from the period I had completely ignored. Or at least two of them: 2004's Spooked, which is a very spare, pretty, haunting album, maybe his most Nick Drake-ish, for all you "Vegetable Friend" fans; and now his new self-titled one.

That new album is pretty good! It's a bit surprising, though. While Spooked is very much what you might expect Robyn Hitchcock to have sounded like in 2004 - a natural extension of what he was doing tweny years prior, that might lend itself to intimate acoustic shows, which maybe is what his audience had been reduced to come 2004 - there isn't any way to have guessed he'd sound like he does on the eponymous new one. It's like he's re-inventing himself as a rock band, with elements of psych and garage and a rather bold, assertive personality, like it could suddenly break through some wall he'd been previously content to shelter himself behind, ALMOST like a calculated move to capture a new, young audience, who don't give the slightest damn about "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" but are hungrily looking backwards for time-tested "authenticity." It's kind of surprising a move for him to be making (to me, anyhow, who has ignored all his other recent output), though it's respectable enough, no sell out, even admirably smart. And one of the rock songs (the opener, "I Want to Tell You About What I Want") is instantly catchy and infectious, almost anthemic. (It would be an excellent lead up to "All I Wanna Do is Fall in Love," too, which has been on some of his recent setlists). The quirkiest "novelty" tune on the album, "I Pray When I'm Drinking," will start a lively discussion around your living room as to whether it owes more to Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, or Merle Haggard. Nothing else has quite hooked me yet, two listens in - it's not the sort of album that is a fast favourite, will take some time to digest and enter - but it's a very ambitious, confident album, kinda akin in relationship to his back catalogue to REM's Monster, which at the time seemed like a pretty big, bold rock album for so self-conscious, even self-effacing, a band to be making. I'm keen to hear him return to Vancouver, for an upcoming Commodore show, July 19th, where he'll be opening for the Psychedelic Furs. The material will be perfect for that venue - assuming he's bringing a full band with him.

And speaking of the Psychedelic Furs, they're another band I'm also listening to lately. My departed friend Thomas Ziorjen used to argue for their debut album, and I agree - with songs like "Fall" and "Sister Europe" - that it is a great record, an adventurous, spiky New Wave album that has at least some debt to vintage Roxy Music. Even people who don't have much of a taste for their (later, more radio friendly) hits - "Love My Way," "Heaven," "Pretty in Pink" and so forth - will be able to get into the first album.

Here's the thing, though: FINALLY a band is coming that perfectly fits my nostalgia for the 1980's. Because I feel it, too, now: even though I ignored most of the popular music of the time, heard 20 years on, there's a warm fond glow around it, and it's very easy to be generous to how creative and clever some of it is. Even stuff that actively annoyed me when it was a hit in the 1980's - Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue," say - seems kind of brilliant to me, now that I'm older, to the extent that I'm almost embarrassed by my coming around, being swayed by the tides of aging to embrace things I had once rejected wholesale. It's not even a matter of nostalgia for music that you loved in your youth, regardless of how it might fit with the rest of a band's output. THAT makes a kind of sense; I mean, the Kinks' Give The People What They Want will always rank as my personal favourite Kinks album, no matter how small it seems objectively beside The Village Green Preservation Society or Muswell Hillbillies, because it was the Kinks album that introduced me to the band (AND the album I got to see toured). You can't get away from that. But nostalgia for stuff that you found annoying and substandard the first time around...? How does that work, exactly?

However - while that sort of "change-of-heart" nostalgia does exist for me, where songs that once irritated me now kind of charm me, the truth is, I kind of ALWAYS enjoyed the "hits" of the Psychedelic Furs. I recognized quality in stuff like "Love My Way," I was just embarrassed by it, because it was girlish (maybe gayish!) and commercially safe, and nothing at all like HARDCORE PUNK, which was my staple food back then. I liked it - I just didn't have the guts to embrace it. It does help the cause that the Psychedelic Furs were kind of forgotten by 80's-nostalgia radio, so that, unlike Soft Cell or Simple Minds or such, the songs that I was embarrassed to find myself enjoying back then haven't been drilled into my head every time I'm in proximity to an FM broadcast. They retain, along with the sheen of backwards-looking fondness, a bit of freshness - which makes them fair game for nostalgia. The only thing that is changed is that I no longer give much of a damn, as an adult, that what I like be cool or tough or edgy or whatever. I have much more space for beautifully crafted pop now...

...which is all over this Best of the Psychedelic Furs CD I picked up, which has a range of material from throughout their career, which sounds all remarkably of a piece now (where it would have sounded, I dunno, "pre-and-post sellout" to me back in the mid-1980's). The differences between "Love My Way" and "Fall" are slim enough now to me that both sound great, in slightly different ways. People with a similar guilty fondness for 1980's pop, looking for a show to go to, could probably fare worse than seeing Robyn Hitchcock OPEN for the Psychedelic Furs at the Commodore this summer. It's actually a perfect lineup - especially given Hitchcock's new material, which will, I suspect, fill the Commodore's space in ways people simply won't be expecting, this should be one hell of a concert, whether you are old enough to feel 80's nostalgia or not...

By the by, I believe at the very least the drummer of the Psychedelic Furs plays on "All I Want to Do is Fall in Love" - Robyn Hitchcock is friendly with the P-Furs, I gather, and has been for some time. Should only add to the concert...

The Psychedelic Furs live at the Commdore, Oct. 13 1980, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

I was going to continue this by expressing my delight with this funky, rocking Muddy Waters album I found for $2 at a Dollarama - Electric Mud; and to say a bit about Richard Thompson, coming in May to Salt Spring Island, whose last album with Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights, has really grabbed me of late - but I have things to do. But that's what I'm listening to this spring: Robyn Hitchcock, the Psychedelic Furs, Richard Thompson, and Electric Mud. I'm digressing occasionally too into bands some of these people have been in, like the Soft Boys or Fairport Convention. When I need a change, I put on a John Renbourn (or Pentangle) album. It's all pretty lively, exciting, positive music to fill a spring with, maybe even a summer. Pretty delighted that I'm going to be able to reinforce some of these pleasures with live shows...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My mouth and the real world

So I've been told repeatedly by my oncologist that it would take six weeks for my mouth to recover completely. We're midway through week five. I've got insecurities galore. I still get what I am told is referred pain in my throat and ear, which was a symptom of the cancer, and sometimes I think: if the cancer is all gone - as my oncologist, who apparently has quite a bit of faith in his own judgment, says is likely the case - then why do I still have this symptom? (He explained that it's because all the nerves are connected, and end up going through the same bundle or channel or whatever, so that any damage to the nerve will show up in unexpected areas nearby. Maybe that is the case - my nerves in my tongue were certainly affected by the operation - but surely it also may be the case that I still have pain because I still have cancer! I mean, how would they really KNOW? ...all they've tested since December is chunks they've removed from me, I've had no MRIs, no CT scans, nothing to see if there are other lumps or lesions or things previously undetected; the only thing besides my negative December CT scan that I've got to go on is the eyeballs of my oncologist, who looked in my mouth and throat and said he didn't need to do anything more, because he could see the cancer plain as day - so why did he need a photo of it?). I've also got pain in my jaw, which I have never been able to explain to myself: did they have my mouth yanked way open for the operation, or is that referred pain too?

The real challenge is that I don't know how to think about any of this stuff. Even pain is complex, an unreliable index of what's happening, because I was kept on pain meds more or less from the first moment of the operation, having been giving fetanyl and morphine in hospital, and then being sent home with dilaudid (sorry, you dopefiends, it is all gone). Because of this constant, proactive, don't-let-pain-get-a-foothold approach to pain management - a fine idea, mind you, but it has its downside - I have no idea what my "baseline" for pain should be - what my level of pain is when NOT medicated. And now that I've been downgraded to Tylenol 3's, I don't know which of my worsening discomforts - in my throat, say, which started hurting more on Sunday, with worsening discomfort when I swallow - might be due to my not HAVING as much medication in my system. Maybe the pain I'm feeling is just because I have less powerful meds in me? Maybe it's referred pain, which tends to come and go - or maybe it's because there's STILL SOMETHING THERE. How am I supposed to be able to tell? Even at my calmest, it's all subject to interpretation and guesswork. All I know is - I don't feel so hot.

Better, but not great.

And then there's the BC medical system. While having a two tier system like the Liberals would love to introduce would no doubt be worse - the rich could get treated pronto and the poor would get even LONGER wait times - there are still huge waits built in. My oncologist told me that he'd see me again in July, and that I'd have an MRI done before then, in my throat, to confirm that I'm all clear; that seemed fine - but I figured the MRI would happen sooner, rather than later. Turns out - I found from calls to the hospital on Monday - that the MRI isn't scheduled for two months, at the end of June. What if - as I can easily believe - there has been something growing in my throat since last September, when I first got symptoms? (This all began, recall, as a lump in my lymph node, which I saw doctors about in October, though no cancer was diagnosed until early March, I think it was). What if the pain in the hinge of my jaw is because the cancer spread there from my adjacent tongue? Shouldn't I agitate to get to the MRI sooner, rather than later? But EVERYONE ELSE IN QUEUE BEFORE ME has medical issues too, which may be more SERIOUS than mine. Should I just wait patiently and stoically,, while cancer possibly spreads in my throat and jaw, for my turn, or be a squeaky wheel, and ask if my oncologist can move the appointment ahead? My throat pain was sufficient on Monday that I actually made calls about this, and booked time to see him tomorrow, but now I'm worried that I'm going to annoy him, and spread him thinner than he already is spread thin, over what might just be referred pain. I could be hogging the resources that people sicker than I could use. He has told me that all test results show I am cancer free (so far). Can I afford to trust the system? Should I just suck it up and be patient?

My father was very patient.

Anyhow, I'm back to music and film blogging, as you see. I'm gearing up to start (optimistically) looking for work. I'm actually feeling a bit better than I did yesterday, and yesterday I felt a bit better than I did on Monday. Maybe I should cancel tomorrow's appointment, and spare myself the wrath of a doctor who thinks I'm just being a hypersensitive wimp? (And, I mean, I wouldn't want him to think I was challenging his judgment of things; he's spent all of five minutes examining me, but maybe he's such a whiz that that's enough?),

Dunno. I feel okay - tongue's a bit sore, a bit of discomfort when I swallow, and my speech is still affected, but it's really not bad, especially considering I haven't had any pain meds today at all. And I'm not going to, for awhile yet: I'm going to pop an allergy med, because my eyes are getting itchy - but at least THAT symptom I know has everything to do with the cat.

That's where I am today, re: cancer. Now I'm going to go listen to a Richard Thompson record.

Missed one! An Evening of Motorhead

Almost neglected to mention that also this weekend, there's a Motörhead tribute at Pat's Pub on Friday.  Car 87, Motorama, the Fucking Unicorns - click the link to see who is playing.

I will now - because I have no clue how to find an umlaut on my keyboard - go find the name "Motörhead" elsewhere online WITH the umlaut, cut the "ö," and paste it in every time I have written the word "Motörhead."

By the way, if you haven't read it, my BC Musician interview with wendythirteen is online here. And lest you think I received payment for what is obviously an ad, below, no, I didn't, I just cut and pasted it from the No Bollocks page, in the absence of any other graphic:

Oh, apparently Betty Bathory has something going on - or the Squidling Brothers do, whoever they are, and she's helping plug it. That's on Monday, which (see previous post) I'm already double booked for. But anyhow...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Billy Hopeless, David M, Jack Fucking Keating, and Kitty and the Rooster

Too much going on over the next few days...! Lotta cool music in the city, and I'm not even going to MENTION D.R.I at the Rickshaw tonight, because, y'know, it's sold out. I might even go see some of it - because a small show in an intimate environment by a brilliant, unhyped local band is a far, far better thing - aesthetically, emotionally, spiritually and economically - than a huge show in a faceless arena by an overhyped mediocre one.

Billy Bonito's benefit for Jay Millette, Jaystock, is on Friday at the SBC Cabaret, with the Spitfires, Stab'Em In the Abdomen, the Ramores, and indeed, Billy Hopeless all playing... not sure what order, exactly, but I interviewed Billy here about it! (He's also popping up at the JFK gig below).

Also cool: my favourite new local band, Kitty and the Rooster, plays a show with Carolyn Mark and Twin Peaks on Saturday at Lanalou's. Brilliant, funny male/ female duo, whose new video about being renovicted just came out... just heard them on Co-op Radio, too! Really smart, funny, entertaining band. Note that at least one song on that spoof album cover ("Damp Cold") is a real song that they do!

David M. has his 62nd birthday bash on Monday at the Princeton - he'll be doing his set for Paul Leahy, and giving the second (?) public performance of a song he CO-WROTE WITH ME, or that I co-wrote with him, or something, which so far has only been seen or heard at my wedding, at least in his version of it. There will possibly be some Bowie and Mott the Hoople covers... I'm not sure what else he has planned, but it's going to be a big night for you NO FUN fans out there. I have told him to thin out the Gorgo references, for the benefit of young'uns who don't remember Gorgo (and who thus don't get the joke that there barely was anything Gorgo to remember) but he tends to ignore external input and just go ahead and do what he likes. As he should.

Also on May 1st, Jack "Fucking" Keating is going to do a JFK "fuck band" gig in tribute to Howard Rix and Brian Goble at the Revel Room (which I keep wanting to describe as the "Rumpus Room"), with Billy Hopeless, Joanie Keplter, Eddy Dutchman and others in attendance. I won't be there, since I'll be at David M's show - double booked on a Monday! - but I am sure it will be fun. I get the impression, when Jack talks to me at shows, that he has carried a folded up print out of the article I wrote on him in his back pocket ever since September 2013, so if anyone asks him what a fuck band is, he can just whip it out.He should just get it laminated, if you ask me - it must be getting pretty creasy by now. I talk to Billy a bit about that, too (see above).

That's some pretty fun stuff happening in a short time period... I can use some fun!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Canadian film geek on Netflix

I started on Netflix last week. My wife's parents signed up for it - we got them a smart TV as a thank you for their work in getting our wedding together - and it turns out they could get a "second screen" for Netflix for the same price as a single hi-def one. So we signed on. It's definitely a cost-effective model of disseminating culture, and it HAS been interesting - I don't think I've watched a movie on disc since we started - but, somewhat to my surprise, the selection of films available reminds me, more than anything else, of the New Arrivals wall at a video rental store. I had thought it might be different, thought it might be better...

Understand: I used to work at a Rogers Video out in Maple Ridge, back in the days of VHS, circa 1990. The store was old enough that it had rental copies on tape of movies dating back to nearly the start of the commercial release of home video, including a substantial library of exploitation and cult cinema - everything from Being Different, a somewhat notorious documentary "freaksploitation" film, to Alex Cox's playful spaghetti western homage Straight to Hell. The foreign film section was pretty scrawny, maybe fifty titles all told, including a few lesser Bergmans (The Magician, Summer with Monika), a lone Antonioni (L'Avventura), and, as I recall, one Ozu film, Floating Weeds. People looking to seriously educate themselves about classic cinema there were kind of out of luck, but if you were hungry for Golan Globus fare, we probably had it (except Love Streams, until I requested it be transferred in from another store).

It was all right, for awhile. Capitalism might be a deeply fucked up way of distributing culture, a way of guaranteeing that mediocrity will flourish and excellence go unnoticed, save for by the very few - but film geeks could, if they knew how the system worked, find ways to accomodate themselves to it and keep their cravings fed. You'd get customers who ignored the New Arrivals wall altogether, to spend an hour in the dustier sections, and come to the counter with Beastmaster, Deathstalker, and Yor: The Hunter from the Future (you could rent three older movies for $5 and keep them for a week, as opposed to the New Arrivals, which were, by the time I left, renting for five or six bucks a night). It helped that there was an idea implicit in the early days of maintaining a sizeable back catalogue, a library. It was easier when the industry was new and a video store could pretty much order in everything that was available; we had Bertrand Tavernier's "thinking person's SF film" Death Watch on the shelf, say - or that sleazy grindhouse classic Vice Squad, starring Wings Hauser - not because anyone had CHOSEN them for our catalogue, but because when they were released on home video in the mid-1980's, there simply wasn't that much competition for space, and not that much else coming out that month. Back then - at the very start - no one was trying to ram hit movies down the public's throats, either, since the forces of greed hadn't really figured out how much money could be made on home video; plus there were few enough videos being made that you COULD order one or two of everything in the distributors' catalogues and see how they fared.

All that changed at some point. Stores became overwhelmed with product, just as the greed of the industry proliferated and marketers became savvier. When I signed on to be a video store geek, Rogers would get fifty or more copies of forgettable crap like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which came complete with a promo tape that we, the mere staff, were instructed to play over the store TVs, to make sure we made money on the investment (I heard that fucking Bryan Adams song soooo many times...). Meantime, we would have maybe one copy, if that, of some "prestige" arthouse film, usually on the bottom shelf, unsung and unhyped and generally ignored by the people who came in to graze the New Arrivals wall. Some of that is stuff regarded as classic now - I don't imagine we had more than one Barton Fink, when it first came out, say. A fifty-to-one ratio of shit to food is hard to live on. And the more crap that was produced, the stricter competition was for shelf space, so that eventually we started selling off those items in the long tail, once they weren't generating enough income.  All other considerations (preserving or disseminating culture, educating people, raising the level of cultural discourse, or simply maintaining a stock of quality films) were secondary; the only question became, will we make money on it?

It wasn't that great a paradigm, but it did make a kind of sense.

I had thought Netflix might be a bit better. There's no opportunity for them to hype films to death in the way Rogers did for Robin Hood - no in-store promo tape to get your saliva flowing while you browse; there is smarter technology for hooking up consumers with films they will enjoy, and more more likelihood that quality will be recognized, as people see good movies and spread word of mouth, regardless of what marketers WANT to hype or what Netflix wants to push. Plus the whole idea of "shelf-space" is certainly different - presumably you could have a lot MORE films available on a service like this than in your average big-box video store. If distributors and copyright holders were paid given how many times their films were watched, rather than paid for the option of having the films on the system, it would serve to reinforce and reward quality. People would still have the same shitty tastes as ever, but I *think* at least some cream would rise to the surface...

It doesn't appear to work that way; at least here in Canada, there's a very limited supply of films on Netflix, which emphasize titles, stars, and subjects that are heavily in demand. Prestige/ long tail titles are about as scarce as they were on the Rogers New Arrival wall; and it terms of older films, Rogers actually did a fair bit better. I've spent almost as much time now searching the system to see what it has as I have watching shows on it, and I've been shocked at a bunch of things they simply do not have, and, weirder yet, don't even acknowledge the existence of.

I mean, I'm not an unreasonable guy. I had hoped that maybe, considering it is, after all, Canadian Netflix, that I might be able to see a few Canadian films I'd missed, so I picked a name from a hat and looked up Vancouver actor/ filmmaker Tom Scholte, for starters. Nope: he's not in their system at all, not even for big budget Hollywood stuff that he's done, like The Core or Walking Tall. But okay, whatever; those are older films, less in demand, and, I mean, how many people out there are signing on to Netflix to see his work with Bruce Sweeney? I had thought there might be a slim chance that maybe they'd have The Dick Knost Show, probably retitled as Hoser. I would have been happy to see that they had his excellent, under-appreciated Dogme film Crime. But I wasn't holding my breath, I'm not scandalized, and I'm sure not going to complain that he's unknown to them. C'est la vie - it's pretty much what I expected.

But let's search for Michael Caine, to see what comes up. He's done a ton of films - some excellent, and some less so, but he's certainly well-known. Obviously his name DOES show up when you use the onscreen menu to enter it, meaning, I presume, that a substantial number of other people HAVE searched for Michael Caine movies. He's still seventh in the cue of suggestions once you type in "Michael C," coming after "Michael Cera" and "Michael Collins" and even below Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, but whatever. I have no problem with the fact that Batman Begins, Now You See Me, and Children of Men are among the titles that are available; they should be. It's also no great surprise or disappointment that they don't have the one film of Caine's I was hoping to see - The Island, a modern-day pirate movie co-starring David Warner, made back in 1980. But what to make of the fact that, of Caine's 162 film credits, dating back to 1956, they only have thirteen films that he's been in, and that the only titles dating back before the 21st century are Quills (techinically 20th century, since it came out in 2000), and (fucking) 1987's Jaws: The Revenge?  Where's Get Carter? Where is the original Italian Job? Where is Dressed to Kill, or Zulu, or - Jeezus, they don't even have Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Even *I* have Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, for chrissake. And in terms of 21st century films, they're missing the most interesting things he's done, like Harry Brown or The Quiet American. It's kind of shocking!

Let's pick another example, this time a director: Werner Herzog. Clearly they acknowledge Herzog's importance, since at least one of the films - Into the Inferno, about volcanoes - is a Netflix original. But of his 68 films as director, they have precisely seven (plus a dinosaur documentary that he narrated, Dinotasia). All seven are documentaries: NONE of his fictional features are available to stream in Canada - from stone classics like Stroszek and Aguirre to more recent films like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Nor do they have his two most successful documentaries of late, Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. While I actually want to see some of the films that do show up - like Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, about digital tech, or his prison documentary, Into the Abyss, I would be even more excited to see some of the hard-to-see fictional features he's made in recent years, since the collapse of physical media as a means of distribution. I have yet to find either Salt and Fire (2016) or Queen of the Desert (2015) anywhere, on DVD or Blu, and they sure aren't on Netflix; maybe they're on Mubi? ...And what about some of Herzog's acting roles? I don't ever want to see Incident at Loch Ness again, thank you, but I would probably like to look at Julien Donkey Boy (or Freaks of Nature). They don't even have the first Jack Reacher film (Herzog plays the villain, the Zec).

So much for maintaining a library. More scandalous still are the names that don't even get acknowledged in the search menu. Type in "Jarmusch," for instance; it doesn't even recognize the name. From Pam Grier to Peter Cushing, Larry Cohen to Fukasaku Kinji, the message you get on screen is the same each time: "There are no matches for your search." (They do acknowledge in their search function that Larry Cohen's Masters of Horror episode exists, but they don't actually have it; they MIGHT have, and might simply not have indexed, some the films based on his more recent screenplays, like Phone Booth and Cellular, but their "search" function might not be subtle enough to turn them up - I haven't quite figured out its limits yet, though when I do double check, as above, with Herzog and Jack Reacher, I have yet to catch a mistake or omission). Search for Robert Mitchum (133 films) and they have one film - the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear. I thought I might at least luck out with a Charles Bronson film I haven't seen - especially Walter Hill's Hard Times - but for Netflix Canada, Bronson is a movie starring Tom Hardy, and nothing more, while Walter Hill is acknowledged only once, with a film I'm not remotely curious about, 2012's Bullet to the Head. (I was also hoping they might have Trespass or Extreme Prejudice, which I've been told have merit that I missed the first time around, but... nope).

There's plenty to watch, mind you. A Rebekah McKendry article on the Blumhouse website about international horror on the service turned up a rather appealing Danish "pubescent female werewolf" movie, When Animals Dream. Moody and focused on what it is to be an alienated outsider in a tightly-knit, working class small town, it's more Let the Right One In for werewolves than it is Ginger Snaps, but it was engaging and effective enough. (Sadly, the other films on that list that I looked for, like Ragnarok and Blood Glacier, were unavailable; must be US Netflix only). Erika and I both enjoyed Stranger Things, too, though I disliked the last episode, which strayed a little too far from the series' dark roots to offer a feelgood, family-friendly resolution. Presumably we'll have to wait for the home video release of The Walking Dead Season 7 to come out before it shows up on Netflix - and probably we'll end up grabbing the video before we ever get a chance to stream it - but there is lots we can look at, It is certainly worth its very reasonable price of $9.99 a month (for two screens!) - in terms of pricing, the only things I've seen that are cheaper, for accessing films, are libraries or flat-out digital theft. I can see why Netflix (and other streaming services) are replacing physical media. There's a lot of potential here, and, I mean, I'm glad to have gotten to see Human Centipede III without having to pay anything for it; I do imagine I'll make a fair bit of use of the service.

What Netflix isn't, though, at this point, is a huge improvement over video stores. I mean, sure, you don't have to rewind or return anything, or pay late fees, and compared to VHS tapes in particular, you're getting, obviously, a much, much better picture quality. And in many ways, things haven't changed at all, despite the platform shift - there's a real emphasis on what is new and current, a lot of obvious, Christopher-Nolan type commercial fare, and a plethora of films that would have been "straight to video" filler on the New Arrivals wall back in the day (I just turned off one, American Heist, with some embarrassingly bad work from Adrien Brody, trying to play a tattooed gangsta). In many ways, the new boss - or paradigm, or platform, or what-have-you-is pretty much exactly the same as the old boss (paradigm, platform).

But in terms of maintaining a library of interesting older films and buried pleasant surprises, you know what? Rogers Video, back in 1990, did a way better job. Getting dusty in the aisles, digging around for some weirdo exploitation film, was more exciting and more rewarding than sitting on the couch entering in names and finding that, time and again, Netflix doesn't have what you're looking for. (I wonder if I search for "Billy Wilder," what will turn up, if anything? Or maybe they have Jodorowsky's new film? That's actually within the realms of the possible... hmmm).

There's lots of quality to enjoy - I am excited to be accessing it, and I'm going to use it - but Netflix Canada could be so much better than it is.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Welcome Back, Nardwuar! (...and hi, Billy)

Happy to see that the Evaporators will be playing Record Store Day at Neptoon tomorrow!

Going to also have a Billy Hopeless thing in the Straight online, taking in three shows he's playing at - StanFest, which is also tomorrow; Jaystock, next week; and the JFK "fuck band" thing, happening again May 1st at the Revel Room, taking the form of a tribute to Howard Rix and Brian Goble. I don't think the article is online yet but it should be, soon. You can prolly head straight from Neptoon to the Fairview for StanFest... the SLIP~ons are going to play, and the Nervous Fellas... should be a fun night.

I guess winter is over!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pete Campbell #2: of Pink Steel and 64 Funnycars and tonight's performance!

My big Pete Campbell online interview is here, but I couldn't resist, knowing that he is playing a short set tonight in front of the Somewhere to Go: Victoria Punk documentary at the Vancity - also written about here - I couldn't resist firing him some more email questions about Pink Steel and about what he has planned. 

(Pink Steel with Pete Campbell, second from left)

Allan: Did you manage to secure any other island guests for the show? (Is this going to be a 20 minute supergroup, or Coach StrobCam with Tim Chan as a guest vocalist, or...?).

Pete: Well apparently there were some feelers put out but there were no other Victoria ex-pats or pats for that matter were available....I asked former Pink Steel keyboardist/ ironing- boardist Jeff Carter if he would like to come out of retirement to join us for a song or two but I think he felt it would be best to say no and leave his 'legend' status intact...we also asked former 64 Funnycars drummer and all around swell guy Eric Lowe to play some percussion but I believe he is out of town this weekend for some serious Easter egg hunting...
But we are thrilled that Tim Chan is able to join us for the full set....this was kind of short notice so he had to learn all the songs- except the one he wrote (!) very quickly....but he is a quick- study and a total gamer so he is for one night only: "Ladies and gentlemen: Coach StrobChanCam"!!!

What songs from your repertoire will you be performing?

Well since it is a night of punk-rock nostalgia I decided it was best to dig into my back catalogue, which I rarely do, except when one friend/ music journalist requests a certain blasphemous number about Canada's national sport....and no, I don't mean lacrosse !

We will be playing a couple of Pink Steel songs, neither of which I wrote: "She's Not Mine" written by guitarist Jim Mazerolle who was a singular talent: one of the most interesting and original songwriters I have ever known....the song features the great opening line "How can I make love to her when there's no 'a li'interieur'?"...which is a question I'm sure most 17 year old guys ask themselves when the chance for some casual sex comes their way.....

...And "We Get High On Music", written by the aforementioned Jeff Carter will be in the set as well...if Pink Steel was the first original band of our generation to form in Victoria, then this was the first original song of that particular indie scene...Jeff wrote it at our first "jam session" ( I use quotes here because although the bassist and I had rented instruments earlier that day, Jeff was the only one who could actually play..)...the bulk of the song is 2 chords, reflecting our serious lack of musical "chops"...but it is a great song, became Pink Steel's theme song and we played it until the day the band broke up.....some of the other local, more straight- edged bands like the Neos noticed the irony that although the song touted the virtue of using music rather than drugs to get high, in reality Pink Steel had no noticeable allegiance to that particular philosophy...

We will also play "I Want To Duke The Waitress At The Crest" , a song using the traditional pop- music form, really just a love song at its core...that song was inspired by an actual quote from a co-worker who found a waitress at a local restaurant quite fetching and expressed that feeling in his own quotable fashion...that was the first time that I ever wrote a song based on a line spoken by someone in my immediate was really my first chance to look outside myself for became a sort of guiding principle for my songwriting over the years...

Tim Chan will sing "Something Real" a song that he recorded with both 64 Funnycars and China Syndrome...a song so good that The Wardells recorded a version of it (that can be found here: )...Tim was reluctant to play one of his songs but it really is one of my favourite pop songs ever so he eventually acquiesced to the not inconsiderable pressure I laid on him...I didn't exactly say that if he didn't, we would no longer be friends but he knew that was the implicit threat...

And yes, it is rumoured that a certain anti-sports song favoured by a local friend/music scribe may be in the set as well...

The one Pink Steel song that appears (I believe) in the movie, without video, is "Here We Go Again." What's the story of that song? What is the "same old scene" you mention? It sounds like it's actually a slightly jaded criticism of self-repetition on the punk scene, but I can't hear all the lyrics, and some of it sounds kinda geopolitical (kinda like Tim's song "It's Happening Over Again"), so I'm not sure what the song is actually about...

To answer the next 2 questions I yield the page to my good friend and former Pink Steel bandmate Jeff Carter...he wrote the bulk of the lyrics to Pink Steel songs, including "Here We Go Again" and is somewhat of an archivist by nature...his responses are also much more concise and coherent than my own could ever be, so over to Jeff:
"Here We Go Again: the lyrics a lament, generated by witnessing some stupid behaviour at a house party. The lyrics recognize such behaviour as an ever-repeated facet of the human condition, but also how it should be possible to move beyond such unintelligent responses and cyclical behaviour patterns. The song then extrapolates this small incident to the much larger scope of unintelligent societal behaviour such as war, suggesting changing our ways is possible as a conscious choice."
IS there video of vintage Pink Steel?

Once again I will let Jeff field this one as his memories on that subject seem to be more intact than my own:
"There most probably is, but we don’t have it. A substitute drama teacher we only knew as “Cool Ray” filmed a basement performance with a sound Super-8 camera early in Pink Steel’s existence (1979). Portions of our first semi-professional show at Camosun College were taped for a weekly Camosun round-up program which aired on the local cable community channel (1980). That same channel also hosted a program featuring local music and we performed a few songs at their studio for them (1981). PS also performed on live television at 3 in the morning for a local telethon, and there were rumours someone had taped it (1982). This was the early 80s, and consumer video decks were just slowly coming available."
Thanks, Jeff!

Besides bands you were in, which Vancouver Island (or Vancouver) bands would you most like to see reissued/ re-appreciated? Who was your favourite Victoria band to see live back in the day, and why?

Well my favourite band of that generation was definitely 64 Funnycars which is why it is such an honour to have Tim play with us....they had everything: 3 great songwriters, fine musicianship and a great live show...both Eric's: Cotrell and Lowe have played in multiple bands in Vancouver over the years including Polly with the much missed Paul Leahy...great guys and great players...the band also included Colin MaCrae, who was the tallest bass player I have had the pleasure to have known...and his great height was matched by his great talent!

Two other bands who are rarely in the discussion when the Victoria scene is mentioned are both worth the digging it would take to find them:

Bruised and Stupid were a fine band, but it was the songwriting of Chuck Simms that really set them apart...they were maybe a little more "commercial" than some of the other local bands but none the weaker for of Chuck's songs "Falling Down" was in regular rotation on the local rock radio station for a while and every time I heard it I would shake my head and think "This is a freaking Beatles song!!!" was seriously that good..

Treecrusher were another very original band that seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle...their bass player Shawn Turkington, who is a monster 4- stringer in the vein of John Entwistle later went on to play with The Sweaters in the year before we broke up...his partner and principal songwriter Joe Sousa apparently had limited traditional musical knowledge but managed to craft terrific, very original songs: full of chords that he created himself and unfailingly clever, insightful and memorable lyrics...nobody sounded like Treecrusher...Shawn and Joe had one of those symbiotic friendships that for some strange reason often result in creating great rock music...their CD "Yes I Don't" is well worth the search through used- music bins and garage sales that it may take to find it...and it goes without saying:"Treecrusher" what a great name!

That's all folks!!

Thanks to Pete Campbell... come to the Vancity Theatre tonight for a one night only collaboration between Pete and Tim Chan (set starts at 9:40) - and for Somewhere to Go: Victoria Punk starting at 10pm!

Scorsese's Silence, post-screening, plus a baker's dozen of other films

You know that old, somewhat racist saying about how Asians all look the same? It ain't remotely true, but it inspired a fun online skill-testing quiz where you can apply your abilities to differentiate between Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, based  on facial features. Because my students tend to be amused by this sort of thing, I've shared this with more than one ESL classroom, including an EFL high school classroom in Japan, and found that, one semi-delinquent teenager named Kikuchi aside, no one does better than about 50%... although what's interesting is that most students will agree that the test is rigged: that sometimes the test designers choose people who look very much like one group who actually represent a different group, to trip you up and prove their point. That is, the students might not guess that student X is actually Japanese, but they will all agree that she looks Korean, which suggests that there IS some external standard they're applying, contrary to the prejudices of the test makers. If you haven't taken the test, take a minute now before you proceed... I've done it twice, years apart, and got around 50% each time myself.

However, while I don't think it is remotely true that all Asians look alike, or that even all Japanese (or Koreans, or Chinese, or whatever) look alike within their national identity, I do think that SOME Japanese look an awful lot like OTHER Japanese, just like some Canadians look an awful lot like OTHER Canadians. As a  particularly embarrassing example, there were two, unrelated teachers in the high school I worked at in Saitama: the first guy - in the science department, I think, because he often wore a lab coat - was tall, thin, bespectacled, with lank bangs and bad skin, and he looked so much like another Japanese teacher (also tall, thin, bespectacled, with lank bangs and bad skin, who I believe also wore a lab coat) that I spent a full year thinking they were the same dude. I was literally shocked and embarrassed when I saw them together for the first time, like some strange cellular division had occured. They didn't work in my department, so I do have a bit of an excuse; but even after I realized they were two people, telling them apart (or remembering which one had which name) wasn't so easy. I think my mistake was NOT a matter of racism, incidentally, but a matter of the way the brain sorts things out: we file people by category, based on superficial resemblances, which is why I believe I sometimes get mistaken for other noted fat guys around town (namely, back when I had long hair, for the guitarist for Aging Youth Gang, whom I myself have mistaken for Tad Doyle, and who has otherwise been taken, he tells me, for Gene Hoglan; and Geoff from Audiopile, who I in turn once mistook for Alex Varty. It's forgiveable: people look in the "fat guy with facial hair" file and start pulling out names until they get it right, just like I looked in the "lank-haired skinny Japanese guy with glasses" file for the guy above, not realizing there were actually two people in that file...).

That said, I have no excuse for not having recognized one of the Japanese actors in Scorsese's Silence. I have seen him acting in half a dozen movies, both his own and those of others. He was, for a time, one of the filmmakers I was most excited by - the Japanese Cronenberg, I believe I called him once or twice, though they're very different filmmakers, really; where Cronenberg is organic, this guy is mechanical, using robotics and wires and weaponry as metaphor for the effect of modern society on the male body (in particular). I simply wasn't expecting him in the film - it didn't even occur to me that Scorsese would cast someone of this stature, or that he would act as well as he does. Look at the bald dude in the photo below, of one of the Japanese Christian martyrs in the movie, meeting his fate:

I mean, I could still make excuses. I'm used to him with hair, and no beard. He's aged. I haven't seen him in anything for awhile - since I watched his two most disappointing films in his catalogue, back-to-back, which was a mistake (Tetsuo III and Hiruko the Goblin). But still: the bald dude is this guy, who I hope some of you will recognize: 

Yes, folks: Shinya Tsukamoto - I feel like I should write that as SHINYA FUCKING TSUKAMOTO!!! with three exclamation marks - has a major acting role in Martin Scorsese's Silence, and gives one of the truly outstanding performances in the film, alongside Issei Ogata (who played the Emperor in Sokurov's The Sun) and Yosuke Kubozuka (whom I haven't seen in anything else, but really enjoyed, playing a character, Kichijiro, who seemingly can't stop renouncing his faith, then seeking absolution for his renunciation; he appears to have spent some time studying Toshiro Mifune in The Seven Samurai, by way of prepping for his role, though he's a bit more spiritually scorched than that character, and a bit less in the way of "comic relief"). They're reason enough to see this film, especially if you're a Tsukamoto fan (and if you aren't, ferchrissakes, go watch the first two Tetsuo films, or Tokyo Fist, or  Bullet Ballet or Gemini or some of his acting work - Marebito, say, for a really creepy one, or Ichi the Killer if you're into excess - but make sure you get the uncensored version!). Scorsese gets excellent work out of all of his Japanese actors, and they somewhat steal the show - though missionaries Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver do just fine, too (I was a bit too distracted by the Liam Neesonness of Liam Neeson to appreciate his work here; you can only make so many action films before you lose the ability to pass as a character actor, you know?).

I am really not sure why some critics have declared that Silence fails as a film - maybe because they wanted to see Leo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill having a quaalude battle? This is a compelling, meaningful, and major work from Scorsese, about what it means to have to repress your faith, to live in a country where your religion must be kept secret, is actively dangerous to profess faith in. I mean, it is slow and restrained, sure. It probably won't be that meaningful to people who don't have any particular feeling for Christianity (the Globe and Mail critic, Kate Taylor, whose review is linked above, seems to particularly find fault on that level - the internal processes of faith are not made manifest enough for her). Hell, it might even merit a comparison to Kundun - Scorsese's other big Asian prestige project, which I also found quite lovely and watchable, and which most critics seem to agree is a bit of a snooze. But even if I'd rather be watching Mean Streets myself, this is still a) THE NEW MARTIN SCORSESE FILM; b) one of the most powerful films about missionary work shy of The Mission; c) visually gripping; and d) a very impressive feat of cross-cultural maneuvering, which takes a Japanese text about European missionaries - the Shusaku Endo source novel - and makes a major American film of the material. 

And that's where Scorsese really deserves praise. Though filming in Taiwan, he has done Japan, Japanese literature, and Japanese history justice, and made a grown-up, major film about the crossing of cultural boundaries. If you're interested in that, you'll want to see the film, regardless of how many jobbing critic say it fails (and who knows what Kate Taylor thinks counts as a GOOD film, anyhow?).  

Comparing this film with our other cross-cultural cinematic spectacle of recent days, Ghost in the Shell, would be instructive, in fact: that film, while managing to successfully fetishize the popular myth of hypertechnological urban Japan with some very striking backgrounds, mostly is notable for the bizarre trifecta of 1) casting an English-speaking American as an English-speaking white Japanese, 2) a Japanese-speaking Japanese as an English-speaking Japanese (ScarJo's mom in the movie), and 3) a Japanese-speaking-Japanese as a Japanese-speaking Japanese (Takeshi Kitano, who, presumably because of his star power, is granted the privilege of being the only full on Japanese Japanese in the movie, answering English questions in Japanese, and giving Japanese instructions to his seemingly English-speaking subordinates, which they understand without translation. It's a bit like having Clint Eastwood popping up in a Japanese-made Yakuza film, and responding to Japanese questions in English - and perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, idiotic though it may be). Ghost in the Shell certainly is the more ENTERTAINING film, the better popcorn movie, than Silence, if that's what you're looking for, and it more closely resembles my staple cinematic fare - heavy, in recent years, in exploitation, horror, SF and thrillers, and very light on arthouse cinema - but you still have to REGISTER THE DIFFERENCE. Silence is an important film, worth seeing and seeing again; the new Ghost in the Shell feature, on the other hand - however much you might find it more exciting - is TRIVIAL, not really worthy of serious discussion (unless it is along the lines of a discussion of its racism, say). I can't evaluate the anime it is based on, not having seen it - and it may interest people with a passion for that series - but ultimately what you get is Robocop meets Johnny Mnemonic, set in an overcooked, scopophilic, whitewashed version of future Japan; not much else of note, here, except that Michael Pitt is now using a middle name or initial or something (why?). It's pretty to look at - which even Taylor acknowledges about Silence - but it's A WASTE OF TIME, a spasm of the marketplace, a piece of cinematic junk food rather than a major work of art (and let us here admit that we still think, in our no-brow world, that that's an important distinction, right?). I mean, reading the Bible itself, or Shusaku Endo, or - fuck, I dunno, Dostoevsky, Dickens, any great work of literature - might count as boring to some people, too (maybe even me!). But what critic is going to publicly condemn such works as such without shame or fear of reprimand? What fucking NEWSPAPER WRITER - I say this as an occasional newspaper writer - is so shameless that they think in their hubris that they have the RIGHT to evaluate such works as "entertainments," having seen them once, because they were being paid to do so? Films like this deserve to be seen MULTIPLE TIMES and contemplated at length - and the filmmakers and their audiences know and understand this. True cinephiles will approach Silence in this light, and WILL be rewarded for the effort, and the question of whether the general readership of the Globe and Mail will care... is kind of irrelevant... 

No offense to Kate Taylor, here. I don't actually disagree with much she says, in fact. I just don't think it's very important that she's saying it, and, really - to climax my rant - don't like critics very much, at least not of the "gatekeeper" variety, which is usually what you see working for mainstream media (the "analyst/ enthusiast" stripe of critic is just fine by me - be it locals like Adrian Mack or "stars" like Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Robin Wood, etc; all of them manage to make interesting observations about the films they write about, even if you disagree with their assessements, because the point ISN'T that they liked or disliked the film - it's that they THOUGHT about it). 

Silence has ended its run at the Vancity Theatre, but plays the Rio on Saturday, actually just ahead of Ghost in the Shell, if you want a really unusual double bill. I see it is also now on the shelf at Videomatica.

Having dismissed critics' work, I will now play critic myself: here's thirteen other movies that I have recently consumed, in no particular order - because with a chunk of my tongue missing, and not much in the way of work besides housework, I've had a lot of time to catch up on movies:

Black Code (playing tonight at the Vancity Theatre): a Canadian-made doc taking on both spying technology and hacktivism in the 21st century. It globetrots more than I expected it to: while I had thought I was sitting down to a film about how we North Americans are being spied on by a malign state, with the help of privacy agreements, social media sites, and complicit cellphone apps, in fact Black Code is far more interested in stories from afar, including Tibet (where the Chinese spy on people virtually, target people who post things deemed dangerous online, and restrict access to information) and Brazil (anti-FIFA protests and on-the-streets, live cam-enabled activists). It's interesting, and ambitious, and probably has an audience out there - global citizens with an interest in tech? - but it's not a film that resonated deeply, for me. 

Let Us Prey (sic, HMV closeout purchase): crap that has fun being crap, that is even, if you will, smart crap, with Liam Cunningham - underrated and always watchable - as, basically, the Devil come to a small jail in Scotland, to mete out punishments on the occupants. It seems on one level to be a very silly movie, except as you get closer to the end, it starts feeling less like some newfangled variant on the "malign stranger" subgenre and more like some sort of humorous folktale (or perhaps a rather involved joke: "So the Devil goes to Scotland, and the first thing he does..."). The archetypal level of analysis can sometimes cause a lot of trouble for those of us who want to argue for the the highbrow/ lowbrow distinction in cinema, since it tends to presume a point of view that collapses such distinctions; but I'm pretty sure Let Us Prey is ultimately a lowbrow entertainment. Regardless, I totally enjoyed it, and declared it a keeper (something I am doing less and less often lately, hell I even traded in It Follows...).

Les Loups (The Wolves): another HMV closeout gamble that paid off, this is a moving, exquisitely shot Quebec drama about a young woman who comes to a remote seal-hunting village in northern Quebec in search of her estranged father. It's potently made - and takes in both sides of the controversies over seal hunting, giving a sympathetic and engaging portrait of the embattled villagers and their livelihood - though in a semi-documentary way, it includes some actual images of dead seals being gutted and skinned, so it's not an easy viewing (nothing is actually clubbed to death on camera, note). This is more on the highbrow end of the scale than the lowbrow or nobrow, but it's an compelling, powerful movie no less, as much about community and family as it is about animal rights (or animal slaughter). There are no wolves in it.

I have a penchant for films involving animal slaughter, actually. I think it is interesting and maybe useful to overcome the denial of the killing involved in eating meat; if you're going to consume it's flesh, you at least should have to SEE the death you're causing, not just pretend that everything is antiseptic and plastic-wrapped, waiting painlessly at the grocery store for you. I think Zev Asher's Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat was the film that planted the idea in my head. I sure hope that film surfaces again, someday; it's a very interesting, provocative, and sensitive movie (though some people will find it impossible to watch). RIP Zev.

The Speak: finally cracked open this found footage horror film I bought at Halloween 2014 at HMV for $5. A group of somewhat obnoxious young filmmakers and their cohorts gain access to a haunted hotel where they propose to perform a Native American ritual that will bring them in contact with GHOSTS! It is not especially original, but entertaining and spooky enough, if you like found footage films (I do). The Native American ritual is nowhere as cheesy or cliched as these things usually are; and Tom Sizemore, who has top billing and a supporting role, is always fun to watch (except on reality TV, that is: we have yet to catch his "celebrity rehab" work, and intend to keep it that way). It was worth every penny of the $5 I spent on it, and not a penny more. 

Life: really gripping SF suspense/ horror film with Jake Gyllenhaal (whom we like) and Ryan Reynolds (whom we find kind of annoying, but don't actively dislike, unless he's playing Deadpool) among the crew of a ship battling a malign hitchiker. It plays more like a dead serious The Green Slime than Alien, and ends up seeming less than the sum of its parts - because while the film is very suspenseful, has solid performances and a pretty startling ending, it kind of vanishes from your mind as soon as its over, seeming neither worth revisiting or discussing much. Worth a look, once, however, especially on the screen. One of the stars dies super early!

Kong: Skull Island doesn't vanish in your mind as soon as it's over. No: it vanishes in your mind WHILE IT IS STILL GOING ON, as the next set-piece replaces the scene you were watching, captivates you, and then disappears into the next. I'm pretty sure that kind of brainless surfing from moment to moment is the right way to watch it,  as it is the right way to watch so much of the shit that makes the multiplex these days... though as mindless cinematic spectacle goes, Kong: Skull Island is very fun, is full of people I enjoy watching work (Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Shea Whigham... oh, hell, even Tom Hiddleston is enjoyable). It further has some great effects (Kong attacks helicopters, batting them out of the sky!). There were obviously some smart people working behind the scenes (including co-screenwriter and presumed "name hire" script doctor Dan Gilroy, brother to Michael Clayton's Tony Gilroy and himself the writer and director of the important neo-noir Nightcrawler). To be honest, the most impressive detail for me was, in fact, the most trivial one: set during the tail end of the Vietnam war, it has a scene where a needle drops on a record, and you wait for the first song on the album to start playing. Since they show you the label, in this case the old bluegreen "butterfly Elektra" one, if you're at all like me, you'll be waiting to hear if the band they play is in fact a band that released an album on Elektra, and before the end of the Vietnam war, when they still HAD the butterfly label, and if the song is in fact the first song on either side of the record they choose. While we're at it, if you're at all like me (or, hell, if I'm like you), you'll also be guessing what band you're about to hear (I was expecting the Doors, practically gritting my teeth in my conviction that it WOULD be the Doors, in fact, which would have filled most of the conditions above). I had a pretty large shit-eating grin when the song proved to be "Down on the Street" from  the Stooges' Fun House, a GREAT song to put in a King Kong movie (and indeed, song one on side one of an album released on Elektra before the end of the Vietnam war: check, check, check, and CHECK, and a big check for inspired soundtrack moves).

Even if that trivial detail was in fact the height of my fun during Kong: Skull Island, I don't want to discount offhand that it might merit some discussion afterwards, if you get into the whole Vietnam/ Heart of Darkness/ Apocalypse Now angle, since it's very clearly a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers to work in that field, naming characters Conrad and Marlow, and building further on all the disturbing Conrad references in the Peter Jackson King Kong (which, by evoking a text long criticised as racist, radically cranks the volume on the racism inherent in the original story, which you could kind of "fail to notice" in the 1933 version). There might even be an argument made for saying that in THIS version of the story, Kong is himself the Kurtz figure (I had never thought of that in watching any other variant of the film).  Not sure if it manages to erase the racism in past versions of the film, or compound it, by making Kong's equal-and-opposite human force a black man; not sure that it actually amounts to anything at all besides brainless entertainment, in fact, but it is an accomplishment of some sort that hey manage to tell a King Kong story that provides a very familiar variant on Kong origin myths already filmed, while reworking and even abandoning very important elements. (Kong doesn't get captured, doesn't go to New York, doesn't abduct a woman, doesn't climb a building. Will he be allowed to live? Will there be a sequel? (Other than the one hinted at in the post credits sequence, mind you, which doesn't appear to feature Kong at all...). 

Get Out, meanwhile, cannot be watched EXCEPT as a film explicitly about racism. It's about as overt, paranoid and over-the-top as LeRoi Jones - that is, Amiri Baraka's - famous play "Dutchman", so much so that I really don't blame Armond "Troll" White for having dismissed the film as a "trite get-whitey movie." (The internet briefly rolled their eyes when he proved to be the only negative reviewer of the film on Rotten Tomatoes, breaking the movie's rare 100% score, but that's an interesting, thoughtful review he's written). If I can agree with White, I also have to say that it's also a very entertaining film, a timely and welcome provocation, and that if it further reveals that not much has improved in the realm of race relations since the time of "Dutchman," that surely isn't the film's fault. While it IS suspenseful, I couldn't help feel that it maybe is best viewed as a comedy, rather than a horror film - especially since people are more receptive as seeing comedies having social messages. It's the sort of film that could be used productively in a classroom to spur on a discussion about racism in America. Hell, I bet there's already been a few hundred term papers written about it, depsite it still being in the theatres.

Logan, on the other hand, while engaging while it was in front of me, left absolutely no mark on me, and kinda peaks when Patrick Stewart says, unexpectedly, that he needs to pee. That's not saying much for the film (though it increased my fondness for Patrick Stewart).

Dog Eat Dog: what the hell happened to Paul Schrader? Why does he spend so much of this film trying to adopt a Tarantino-esque visual aesthetic, when he had a perfectly developed aesthetic of his own - one he'd even written a fucking BOOK (or two?) about? Is it really just desperation for money and relevance? And while we're abusing him, is his ego so distorted and confused that he thinks he can cast himself in his own movie and get away with it - like it will be welcomed by anyone? (Maybe he was just trying to save money on casting?). There's enough talent involved in the film - especially a Willem Dafoe, who has plenty of fun with a meaty role, and Christopher Matthew Cook, who I didn't know previously - that it remains watchable throughout (Nic Cage is merely Nic Cage, and in fact a rather restrained version of himself). Trouble is, part of that "watchability" is "waiting for it to get good,"and when it strays most obviously into Bad Film Territory (which, unfortunately, it does in its opening set up, and several times thereafter) it is a matter of "waiting for it to get better." It never fully wins your trust, never convinces you that you're going to feel rewarded for the effort you're investing, and in the end, you kind of feel annoyed with yourself for having stuck it through (assuming you do), because no, whatever faith you had in it does NOT really pay off, since the ending is the weakest part of the film. Paul Schrader should be BETTER THAN THIS, shouldn't he? (Or was he always kind of a bad filmmaker? What went wrong, here?). Incidentally Dog Eat Dog was adapted from a crime novel by cult writer Eddie Bunker - also known as the actor who played the bearded thief in Reservoir Dogs - but so far, neither of the films I've seen adapted from Bunker's books (the other being Steve Buscemi's disappointing second directorial turn, Animal Factory) have inspired me to want to read his stuff. I think it is fair to say that if a film adaptation of a book doesn't make you want to read the book, it has failed. Another HMV closeout purchase, soon to be on the "used" shelves at Videomatica (Willem Defoe fans might still want to check it out).

At least BJ paid me $2 for it in trade.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe: I honestly had expected to like this. I like Brian Cox, and will watch him in anything - which is lucky for him, because he's obviously willing to ACT in anything, if there's a paycheque. (He still manages to do some great work, despite this; see his work in the adaptation of Jack Ketchum's Red, if you haven't). Even more than liking Cox, though, I thought The Autopsy of Jane Doe would be a film about the real actions of forensic pathologists, who, in cutting up a corpse, find all sorts of clues to the mystery of how the person died, who they were, etc. When I heard the film described - only briefly - I leapt to assuming/ hoping/ expecting that it would take this very interesting topic seriously, as a sort of big screen "crime science" horror movie, which to my knowledge - despite the popularlity of such shows on TV - has never been really done; how cool would it be to tell a whole story around an autopsy, solving a crime without leaving the autopsy room? I don't know where I got that idea in my head. Instead, The Autopsy of Jane Doe turns all too quickly into another supernatural horror movie where there's no real effort to help suspend your disbelief, and no really satisfying explanations arrived at. As all sorts of increasingly implausible, then impossible things happen, while all pretext of bringing "science" to bear is abandoned, and things leap out of the darkness to "boo" you with increasing frequency. The movie in my head was so much more interesting than the movie I found myself watching...

I don't WANT to be like that, mind you: I've always thought that a duff move for a critic to make, and if I were writing a "how to be a critic" manual I would include as one of the rules, "review the film that is, not the film you were disappointed it wasn't" - which was a really bad habit of Roger Ebert's, for one. But I can't get over my reaction, unfortunately. If you walk into The Autopsy of Jane Doe expecting and wanting crap like, I don't know, Insidious or Sinister - also "boo" movies that are more about stringing cheap shocks on a pretext than developing or doing justice to ideas - then you might really ENJOY The Autopsy of Jane Doe. I did not. Ah well... another $2 towards my Rabid blu-ray, thanks BJ. 

Lights Out: As you might gather, I have a negative attitude to what I call "boo" movies - horror movies that hinge on shock scares and sudden close-ups of horrifying monster-faces, rather than unsettling ideas and the buildup of suspense. There's too many of them to count, these days, and people seem to be eating them up (Insidious, an earlier film by James Wan, was a particularly egregious example, with all sorts of horror fans, including paid film critics I talked to about it, giving it positive reviews. I loathed it, felt my intelligence insulted at every turn). Based on this prejudice, I avoided Lights Out  - an obvious "boo"fest - for quite awhile, then to my surprise, liked it. There are ideas! There are some interesting characters and solid performances, including Maria Bello from A History of Violence, as a toxic Mom with a disturbing secret in her past. The "ghost" is a novel creation, an interesting monster, kind of redolent of the ghosts in Japanese horror movies; and there's a lot of suspense and craft, balancing out the (admittedly occasionally cheap. "boo"ish) scares. It's a good little horror movie, lean-and-mean, if you're in the mood for that sort of thing - one of the better "boos" I've seen.

But so is The Other Side of the Door. One of the mysteries of sites like Rotten Tomatoes is why a film like Lights Out gets a high rating (something like 76% when I checked) and a film like The Other Side of the Door gets a negative one (about 25%). Almost everything I liked about Lights Out applies here: The Other Side of the Door is lean and mean, balances out its "boos" with plenty of suspense, and has plenty of ideas to it - here about mourning and death and our relationship to the dead. It also has a solid central performance - from Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Lori in The Walking Dead; and has something that very few other films have (except maybe Jennifer Lynch's delightful, under-rated Hisss, not to be confused with Sssssss): a successful, engaging use of South Asian locations, religious beliefs, and myth in an American-made horror movie. There's only one thing about Lights Out that marks it as a better film: you can't dismiss it (as I did by likening Ghost in the Shell as Robocop meets Johnny Mnemonic) by comparing it in one sentence to another film. Nothing quite like Lights Out exists, whereas The Other Side of the Door is (spoiler, but an obvious one) "Pet Sematary goes to India."

Personally, that's not enough for me to be willing to give it a bad review.

Oh, somewhere in there my girl and I watched the Eli Roth/ Quentin Tarantino-related film by (and starring) RZA, The Man With the Iron Fists. As you might expect if you know the cinematic tastes of the Wu Tang Clan, it is obviously steeped in sincere and knowing love of kung fu cinema, and has some pretty striking, inventively choreographed and shot fight scenes. It also has a nice acting turn from former wrestler Dave Bautista, better known as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. Fans of Drax will probably be amused by The Man With the Iron Fists, as will fans of the Tarantino-Roth-Rodriguez approach to genre. RZA is probably giddily proud of this, and it deserves a fan base of sorts - maybe among people who actually own Wu Tang records? Personally, I didn't care at all: and after it was over, I kinda felt like I did after Kill Bill or Django Unchained or Death Proof or The Green Inferno, that I would have been better off just watching the movies it pays homage to, rather than having my cinema pre-chewed, digested, and regurgitated warm for me by some self-aware, winking genre fan. (Actually RZA doesn't wink THAT much but the point still holds). Soon to be on the used shelves at Videomatica! 

By the by, the Metrotown HMV - the last one standing, as far as I know, at least in BC - is now closed for good, I went by yesterday and they were shuttered. Robson, Coquitlam, Langley and Guildford all closed weeks ago - and with them vanished any reason at all for me to shop on Robson Street, at Coquitlam Centre, Willowbrook, or Guildford (unless Sunrise Records does something worthwhile at any of those locations; I'm dubious that they will). Goodbye, HMV. You weren't actually that bad at what you did, and probably deserved better.