Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Unseen Noble Fizzy Journeys

This weekend at Unseen Films I've had a John Cusack double is a write-up of War, Inc., a 2008 film which was a "spiritual sequel" to the brilliant 1997 black comedy, and one of my favorite films of all time, Grosse Pointe Blank. Both feature Cusack playing an assassin trying to redeem himself, learning that life is more precious than he once thought, although the surroundings that his characters find himself in are vastly different in both films. In a bizarre way, both films are actually romantic comedies, although much of the romance is buried behind dead bodies piling up all around, and the characters are certainly VERY flawed individuals...which kinda makes them easier to relate to. They are also redemption films, and about the journeys the characters take to get to their redemption. And speaking of journey...

Lately I've been telling the story of my recent trip back to NYC, but I can see that I'm not going to have enough time to be able to get to the next part of that today, so I think it's time to present the next part in my series of my other writings for Unseen Films. We continue with the comedic adventures of the brilliant Ross Noble, the English stand-up comedian whose lightning quick mind and highly entertaining physical bits make for compelling watching. This time around we look at his 4th offering on DVD, Fizzy Logic...

"Sorry, I forgot to warn you at the start; if you haven't seen me before, there will be tangents." Along those lines, the secret to Ross Noble's style of comedy isn't what he's telling, but how (and for how long) he tells it. Most of his show is riffing off the top of his head about things he's gleaned from chatting with audience members (in this case, you'll meet Randy Pan, the highly flammable wolf, amongst others). But in the course of these talks, he's reminded of things that have happened to him that he wants to relate to the audience. If you're someone who likes instant gratification in your stories, don't waste your time with Noble. Usually, sometime within an hour or so of beginning a story, Noble will get around to finishing it. But it isn't about the finishing of the story. It's all about the journey Noble's mind takes to get there that is so fascinating to watch.

In "Fizzy Logic", filmed in Canberra, Australia in March 2007, Noble relates...eventually...his run-ins with customs agents in Dubai and New Zealand, his interactions with children in Morocco, and the most dangerous thing about riding a motorcycle thru Australia. His descriptions of the Emu, a large Australian bird, border on genius ("A 6 foot feather-duster with suicidal tendencies" is probably the best). And the 15 minute closing of the show that starts with being hit on the head by a falling owl is a perfect example of the brilliance of Noble's technique. The sequence is completely about the set-up, and the way his mind can adapt and flow and adjust to anything thrown his way. Once again, Noble's body races to keep up with his mind in this show, as he is a very active and animated physical performer throughout the entire performance. A truly compelling performer of insane proportions.

While not as over-stuffed as the "Randomist" DVD package (how could anything possibly be?!?), the "Fizzy Logic" 2 DVD set by no means skimps on extras. The main show, with the encore, approaches 2 & 1/2 hours, there is another commentary track by Noble, along with a documentary of his New Zealand leg of this tour. The second disc contains 6 other shows from the UK portion ot the tour, and a 7th "official bootleg", only viewable by correctly answering a quiz about where the other 6 shows were shot. This is completely worth the asking price, and a fascinating look into the mind of an amazing thinker.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Clutch (live), Deftones, Deep Purple (live), obviously some Ross Noble somewhere, and whatever I was listening to when I wrote up the Fizzy Logic piece originally

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Interrupt Our Continuing Story Of The NYC Trip... bring you our coverage of the LA trip...

I switched my schedule around so that I could have Saturday December 4 off from work so that I could go to LA with some friends and see the Los Angeles Kings take on the Detroit Red Wings. Another friend at work is a partial season ticket holder, so he's able to get first crack at single game seats before they go on sale to the general public. When he the asked other hockey fans in the office if we would be interested in going to a game, a few of us agreed on a date, and wound up getting some tickets.

I've never been to LA proper before. I've been to Anaheim a couple times, but had never been to the heart of LA. It's not something that overly appealed to me. Having grown up in NY, I'm kinda wary of dealing with the crowds, congestion, and traffic of another big city. If I'm going to go to someplace new, I'd rather go visit nature, wide open spaces, and real canyons, as opposed to the concrete variety. But the chance to see an excellent hockey team such as the Detroit Red Wings, in a venue I've never been to before, was too much to pass up. And with the game being a Saturday night, we figured we'd just make a nice long day trip out of it.

I worked on Friday until about 5:30PM, and made a stop at Target after work to get myself a new digital camera. I have a nice Nikon SLR, but it's a big item with large detachable lenses. I didn't wanna deal with carrying much stuff, and many venues don't even allow you to take in something like that, for fear of infringing on their trademarked images (it's just another way controlling corporate America's money-grubbing society demands that you pay for everything...I'm really trying to stay off the soapbox in my blog lately, so I won't go there, but you get the idea...). I bought myself a nice compact Sony digital with a 10X zoom, and due to having a Sony credit card with lots of points built up over the years, I'll be getting the entire retail purchase price refunded to me anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. It's small enough to easily fit in a pocket of my leather jacket, yet still has a nice enough zoom lens to get some really good pics.

Leaving my house around 9:45AM Saturday morning, I made my way over to the first friend's house to get him and his wife, and we talked and just hung out for nearly an hour. We then proceeded to get the remaining buddy on our way to a convenience store to pick up a few road trip supplies. Knowing this was going to be a LONG day, I made sure to have some Exederin and Mountain Dew with me. Since I normally ingest ZERO caffeine, a small amount will allow me to keep going for quite a bit. So at probably around 11AM we were officially on our way.

The drive to LA is kinda nice. Although I've never gone to LA before, I've done many trips to other areas of Southern California for various reasons, so most of the journey there was going to be a familiar trek. My most recent trip in this direction was to Anaheim in April 2010 to a comic book convention where I got to meet a favorite writer of mine (and fellow blogspot blogger) J.M. DeMatteis, along with other artists whose work I've enjoyed and admired over the years, including Bernie Wrightson, Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley, and Tim Bradstreet. I always enjoy talking with creative types whose work has interested me and given me some happiness.

We encountered a little bit of traffic due to some construction, but basically had a pain free trip to our slightly-out-of-the-way first stop, Portillo's Hot Dogs in Buena Park, CA. It's right next to Knott's Berry Farm (a place where Steve Martin used to work as a youngster, first honing his magician and performing skills that would serve him so well later in life), and is a branch location of a Chicago chain of restaurants. One of our group is a Chicago boy, so he planned this as a side trip on the way to the game. Located about a half hour Southeast of the Staples Center (home arena of the LA Kings), their Italian Beef sandwich made for a nice tasty, filling meal, the perfect break on our way to the game. The Chicago boy then loaded up at their catering section on pre-packaged frozen Italian Beef, gravy, and bread, loading them into coolers with ice packs we'd brought along. These were coming back with us for him, and some other native Chicagoans in the office who he had informed of his Portillo's pilgrimage.

As we begin to leave Portillo's, it's around 5PM, and beginning to get dark. Seeing as how we were now about to do the uncharted territory (for me) part of our journey, this wasn't the best of conditions, but I didn't really care. The game wasn't until 7:30, we weren't that far away from the arena, and it was a Saturday night. Which apparently means nothing to famed LA traffic, as we almost immediately came across a bumper-to-bumper 15 MPH logjam on I-5. It might be rush hour, but isn't that Monday to Friday? No, apparently LA citizens take their traffic jamming duties very seriously, and consider it a 24/7 obligation. Suddenly the idea of getting there early, having some time to walk around for a bit, and maybe get a couple of drinks at the ESPN Zone across from the arena started to go out the window.

And I am now truly no longer a virgin to LA traffic, as at one point while riding along, we all got jolted by the impact of hitting something. I leaned forward in disbelief, thinking "No way! I couldn't have hit this guy in front of me, unless he's got some invisible trailer that...wait, did somebody hit ME?!?" Which is exactly what happened. Somebody changing lanes behind me completely misjudged where I was, or just wasn't paying attention, or whatever, and banged into me from behind. In a flash I ran thru a number of scenarios in my head, did a quick mental assessment of damage based on severity (or lack thereof) of impact, made sure everyone in my car was OK...and just kept on driving. There wasn't any point in stopping, getting out, taking insurance info, delaying our trip even more, making an already unpleasant driving experience even MORE unpleasant for thousands of perpetually frustrated LA motorists...all for essentially absolutely nothing. Funny thing is, it was actually BECAUSE of the slow-moving LA traffic that there was no actual damage done. Due to the fact that we were going as slow as we were, the way I figured, no harm, no foul. We all noticed, much to our amusement, that although traffic remained bumper-to-bumper for quite some time after our little incident, there seemed to be quite a number of car lengths between me and the guy who hit me, now MUCH farther behind...

I should mention at this point that my ever-present iPhone was quite a wonderful thing to have on this trip. It made wandering thru a strange locale with destinations known but unpinpointed a sheer breeze. Being able to go to the internet and get an address for your destination, then type in that address and have it show on the map, and show you the route to take you from your current location to be able to GET to that spot on the map, makes this kinda travel much easier. Lewis & Clark woulda had a HELLUVA easier time if they'd just brought along their iPhones...

We finally got to a parking lot within a 5 minute walk of the arena, and, after checking to make sure there was no damage whatsoever to the rear bumper (amazingly, not even a scratch, let alone a dent), we made it to the Staples Center plaza at around the last roughly 30 miles took us about an hour and 15 minutes...reminding me of how much I enjoy NOT living in NYC anymore.

It was a pleasant evening weather-wise, so the walk was quite nice, especially after being cooped up in the car for many hours already. The ESPN Zone turned out to be insanely crowded, so we went to a bowling alley around the corner that had a bar at it, and my friends got some drinks (I don't imbibe, I just hang around and talk). We went to a spot outside overlooking the plaza, and after a few minutes of people-watching, noticed that 2 of the people walking by below us looked familiar...and there went Gene Simmons & Shannon Tweed (he of the band Kiss, she of erotic film lore, both of reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels). Made for a nice LA celebrity sighting. Not that I'm overly impressed with either of them, but still, a sighting.

After finally making our way into the arena at just after 7PM, we managed to catch most of the pre-game warm-ups from our fantastic seats. Since our season-ticket-holding friend has first shot at single game seats, he was able to get us nice ones in the vicinity of his season seats, so we were at ice level, only 15 rows from the glass. We were off in a corner, exactly in line with the goal line at the end the Kings shoot at twice during the game. A terrific vantage point from which to watch the evening's festivities. Having never been there before, I really liked the arena, although the seats were a little cramped, with my knees feeling like they were in my chest all night. Other than that, a nice place to see a game.

I managed to fire off a few shots with my new camera of the Red Wings in action while warming up, and after they left the ice, I used the break before opening puck drop to nip off to the team store and get a couple things. I grabbed a Kings hat for my father as a X-mas present (don't worry, he won't read this, so I'm not spoiling any surprise), and a Kings puck for myself. I always grab myself a team puck from whatever arena I go visit for a game, and the pucks (along with team baseballs from stadiums I've seen games at) line the mantle in my living room, having recently moved from the top of the refrigerator in the kitchen, because I've been to too many places.

Returning to my seat just in time for the drop of the puck, we actually managed to catch a really good game. Neither team was dominant, although the Red Wings seemed to have an edge in play in the first period, as well as leading 1-0 on the scoreboard. It remained a tight, hard-fought game throughout, with neither team really able to gain an advantage. The Kings scored very early in the 2nd, followed almost instantly by the Wings moving ahead by one again, only to be tied a few minutes later...which is how it remained for the remainder of regulation time. There was plenty of end-to-end action, there was a nice flow to the game, and even though not a lot of scoring, it was still an entertaining game, and fun to watch from the sightline we had.

Before we get to the end of the game, something else that was fun to watch is what you miss out on by just watching games on TV. During commercial breaks, a crew comes out on the ice to shovel off much of the snow that has accumulated due to the razor sharp skate blades cutting and slicing thru the ice at harsh angles thru gameplay. The crew skates around in a very rehearsed pattern, each going up and down the ice in their designated section (and they rotate sections each time) in a very efficient ballet of ice janitorial duties. What the NHL figured out, in the last couple of years or so, is why just have a bunch of slobs in sweatsuits out there doing this? The predominantly male audience can now enjoy seeing the equivalent of cheerleaders in form-fitting, revealing outfits, skating around rapidly enough to make their long, flowing hair fly in the breeze they themselves are generating. Very nice...and yes, there were several girls on the ice, all very pretty, this one just happened to be my favorite. Of course it's superficial, but when in Rome...or in this case, LA...

This was the first live NHL game for the married couple that accompanied me, so they were getting their money's worth with a good game, now followed by an overtime period. The 5 minute sudden death period looked like it might end deadlocked which would have then resulted in a shootout to determine a victor...until the Kings managed to stop pausing and searching for a perfect shot and just get a rush up the ice, fire a over with 56 seconds remaining in overtime. All game they had been reluctant to take shots, choosing instead to keep passing it around when they had it in the Red Wings zone, searching for the elusive, perfect shot...and seemingly passing up many opportunities to get it towards the net. They finally abandoned this tactic as time was waning and just raced up the ice, made one pass and fired, and it paid off in the game-winning goal.

All in all, a very entertaining game, even though I would have preferred a Red Wings victory. They are a very popular team, and at least one third of the Staples Center was decked in Red Wings shirts, sweaters, or hats, myself included. I have a small collection of NHL sweaters, and my Wings sweater was the first one I ever got...on a trip to Phoenix back in 1996, of all places. All my jerseys have my last name on them, along with the number 25.

We hung around outside the arena for a few minutes after the game, just soaking in the atmosphere and determining our next move. Realizing we still had a long hike back home, we just decided to go. So off we went, and by the time we were driving out of the parking lot, it must have been after 10:30PM. Needing only to stop once for fuel on the way back, my companions and I kept a lively conversation going, laughing and joking most of the way home. We are a fun group, capable of lots of laughs. Good thing to have on a long drive such as this. I was the only one awake for a while though around 1:30, but I had my music to entertain me...obviously couldn't blast it, but still...

So after dropping off the friends in reverse order of picking them up, I finally was able to wend my way home at about 3:15AM, nearly 24 hours after waking up. Even when I turn my alarms off, I still wake up at 4AM...I don't GET up, but I'm awake. Managed to get into bed sometime after 3:30, and completely against my will, found myself awake at 6:30AM. I probably flipped the bird to the clock and rolled over, only to awaken again, with no real hope of going back to 7:30AM. *sigh*

Now that I think I've come to the end of this tale of having fun and trying to recapture being young & stupid, I might just take a nap...except today's New York Rangers game starts in 20 minutes...

We now return you to our regularly scheduled story of the New York City trip, already in progress...

Blog Post Soundtrack; John Connelly Theory, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Unida (live), Deep Purple, Nirvana, AC/DC, Peaches, Louis Prima w/Keely Smith (live), Rage Against The Machine, Black Sabbath, The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Apocalyptica, Discharge, Mike Patton, The Chemical Brothers, Iron Maiden, The Dandy Warhols, Clutch (live), Red Hot Chili Peppers (live), The Misfits, Foo Fighters (live), Deftones, System Of A Down, Pearl Jam (live), Tom Lehrer (live), Voivod, Monster Magnet, The White Stripes, The Beastie Boys, The Prodigy, Limp Bizkit (live, covering a Ministry song), Bjork, Neil Young (live), Metallica (live), Motorhead, MD.45, The Roots (live), Anthrax (live), Zeke, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Simon & Garfunkel, Yawning Man, Faith No More, The Smiths, David Buskin, A Perfect Circle, Blondie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Westbury Gardens...Part Two Of My Recent NYC Trip

Picking up right where I left off from Part One of this story, on Wednesday I'd planned to stay local, not doing too much, and just relax for a while. The only item on the agenda that day was to take a trip to nearby Old Westbury Gardens. This is the estate of the Phipps' family, and the vastness of the grounds and the opulence of the mansion are quite beautiful, although a little sickening when you consider how it represents the immense distance between the haves and the have-nots. But as I said in the last post, I'm not getting on my soapbox...

Located in the heart of Nassau County in Long Island, this area of the world is located about 20 miles east of Manhattan...but light years away in terms of pace. Where Manhattan is all hustle, bustle, crowds, frenzy and action, Old Westbury Gardens is peaceful, tranquil, and basically the antithesis (or antidote) of New York City. The sprawling grounds are a showcase for trees, flowers, expansive lawns and small lakes, and many small animals from geese to turtles call it home. Since it's open to the public, for a nominal fee you can go in and spend as much time as you want wandering aimlessly and just enjoying the beautiful colors, and the sounds of nothing but nature.

Even if you've never been there, you have probably seen at least part of it, as it has been featured in many movies over the years, ranging from the Alfred Hitchcock classic North By Northwest, to more recent movies like Cruel Intentions (with Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Wolf (with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer). My father was a volunteer maintainence worker at Old Westbury Gardens at the time that Wolf was being filmed there, but I don't believe there were any encounters with any of the actors. I do remember him telling me a story about Dave Thomas, the Wendy's founder, filming one of his commercials there. Thomas starred in many commercials for Wendy's, trying to show he was one of the people. From what Vlad told me about whatever ad was being filmed there, it took some insanely enormous number of takes for him to get his short, simple lines right. He made a lot of mistakes...maybe he was one of the people...

There are several sections around the grounds devoted to displaying many different flowers and colorful plants. There is a Walled Garden section with an Italian Garden towards the back of it, which has a small pool filled with dozens of hefty goldfish, and intricate architecture lining the path. It's a truly beautiful place to be, and the day we were there a few women had set up shop to draw and paint the scenery before them.

Since I enjoy photography, a place filled with as much color as Old Westbury Gardens makes for countless photo ops. Just spending the early afternoon wandering around the area with my Mom, I took nearly 200 pictures in the 2 hours we were there. Living in the desert of the American Southwest as I do, seeing this much greenery in one place is now a rare treat for me. Since I don't get many opportunities to get to places like this, I take full advantage of them when I do get there. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, the pictures accompanying this entry are all from the absolutely gorgeous day in early October 2010 I spent wandering around there in Long Island. And there are other pictures I've taken that are visible at my Panoramio page, with a section devoted just to Old Westbury Gardens.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The White Stripes (live), Monty Python, Pearl Jam (live), MC5, The Ramones, The Misfits, traditional Japanese music, Bill Bailey, Overkill, Metallica (live), The Who, Soundgarden, Bjork (live), Brant Bjork, Led Zeppelin (live), P.J. Harvey, Fun Lovin' Criminals, The Doors (live), James Brown, The Anti-Nowhere League

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Poor Neglected Blog Tells The First Part Of My Recent NYC Trip

Yes, it has been some time since I've posted anything here. Two whole months, as a matter of fact. Life has been an incredibly busy adventure lately. I spend a large amount of time working, as I constantly sign up to be on the Overtime Desired list. But there have been other things going on as well.

I spent just over a week in New York City in early October. I stayed with my parents, who have lived out in the suburbs of Long Island for the past 14-plus years now. I got something in the area of 3 hours sleep a night while there, due to running around and trying to see as many friends and events and things as possible while there.

I worked on Saturday the 2nd Of October, so I was up at around 4AM (I like to get up early so I have time to exercise, shower, have a nice breakfast, and not feel rushed while doing it). Getting out of work around 5:15PM, I came home, showered, ate, took care of some things, and then some friends came over to get me around 10 to take me to the airport for my midnight red-eye flight to JFK. I'm not really able to sleep that well on planes (I just can't get physically comfortable enough in those seats to pass out for an extended period of time), so my trusty iPod kept me company as I drifted in and out of consciousness while we made our way across the country in the dead of night. With the 5 hour journey, plus the 3 hour time difference, coming in to NYC at around 8AM made for a nice early morning landing.

Picked up by the Mom Taxi outside, we made our way out to Yentaville (as I "lovingly" refer to Long Island), where I started taking pictures along the way. While I'm not overly fond of a lot of the upper-crusty people of Long Island, it is a rather nice looking part of the world. We must have gotten to the house around 9AM, which afforded me enough time to sit and chat with Vlad for a while, something I don't get to do in person very often. While my Mom will fly out to me in Las Vegas about once a year, my father is not a traveler, so the only time I get to see him is when I get back to NY...and this was my first trip there since April 2008. So I hadn't seen him in 2 & 1/2 years.

We talked about this and that over breakfast, but around 11AM I was out the door in Mom's car, off to get my friend DB Borroughs, the Overlord Of Unseen Films, so we could go take in a Mets game. Mind you, due to the insane salaries the crybaby ballplayers get, the free-agency and lack of loyalty, along with all of the drugs and other things (oh, don't get me started...), I haven't paid any attention to baseball in years. When I was a child, I LIVED for it. The Yankees were the most important thing in the world to me. But I'm a wiser, more cynical...more disappointed man now. So I just don't waste my time following it. However, I do enjoy just going to a game occasionally, and not having a major league team in Las Vegas, whenever I travel, I look into seeing one.

Now, I ordinarily would not have pretty much gone straight from the airport to a game, but the way my trip was scheduled, this was the final day of the regular season. I have no desire to be giving the type of $ that playoff tickets would require to the overpaid idiots... but thankfully, as far as the Mets are concerned, that is apparently not an issue anyway. The biggest reason I wanted to go was to see the new stadium. Growing up in the shadow of Shea Stadium, I went to many a game there in my youth, so I was very interested in seeing the new Citi Field. It didn't disappoint.

I had picked up 2 tix in the cheapest section quite a while before the trip, just so we could be in. We only used those seats for an inning or 2, and then started wandering around, checking out as many different vantage points as possible. Shea was built in the early 1960's when the cookie-cutter pre-fab stadiums were all the rage (for whatever reason I'll never know), and this is the antithesis of that. Lotsa little nooks & crannies, lotsa great sightlines from all over, including the concourse areas. You can see where it was modeled after the new throwback ballparks, like SafeCo in Seattle and whatever the one in Phoenix is called now. Like those, you can walk 360 degrees within the ballpark, still seeing the field the entire time...although there are plenty of di$traction$ within the concourse.

It's a nice facility outside as well, and it didn't hurt that it was a beautiful, if a little chilly, day. There was also a nice Mets museum on the lower level in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is the main entrance to the stadium. Nice bits of baseball history, with, of course, more things for sale. It was really hard to turn in any direction anywhere in the stadium without seeing SOMETHING up for sale. This is one of the things that turns me off about pro sports, and modern American society. But I'm not getting onto the soapbox today...

On the way home from the game, I drove by the house I grew up in, which is only the second time I've seen it since my father sold it in November 1996. Both the house and the streets surrounding it looked remarkably small, confining, and crowded. Everything seemed much bigger as a kid...not an earth-shattering observation, but still true.

At least I was smart enough to not schedule anything much for Monday, other than to hang out with the parental units. We went to a late lunch at a small little bar/restaurant nearby, called the Locust Valley Inn. My folks are regulars there, but it's such a small place I think ALL the customers are regulars there. Good food though, and definitely a nice way to relax for a couple hours talking about life's vicissitudes.

I then headed into Queens in the early evening to go see my New York adopted Mom (I have adopted Moms everywhere). This was the mother of a guy I went to grammar school with, who now lives about an hour or so north in NY, and was unfortunately not going to be able to make it that evening. But the older of his 2 younger brothers was there, along with Ma Cole, neither of whom I'd seen...probably since I moved away over 10 years ago.

A man who has been a friend of mine since the 3rd grade also was able to turn up while I was there. He was also a friend of the Coles, as the oldest Cole son, him, and myself all went to grammar school together, and still keep in touch to this day, even though we are somewhat scattered about now. This guy was the older brother I never had, introducing me to a lot of the things that would be very important in my life, chiefly among them music. Him, the 2 oldest Cole boys, and myself also all took the NYC Firefighter test together in the early 1990's, although only one of us would eventually follow that all the way thru.

The middle Cole son, who was there, has been a NYC Firefighter since the events of 9/11 left a lot of job openings that needed to be filled. He once told me that the letter that he'd been so looking forward to, saying he was a fireman, almost made him sick to his stomach when he finally got it, because of WHY he got it. But he went ahead, and it's the best thing he ever did. He loves his job. He actually enjoys his work. Of the 3 Cole boys, he was the most troubled as a youth, and yet he seems to have turned out the happiest and most well-adjusted. It doesn't hurt that he's also a good looking guy, and keeps himself in terrific shape. He's actually in the City Of The Brave: Firefighters Of NYC 2011 Calendar(proceeds go to charity) if he didn't have ENOUGH trouble beating the women away with a stick... It was really good to see both of them.

Tuesday was the only day with less than stellar weather, and even so, it was still nice. A light mist of a rain, but nothing worse than that. The biggest drawback is the overcast sky makes for less than interesting backgrounds in pictures. But this was my first venture into Manhattan in about 2 & 1/2 years, so nothing was going to get me down. My mom and I took the Long Island Railroad into Grand Central Terminal, and then slowly meandered north. We headed uptown along 5th Avenue, going thru Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, and stopping at Trump Tower for a bite to eat.

We eventually reached our goal of The Frick Collection, a nice, relatively little (compared to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art about 10 blocks further north) art museum. She had wanted me to see this since the last time I'd made it to NYC, as I usually get to The Met, and always enjoy looking at artwork. An excellent private collection/museum, set inside of a beautiful mansion, which has quite a front yard (that would be Central Park...).

Upon leaving The Frick Mansion, we wandered thru Central Park, heading over to Bethesda Fountain, Bow Bridge, and making it over to the West Side, wandered down Central Park West for a bit. We took a break at Dante Park and Lincoln Center, then stopped in the Time Warner Center, because it affords an excellent view out over Columbus Circle & Central Park if you go up a few levels. The basement cafe was insanely crowded though, so we made our way further down Broadway until we stumbled across the Applejack Diner on 55th. Excellent food, and a real friendly staff, coupled with the fact that we were tired from walking all day, and rather hungry, made this the perfect place to be. Would recommend it to anyone...and as usual with New York, never eat at anyplace you recognize the name of. If it's a big chain, avoid it like the plague. The little hole-in-the-wall places are where the best food is to be had.

All this, and I'm not even halfway thru the trip...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Booker T & The MG's, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Bakerton Group, The Fratellis, Primus, Pearl Jam (live), Ozzy Osbourne, Janis Joplin, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Flat Duo Jets, Beck, Rollins Band, The Chemical Brothers, The White Stripes, John Lee Hooker, Bill Bailey, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Faith No More (live), Face To Face, The Misfits, Blondie, The Doors (live), AC/DC, Diamond Head, A Perfect Circle, Johann Strauss, John Connelly Theory, Aerosmith, Django Reinhardt, Personality Crisis, Mr. Bungle, Bjork, Unida (live), Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Black Flag, Royal Crown Revue, Sid Vicious (live...there's irony), Joy Division, Danzig (live), Alice In Chains, Pink Floyd (live), Motorhead

Monday, September 27, 2010

Random Twitter Thoughts

I happened to come up with a couple of fairly clever lines the other day (yes, I am impressed by my own cleverness...), which I put on Twitter. As it happened, Eddie Izzard was playing a gig in St. Albans in the UK the same day, and he always announces when his Twitter page goes live on a screen in whatever venue he's in that night. That means the audience in that theatre can see all messages that are sent @eddieizzard, which normally only Izzard himself can see. I happened to catch him putting his screen live in time to post my witticisms from that morning...

"I caught 20 minutes of a documentary on Hunter S. Thompson this morning. Feeling Gonzo today. Rest of Muppets are jealous or horrified."

"If the distress signals on your car work intermittently, does that mean you have haphazard lights?"

Thank you, I'll be here all week, try the veal, don't forget to tip your waitstaff.

I also posted something three days earlier about Chuck Jones, director of most of the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons, and most of the really good Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck cartoons, plus some good Tom & Jerry's in the late 1960's...oh, I could go on...

Anyway, I posted "Chuck Jones 98th Birthday today...very cool, will watch some Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius...) cartoons in his honor tonight :)", which somehow got noticed and re-tweeted by comedian/actor/internet talk show host Kevin Pollak, who quoted my original tweet preceeded by "Yessss!" I was kinda flattered, considering he has almost 180,000 followers on Twitter...and many of them re-tweeted his re-tweeting of my comment...kinda like those Russian dolls that stack inside one another.

One of the people who saw Pollak's mention of my tweet was Jessica Kausen, and while that may not sound like much to you, she is the great-granddaughter of Chuck Jones! And she is apparently living in Astoria, Queens (a borough of New York City, just east of Manhattan), which is just a few minutes from where I grew up in Whitestone, Queens. Small world.

Pollak and I weren't done though. Just a few days later, I saw him mention being in Las Vegas. I tweeted at him, asking if he was really coming to Vegas to perform soon, and his public reply in a re-tweeting of my question was; "Next weekend at The Palms. Be there or fuck you. Ya know...?" I am now wearing that proudly as a badge of honor...

I also had a recent blog post of mine at Unseen Films get noticed by DeathStarPR, a humorous Twitter account that poses as the Public Relations firm of the Galactic Empire from the Star Wars films. Silly stuff like that is one of the reasons I'm on Twitter.

To close out the Random Thoughts theme, I give you a recent entry I wrote for Unseen Films on Ross Noble's immense DVD package, Randomist;

Most likely, Ross Noble has some terrifically funny material. Odds are, he's got some hilarious gags that would have you laughing until your sides hurt. Unfortunately, he never gets to it. Fortunately, what takes place on stage instead of prepared material is proof of why Noble may be one of the most brilliant comic minds in the world. There is a reason this 4 DVD set is entitled "Randomist". It isn't about running thru a set, it's about what's running thru his mind.

Noble seems to have acquired a version of Attention Deficit Disorder that allows him to articulate on whatever it is that has captured his fancy in such a funny way that you don't want him to ever be cured. For starters, if you're at all self-conscious and are going to one of his shows, whatever you do, don't show up late. He notices the latecomers, is distracted by them, and they become fodder for jokes for anywhere from a couple of lines to a running gag throughout the entire evening. And if you yourself suffer from ADD, this may not be the disc for you. Because Noble runs completely on stream-of-consciousness, you really have to watch the entire DVD straight thru in one sitting. Pausing or stopping to go out and do something else and then resuming the show later is practically not an option with this. It's the type of comedy that builds on itself, and gets funnier as it steamrolls along, and interrupting that flow of momentum will lead to a train wreck of monumental proportions. And you'll be really lost when you start the DVD back up again.

Stalking back and forth across the stage in his track-suit outfit like an overly-caffinated athlete warming up for a sprint around the globe, Noble only seems to approach something resembling material when he's reminded of a story he wants to share. But he's only telling the story because something the audience did or said remined him of it, not because he went on stage with the express intent of telling that particular story. Watching him at work is fascinating, following him from one tangent to another, and seeing him weave them together like some sort of psychedelic tapestry. Which brings up another interesting point; he's completely clean. Noble does not do drugs of any kind, which makes you really wonder about his brain all the more.

Due to not taking any drugs, his mental rolodex is in perfect working condition. This is extremely vital to his performing style, because Noble often distracts himself. In the middle of discussing one story, he's reminded of something else, and wanders off down that road. All is not lost however, as he does...eventually...return to the story he was originally telling. He is aware of whatever unfinished-story business he has going, and manages to wrap them all up in a race against time (and the closing of the nearby car-park). It almost comes across like a suspense film, as both the live audience, and the DVD watchers, move closer to the edges of their seats, wondering if he'll ever finish the story about the radio interview...

Noble may also be the most physically active comedian ever. There's a reason he wears a track suit at gigs, for he's constantly moving around the stage, even pacing when just telling a story. When he adds physical comedy into the mix, he's sometimes flat-out running. It's almost as if his body is trying to keep up with his mind. You'll be worn out too if you get this DVD set (his 3rd offering on DVD), as the 4 discs contain something close to 9 hours of material. The main show alone, filmed in Newcastle, England in December 2005, is 2 & 1/2 hours long. Then there are other shows included from the year long tour, commentary tracks from Noble on each show, separate documentary films for both the Scottish and Australian legs of the tour, plus another hidden show that can only be accessed by correctly answering a quiz based on having watched the contents of the DVD package. It's well worth getting a copy of this box set, as the laughs, and the massive quantity of them, will have you hunting down more DVD's from Noble. And you'll learn the proper way to tuck in an owl.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Slayer, Mr. Bungle, The White Stripes, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors (live), Hello, ZZ Top, Artie Shaw, Judas Priest (live), Eric Clapton, Huevos Rancheros, John Lee Hooker, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Henny Youngman, Blondie

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've had a rare Saturday off, and I've spent it exercising, playing video games, and spending far too much time at the computer (I have actually accomplished a few things though, and it's my time off dammit, I'll do what I want!). Been listening to music on the computer for several hours now (according to the Last Played list on iTunes), giving me some idea of how long I've been physically inactive...and explaining why I'm getting hungry...

But when a Björk track came on shuffle on iTunes, I decided to go to YouTube and look for a couple videos of hers, in particular the video for Big Time Sensuality. It was a track off of her first post-Sugarcubes solo effort entitled Debut, from 1993. A remix was used for the video version, which I always thought was far superior to the album version of the song. As for the video itself, it is fascinating in its simplicity. The entire 5 minute piece consists of her bounding around in full Björk-ness on the back of a flatbed truck, slowly meandering thru the streets of Manhattan. That's it. And yet, despite the minimalist approach, it is truly compelling to watch. Shot in black & white to boot (really driving home the bare bones approach), it's almost as interesting (to me) to watch the surroundings as it is to watch her. I'm always looking at it trying to figure out exactly which intersection of NYC they're going thru...or wondering what the people on the nearby bus were thinking as this big truck passed by, with this wacky female with the goofy hairstyle jumping around like some spastic idiot on the back. I also think how much I would have LOVED to have been one of the passerby on the street; I probably would've been arrested as I proceeded to follow the truck up and down the streets on its destinationless journey...

I have always thought she is an incredibly beautiful human being. I find her an irresistably attractive woman, even with her goofy golf-ball-knot hairstyle she used in that video (and she wore frequently in that Debut album era), although one of the most attractive pictures I ever saw of her graced the cover of Time Out New York back when Dancer In The Dark came out. Her one and only film, there are legendary stories of her fighting with director Lars von Trier that made her swear off ever making another, despite her winning the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. There's just something about that chin down, knowing smile, eyebrow raised, only one eye visible thru her flowing hair look that completely overpowers me. There aren't many women on the planet I'd be willing to kill for, but at that moment, she'd have been one...

(Completely coincidentally, it marks 10 years ago this week that Dancer In The Dark showed at the New York Film Festival. Dbborroughs is attending this year's NYFF right now as a member of the press, due to his dogged persistence with his site Unseen Films, which I am an occasional contributor to, and also editor of. Db tends to write very stream-of-consciousness, meaning punctuation is not his friend. I pretty much just go over each piece, put in commas, periods, and things of that nature, and make it easier for the average person to digest, so that his opinion of the film in question is what is noticed, not any missing punctuation or incorrect grammar. I think I'll have to write an entry for Dancer in the future for Unseen.)

My biggest Björk phase came in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Homogenic, her third post-Sugarcubes solo effort, came out in 1997, and to this day I still consider it to be a near-perfect album. Start to finish, every track is some level of wonderful, amazing, fantastic, and other superlatives I just can't come up with at the moment. It was a real turning point for her as well, because while Debut was comprised of songs she had written while in the Sugarcubes, and Post (her second post-Sugarcubes effort) was written sort of as a reaction to that, Homogenic was the first album she wrote as a completely clean slate. She felt her true musical direction was just starting with that era. It was radically different from anything she had ever done before...and indeed anything ANYONE had ever done before. The bizarre marriage of melodic and soft strings with thundering, throbbing, pulsing beats, combined with her beautiful but incredibly strong and emotive voice, made for a stunning album that I still find compelling today. I don't often listen to albums straight thru anymore, what with iPods and iPhones and iTunes always being in shuffle mode, but often when a track from that comes on, I'll switch over to hear some, if not all, of Homogenic.

And it didn't end there. Many artists, for European and Japanese releases, produce extra tracks that don't accompany the North American releases of their albums. Björk had put out enough b-side material for her first 3 albums to make 3 MORE albums. And the stuff for Homogenic was all incredible. There was a James Bond theme cover, You Only Live Twice, that was supposed to be released on a star-studded compilation album of Bond theme covers...only she pulled hers at the last minute, apparently because she felt it just wasn't good enough, or not as good as the Nancy Sinatra original, of which she is a big fan. As many artists are wont to be, she was being too hard on herself, because it's a beautiful rendition of a terrific song...and I'm not a fan of the Bond films. It was recorded in the Homogenic era, so I've always lumped it in with that, even though it wasn't "officially" done for that.

Another incredible Homogenic b-side song is So Broken, which is just her accompanied by 2 Flamenco guitarists...truly wonderful, and the live piece I've linked to is testament to her talent as well as just how great a piece of music it is.

There are other b-sides that range from whimsical (Scary) to angry (Sod Off) to gut-wrenching (her live cover of Gloomy Sunday), but the track that has the most meaning for me is back on the actual album. The final song on Homogenic, All Is Full Of Love, was remixed many times, including for the video...and all are vastly INFERIOR to the version that was put on the album. The album version (itself a remix by Howie B, which I can't seem to find a link to...) has a soothing, hypnotic quality to it that relaxes you to a point of being capable of opening up and seeing the beauty of the world around you. I have very vivid memories of specific wonderful moments that happened to me as this song was playing. One involved walking in a gentle rain shower on a warm summer day while delivering a route in a beautiful tree lined area of Long Island, New York, and the other happened as I was driving thru the plains of southern Quebec on my way to Montreal, and saw a rainbow off to one side. Both times, due to taking in the lyrics, the gentleness of the song, and the beauty of the moment I was in, made me realize how wonderful life could be, if you just let it.

On a related note, for some reason, most, if not all, of the women who have ever been in my life have had an extreme dislike of Björk. I've never really understood why...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Björk (...duh...), John Frusciante, Blondie, Scatterbrain, The Slits, Pearl Jam (live), The Beastie Boys, The Waitresses, Alice In Chains, The Chemical Brothers, Santana, The White Stripes, Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains, Testament, The Misfits, Social Distortion (covering a Bo Diddley track), The Ramones, Joe Walsh, and most of the Homogenic album by Björk

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Comedic Writing For Unseen Films

Although the website is called Unseen Films, A) it is not limited to just films, and B) it is not entirely about things that are necessarily unseen either. Since both the Overlord Of Unseen Films and myself are based in the United States Of America (although on opposite coasts), we are approaching the site from an American perspective. With that in mind, many of the items presented on Unseen Films have been under-appreciated by an American audience, despite having achieved great success in many other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Unseen may not be entirely the right moniker...but for our purposes, it comes pretty damn close.

Today I present a piece I wrote on a DVD release by comedian Tim Minchin, originally posted on Unseen Films in late June:

Aside from the fact that Tim Minchin is a brilliantly gifted lyricist who writes & performs wonderful comedic songs, the biggest key to the success of his material can be summed up in one word...timing. His timing, both comedically and musically, is perfect. He has an uncanny ability to know precisely how long to pause for effect, to know just how many words he can squeeze into a line and still keep the rhythmn of the song, and to know just how long that piano solo should be.

Minchin (an Australian living in London), relies on visual effects for much of his comedy as well. By visual effects, I mean mascara. He wears a large amount of thick eyeliner to accentuate his facial expressions, which is key to the success of his comedy. When you are WATCHING a Tim Minchin performance, you will get much more out of it than just listening to it. That is something you could find yourself doing, as it is music and comedy combined, 2 forms of expression that don't HAVE to have visuals to be successful. You will still find Minchin enjoyable if you do wander around the room doing things while the performance plays, and you'll find yourself singing parts of songs long after the DVD has ended. The chorus to the opening number, "So Fucking Rock", is insanely catchy. But if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded by some great facial expressions that fill some of the on-purpose gaps in the music. And, in reference to the opening number again, a great deal of mime is involved as well, so you'd BETTER be watching, dammit!

Minchin is very funny when singing songs at the piano, but he is capable of being just as funny when standing naked (as in sans piano) center stage and performing, not merely reciting, a poem entitled "Angry (Feet)". His skills as an actor shine thru beautifully in this piece, as well as being a showcase yet again for his impeccable sense of timing. But the bulk of the show, and his true strength, lies when he plays the part of demented cocktail lounge piano player, belting out tunes such as "Inflatable You", "Rock N Roll Nerd", and his self-professed favorite song to perform, "Peace Anthem For Palestine". It is a treat to watch him play piano as well, as he does seem to be remarkably talented on that instrument. And when you take into account the sheer volume of lyrics some of his songs contain, his talent seems to grow exponentially. The first lines alone of "Some People Have It Worse Than I" are, "Well I wake up in the morning at 11:47 and I can't believe I have to face the horror of another fucking day. And the magnificent magnitude of my morning erection merely mocks me like the sun in its optimistic greeting of the day." You try singing that, let alone playing piano as well...

This particular release was an Australian only DVD entitled "So Live" that came out in 2007. It contains most of the better songs and bits from his first 2 shows, "Darkside" and "So Rock", which were released as CD's only. As brilliant and funny and witty and revealing as it is, a slightly more polished version of basically the same show was released in the UK the following year entitled "So Fucking Rock Live". There's really no point to owning both, it's just a matter of which is easier to hunt down. Personally, I would recommend "So Fucking Rock Live", as the little changes do make a difference. It is interesting to compare the 2 to see where Minchin felt things needed improvement, and I find it compelling to see a professional hone his skills and work at his craft, but being a student of comedy I WOULD find that interesting. The rest of you, who just want to enjoy the show, can pick up either version and be quite happy.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Nirvana, Scott Reeder, Fugazi, Black Sabbath, & whatever I was listening to when I first wrote the Minchin piece...which I'm sure would include So Fucking Rock...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Unseen Stand-Up Comedy

So in the week leading up to Independence Day this year, I did a half-dozen write-ups of DVD's by stand-up comedians, all of whom are from either the United Kingdom or Australia (irony, folks...). Since I'm not sure if I'm gonna get to an actual blog entry here soon (lotsa editing to be done for Unseen Films, plus I need to write a couple more pieces of my own up for that as well), I present the next installment in my previous writings for Unseen Films; my write-up of Monster, a 2004 show by the hilarious and brilliant Dylan Moran.

At the beginning of Dylan Moran's Monster DVD, there is footage of an "interview" being shot in his dressing room. Before the "interview" starts, he asks, off camera, "Why do people buy DVD's? Don't they have lives?" Well, yes, but we prefer they be enriched by the witty social commentary of someone such as...well, Dylan Moran.

Moran comes across as a regular guy at a party that is holding court. Since he's holding a microphone in one hand, he has to alternate between holding his glass of wine or a cigarette in the other, but he'd be holding both at the same time at the party sans microphone. One of his better lines in the early part of the program is "Your potential is like your bank's always a lot less than you think it is." But much of his material doesn't come across as...material. His delivery is so seemingly random and natural that it feels like he's just talking to you at that party, making all of this stuff up as the conversation goes along.

He spends the first half of the show tackling the subjects of drinking, children, and the generational gap. He makes keen observations on each, and peppers them with oftentimes bizarre analogies that come so out of left field that he does seem to have just said the first thing he thought of at that moment. It is probably scripted, but again, his delivery and demeanor are so relaxed that it comes across as completely natural, and it makes you really want to hear what he has to say next. It doesn't hurt that the Irishman is just a few months younger than I, so I can completely relate to many of his cultural and psychological references.

The topics attacked after the interval include politics and religion, and don't ask how, but he somehow logically gets to a wonderful portrayal of a French couple shouting at each other in their house in between the aforementioned subjects. It's probably the only moment in the show where he maintains a character for more than just a moment, and it's a bit of a shame, because he does it very well. But as funny as everything has been up until now, it isn't until the topic of conversation turns to men and women that Moran really hits full stride. While the comments on life have been astute up until now, they border on genius in this section...particularly his claim that men are more romantic creatures than women.

The nearly 90 minute show, filmed in Dublin, is well worth getting the DVD for, despite what Moran says about people who do.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Roots, Public Enemy, Pearl Jam (live), The Beatles, The White Stripes, and whatever I would have been listening to when I originally wrote the piece for Unseen, which obviously would have included Monster by Dylan Moran...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mental Projector

It's been a while, but I finally changed the picture at the top of this blog to another of my many travel shots. This one I haven't even posted on Panoramio (yet...), but I realized it would work well for the look of the blog. It was taken back in January of 2009 on my Southern Utah/Northern Arizona driving vacation that encompassed me seeing things like the magnificent Horseshoe Bend, a 180 degree turn of the Colorado River near Page, Arizona. The river has cut thru the earth at such an angle that as it makes it's turn at this point, it resembles a horseshoe (when viewed from above). It has also eroded the earth to a point that the surrounding cliffs are roughly 1,000 feet high, making for quite a spectacular view when you are standing there in person. As with many things in life, while there are nice pictures of it, no mere photograph can truly do it justice. I felt a true sense of awe standing there gazing over the chasm...every once in a while you are slapped in the face with your true insignificance, yet at the same time you are left marvelling at the beauty that surrounds you.

The picture at the top of the blog, however, was taken near the southern entrance of Zion National Park, just a little bit north of the "sleepy little resort town" (one is required to describe places of this nature with that phrase) of Springdale, Utah. Traversing along a winding path called Floor Of The Valley Road, you are surrounded by beautiful outcroppings of rock, and when the sun hits them just right, they look even more amazing. I purposely did this trip in January, because I figured it would look even more beautiful with a decent amount of snow around. It was also nice to quite often be pretty much the only person around for miles. Having grown up in New York, I'm not afraid of a little inclement weather, but as you can see, really all Mother Nature did was enhance some of it's beauty.

Bryce Canyon National Park was another portion of this journey, and again, there were plenty of moments when I put the camera down and just stood there soaking in the imagery with nothing but my eyes, and my soul. It's possible to get lost behind a lens and just click away and not entirely enjoy the experience of being where you are; I try not to let that happen. And with places like this, you really can't. The pictures are nice, but every time I look at them, they mainly serve as a spark for the mental photographs I have which are far more breathtaking. A truly stunning place, which will definitely be visited again before I'm finished on this plane of existence.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park was the other main destination on this extensive driving trip. Located in the northeast corner of Artizona, you actually enter the park from the southern portion of Utah. If you've ever seen a Western film directed by John Ford, you've seen part of Monument Valley. And the picture to the left is the typical image of the area, but there is so much more to it than that...not that it isn't stunning in it's own right. Another truly jaw-dropping experience, seeing these incredible rock formations reminds you of just how small your place in the universe really is. There is a 17 mile dirt road that loops thru the area, and you can't drive too fast on it...but why would you want to? These destinations are in the middle of nowhere, and it takes lots of driving time to get there, so since all this time has already been invested, you make damn sure to leisurely meander around, absorbing the natural beauty that encompasses your field of vision. I had truly beautiful weather the day I was there, and got some amazing pictures, but still the best ones play on the projector in my head...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Alice In Chains, Louis Prima, Pink Floyd (live), Joy Division, Medeski Martin & Wood, International Noise Conspiracy, Motorhead, Bjork (live), Louis Jordan, Fear Factory, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam (live), Samhain, Chemical Brothers, Primus, Misfits (live), Mr. Bungle, Rolling Stones, Dead Milkmen (live)...(and yes, I see the irony in that), Tomoyasu Hotei

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Of My Unseen Films Writing, & Twitter Stuff

So as I sit here about to embark on some more editing of upcoming posts on Unseen Films, I figure I'll post here another of my contributions to that site, which appeared there in late April, 2010. It concerns a short film collection by a favorite artist of mine, Dave McKean, who I'm really hoping to meet someday. I just found out earlier today that a Twitter friend who lives in the same county of England as McKean will be attending a symposium in which he will "explain his working practices and processes", which I really hope is being filmed for a DVD or iTunes U release.

And on a nearly unrelated note, I found out today that Trace Beaulieu, original member of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and now co-conspirator in Cinematic Titanic (both of which will be featured in upcoming posts on Unseen Films), is now following my Tweets on Twitter! That came as quite a shock, but definitely an honor, as his work on both of those projects, along with his cohorts on each, has had me laughing for 20 years now. Really was quite thrilled to see that e-mail saying he was following me, very cool!

Anyway, enough rambling, here is my write-up of Dave McKean's Keanoshow;

The opening of the 15 minute short film “Kodak: Take Pictures Further“ contains the following lines written across the screen; “My head hurts. I’ve got too many images in my brain. Quick, somebody get me some more film before my head explodes.” Welcome to the world of Dave McKean.

The visual work of McKean, particularly his motion picture work, requires that you pay attention at all times. Being a visual artist first, his films are filled with bizarre imagery that may or may not be representative of anything, but are still a treat to look at. For those unfamiliar, McKean was the cover artist on the entire run of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comic book series, and also was the director, designer, and co-storywriter of the film “MirrorMask” (Gaiman was the other storyteller). One of the things that is consistent about McKean’s work is that you can never be quite certain of just exactly what it is you’re looking at. Even if you think you do know what you’re seeing, quite often it will metamorphose into something else in a graceful and oftentimes surprising way. He also tends to combine images in a way that juxtaposes them wonderfully. He will alternate between a fixed camera position, with interesting images literally unfolding before the eyes, to giant sweeping arcs in and around computer creations seemingly floating in the ether. McKean never fails to visually dazzle the viewer. Some of the short films on “Keanoshow” don’t even center around a narrative per se, as much as they are just about stunning visuals.

As far as narratives, my personal favorite film on the disc is “The Week Before“, about the seven days leading up to the week in which God created the world. Featuring the music of Django Reinhardt (which is apparently the reason for the unavailability of “Keanoshow” in the US), we follow God (portrayed by Dean Harris wearing one of McKean’s trademark masks) as he works his way thru seemingly ordinary days of naming objects, fishing, and playing cards with his neighbor (who, since the world hasn’t been created yet, is The Devil, played by Eamonn Collinge in another of McKean‘s beautiful masks). It’s a lighthearted look into a life, made rather dazzling by the combination of live actors wearing some of McKean’s art, existing in worlds that are part physical set and part McKean’s computer art. It always seems interesting to me to see McKean’s paintings come to life, and that is in a nutshell what “The Week Before” is, more so than any of the other shorts on “Keanoshow“. “The Week Before” is also probably closest of anything on the disc visually to “MirrorMask“, and the excellent choice of Reinhardt tracks to accompany the days of the week makes for a truly engaging 23 minute film. It was actually the music of Reinhardt that inspired McKean to write many of the scenes for the film.

“n[eon]” contains a line that is very appropriate. Although the lead character, voiced by narrator John Cale, is talking about Venice, Italy (which is where McKean wrote the short) when he utters the line, he could well be talking about McKean’s work in any medium when he says “(It) rewards those who pay attention. The more you look, the more you see.” This is perhaps the most surreal, dream-like piece on the disc, which is saying something considering it’s context. It may also be the best piece on the disc. A seemingly somber short, you find your self thinking, a lot, as the film unfolds. A man searching for where he belongs wanders Venice and sees a ghost, as he wonders about his place in the universe. Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but the 28 minute film has to be seen, not explained.

“Whack!” is a 14 minute live-action adaptation of the Punch & Judy puppet shows; just as violent, and perhaps more disturbing, in real life. The entire film takes place inside the tent that the puppet shows would be presented from, so the overly close perspective adds a bizarre quality to the visuals, making everything, even though comedic, seem more intense (no pun intended). The actors are members of Forced Entertainment, an experimental theater group in England.

“Dawn” is a 9 minute film made in 3 days because McKean wanted to remember that making films was fun, after spending 2 years making “MirrorMask” where it had become a tremendous amount of work. It stars his daughter Yolanda and is based on “conversations with (his) worrisome daughter”, and, while not featuring the look of his artwork, is visually unique in that it was shot on video thru glass bottles to add a sort of dream-like quality.

“Displacements” seems to exist solely for the pleasure of being able to create interesting images on computer for the camera, interspersed with snippets of an interview with Michael Moorcock that are layered and looped in to become another visual element of bizarreness. McKean is fond of distorting audio, leaving in scratchy noises that sound like a German Expressionist film looks.

There are also a dozen more short films included, varying in length from 1 to 15 minutes. These include music videos for artists as diverse as guitarist Buckethead (featuring Les Claypool on bass & vocals), opera singer Izzy, and a live performance at a jazz club by Iain Ballamy and Stian Carstensen, which McKean later added visual effects to. The music video seems to be a perfect format for McKean; I personally would love to see him add to his repertoire in this genre. He’s done well over 150 CD covers, it seems only natural that he would progress to this medium. Of the rest of the films, an especially interesting one is “A Short Film For Adobe“, in which the company’s Photoshop program is demonstrated within the context of a photo shoot in a rather clever way. Also of note is a short adaptation of part of “Signal To Noise“, originally done as a series for Face magazine, and then collected into a graphic novel, written by Gaiman and released back in 1992. A conversation shot in a living room from a single camera angle is transferred into a visually arresting image with the collage of images coming together to form the whole. Much like a lot of McKean’s work, in any medium, it needs to be seen, as it is rather difficult to explain…however, it is all very much worth it indeed.

It is also worth noting that much of the music for many of the films on “Keanoshow” is written and performed by McKean himself. Even the basic DVD menus are done in McKean’s style, making the entire disc a treat for fans of his work. There is an interview with him in which he discusses some of the work seen on the disc, and even that is infused with some of his artistic sense. McKean is a very talented visual artist in whatever medium he chooses to work in, having a very distinctive style which is on full display in this collection of short films directed and designed by him spanning a nearly 10 year period. As mentioned earlier, the copyright issue over Reinhardt’s music currently prohibits a release in the US, but it looks to be getting a release in Europe from Darkside in the next few months (this information direct from McKean himself via his Twitter account…well worth following, as his taste in film mirrors much of what appears on this site, and he often reports on his family‘s choice of film the night before). “Keanoshow” was very briefly available on Amazon in the US in late July, 2008, which is how I got my copy, but quickly became unavailable from them when the copyright issues arose. You can find it on eBay and things like that, and for those with a taste for visual flair who are willing to try something a bit different, you shouldn’t be disappointed…as long as you pay attention.

Special thanks to Dave McKean for the info and the images, and for being a pretty cool guy, as well as a helluva artist.

Blog Post Soundtrack; much of Tomahawk's self-titled debut album...for those who don't know, this was Mike Patton's first major post-Faith No More project, excellent stuff...and of course, whatever I was listening to as I was originally writing the piece for Unseen Films, but I bet there was some Django Reinhardt in there...

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Is This Thing You Call Sleep?

So on Saturday night I went to see the band Rush on their Time Machine tour at the MGM Grand Garden Arena here in Las Vegas. I don't own any of their music, but I know they are very talented, and I enjoy some of their songs. I think my biggest problem with the band is Geddy Lee's voice. It just doesn't do it for me. I like a lot of their songs right up until the point when he sings, as the music is terrific. I just have a hard time with his high pitch. Fortunately they have quite an array of instrumental tracks, and they really are accomplished musicians, so I really like those pieces. Rush is the very favorite band of a friend from work, and he wanted me to go with him, his wife and daughter, so that's why I wound up being at this show.

Tickets weren't cheap, but my friend got them thru Rush's fan club, so at least we were seated close to the stage, about 25 rows up off to the right side as you faced the stage. It was nice to be able to watch Lee playing bass & synthesizer, and I was able to get a good view of Neil Peart pounding away furiously on the drums...and the giant video screens helped too...

Now the Rush show was scheduled to begin at 8PM. This being on a Saturday, I had to work that day. I started at 7AM, which is a half-hour earlier than normal, but I had put in a change-of-schedule so that I could only work 8 hours that day. I also did a no-lunch, so I was out at 3PM. The reason for all this was not so much for the Rush show, but for the fact that I would also be attending another concert that evening AFTER the Rush show.

I've been a big fan of the band Primus since around late 1991. Where Rush is a power trio of pretty much straight forward rock music, Primus is a power trio that is quite a bit different. Frontman Les Claypool has made the bass into the dominant instrument in that band, and they have a sound all their own. When people ask me to describe what Primus sounds like, the best answer I can give is, "They sound like Primus." They are incredibly unique, and nothing else sounds like them at all. The only possible similarity I could give you is that Les Claypool has a potentially off-turning vocal style as well...not that he sounds like Lee in any way, it's just that the biggest reason many people find not to like Primus is Claypool's singing. I think it's quirky in a good way, so it doesn't bother me.

Now Primus are huge fans of Rush, and with both bands touring, and both being in Las Vegas the same night, Primus decided they wanted to go see the Rush show. Consequently, they pushed the start time of their own show back to midnight. This being a Saturday, that's fine for most folks, but with me working for the Post Office, Saturday isn't a day off, so this was gonna be a LONG day.

I got home from work, showered, and a friend who I'd be meeting later at the Primus show later stopped by and dropped off my tickets for Primus. I then made the half-hour journey to my Rush friend's house, and we all headed out to eat. Leaving Pizzeria Enzo at a little after 7PM, we headed over to park near the MGM, and managed to get to our seats at just about 8PM. Part of my daily routine has me exercising for a bit in the morning, so I'd already been awake since 4AM. What with working and now having had a very filling (and good) meal, I took an Excedrin simply for the caffeine. Since I don't drink coffee or soda, a little bit of caffeine goes a long way for me...

At about 8:10PM a short film came on, and Rush hit the stage about 8:20PM. They played for about an hour, took a 15 minute or so intermission, then another short film played, then they played their 1981 album Moving Pictures in it's entirety. Following this up with a few more songs, they then left, returned for a few more encore songs, and left the stage for good...followed by another short film. It was about 11:25PM when we were able to finally start filing out of the Grand Garden Arena, having to head a short distance northeast to get to the Hard Rock Hotel, site of the venue for the Primus show.

Knowing we had a whole nother concert to get thru, we made a quick stop at the bathroom on the way out of the MGM. Once we made it to our vehicles, my friend's wife and daughter parted ways with us, as the older of the two wasn't a Primus fan, and the younger had to work at 8AM the next morning, so she wasn't going to be able to go. My friend (who didn't have to work on Saturday...bastard...) and I made the short drive to the Hard Rock, parked, traipsed thru the casino, and literally set foot inside The Joint just as Primus were about to hit the stage. We made it with all of 15 seconds to spare, and as this is a general admission, standing only venue, spent most of the first song looking for a good space to make our vantage point for the evening. We wound up about halfway back, situated just to the left of the soundboard, with a good sightline. Neither of this evening's concerts had an opening act, they were both "An Evening With..." shows, so there were no boring bands to sit thru...but it also meant a tight schedule, which actually worked out really well.

My Rush friend had never seen, or I believe even heard, Primus before, but since the tickets were VERY reasonably priced (t-shirts at the Rush show cost more than the tickets for Primus), and he used to play bass years ago, he was interested enough to want to go to this too. He came out of the evening very impressed, having really enjoyed the show, which I was very happy about. And it was a terrific show, what with Primus playing a nice healty mix from probably all of their albums. They even played a few songs I didn't know, which must have been from their more recent efforts. They were still excellent offerings, and I may have to go search them out. They only took maybe a 2 minute break a little over an hour into the set, and finally left the stage for good just before 2AM. In case you're wondering, I had taken another Excedrin on the short drive over to see Primus...

I met up with my friend who had dropped off the Primus tickets many hours earlier (we had been texting each other prior to and during the Primus show), so we got to talk for a bit while we checked out the merchandise table, and each of us wound up buying a shirt. I haven't bought a shirt at a show for years, simply because they just charge too damn much money, but since these were reasonably (enough) priced, I figured what the hell. There was a nice blue one with a couple astronauts floating in space on it, and what with 2 giant (maybe 12 feet high each) inflatable astronauts having been on stage thru the set, having moving images flashed on their helmet visors all evening, it made for a nice choice.

By the time we finished getting shirts and walking back to our respective vehicles, it was about 2:20AM. I now drove my buddy home, and by the time I finished the trek back to my house, it was 3:15AM. I was still a little wired from the evening's events, so it wasn't until 4AM, a full 24 hours after this day had started, that I got into bed. I think I made it as far as 4:01...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Deftones, Prong, White Zombie, Pearl Jam, Parannoyd, White Stripes (live), Doors (live), Refused, The Centurians, John Lee Hooker, S.O.D. (live), Eagles Of Death Metal, Clutch, Anthrax, Corrosion Of Conformity

Friday, August 13, 2010

How To Fill A Large Amount Of Space In A Small Amount Of Time

I'm still really busy, working many, many hours. I don't have a life, but with all of the money I've been making working all of this overtime, I plan on buying myself a really nice one eventually. So, in an effort to keep this blog contributed to on something approaching the semi-regular basis as proclaimed in the title, I've decided I'm going to cut-and-paste my contributions to my buddy's blog Unseen Films over to here. These are all things that I've written this calendar year, so well within the time frame of starting this blog. I wouldn't mind these pieces getting a little more exposure, and I certainly wouldn't mind helping to plug my friend's blog as well. He's insane; his blog has been going for 6 months with a MINIMUM of one entry PER DAY, giving small write-ups to films that deserve a little more attention than they are receiving. When he finds time to work and/or sleep I have no idea, what with him watching all of these movies, then writing about them as well. He's a true film devotee, really loving the medium, always willing to watch anything in the endless search for things worthwhile. Which, unfortunately, also means that he spends countless hours watching drek and garbage as part of that quest for film gold. You know those crappy movies they make fun of on Mystery Science Theater 3000? He owns many of the uncut originals...

So, that's my rather long-winded way of introducing the first of my Unseen Films contributions, posted back in April, 2010 about MirrorMask, a beautiful little film by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, a favorite artist and author pairing of mine. My write-up is preceded by an introduction about McKean by the Overlord Of Unseen Films, dbborroughs. The introduction also has a brief explanation about myself, as this was my first published contribution to Unseen Films.

On with the show!

This weekend Unseen Films is going to take a look at a feature film and a collection of short ones by artist and filmmaker Dave McKean. McKean is probably best known for his comic work with Neil Gaiman. However McKean doesn't limit himself to any one medium and has produced amazing work in a variety of fields. One of the fields he works in is the realm of the moving image on film and video. Today we'll be looking at the feature film he created with Neil Gaiman and the Jim Henson Company called MirrorMask. Tomorrow we'll be looking at a compilation of his short films called Keanoshow.

McKean is one of the few filmmakers working today who's use of computer generated imagery makes sense. Here is a man who has been using the medium probably since the beginning and he knows how to make images that truly look real. Most Hollywood super productions spend millions of dollars on expensive graphics and when you look at them, and I mean if you really look at them, you can see that what you are seeing isn't real. Worse if it does look real it never integrates into the live action portions of the film.
That doesn't happen with McKean.

What I love about McKean's work is that he doesn't use just movie tricks. He is a filmmaker who will use anything at his disposal. If one looks at his film you'll see a variety of styles and methods used. There are puppets and image collages and masks and costumes and props and computer generated gizmos. There isn't a limit to what he will use. He is very similar to true cinema masters like Jan Svankmajer or Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, who use a variety of techniques to get their stories told. I'm sure that the use of a variety of techniques comes from a lack of funds but at the same time it forces the artist to be much more clever and inventive.

McKean's visuals are works of art.
To be able to truly speak about Dave McKean's work seemed a bit beyond me. Honestly I didn't feel I could do them justice, so I've asked a good friend of mine and Unseen Films contributor Ken Fries to take over control for this weekend and really explain why McKean's work is so special. He is much better suited to get at the meat of the material than I am, since he's been a fan of McKean for longer than I have.

Before we get to the review itself I want to explain why not only I asked Ken to come aboard here at Unseen Films but also why he's the perfect person to review this weekend's films. Ken is a man of many interests, chief among them are film and art. With film he's the sort of person you can make an off the cuff reference to a film to only to find you end up in a two hour conversation about a variety of related films and subjects. It's never one thing its everything all at once. Not so long ago, before a few detours, Ken wrote regularly on comics and comic art for several publications. He was responsible for some of the earliest extended and meatiest interviews with people like Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. And when I say meaty, I mean meaty. He once interviewed illustrator Charles Vess for Comics Journal but the interview was so long and detailed that the magazine sent some one else to interview him because the act of transcribing it and getting it ready for publication was going to have the issue whiz past deadline. (The still unpublished interview is one of the best and most detailed you're ever likely to see on an artist.) Ken loves to make sure he's right on every detail which is what makes reading him so much fun. He's a guy who knows what he's talking about, and knows so much that odds are that even if you know a subject you're going to learn something from him.

With that in mind I'm going to pass control of Unseen Films over to Ken for his take on the works of Dave McKean.

Watching MirrorMask is like watching someone’s dreamscape gently drift across the screen. In this case, the someone happens to be the very talented artist Dave McKean, and the dreamscape, however bizarre, has a narrative, courtesy of Neil Gaiman. McKean has the ability to take the world of his dreams and visually transform it into something tangible for the screen, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Have you ever tried describing your dreams to someone? While it may make sense to you, the look on the face of the person you’re describing it to says something to the effect of “Why are you continuing to babble on about whatever meaningless nonsense this is? Please stop…” In this case, you wish for this world to continue endlessly.

The story is co-credited to Gaiman, who also gets screenplay credit. And while Stephanie Leonidas, who wonderfully plays the young girl Helena, along with Jason Barry and Rob Brydon, receive top billing, truth be told, it’s the visual unreality designed & directed by McKean that is the real star of the film. Helena is a mid-teen whose family owns & operates a small time one-ring traveling circus, and she wishes to run away and join real life. The colorful world she unhappily inhabits is disrupted by an argument with her mother in which harsh words are exchanged, followed almost instantly by the mother collapsing, being hospitalized, and in need of surgery. We are suddenly transported to a cold antiseptic grey block of flats where Helena lives, as she feels guilt over the exchange with her mother. She visits her Mum in an equally cold antiseptic grey hospital. All color and life has been removed from the visuals to a very great effect.

As Helena goes to sleep on the night of her mother’s operation, she awakens to McKean’s dream world, the visual cacophony that brings the film back to a vivid Technicolor life. The dream world she inhabits is a metaphor for what’s going on in her life, much like someone’s actual dreams are. It’s just a treat to see it translated so beautifully to the screen. Books are used as transportation devices, not in a metaphorical but a literal sense. Schools of fish swim by in mid-air, alongside people walking around who all wear masks, and look oddly at Helena for she doesn’t have a “proper face”, as she’s not wearing a mask. Talking winged cats with human faces threaten her. The entire dream world is a manifestation of Helena’s artwork (which is the art of McKean), which she draws to amuse herself, as well as to give to her Mum when she visits her in hospital as homemade get-well cards. All of these elements are presented in a stunning visual world that is a CGI transformation of McKean’s artwork, while the masks are also McKean creations.

The rest of the story concerns Helena's quest for the film's title, as it can be used to awaken the Queen of the City Of Light, and in turn return Helena to her real world. While the quest aspect of the story isn't exactly breaking any new ground, it's the visually exciting and beautiful way in which it's presented that makes the film so interesting to watch.

The DVD is packed with extras, including an extremely interesting and informative feature-length commentary by both Gaiman & McKean, sitting in the same room at the same time, so it’s a conversation, not just a mere recitation of facts. Made on an insanely modest budget of roughly four million dollars, this is an obvious labor of love that is an absolute treat for anyone who is already a fan of McKean’s artwork. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, but like things like Labyrinth (which in part inspired this film), this will be a delight as well. If you have an appreciation for a fascinating visual world, and always wanted to know what dreams would look like if they were brought to the screen (and would also like to see a librarian made partially out of books and voiced by Stephen Fry), this will be an enjoyable film. Just see if your dreams become any more interesting after watching this film.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Sly & The Family Stone, Mother Love Bone, Cavalera Conspiracy, Parannoyd, Metallica (live), The White Stripes (live), ZZ Top, Sid Vicious (live), Foo Fighters, Infectious Grooves, Tool, MirrorMask by Dave McKean, and whatever may have been playing at the time when I was writing up the review many months ago...