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Friday, November 30, 2007

Culture: 70s Icon and Canyon Foe Evel Knievel Jumps The Big One at 69

Spangled cape wearing motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire Evel Knievel died today after suffering from a variety of ailments including pulmonary fibrosis. In his prime Knievel jumped buses, sharks, and Pepsi delivery trucks as well as a whole bunch of cars. He often broke bones. His most famous stunt was the unsuccessful jump of Snake River Canyon on a rocket propelled motorcycle. Yes kids, the 70s were a different time.

Here's Knievel wiping out at Caeser's Palace in Las Vegas:

Here's his ill-fated Snake River Canyon jump:

And here he jumps a bunch of vans in Portland circa 1973:

Music: Kids Are Cool -- Keeping Scratchin' in The Family

Cool kids like this aren't just made by accident you know...

Thanks to POS(AS) pal Andrea for alerting me to the pint size turntable terrors below. It's tough to raise your kids hip -- you run the risk of turning out investment bankers or Republican committee chairpersons. I bet their parents dress like Regis and Kelly and scold the tykes for ruining the record collection, but its all part of their reverse psychology. Observe, DJ's Sara (8) and Ryusei (5):

Design: Freaked Out By Robots Friday -- Sanrio in Fembot Frenzy

Sanrio, perpetrators of Hello Kitty, have decided that infantalizing young women with Hello Kitty handbags and accessories doesn't push their world domination plans far enough. They are also building a line of supremely creepy female robots through their Kokoro division. Kokoro is apparently Japanese for "Seriously, please don't stick your penis in the robot, ok?" First up we have Actroid, an awfully chatty robot receptionist who is like Pam from the office after a Stepford Wives style lobotomy.

Freaked out yet? You will be by Simroid -- the dental simulation robot. Rather than fiddle with a human volunteer Japanese dental trainees can bang their tools around Simroids robotic mouth. She even has a gag reflex! Best of all, she doesn't file a lawsuit when she comes out from under the gas and her blouse is mis-buttoned. Here's some disturbing video of Simroid showing her...I mean it's, IT'S, range of facial movements:

All of Kokoro's fembots are available for rental (bachelor parties?) and are described by the company as,"Elegant, feminine, and lively at all times…" More to the point, they suggest "You are attracted by her girlish gestures!"
Perhaps this image from the website says it all: "She is robot working girl." Indeed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

TV: The Best TV of 2007 Part Two

Here's the final 5 of my best of the year, televisually:

1) Mad Men (AMC)
I resisted this show mightily, mainly because its on AMC. AMC once stood for American Movie Classics but now stands for Always Mostly Crap. Once it was a haven for commercial free Hollywood classics very much like Turner Classic Movies but the braindead money grubbers came in and added commercial breaks, curtailed black and white movies, and traded in fare like Bringing Up Baby for Jaws 3. Ratings went down but no doubt profits went up as the commercial coffers filled. The last step in the MTV style brand denaturing that every cable channel seems to be falling for is the lure of original programming. It’s therefore sweetly appropriate that Mad Men takes place in the world of advertising.

What’s confounding is that Mad Men turns out to be a phenomenally great show, with a brilliant cast and top notch writing and production values. In a perfect world, HBO would have picked it up to replace The Sopranos. Set in 1960, Mad Men recreates the man's man's man’s world that James Brown sang about, red meat eating chain-smoking drinking and driving wife-is-at-home-cooking-dinner yesteryear. But under the surface there are secretaries aching to be copywriters, wives bored out of their skulls, and men’s men who really are men’s men in every sense of the word.

Jon Hamm, as brilliant and mysterious adman Don Draper, is mesmerizing. John Slattery as his womanizing rake of a boss does the best work of his career. I rooted for Elizabeth Moss all year as a secretary who starts to rise above her station and January Jones is beautiful and startlingly complex as Betty Draper.

Here’s Hamm as Don Draper pitching Kodak:

2) The Shield (FX)
The Shield is the most edge of the seat show on television. Even 6 seasons in, the ensemble cast of cops dirty and clean headed by Michael Chiklis is riveting. Every episode ratchets up the tension and like The Wire (which doesn’t qualify this year) the entire season feels like a satisfying novel. Loyalties will switch back and forth as characters reveal new depths but devotion to this show has a way of becoming total. Here’s the promo for last season:

3) It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Like NBC’s The Office, Sunny spent its third season by expanding several episodes to the hour mark with sometimes mixed results. When they were firing on all cylinders this is the funniest envelope pusher on TV. The gang at Paddy’s bar spend their days undermining and backstabbing each other and anyone who crosses their paths. Along the way they dress up like cops, get hooked on coke, rig a dance contest, and exploit a baby found in a dumpster. Here Dee and Charlie try to sell cocaine:

4) The Office (NBC)
This has been a strange season for The Office. Jim and Pam are now officially A Couple (usually the sitcom kiss of death), and hour long episodes have led to more weird ennui and awkwardness rather than jokes – not necessarily a bad thing. This was a show I was prepared to hate, having loved the original brilliant BBC series. However the great cast and writing crew has made this a real gem. Enjoy the bullhorn dance:

5) 30 Rock (NBC)
Here’s another show that looked like a dog even through it’s first few episodes, but has grown into a real pleasure. I was never impressed with Tina Fey or Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live but the writing and performances on 30 Rock make them look good. The real key to the show are Jack McBrayer as a goody-two-shoes NBC page and the incomparable Alec Baldwin as the head of the network. Baldwin steals every single episode. Here's clips:

TV: The Year's Best TV Part One

This is an admittedly scattershot roundup of what I found to be the most memorable TV of the year. The writer's strike insures that I won't miss anything in December! Here's 6-10, 1 -5 will follow though they aren't ranked by preference.

6) Lost (ABC)
There was a lot of grumbling about this past season of Lost. Too many mysteries and improbabilities, non-answer answers, deviations from storylines that one or another set of viewers was committed to. Still I’m hooked. Part of it is the wonderful cast – Michael Emerson who seems to even breathe in a suggestively sinister way ought to get a lifetime Emmy. The topper was a mind blowing season finale that seems to offer an entirely new way forward for the show. Here’s a clip:

7) How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
This show is inconsistent, with great episodes interspersed with mediocre ones. But the great ones are terrific. The young cast really seem to like each other and the writing can be edgy and incisive – locking onto some of the fun things that Seinfeld used to tease out. When it’s bad its gimmicky, and hopefully some of that will be excised as they go along. Here’s the very helpful crazy/hot scale:

8) The Sopranos (HBO)
Not the best season for this show to be sure, but that’s been true since season two. What we got were some indelible scenes and moments – Tony killing Christopher, Uncle Junior in the nursing home, AJ in the pool. Still one of the best shows out there, up to that brilliant cut to black that closed out the series. You know you’ve made a mark when you become pop-culture shorthand a’la the clip below in which Hillary Clinton’s campaign parodies the series finale:

9) Weeds (SHO)
This season started out shaky but as the show went on we got to see Nancy Botwin evolve into a fledgling gangster MILF (played by the compulsively watchable Mary-Louise Parker, habitually sucking on a latte straw all season long.) This season also benefited from some great stunt casting, bagging an Olsen twin as a pot smoking Jesus freak and Matthew Modine as a slimy developer. Here’s a clip:

10) Scott Baio is 45 and Single (VH-1)
I generally can’t stand reality TV which means that I have no immunity to the most rapaciously lethal form of the bug. This show is perversely fascinating. Baio and his posse are past-their-prime versions of HBO’s Entourage. What keeps me watching is Baio’s struggle against his own awareness of himself as a cheesy womanizing has-been. The look on his face when a twenty year old calls him “Charles”—as in his 80s sitcom Charles in Charge – is haunting. No clips were available so here’s Joanie and Chachi’s wedding:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Books: Sex and Death Dept. -- Norman Mailer Wins Bad Sex Award Posthumously

Mailer acts out his award winning scene before his death

Our cousins across the pond at London's Literary Review this year have honored America's premier late man of letters Norman Mailer with their Bad Sex in Literature Award. He has good company -- Tom Wolfe blew a gasket when the Bad Sex award was one of the few awarded to his 2004 tome I Am Charlotte Simmons

Surprisingly this is the first time in the awards 15-year run that sex and death have been entwined so intimately. Here is Mailer's winning passage, which is uncomfortably similar to a drunken college-age rendezvous I once had with a Cornell pre-med: 

"Are you all right?' she cried out as he lay beside her, his breath going in and out with a rasp that sounded as terrible as the last winds of their lost children.

'All right. Yes. No,' he said. Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety!"

Film: DVD Review - Don't Do the Voodoo That Deja Vu Does

Washington tries to warn himself from taking a part in Deja Vu

The temptation when writing a review for a bad time travel movie is to suggest that had the reviewer got hold of whatever doohicky or cosmic force that allows for such travel, then they would surely have erased the 2 hours (give or take) of their lives devoted to watching said film and spent it on some more meaningful or less painful activity. That's very nearly the case with Tony Scott's would-be thriller Deja Vu. What the film has going for it is what I will hereby dub The Phonebook Effect.

A great actor is said to be able to move one to tears simply by reading the phonebook, and though no tears were shed in the watching of Deja Vu, Denzel Washington is most assuredly a great actor. He gives a lively, lucid, fully connected performance to what is a lousy, piecemeal screenplay full of gobbledygook. He even has good company in a cast studded with such watchable actors as Val Kilmer (ever more likable as he ages), Adam Goldberg (saddled with both comic relief and some of the worst pseudo-science dialogue in ages), Bruce Greenwood (wasted again as a bureaucrat) and two time crappy time travel movie survivor Elden Henson (better than in Butterfly Effect).

There's a scene in the movie that is pretty much standard issue. Our hero is bucking the orders of his superior and getting into a verbal back and forth. Bruce Greenwood, a terrific actor, isn't given much to hold onto character-wise but he does his bit. Denzel seems genuinely miffed but OK, that's what the man is paid for -- acting. But he hits this moment that feels so real that I questioned whether it was in the script. Greenwood pronounces the name of Washington's character -- Carlin -- to rhyme with marlin and Washington corrects him, peeved, "It's Carleeen..." It's a great moment and it feels totally real, unscripted. Too bad the rest of the film never feels that way.

The plot involves a terrorist who blows up a ferry laden with Norman Rockwell paintings come to life in New Orleans. Washington is the cop recruited to be part of a special team investigating what happened. This team has a special super-expensive top-secret way of looking into the past.
Washington is sure that hot corpse Paula Patton is the key to finding the terrorist and thus spends lots of government time and money watching her in the shower. Did I mention that his fingerprints are all over her apartment or her fridge magnets that spell out "U Can Save Her?" Or that charming voyeur Washington falls in love with Patton?

Washington discovers that our time snoopers aren't really using a sophisticated data collection program at all but are actually seeing the past through a conceit that is patently ridiculous. He shines a laser into the monitor his team is using to watch Patton babysit and floss her teeth (while a terrorist is on the loose) and she sees it. Washington doesn't want any of that science mumbo-jumbo when Goldberg tries to explain -- but I'm sitting there saying "Yes, yes, please explain the science!" It's not a monitor it's a --what? Monitor shaped window? Can a fly come in through the other side? How come when they send Washington back in time (duh-- you knew that was coming) he doesn't just step on through. If I shine a laser into my TV at home, will it blind my local newscaster?

Then there are the tonal problems. In what should be a big set piece Washington drives a Hummer recklessly and sends at least one car full of innocents careening through the air in a barely survivable fashion. In a Nicholas Cage movie (which this is tailor-made for) we would shrug and go on eating our popcorn because it's a cartoon (acting included). But it's hard to buy Denzel blithely motoring on, pausing only to suggest paramedics should be sent. Probably Tony Scott loved the shot and left it in. Essentially Deja Vu is really a body-switch movie in which Denzel Washington finds himself in a Nicholas Cage film.

So. we are stuck with a believable cast doing their best to sell a love story that doesn't make sense and a plot that makes even less sense. Which still puts it a step above The Butterfly Effect. Here's a clip of Denzel spouting silly dialogue like it actually means something. Notice how he avoids smashing the big pricey laser beam eating monitor:

Deja Vu gets 2 out of 5 Nic Cages:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Music: Quiet Riot Singer Silenced -- Kevin DuBrow Dead at 52

DuBrow: No Stranger to Soul-Glo(TM)

Quiet Riot frontman Kevin DuBrow was found dead in his Las Vegas home on Sunday, with the cause of death still to be determined. His band was one of the most colorful in heavy metal, briefly successful in the early 80s with their biggest hit, a cover of Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize." The original 70s  incarnation of the band featured the late guitarist Randy Rhoads who would be plucked away by Ozzy Osbourne. DuBrow's reformed Quiet Riot scored big with the Metal Health album, becoming one of the stars of the 80s metal scene, but they were never able to replicate that success despite desperate tries. The comedown from their peak seemed to leave some bitterness for DuBrow who gained a rep for verbally flogging other bands, his record company, and anyone who crossed his path. Here they are at the US Festival in 1983 doing "Metal Health":

Friday, November 23, 2007

Music: My Bloody Valentine Plan to "Do a Radiohead"

My Bloody Valentine: "Pay what you bloody choose? Piss off!"

Billboard reports that legendary shoegazing noise droners My Bloody Valentine plan on issuing their first new album since 1991's classic Loveless via the series of tubes we like to call the Internet. Their manager Vinita Joshi refers to this as "Do(ing) a Radiohead..." though unlike Radiohead's recent Internet release MBV will not allow users to name their price, clever bastards. Also they plan on simultaneously issuing the album on vinyl for extra snob points. Meanwhile no word yet on rumoured U.S. dates for their reunion tour. Having seen them in 1992 I can only say bring earplugs and yes, they are amazing live. 15 grinding, squalling, beautiful minutes of "You Made Me Realize" is still echoing in my head lo these many years later...

Here's the video from "Only Shallow" from 1991:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Film: Thanksgiving Turkeys Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Here are five more filmic disaster areas -- turkeys if you will -- to celebrate Thanksgiving in style. To see the first five click here.

1) Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot – Two stars cross paths in this film – Sylvester Stallone on his way to better things like Tango and Cash, and rising star Estelle Getty – just finding fame on TV's The Golden Girls. This is like the action movie version of a bad Woody Allen routine. Check out the uncomfortably Oedipal shower scene in the trailer below.

2) Megaforce – So many questions. Yes, that is Barry Bostwick, the mayor of Spin City, wearing a disturbingly form-fitting Lycra jumpsuit and a shit-eating grin. Yes indeed, that is Michael Beck, star of Warriors and Xanadu in a matching jumpsuit that facilitates a full rib count. Yes, sadly that is a "flying" motorcycle. Yes, this movie was actually theatrically released and is not a parody. No, that is not Will Ferrell in the tank. No, those reaction shots on the plane do not look even remotely believable. No, motorcycles cannot fly. No, there is no way Netflix is allowed to send anything this toxic in the mail. Enjoy this lovingly assembled lowlights reel:

3) Can’t Stop the Music – The cast list says it all : Olympian Bruce Jenner (in a pair of shorts that would make Tom of Finland blush)! Steve Guttenberg! The Village People!

4) Jack Frost – Those workaholic backstabbing serial-divorcing Hollywood types persist in making movies about taking it easy, enjoying the good things like family and your spouse, being nice and not working so darn hard! Michael Keaton’s entry in this genre has him as a workaholic blues musician named Jack Frost who gets his come-uppance by dying and being re-incarnated as a talking snowman. Creepy! There is an almost as bad horror movie with the same name and the same premise only the protag is an overworked serial killer. This one is scarier. Behold!

5) Goin' Ape! - This was an important transition movie for Tony Danza -- from squat hairy simian co-star Danny DeVito on Taxi to the multiple squat hairy simian costars of Bobby Berosini's Orangutans in Cannonball Run 2. The whole gang -- Danza, DeVito, and Orangutans join forces in this dire inheritance "comedy." Observe:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Music: David Brooks Shows Us Why NYT Doesn't Charge To Read Columnists Anymore

Brooks: "Evidently the disc jockey, or deeee JAY, places a turntable on either side of him or herself and proceeds to syncopate the revolving discs rhythmically..."

David Brooks, Bush lover (of the W. variety) and all around low-watt bulb, deigned to descend from his silver cloud and offer his predigested opinion on The State of Music Today in The New York Times. Put Sasha Frere-Jones (writer of the goddamn piece that wouldn't die), The Allman Brothers, Barack Obama and roots music in the word blender and voila! Instant punditry.

E-Street band guitarist and Sopranos Lieutenant Little Steven Van Zandt also shows up to lend authenticity to the musty ideas in Brooks' column. His prescription for the fragmented state of music today? Teach rock history in school. I think Sopranos scion Anthony Junior would agree that assigning rock and pop history to high school students is anathema to all that is great and transformative about the music itself. Seriously, that's what one credit college courses are for.

Brooks: Stick to bloviating about politics where your stupidity is a known quantity.

Van Zandt: Enjoy touring with Brooooooce, bring Sil out of retirement for a sitcom, just please don't be one of those old guys moaning about the lack of history in music and music history in people. For chrissakes -- your band is the hot indie touchstone this year! Arcade Fire fans wept -- wept -- at footage of their heroes playing live with Springsteen (the big wusses!) And don't return Brooks' calls!

Film: Thanksgiving Turkeys -- Five Films Hardly Worth The Stuffing

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday coming up this week here in the United States I'm serving a platter of turkey. A bunch of flicks that will make you thankful not to be watching. They are not in order of painful or -lessness.

1 ) The Butterfly Effect – This ludicrous exercise in time travel and what-iffery is like Donnie Darko’s retarded half-brother. Never mind that the movie can’t even stick to its own convoluted time travel rules. Forget the pop Abel Ferrara approach which gives us pedophilia, animal torture, prostitution, and prison rape. The key to this movie is that it allows Ashton Kutcher to stretch really really wide as an actor. This is akin to allowing George W. Bush to stretch as a humanitarian or Susan Smith to stretch as a mother. They just simply aren’t that elastic. If I have to peg just one highlight it’s when Kutcher gets punked by some ill-advised past changing and is transformed into a paraplegic. Unintentional comic effect follows—behold!

2) Superman Returns – Director Bryan Singer's wonderful film The Usual Suspects is looking more like a fluke every day. After two so-so X-Men films he did a “re-imagining” of the Superman franchise. By re-imagining the studio obviously meant ‘crap remake” because that’s what this is. Brandon Routh has no original beats of his own as either Clark Kent or Superman – he merely apes the late Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance in the 1978 original. The music, whole scenes and bits of dialogue, Marlon Brando, the opening title sequence, are lifted from the earlier superior film. The parts that have been changed have not been changed for the better. Kate Bosworth is hardly believable as a mother or a hard boiled reporter. Kevin Spacey’s coat is way more interesting than his performance and Parker Posey, oh Parker Posey. You were much, much better in Josie and The Pussycats. Everything is bigger, the movie is longer, the boredom is inevitable. Here’s Kevin Spacey doing his best to make us admire Gene Hackman:

3)The Dark BackwardThe Dark Backward is a cheat – a film that is quirky and culty because it so badly wants to be seen as quirky and culty. What it really is, is crappy. The description alone ought to raise several red flags. Count ‘em off with me – Judd Nelson Stars (flag 1) as comedian Marty Malt in a dystopian alternate universe (flag 2). Malt starts to grow a third arm (big honking huge red flag number 3) which best friend Bill Paxton decides to promote with the help of slimy agent Rob Lowe (flag 4) and promoter Wayne Newton (flag 5). Even this fails to capture the grating boob-osity of Paxton’s performance, the bad Terry Gilliam in grade school style production design, the prancing panoply of overacting that this film contains. Also there’s a guy licking a corpse at a dump and a fat lady orgy, both featuring Paxton prominently. This one has a cult, and they should all be ashamed. Horrible. Here’s the trailer.

4) Highlander 2: The Quickening – The first Highlander was an amiable overdirected b-movie, plenty of 80s fun. This sequel hits the trifecta of bad filmmaking from screenplay to lighting to acting to editing. Don’t cheat and watch the director’s cut on the expanded DVD, the original’s on there also just waiting to be mocked. The expanded cut tries to fix what ails the movie which only makes a spectacular object lesson in what can go wrong while making a film into a sub par dreary scifi-er. To start with, licensing issues led to a new backstory which makes this a sequel to a film that can't be referenced. Got that? So instead of a race of immortals (silly but charming) they are, wait for it, immortals from outer space (silly but stupid). Also, the movie is set in the future but the budget was clearly blown on Sean Connery’s 15 minutes of screen time. The solution? A voice over explaining that “Everything here is old, we drive old cars…” Oooo-kayyy. This at least is enjoyably bad, in a jaw-dropping how could this be released way. Enjoy Connery’s resurrection (which makes no sense) here:

5) Oh Heavenly Dog! – A film so bad that YouTube has no scenes from it. Chevy Chase plays a dead P.I. re-incarnated in the body of Benji the dog in this early entry in the 80s switcheroo flicks. Jane Seymour is the woman who inspires some really unsavory canine lust and Omar Sharif is the bad guy who ought to fire his agent tout suite! The poster alone makes me want to hurt myself. The folks at Benji inc. later recut it to drop a lot of the innuendo and naughty grownup talk so original cuts are rare.

Music: This Week's New Releases

The holiday season is gearing up which means repackaging, repackaging, ooo a last minute hip-hop blockbuster or two, and yet more repackaging.

That being said there are a few releases of note this week.

On the actually new front is Bonnie "Prince" Billy's covers album Ask Forgiveness. No forgiveness necessary buddy, especially not when you're covering R. Kelly and Bjork. Here's the video for "Cursed Sleep" from his last album:

Also new is an EP From the wonderful British Sea Power called Krankenhaus? Here they are doing "Atom" from the new EP live in 2006:

The pick of the recycling front is yet another installment of Motown's wallet draining, ear expanding drool inducing singles box set collections, this one covering the epochal year 1968.
Click on this link to see the incomparable Marvin Gaye singing "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" a capella.

Steely Dan man Donald Fagen boxes his three solo albums together along with a DVD in The Nightfly Collection. Here's the classic video to "New Frontier" from the album The Nightfly, an MTV staple in the early 80s:

Led Zeppelin shake their super-fans down for a second week in a row with their remastered The Song Remains The Same soundtrack. Here's the trailer for the film:

Finally Damon Albarn's Gorillaz supergroup collects their D-Sides for your listening pleasure. Here's the video for "Rockit" from the collection:

Monday, November 19, 2007

TV: Please Don't Squeeze The Coffin -- Mr. Whipple Goes to the Great Grocery in the Sky

Dick "Mr. Whipple" Wilson squeezes it for all its worth

Character actor Dick Wilson, known to millions of Americans as TV's Mr. Whipple from Charmin's paper towel commercials, has died at 91. There is no doubt that the 70's were a golden age for catchphrases and "Please, don't squeeze the Charmin" ranks right up there. Wilson played George Whipple from 1964-1985, enough time to sketch in the very Larry Craig like character detail that he secretly went in for a little of the old Charmin squeezin' himself.

Film: Savory Ratatouille Runs Rings Around Hollywood Crap Factory

Remy the rat

Every new Pixar movie is treated with the expectation that this will be the one to finally break their winning streak. The advance word on Ratatouille was that it was a marketing nightmare set in a country (France) Americans don't like, about a subject that wouldn't resonate (gourmet cooking), and with a name that a number of people didn't even know how to pronounce.

$400 million later and it's hard to argue with Pixar's aforementioned winning streak. More to the point after seeing this on DVD, it's hard to argue with writer/director Brad Bird, who is one of the finest filmmakers working today in any country or medium. This is a better constructed, funnier, more adult, and better edited and shot film than 99% of what came out this year.

Bird 's previous films evidence the unique touch of a master, from the retro style and cold war allegory of the hand-drawn The Iron Giant to his previous Pixar blockbuster The Incredibles which combined slam-bang action, Ayn Randesque self actualization, and marital insight that was nearly the equal of Ingmar Bergman (but a lot more fun.)

Ratatouille brings us Remy, a member of an oppressed and stigmatized group --rats. He is a born cook, drawn inexorably to taste and fragrance and to the worst place imaginable to see a rat -- the kitchen. He is able to fulfill his dreams only with the help of a kindhearted but dunderheaded human. Remy gets to do what he loves while the human takes credit for it. There is also a subplot involving a dead chef and his illicit mistress which tells you right away that Bird is flipping his surname to those who think animation is the purview of children.

In the story of the rats and their relations with humans there are a lot of obvious parallels which are allowed to percolate without being shoved down the viewer's throat. The film put me in mind of another delightful gem from this year, Julie Delpy's Two Days in Paris which rather matter-of-factly acknowledged Paris' vast Muslim underclass. I don't think Bird is saying literally look -- the rats are Muslims (or Jews or blacks) but in these terrorized times it can be hard not to feel an extra resonance to some of the lines and scenes. The connection is made more explicit in a fun extra on the DVD on the history of rats narrated by Remy and his slow witted brother.

What is shoved down the throat is some of the best food porn this side of Tampopo or Babette's Feast. The loving care that is put into creating the wonderful meals here is parallel to the attention Bird and his team paid to every detail and nuance of the film. The kitchen of the restaurant Remy infiltrates is expertly rendered down to the very people working there and one feels a stronger understanding of what it must be like to work in a top restaurant than you would get from a film like this year's Catherine Zeta-Jones clunker No Reservations.

Bird also gets his licks in on critics, embodied by one Anton Ego. For someone who has a deservedly praised body of work, Bird seems to relate to those who have felt the sharp end of the critical stick. Even the most cynical critic has to nod in recognition when Ego talks about how much easier and pleasurable a bad review can be to write. Ego himself though becomes as fully rounded as any of the other characters here and the denouement all comes together perfectly.

This is a must see for anyone who enjoys good cinema, or good food. One of the year's best films Ratatouille gets 5 out of 5 stars:

Design: Faurecia Czechs Out a Classic

French auto parts supplier Faurecia shamed the rest of a pretty blah field at this year's Los Angeles car show with their re-imagining of a classic Czech car design - the Tatra 602 of the 1960's and 70's. The Tatra was an iron curtain gem -- the Czechs had the most advanced design and production capabilities of the Soviet Bloc. The new concept version is called the Premium Attitude -- something I've experienced at a number of fine restaurants.

Check out the amazing asymmetrical detail work on the grille flanked by modern multi-ringed headlamps. (pic from

Though the original was rear engined (with a swing axle -- the same combo that made Chevy's Corvair into a Ralph Nader calling card) this version moves the engine to the front, freeing the rear open up with a unique sliding action. (pic below is also from

I love the split rear window...lousy to look through but great to look at...

Here is a promo animation from Faurecia on the Premium Attitude.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Music: Chomp on Covers Comps -- Three New Music Compilations

Franz Ferdinand: Batting 1-2

Various artists compilations -- whether they be soundtracks or anniversaries or tribute albums or all of the above -- tend to fall heavily on the various side. With luck maybe one or two tracks offer a new gem or perspective on a well-known artist or introduce an artist previously unheard. Recently three new comps were released to vie for the serious music fans attention.

The BBC Radio One Established 1967 is a paean to the British broadcasters "hip" radio station. The approach is stars of today cover the stars of yesteryear (or on this chronologically ordered comp's second disc not-so-yesteryear). The results are wildly mixed, from the awful straight sung cover of Elton John's "Your Song" by Streets to Fratelli's ho-hum Hendrix-lite "All Along the Watchtower" on the bum end to Amy Winehouse's Johnny Nash by way of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" and Groove Armada's clubbed-out version of Madonna's "Crazy For You." Most of what's here strikes a mushy middle ground, disappointing when such great coverers as Franz Ferdinand and Mark Ronson are on board. The only real surprise is a hard techno take on The Police's "Can't Stand Losing You" from Mika and Armand Von Helden and a sweet sugar-pop take on Wheatus magnificent late 90's hitlet "Teenage Dirtbag" by Girls Aloud.

I'm Not There, the ambitious soundtrack to Todd Haynes equally ambitious new Bob Dylan biopic consists of 34 Dylan covers spread over two discs. The batting average is significantly higher than the Radio One comp, but then so is the talent of the artists involved. Still over two discs what you get is an awful lot of too-reverent takes on an artist who has benefited from loose interpretations of his canon (even by himself). The highlights here are Sonic Youth who do a doleful take on the rare title track, and Mark Lanegan's assured bleakness on "Man in the Long Black Coat". Nothing here stinks, but a lot of it just makes you wish you were hearing the originals.

David Shrigley's Worried Noodles, on it's face, is the least promising of these sets. Also a double-discer, it matches indie artists both renowned and obscure with lyrics written by the multi-disciplinary Scots artist David Shrigley. The surprise is how consistently enjoyable this set is, both for its offbeat lyrics and the wonderful songs contributed by a multitude of sources. Amongst the highlights are Franz Ferdinands rockingly abrasive "One", contrasted with Hot Chip's chilled-out take on the same song, Final Fantasy's perfectly sardonic "Joys", and David Byrne's "For You" -- the Talking Headsy style lyrics making a perfect match. Over two discs there are still a few clunkers but the hit to miss ratio is unusually high. Worried Noodles is a fine investment and the best of this lot.

Design: Germans Impose Desktop On Wall

Feeling like a rat in a cage (despite all your rage?) Here's something designed to make you feel more mouse-like. Deutschland designer Wir Gestalten gives you just what you need to turn your office or cubicle walls into a real virtual world. Sure beats that Tron wallpaper.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Design: New York's New Nouvel Springs From MOMA's Earth

The New York Times has a gushing piece on the new tower planned for the site next to the Museum of Modern Art. Though architecture ace Nicolai Ouroussoff takes the museum to task for not developing the entire parcel for their own use, he has high praise for the tower's design by Jean Nouvel comparing it to the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building and the Seagram Building.

The 75 story tower will house some exhibition space for MOMA as well as a hotel and apartments, and restaurants. It was commissioned by developer Hines.

Culture: Sexiest Man Dead 2007 Gift Ideas

Google Ads' automated gremlins struck upon the best way to celebrate our selection of the late Cary Grant as this years Sexiest Man Dead. A sympathy basket. It's 15% off!

Art: New York MTA Bans Life Lessons, Multiple Dads

Boing Boing reports on this recently spotted switcheroo on the L Train banning the fathers from TV's Full House. Apparently Deej and the other kids are welcome but their creepy fathers have to stay home. Not that I'm complaining.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Culture: Sexiest Man Dead 2007

People magazine just announced their annual Pavlovian bell ring, serving up fresh beefcake with their Sexist Man Alive issue (it's Matt Damon this year). We here at POSAS decided to up the ante a bit. Even though my statistical experts tell me that there are more people alive on earth now than have ever died, it doesn't feel true. As Stephen Colbert would say, it lacks truthiness. I think the real challenge is to name the Sexiest Man Dead 2007-- and that's just what we intend to do here at POSAS intend to do.

The Sexiest Man Dead for 2007 is Cary Grant.

This years Sexiest Man Dead gave new meaning to the phrase "swings both ways", doing a fair impression of a kitchen door in a busy upscale restaurant. Grant was married five times, including to actress Dyan Cannon and lived with actor Randolph Scott for many years.

His suave sense of style, cool invented mid-Atlantic accent, and facility with both comedy and drama made him a star worldwide. Born Archibald Leach in Bristol England in 1904 he remained a movie star from the mid 1930s until the dawn of the seventies.

Among our favorite films of his Sylvia Scarlett (1935) with Katherine Hepburn, Topper (1937), The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Holiday(1938) which both re-teamed him with Hepburn, Gunga Din (1939), His Girl Friday (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940) with Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, his first teaming with Hitchcock Suspicion (1941) , Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Notorious (1946) with Ingrid Bergman and Hitchcock again, The Bishop's Wife (1947), To Catch a Thief (1954) directed by Hitch with a radiant Grace Kelly, An Affair to Remember (1957), North by Northwest (1959) his most iconic Hitchcock film, and Charade teaming him with another Hepburn -- Audrey.

Ladies and gentleman, POSAS Sexiest Man Dead 2007 Cary Grant!

Here's future POSAS SMD nominee Michael Caine on Grant:

Design: Company Asks You To Cook Its Books

Podravka, described as the biggest food company in South-East Europe, issued an annual report recently that perfectly embodies their business. The report, designed by award winning Croatian agency Bruketa & Zinic, contains a smaller book of recipes inside titled Well Done:

Bake at 100°C for 25 minutes and enjoy! For more great pictures check out this link.

Books: Adaptation Auteur Ira Levin Dies at 78

Ira Levin, who wrote a series of high concept airplane reads that in turn spurned a series of high concept films, died on Monday in Manhattan. The most successful critical and commercial adaptation was Rosemary's Baby, published as a novel in 1967 and adapted into Roman Polanski's classic psych-horror the same year. There was also A Kiss Before Dying, done once with Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Joanne Woodward and Mary Astor in the late 50's and then again in 1991 with Matt Dillon, Sean Young and Max Von Sydow -- The Stepford Wives chillingly done in 1975 and then stupidly done with Nicole Kidman in 2004 -- The Boys From Brazil's bravura scenery chewing from Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier -- and the execrable Sliver done with Sharon Stone and one of the lesser Baldwins. He also was a prolific playwright best known for Deathtrap which also made it to the big screen with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

As the list above suggests Levin was a kind of proto-Michael Crichton, boldly jumping into futuristic ideas like robotics and surveillance buildings while also dealing with bogeymen like the devil and cloned Nazis. Here is the New York Times obit.

Design: Lincoln Lays an Egg in L.A.

Ford is selling off Jaguar and Range Rover which will leave Lincoln and Volvo as its sole upscale brands. The problem is that Lincoln barely justifies the upscale tag. Where GM has made a concerted and mostly successful effort to imbue Cadillac with a new and distinct design language, as well as luxury class dynamics and materials, Ford has let Lincoln languish with badge engineered cast-off cars, a silly and confusing rebadging mission, and no real design direction. The new MKS, premiering today at the Los Angeles Motor Show, is a major disappointment.

The design, credited to ex-Volvo man Peter Horbury is based on the same Volvo platform that underpins the current Taurus and like the Taurus has excessive front and rear overhang. More damning is the ultimate blandness of the design with details like the Lincoln badge on the fenders and the gaudy chrome strips on the taillamps designed to create some visual excitement on a woefully static surface. The catwalk style surface line helps along the sides, but it meanders without definition.The "face" is a major letdown, looking more like last generation Mitsubishi than a near-premium brand. The detailing is coarse below the bumper and the headlight jewelry is lacking in imagination. The only positive point here is the lovely sculpted hood.The interior looks cheap with far too much matte plastic. The chrome seems larded on arbitrarily and there is no theme or delightful touches that would make a potential buyer look forward to spending time here.

To be fair to Horbury I hear much of the design was locked in before he took over, and his work with Volvo was top notch. Ford must do better if they expect Lincoln to compete.