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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Music: Halloween Edition - Scary Musicians!

Just in time for Devil's Night, here are some of the scariest musicians I've ever heard. That criteria excludes stuff like Swedish death metal, Nazi punk bands, and Joe The Plumber (he's signing a record deal y'know.) If you've heard scarier, let me know! To the music!

1) The Misfits
Sure Glenn Danzig's eponymous band was a little scary but the Misfits were the best in horror punk - like the Ramones raised on a steady diet of b-movie slashers. Beneath that poppy punk are lyrics about wanting those sweet little girls...for their skulls!

2) Happy Flowers
Firstly, you need to know that one of the band's two members is named Mr. Anus. The other member? Mr. Horribly Charred Infant. And what are the titles of some of their songs you may ask? "They Cleaned My Cut Out With a Wire Brush", "Pull Off it's Head", and the big non-hit "If This Gun Were Real ( I Could Shoot You and Sleep in the Big Bed With Mommy)." This song, "Colors in the Rain", is perhaps a bit too poppy for their core audience:

3.Charles Manson
So yeah, Charlie Manson wrote songs, recorded them, is said to have auditioned for The Monkees and even hung out with The Beach Boys who placed his ditty "Look at Your Game Girl" on a b-side. And yep, still scary!

4.Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin is kind of funny scary, and still fun to listen to. But "Come To Daddy" and particularly the video still sends chills down my spine. Could it be Richard D. James grinning scary face?

5. Laibach
Laibach embrace fascist symbiology in order to undermine it. Or so they say. I see stuff like the video for their thudding disturbing cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" below and imagine them reanimating dead Nazi soldiers from the bottom of Swiss lakes. I know, fear kind of makes no sense...

6. Skinny Puppy
 Sampling horror films and titling songs stuff like "Deep Down Trauma Hounds," this was a deeply unsettling band at the forefront of industrial music. To be fair though, they had heart. Bloody, still beating heart freshly chest-plucked.

Pretty much the first and only band in the brief "horrorcore" rap scene Gravediggaz were in reality the creation of Rap production genius Prince Paul, RZA, and a few other folks. Scary good stuff!

8. G.G. Allin
G.G. Allin wasn't satisfied unless he shit, cut himself, peed and received oral sex onstage. Nowadays we call that performance art but he insisted on making music as well. This dead junkie was revolting sure, but also scary - zombified as much in life as in death.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Politics: Surviving an Attempted PUMA Mauling

Added to the usual stress of a New York City commute this morning was a sweet faced older lady who turned out to be that rare but oft-mentioned species: The PUMA. PUMAs (party unity my ass) are people who, quite simply, put gender before actual issues. This is the essential danger of out of control rampant identity politics - something Republicans have latched onto with Palin after criticizing Democrat minority candidates for years as being nothing more than vote repositories for folks who feel disenfranchised. Here's how the PUMA attack went down:

Older lady on bench at 3 train station: Want to see MY pin?

Me: Sure

She opens her palm to reveal a post-it note(!) that says "NoBama."

Me (edging away): Well...good luck!

Older lady: Want to know why?

Me: I can't imagine...

Older lady: Oh I think you dare he deny a woman like Hillary the nomination. An important leader who should be our President! (getting loud I might add)

Me: You can't rewrite history (shrugs)

Older lady: Hillary ought to be our President!

Me: So you are going to vote for a ticket that stands for the opposite of everything she's worked for?

Older lady: I don't care. You know on election day there are going to be riots and cries of "Kill Whitey" if he doesn't get in...(She actually said this!)

Me (stepping into my mercifully arrived train): I've met Hillary and she'd be disgusted by that comment...

So I managed to escape with my life and dignity intact but beware! PUMAs are loose in New York City's subways. And they are vicious...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Films: Netflix Roundup - What Have I Been Watching?

With my busy eastern media elite schedule I haven't had the time I'd like to give you, my tens of readers, the movie reviews that I've promised. So here are some capsule reviews of what I've been watched over the last few weeks courtesy of Netflix. I've also helpfully added the stars I gave them in my Netflix rating for easy unhindered digestion.

I Want To Live (1958) (3 Stars)

Susan Hayward plays what was once known as a blowzy broad in this early anti-death penalty flick. The first half hour where she goes from one seedy situation to another is great pulpy fun but her hard boiled overacting takes center stage by the more earnest second half. The inside look on how the process works for death row inmates holds some interest but the increasing desperation of her situation begins to seem more comical than tragic as we await the umpteenth call from the gov.

California Split (1974) (5 Stars)

Robert Altman's incisive and tricky buddy film was unappreciated on release but shines as one of his best movies. Elliot Gould is in full sardonically muttering Elliot Gould mold and George Segal is at his best as two inveterate gambling addicts going after the big score. As I got deeper into the characters- and this is a marvelous character study- the resemblance to John Huston's legendary Treasure of the Sierra Madre struck me. Two guys in thrall to a dream of deliverance through riches that becomes the empty pursuit of specie. Though Gould never goes to the extremes that Bogart does in the Huston film he is just as hooked on the chase. A terrific film.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973) (4 Stars)

Ivan Dixon, who died earlier this year, was best known for his supporting role on TV's Hogan's Heroes. As a director though he made this fascinating and tough gem that subverts the blaxploitation genre and asks some tough political questions. In a set-up that clearly plays on the screens inside the minds of the McCain campaign at this very moment, the film takes the premise of the CIA recruiting blacks to divert scrutiny of their actions. The one guy who makes it through is tough and quiet and happily toils away making copies and doing other low level tasks while soaking up all of the counter insurgency methods the agency was honing overseas. Retiring with honor he goes to Chicago to become - you guessed it - a community organizer. Only he ends up passing his training along to black power advocates and gang members - teaching them to lay off drugs and get started making bombs. This section plays like a cross between Fight Club and Shaft before ending abruptly. Well worth seeing.

Hard Eight (1996)  (4 stars)

This early film from Paul Thomas Anderson has the hallmarks of most of his work - beautiful framing and photography, characters that are more flawed than lovable, and a distinct milieu - in this case the gambling underworld of Las Vegas. Philip Baker Hall, one of Anderson's favorites, is terrific as the father figure card sharp to John C. Reilly. Reilly is more of a problem - he finds everything that's whiny and irritating in a dipshit character. It becomes hard to see why Hall would give two squats about him, even after the later plot machinations grind through. Tipping this into an extra star though is a brilliantly jaded turn by Gwyneth Paltrow - it's perhaps her best performance and very different than what she's typecast as now. Then there's the delicious turn by Samuel L. Jackson as a particularly annoying friend of Reilly's.

Smiley Face (2007) (1 Star)

Anna Faris is an attractive and game comic actress in search of a vehicle to really shine. This ain't it. A stoner comedy full of jump-cuts, every cliched "stoned" POV shot in the book, and a mis-judged central performance that hits one spaced-out note interminably, this is one to skip. What's most shocking is that this sub-par take on the far superior Go was directed by the talented Greg Araki, who should know better. Watch Harold and Kumar instead.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Music: Four Tops' Powerful Singer Levi Stubbs Dead at 72

Levi Stubbs, whose yearning voice helped power Berry Gordy's Motown Records into one of the most successful entertainment companies in the world as lead singer for the Four Tops, has died.

His songs were pitched at the edge of his range, which gave them a pleading emotional timbre that connected with millions of listeners. It was a long slog from the Chess label in the mid-50s though, to an appearance on Jack Paar's Tonight Show where Gordy saw them and ordered his staff to sign them.

What followed were some of the most treasured songs in music history, racked up through the 60s and early 70s, a soundtrack to people's lives around the world. Among their best were "Baby I Need Your Loving" (1964), "Ask The Lonely" (1965), "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" (1965), "It's The Same Old Song" (1965), "Reach Out I'll Be There" (1966), "Standing in the Shadows of Love"(1966), "Bernadette" (1967), "7 Rooms of Gloom" (1967), "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)" (1973) and "Are You Man Enough?" (1973).

During their classic Motown phase the labels cadre of songwriters, producers, and arrangers built towering edifices of sound for the Tops and Stubbs in particular to inhabit, making them a linchpin group along with The Temptations and The Supremes in the label's golden age. By the late 60s though the Four Tops felt that they were missing out on some of the best material and jumped ship for ABC-Dunhill in 1972 rather than move with the label from Detroit to Los Angeles.

Though the big hits stopped coming by the 80s, the group kept touring with al of their original members intact - a rarity. Only when Lawrence Payton died did the group add a new member. As Stubbs took I'll with cancer, he too had to step back in recent years.

Stubbs also forayed into film in the mid 80s as the voice of the man-eating plant Audrey II  in the musical film Little Shop of Horrors.

Some of the best:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Movie News: Edie Adams - Singer, Comic Actress - Dies

Edie Adams for me will always be inextricably linked to the late great Ernie Kovacs, her first husband. Her bombshell looks and witty vivaciousness were a wonderful component of his grown-up, surreal groundbreaking TV show.

She did have a thriving career in the 60s in films like The Apartment,  It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World and The Best Man. She was also famous as the Muriel Cigars girl. 

Kovacs died in 1961 in a car crash (tragically their daughter also died in a car accident in the early 80s.) Here she is with Kovacs on the very last episode of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's pioneering sitcom. I think this is a most appropriate clip and fittingly bittersweet.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Car Design: Paris Auto Show '08 Part Two

In part two of our Paris Auto Show roundup we look at some more of the notable designs premiered this week in the city of light.You can see part one here.

Citroen is one of the most hallowed names in automotive design though it has been much diluted in recent years as part of the Peugeot group. The Citroen GT Concept has some novel details and a dramatic stance - even if it's lacking in the radical originality that was Andre Citroen's stock in trade.

The front is a bit heavy but the shaping of the blade-like fenders and their relationship with the vents and the front doors is intriguingly different.

The ducktail rear is similarly fascinating though the huge black diffuser underneath is a bit much.

Mercedes showed their Fascination concept, a thinly disguised look at the upcoming E-Class. After falling into a dull patch Mercedes design seems to be righting itself. This needs little more than a b-pillar to be production ready and the lines are graceful and flowing with a hint of both the bigger S-Class and smaller C. The sculpting of the sides and rear fenders are especially well handled. Though the handsome and easily recognizable face with it's squared off lamps is tipped to make production it's still unkown whether this sport wagon body style will be featured when the actual E-Class debuts.

BMW's last 7 Series presaged a slew of controversial cutting-edge designs from the German manufacturer masterminded by design chief Chris Bangle. The new 7 suggests that despite the sales boost the new look accompanied the criticisms also took hold. This is a very conservative, safe design - disappointing in it's desire to not offend. The best touch is the carved out door handle nacelles.

Mini has been rumored to be working on a mini-ute version for some time now and the Crossover Concept seems to be the prelude to a production version. Pity it's so ugly. The face takes the classic Mini headlight and grille relationship and distorts them into a sickly sour grimace. The body cladding is the lazy designers shorthand for offroad prowess and the rear quarter windows seem like a mistake.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Car Design: Paris Auto Show '08 Part One

The Paris show kicks off the long circuit of car shows that culminates with New York next Spring and as such can be seen as a bellwether for what sorts of designs and concepts are at the top of designers minds this season. Judging on the evidence here the two big trends are electric cars and big four door exotic sedans.

Blockbusters were few but there were some notable debuts:

The Lamborghini Estoque Concept is their entry into the burgeoning four-door supercar market alongside Porsche's upcoming Panamera and Aston-Martin's long-awaited Rapide. The reception to the Estoque was somewhat muted - compared to the typical Lambo it seems downright restrained.

It's at the front end - like the Porsche and Aston - where the most resemblance to it's stablemates is conveyed. The harder edges of the Reventon are finding it's way into other Lamborghini vehicles and the sinister rectangular headlights add a bit of distinction to the familiar shapes on the face.

The very aggressive rear (see pic above) is masterfully shaped and detailed - there is perhaps a hint of the Dodge Charger concept but the rear three quarter view is probably the car's best.

Where things get less certain are the bland midsection and ultra-low roofline. The window and roof shapes lack some distinction and the smooth sides don't seem well integrated with the dramatic rear flanks.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Nissan's neat electric NuVu concept. NuVu has a very unusual undulating greenhouse which flows skirt-like around the wheels. The detailing is extremely well done, from the chamfered wheel arches to the bumper cutlines to the "brows" over the headlamp units.

Though the proportions may seem a bit clown-car like the eye is drawn to the unusual shapes and the harmonious balance of elements. One of Nissan design's best recent concepts.