Site hosted by Build your free website today!
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
« April 2007 »
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
You are not logged in. Log in
Washtenaw Flaneurade
29 April 2007
Best Stick To Video Games
Now Playing: The Who--"Glow Girl"
I Am Rachel Corrie: Rachel Corrie, an American human rights activist, was killed in March 2003 in the Gaza Strip when an IDF bulldozer, involved in demolishing Palestinian homes, ran her over as she protested the forced removal of the local population. When I first heard about this, shortly after it happened, it was unbelievable in a way that sadly seems all too quaint four years later. Corrie's writings--letters, emails, and journal entries, were eventually collected and edited into a one-woman show by (that) Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, originated at the Royal Court Theatre in London by Meghan Dodds (I think; best known, perhaps, as Drew Barrymore's hilariously nasty stepsister in Ever After--or as I used to know her, the one who wasn't Melanie Lynskey), and now at the Residential College at the University of Michigan, featuring Anna Rose Kessler Moore and directed by my friend Carol Gray. I was a little nervous going in, a tenth of me worrying that it would be simple agitprop (in the service of ideals with which I mostly agree, but which wouldn't make for very good drama), and was pleasantly surprised. Moore is excellent, but I have to say that due to her very status as a college student, she probably embodies the character better than most "professional" actresses might. Somehow the editing of the occasionally self-absorbed but always searching and curious writing brings out the passion for social justice to which Corrie effectively gave her life. Her progression from a (self-confessedly) privileged middle-class student at a small Washington State college to a committed activist in Rafah, transformed and haunted by what she finds even before her untimely death, mirrors the spectator's (well, my) view of Corrie (and in many ways myself), obsessing with the character over the deceptively trivial mundanity of the personal life and then becoming involved in a larger communal struggle for dignity. Good job, all!

The Ultrasounds: Afterwards, I wound up at the Neutral Zone to hear the Ultrasounds. I'd heard them once before, opening for Starling Electric, and they delighted me with a rather straightforward rock style that I find is a lot rarer these days than people think. So many groups seem to have a dominant schtick that takes over their sound and image; sometimes it's beenficial, but more often it isn't, locking a group into a pre-conceived cage that forces them into playing music with (I suspect) less than their whole hearts. The Ultrasounds (Christopher Smith on bass and vocals, Sara Griffin on drums, and Patrick Conway on lead guitar) play their music and play it well; there was a healthy, stripped-down ambience that evening which played very well with the songs. The latter were a refreshing mix of different styles, something I'd found striking at their last show that I saw. They played a couple of covers--the White Stripes and Kings of Leon--byt the rest ran the gamut, soft and fast numbers, remarkably variant drumming and guitar styles that managed not to veer to wildly from one mood to another.

Down and Dirty Pictures: Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was, in retrospect, something of a guilty pleasure. The rise and fall of the "New Hollywood" in the 60s and 70s produced some of history's greatest movies, and cinema's most entertaining gossip, but Biskind's telling managed to do it a sort of justice. Pictures covers the rise (and floundering) of independent American film from the 1980s to the present and employs much the same narrative method and structure that he did with Bulls, but with a much narrower focus, concentrating on the Weinstein brothers and Miramax. The latter come in for quite a pasting, to such an extent that it sometimes throws the book off-kilter. The quibbles range from the minor--occasional factual errors (and simple stuff at that; Danny Boyle's zombie epic was 28 Days Later, not 28 Days), Biskind's irritating and borderline insulting insistence on rendering quotes from Billy Bob Thornton and Spike Lee in quasi-Dickensian "Southern" and "black" dialect (British filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory don't come in for similar treatment)--to the major--the subject matter didn't have as big of an impact as Biskind's earlier purview, the book becomes a lopsided anti-Miramax tract (and God knows they've got their issues)--and easily makes it inferior to Bulls, though no less entertaining.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:35 PM EDT
Updated: 29 April 2007 12:41 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
25 April 2007
Terra, Ascolta
Now Playing: Giacomo Puccini--"In questa reggia" from Turandot (Birgit Nilsson)
I decided to spend Earth Day in some style this year, and so walked twenty miles or thereabouts last weekend. Earth Day and I have a somewhat problematic relationship. I'm all for the environment, but my hopes... aren't high, to say the least. I still believe everyone should do what they can, but it's frankly rather hard for me to work up any hope, especially after the general national neglect of the past six years. The Earth Day Festival this year was being held in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, where I'd never actually been. It didn't look all that far on the map, and as this was one of the first really nice weekends we've had this year, I had an excellent time walking through the Arb and Gallup Park. The latter is always a treat--you walk along the banks of the Huron for some time, preferably very early in the morning, until the river widens past a bridge into a lake containing a number of tiny islands connected by smaller bridges and walkways. It's a popular spot, and I don't blame it. Making my way past U.S. 23, I found that the way to Dixboro Road was open, as it hadn't been before, and strolled through a part of the riverfront I'd never seen before, around the effluence of Fleming Creek, the latter beautifully punctuated by an old cider and grist mill along Geddes Road. After that, I entered what I believed to be the Botanical Gardens, and spent the next half hour or so in what might as well have been a trackless waste. There were trails, to be sure, but there seemed not another soul around, probably for a mile, and it was a very decent and enjoyable time, even following false trails and having to retrace my steps. I eventually found an east-west gravel roadway that led to Dixboro Road, and found from the addresses along the roadside that I was still well short of my destination. Walking along roadsides is always a weird thing, especially in this country. One shouldn't feel strange or ashamed (especially as, given the oil situation, a lot more people will probably have to do this in twenty years), but one does. The actual Botanical Gardens (heaven knows where I'd been wandering around for the past half hour) were very pleasant and attractive but something of an anticlimax after the journey. The Festival itself was more of a "family affair," and as someone on my own, I again felt a little strange. It wasn't much different from the Green festivals they had on Main Street not too long ago, differing only in location. On leaving, the guy waving cars into the parking lot asked me if I'd enjoyed it. My response must have been a little lackluster, as he then asked if I had any ideas on what they could do to improve the thing. Two hours of walking had done their work of rasping me up a little, and I hope my forehead wasn't too clearly stenciled with "you have got to be shitting me." I almost said "everyone should stop driving and flying, 'cause that's probably the only thing that'll help," but he seemed very polite and earnest, and it totally wouldn't have been cool. I wasn't in much shape to take the same way back, and so walked to the farthest stop on the #2 busline, the closest to my position. This walk took me through what seemed like a postapocalyptic landscape of office parks, so in a single day I basically got the whole barrage of different Ann Arbor area landscapes. I also got sunburned for what must have been the first time in years. So it wasn't really a waste, then.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 3:17 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
17 April 2007
Now Playing: The Sonics--"Psycho"
I haven't read a novel in perhaps three months. Some time ago, anyone who told me that might be the case one day, I'd have thought insane. I've been reading novels ever since it was possible and still actually have the first prose work I ever read on my own--Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (New York: Harper and Row, 1955--found it in between E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet and T.H. White's The Once and Future King, a much more fitting pair of neighbors than, say, Thomas Disch and Laurie Notaro). Even during grad school (a time in which it's allegedly impossible to read stuff unrelated to one's thesis, a theory I and others constantly disproved), I read novels (and, more scandalously, works of history that had little to do with my area of study). It's not that I've gone off fiction, very much the contrary. I just decided one day that I'd read enough without having written a good deal of my own stuff. It was time to stop amassing "influences" and "inspirations" and time to let them alone to fuck up my subconscious and hopefully produce something worth reading. Eventually, the new process led to a couple of my stories actually being published, in The First BHF Book of Horror Stories.

The Second BHF Book of Horror Stories (Northwich, UK: BHF Books, 2007) is now in existence. It's much bigger than the first, with perhaps twice as many stories, many of which I've read before on the BHF online forum. Webmaster and editor Chris Wood gives another impassioned and witty introduction, much of its self-deprecating content devoted to restoring the (outward) normality of people who enjoy horror fiction. I don't enjoy all that much of the modern stuff, to be honest, but I do enjoy writing it (or what looks a hell of a lot like it, anyway). Fortunately, the work here is hardly stereotypical (whatever that might mean), with familiar horror tropes and themes being stretched and reworked to (in most cases) produce something fresh and engaging. Accentuating the coherent feel of the total work is a series of art pieces--drawings and photos--done once more by Paul Mudie, Paula Fay and Lawrence Bailey (honors going to Paul's undead woman--and frog*--and Paula's simple yet engrossing "Portrait of a Young Woman," accompanying the story of the same name). As for the stories, they're all at least good, many excellent, and a few tremendous. My favorites (shit, this is hard):

Paul Newman's "In The Pipeline": A terrific evocation of the nastier parts of childhood, as well as those beloved neighborhood landmarks, open sewer pipes (there was one in mine).

Gareth Hopkins' "Romero and Juliette": A funny view of the world of the undead; some of the names are rather cutesy and referential (must the main character be named George Romero?) but it's an unusually brisk, funny piece that still manages to bring the terror. It also features a zombie frog, which can only be (and is) awesome.

Matt Finucane's "It Is Written": Possibly the most original piece in the anthology, and a brilliant "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" fable of technological "advancement."

James Stanger's "Jacob Raffles": A rough, weirdly poetic piece about the horror of a post-apocalyptic Britain. Several members have treated the idea with excellent results, but James' stands apart in a way; it's hardly a typical story in plot or voice, and has an almost Biblical force to it.

Christopher Wood's "You Can't Sing, You Can't Dance, You Look Awful. You'll Go A Long Way": Reality show parodies have been a staple of British sci-fi/horror at least since Nigel Kneale's brilliant, gruelingly depressing TV play "The Year of the Sex Olympics" (1968--a good thirty years before the whole grisly, exploitative panoply became ubiquitous on our TV screens), but Chris' knack for creating hilariously unappealing main characters (Terry's awful--basically all our worst impulses made flesh) works great with the idea, and the ending's a beaut.

In toto--Neil Christopher and Franklin Marsh: Neil's probably my favorite writer on the forum; his glorious novella "Test of Faith" marked a definite high point. Here we have the quasi-novella "Cerberus Rising," an exciting, politically savvy werewolf yarn set in Ceaucescu's Romania, and "When Hell Freezes Over," a moody (literal) chiller freighted with guilt and well-observed local details. Franklin's stuff runs the gamut from eerie and terrifying--"The Morris Men"--to funnier pieces like "A (Something) In Wardour Street" (which I've just realized might have influenced something I'm presently writing) to brilliant blends of the two like "The Darklands Hall Legacy."

My favorite, though, was Sam Dawson's "Children of the Summer's End." From the euphonious title to the alternately chilling and exhilarating ending, this one really stuck with me for a while afterward. Perhaps it was the depiction of the need to fit in, the pressure to be cool, that hit a chord, as I suspect it might with anyone who's ever felt alone or apart, and the fear of what might happen if the loneliness ever became permanent. Excellent stuff; I'd never read any of Dawson's work, but I hope we see more of it in future.

*To say nothing of his gorgeous werewolf cover.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:00 PM EDT
Updated: 17 April 2007 4:05 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
9 April 2007
No Future For You
Now Playing: Arrah and the Ferns--"Bundle Up"
Gilbert and Sullivan remain something of a mystery to me. By last Satursay, I'd seen a TV production of The Mikado with Eric Idle (and, I think, Frank Thornton as the Grand Poobah) and had greatly enjoyed Topsy-Turvy (2000; the last movie ever seen in our old apartment on Spring Street and what I consider to be one of the best historical movies ever made). My newfound interest in opera encouraged me to go to the U-M Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of The Grand Duke. I'd already chickened out of going to see the recent show of Smetana's The Bartered Bride, and promised myself I wouldn't pass up the chance to see anything remotely resembling an opera the next time it happened by.

It was a lot of fun. I still don't get the cult thing; Gilbert and Sullivan obsessions have cropepd up in everything from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle to The West Wing. The whole thing reminds me way too much of the godawful Rocky Horror phenomenon, but I come close to slandering Gilbert and Sullivan by placing them in the same category. The show was an agreeably farcical confection--mistaken identities, puns and in-jokes, none of which managed to be all that annoying. A group of actors in a generic German principality conspire, for various reasons, to usurp the throne from the doddering title characvter. A couple of hours later, everyone more or less winds up happier. I could have killed the ticketseller afterward, though. There's an unavoidably dopey tradition of singing "God Save The Queen" at the beginning of every show, and I was naturally placed next to a woman who had probably sung soprano professionally for someone, and dear God, did she belt it out. I sang along, but hated myself in the morning.

The sets were perfect--well-done, but none too convincing, which was just the thing for this fairy-tale bailiwick. The reduced orchestra played with brio, but it was the cast that owned the evening, as it should have been. Everyone was great, particularly Thomas Wolfson as Ludwig, the thespian hero on the make, and David Beaulieu as the hapless theater manager Ernest, who scored points just for resemblnig my old psycho roommate Steve*, but for me, I'm afraid everything paled next to Erica Ruff as temperamental diva Julia Jellicoe (again, in a small German theatrical company--Jellicoe). The last was utterly bewitching in both voice and performance, and it didn't hurt that she was gorgeous (the last shouldn't matter, but it ain't a perfect world, as we all know). Look out for that one, is all I'm saying.

*Steve not only believed FOX NEWS was "fair and balanced", but he also used those exact words completely without irony in an argument concerning said blight on reality. I can't help but mention, really, that he also once referred to a group of undergraduate females as "A-1 material." Kid had issues.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 3:37 PM EDT
Updated: 9 April 2007 3:42 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
6 April 2007
Strangling Tortoises
Now Playing: The Hold Steady--"Hot Soft Light"
Ever since my recent career goal decision, I've been haunting the cookbook aisles of the library (and produce, meat, fish, and poultry sections of the grocery store) seeking to expand my expertise in and knowledge of food. I worked as a busser in several restaurants and as a prep cook in this one, and so I think I have a basic working familiarity with the stuff. Along with that familiarity, though, comes an iron-cast habit of finding the frequent excessive seriousness and pomposity of the culinary universe (in short, "foodies") mildly ridiculous. This skepticism goes, by and large, for any area my interest touches, but it's especailly abhorrent when it comes to food. Historical analysis and research, music, cinema and literature aren't absolutely fundamental to our physical lives--food is, and some of the extremes to which many foodies seem to go give me a little pause. For example, I read the Zingerman's Guide To Good Eating recently, thinking it would provide a lot of valuable information on healthy yet flavorful dishes to enrich someone's recipe repertoire. It was more a guide to the most "authentic" wines, olive oils, and cheeses; sometimes there would be interesting practical issues discussed, such as the ethical and environmental morality of fish farms, but it was basically about what was most real (preferably prohibitively expensive and from some rockcliff village in Tuscany hermetically sealed for a milennium--whenever I think of places like that, I think less of good food than I do of Tombs of the Blind Dead). As any good historian could tell you, "authenticity" of something like "cuisine" or "culture" is largely a crock. Just about any cultural enterprise you care to name--cooking, art, music, literature--arose from a hundred different sources and is constantly influenced by countless more. Nothing exists in a vacuum. I read a few books on the cooking experience recently dreading the primacy of this worldview, and was pleased to find that it was largely frowned upon (in print, though--you'd sometimes see remnants of the attitude poking through).

Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires: When I first heard about this book a couple of years ago, written by the then food critic for The New York Times, I was outraged (well, as outraged as I could get, anyway). Working as a busser in a multiple-plague-inflicted Mexican restaurant (I may have mentioned it in passing), the idea of a food critic was in itself apalling as my compadres and I figured such a person to be like one of our most obnoxious customers tripled, especially since this one (and I imagine many others) went out of her way to go incognito, and probably kvetched and prima donna'd her way all through the meal, then savaged whatever unlucky place got the "privilege" of being reviewed in some overrated rag (and there are areas, such as the continued employment of David Brooks and Maureen Dowd, in which The New York Times is indeed such a thing). Years later, I'm a lot more understanding, and the face that Reichl employs a variety of entertaining disguises in horrifyingly snooty Manhattan restaurants makes it soooo much different. She focuses on the end product, rather than the service (although that's important), and really, bussers there probably make at least three times what I presently pull down as a prep cook and general dogsbody (see my observation on Mookie in Do The Right Thing several entries back). It's entertaining enough, with some choice ruminations on eating and identity, but tends to become a little name-dropping and mystical towards the end. There are a few pretty cool-looking recipes in there, though, and her assertion that risotto is very hard to make properly inspires me to try it myself (but not right now).

Julie Powell, Julie and Julia: Some of you may have heard about this one, detailing a New York City secretary's decision to blog her way through Julia Child's classic Mastering The Art of French Cooking, doing a recipe a day and chronicling the results online. For some reason, I thought this was going to be terribly cutesy and worshipful, and was wonderfully relieved to find how dead wrong I was. As a cook and blogger of about an age with the author, I found this really hit some wavelength of mine, and enjoyed it tremendously. As Powell confesses, she "swears like a sailor," only making the whole thing seem more immediate and tactile. In many ways, Powell has a life much like one of those overrepresented young women on television: around thirty, white, cute, witty, New York-based, and there the resemblances end. She's married. She lives in Queens, in a tiny apartment (which actually sounds fine to me). She has to worry about money, having a shitty job--as a secretary, but that just made me all the more grateful that my own less-than-stellar culinary work experience makes me enjoy cooking at home more, not less. Electrical breakdowns, marital spats, family visits... all become simply spanners to be wrenched free of the works. The revelation at the end that Julia Child herself finds the whole thing "disrespectful" (it sounds weird, but this actually diminishes my hitherto unblemished respect for the woman), made me love it all the more. My house's stove isn't all that great either (although it's strangely better than the one at work), the kitchen's dingy but lovable, and when I'm doing something like making soup on a Saturday night (sadly no longer listening to CBC 3), I can think of Julie Powell, her bizarre home life and (now former, apparently, bless her) crappy day job, and can relax in an imagined solidarity with thousands of put-upon cooks around the country, Julie Powell first and foremost among them.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: It's probably just as well that I read Bourdain and Powell before someone like M.F.K. Fisher, as I might have been frightened away by all the encrusted tradition. Bourdain's experiences went toward creating an unjustly short-lived FOX comedy of the same title as the book, with Bradley Cooper and Frank Langella. As it was the time I began to seriously think about changing career goals, I found its portrayal of life in the restaurant world both pleasantly cathartic and very familiar. Bourdain's a distinguished executive chef and writer in, you guessed it, New York City (you're not the only one who senses a pattern, and their alleged ineptitude at making picante sauce doesn't make me feel one whit better), and has kicked around the darker edges of the culinary world for some time (as well as, eventually, a nasty heroin and cocaine habit)--Kitchen is a mix of helpful tips, life lessons and bizarre misadventures in some classy-looking places (perhaps inevitably, every one of the restaurants he described turned into Piatto once they hit my brain). Bourdain's frequently a man after my own heart, particularly when it comes to celebrity chefs, describing Emeril, for example, as "fuzzy" and "Ewok-like" (after remembering the shitstorm we had to go through when I worked at Barnes and Noble in Baton Rouge the day Emeril came to sign, I'm totally cool with that). He's also apparently trashed Rachel Ray in print (in Food and Wine, I think--I've never seen her show or read her books, but I'm fine with that, too, as she reminds me of my boss). Sometimes he tries a little too hard to be edgy and "dangerous", he (self-confessedly) seems a bit of an asshole, and he even starts to get the foodie shakes a little, but the latter are usually on the side of freshness and simplicity, which isn't usually the case (no garlic presses, homemade sauces, use the freshest ingredients), and which I'm trying to start doing around the house.

Will I become a food snob? I hope not. Eating's way too important to take too seriously, if you get my drift, but it's nice to have the option to go all hoity-toity. At least I'll know how. Besides, while food snobbery can be excessive, so can its mirror-image, a faux-proletarian wallowing in diner food and cheap beers (Stroh's is pretty good, PBR less so, but to ignore all else in favor of those two is sheer lunacy). One of the things I enjoy most is having feet in two worlds, and this seems as good a way as any to do it.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:35 AM EDT
Updated: 6 April 2007 10:06 AM EDT
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink | Share This Post
18 March 2007
Flyer-Snatch Unveiled
Now Playing: Nellie McKay (no relation)--"Inner Peace"
The other day, I got out of work early and was walking along Liberty Street when I came, wholly unawares, upon a particularly notorious local character whose activities have gone much unremarked upon by his foes: essentially all those with an interest in a vibrant city and a happening nightlife. I speak, of course, of the dreaded Flyer-Snatch, the freeze-dried old jackanapes who thinks that flyers on poles and walls, etc. are visual pollution and an affront to the utopian aesthetics of his beloved, criminally overpriced Treetown, as opposed to a vital way to get the word out on an actual music scene in Ann Arbor. Flyer-Snatch roams the streets, one would hope in his free time, tearing down flyers wherever he finds them, an activity that, one can imagine, greatly perturbed certain friends who put a great deal of time and energy into promoting the music scene that lends the town much of what good it retains. I found this Homeric-scale timewaster on the corner of Liberty and Thompson, seriously going to town on one of the more heavily festooned poles, his skeletal face and grey whiskers harsh and unpleasant beneath the green baseball cap, his bony hands ripping off the paper with claw-like motions that made it look as if he were casting spells. It was cold out, and I had my cap and scarf on, the latter almost totally covering my face. I like to think I looked a suburban Tuareg, or perhaps one of the mysterious ski-masked characters that menace Michael Sacks' Billy Pilgrim through the plane windows in George Roy Hill's underrated 1972 film of Slaughterhouse Five. There was really only one thing to do: stand about seven or eight feet away from him in the chill and sunshine and glare at him silently as he went about his work. Flyer-Snatch looked at me a little strangely once or twice, which nearly led me to speak. Something along the lines of "dude, you're the one spending five to ten minutes on tearing flyers off a fucking telephone pole!!!" I should have just walked on, but he really deserved the admittedly miniscule discomfort, and besides, I was curious to see if he'd "go all the way," as they put it. He finished, leaving the "hard ones" on, which I didn't think spoke well of his dedication. Now that I think of it, I should have clapped sarcastically as he walked off. Maybe I'll get another chance.

St. Patrick's Day? I skipped all the annoying bar parties (and, more to the point, bar partiers), went home after Food Gatherers and fixed Irish stew, which turned out wonderfully--barley is so much more rewarding than rice, so much more flavorful and textured (you can actually chew it, where rice goes straight through). It was a pretty cooking-heavy day; while the stew was cooking in the oven, I went ahead and fixed myself some garlic sauted potatoes for later (increasingly one of my favorite snacks) and would have made lamb stock (I still have the bones from the stuff I used for the stew) if I hadn't accidentally burned the onions--I guess as opposed to purposefully burning the onions; huh? I'd planned on watching How Green Was My Valley (1941; Welsh in subject matter but directed by John Ford), but instead went halfway between Gounod's Faust on CBC Radio 2 (not as lame as I expected) and the Patrick Troughton Doctor Who classic "The Invasion" (1968). In retrospect, it was a pretty fucking sweet day, right up to the end...

Irish Stew
2 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
3 lbs. boneless lamb stew meat cut into small chunks
3/4 tsp dried thyme
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp Worcs sauce
4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
8 medium carrots, peeled and cut diagonally
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Saute onions in Dutch oven with butter, eventually stirring in lamb, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Add stock and potatoes, stir, and place in oven for 1 hr. Add carrots, cream, and barley, replacing in oven for another hour. When done, season with salt and pepper and serve.

I cut the recipe, made for 4-6 people, by a third and used balsamic vinaigrette instead of Worcs (and a rosemary-basil combo instead of thyme), and drained the fluid left over when it had finished cooking--I think I used a cup too much. It was quite a mouthful anyway, and I have at least half of it left over from dinner, which I did with a Caesar salad and a bottle of Molson, the latter tasting like ambrosia. Why the Molson? Well...

CBC Radio 3 is no more, at least on the regular airwaves in southeast Michigan. Due to a massive reogranization of Radio 2, the Saturday night block of the Canadian public indie pop, rock and hiphop station will no longer run. Hopefully the remix will leave Tom Allen's Music and Company and Howard Dick's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera untouched--the broadcast of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra on the 3rd was awesome. I'd become greatly attached to Radio 2 as an ongoing soundtrack to both lazy stay-at-home Saturday nights and those when, in recent months, I trained myself on new recipes, as well as the best way to keep track of musical developments north of the border (and occasionally here and in Europe--without Radio 3, I'd never have heard of the Go! Team). While last night was bittersweet, my own favorite run was last 3rd (as mentioned before, Radio 2 was on a real roll that weekend), in which Evaporators frontman "Nardwar The Human Serviette" unleashed a recording of a song by the Mynah Birds, the all-but-forgotten 60s folk/R&B outfit that featured both Neil Young and Rick James, the Two Koreas rocked out "U-Boat Commander," and best of all, Vancouver-based DJ Grant Lawrence perfectly showcased the medium's possibilities by encouraging a group of charming teen callers at an outdoor car party on the shores of Cape Breton Island to crank it up, open their doors, and dance to the wistful and whistle-heavy Peter, Bjorn and John instant classic "Young Folks," thus providing a forever indelible image to someone listening to the same song two thousand miles away, and probably thousands more at any number of distances. Nothing really could have topped that, or given such a glorious showcase for what radio can do, and I'd like to thank the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for making it all possible, eh?

Finally, a number of friends have reported problems with the comments, and so I've decided to start moderating; hopefully that might iron out the kinks, whatever they are... *fingers crossed*

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:41 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
15 March 2007
Waiting For Black Moses
Now Playing: Gruff Rhys--"Cycle of Violence"
Live At PJ's has the understandable reputation of being a kind of uber-sleazy meat market, much along the lines of Conor O'Neill's on Friday and Saturday nights. Why was I there, especially on a weeknight? Wattstax was on, I'd never seen it before, and I wasn't about to let the atmosphere of general disarray (when WCBN can barely put verbally comprehensible DJs on air, I suppose it's too much to ask that a function of theirs runs smoothly--not that I'm ungrateful, and I'm sure it wasn't their fault that there was ear-splitting construction work being done or that the sound system took an hour after "showtime" to hook up--after which there was a pointless twenty-minute milling session, which meant that we started watching the movie about an hour and a half late) hold me back, especially when I'd walked two miles to see it. The endless wait did nearly drive me away, but a well-deployed barrage of soul and R&B, some from the movie and some not, like the Curtis Mayfield classic "Get Down," managed to keep me situated. When empty, PJ's actually looks pretty sweet, rather like that place in The French Connection where Russo and Egan notice notorious drug smuggler Sal Boca and listen to the Third Degree. I might actually have to check it out when full.

Wattstax was touted as the "black Woodstock," a film of the historic 1972 Los Angeles concert featuring Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, the Staples Singers, B.B. King, and others, commemorating the Watts uprising seven years previous (and directed by Mel Stuart of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame). Once it got going, Wattstax was well worth the wait, even with the cute but slightly annoying hipstress accidentally kicking me several times from her higher-placed barstool. Like the best concert films, it's not just a straight record of the shows, but thematically looks at black culture of the early 1970s and the effect of and debates over "black power." The movie's introduced by Richard Pryor (and the concert itself by Jesse Jackson), and features a great many random interviews (alternately amusing and poignant) with Watts residents on a great variety of topics, ranging from politics to economics to romantic relationships (among whom appears to be a slightly younger and appealingly feistier Ted Lange--Isaac from The Love Boat). Real-life comedy enlivens the proceedings on a number of occasions--the crowning moment comes when Rufus "Prince of Dance" Thomas (you haven't lived until you've seen a portly, middle-aged soul singer in purple coat and little else rock a pair of go-go boots and get away with it) rouses the crowd to hustle a karate-chopping troublemaker from the field (and they hilariously respond en masse). The music's superb--the climax of the movie comes with headliner Isaac Hayes nailing his recently Oscar-winning Shaft theme song to rapturous acclaim, although my favorite was Carla Thomas singing the lovely "Pick Up The Pieces" (not sure of the title, but that was the chorus), which I recently heard on the radio (WCBN, curiously enough) and fell in love with--fantastic stuff. The rapid-fire editing and panoramic view of life and music gives the movie a propulsion that sends it sailing over the edge. I haven't actually seen Woodstock, but when I do, it'll have a lot to live up to if it's gonna be the template for this flick.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:22 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
9 March 2007
Go Tell The Spartans. Really.
Now Playing: Air--"Ce Matin La"
First, the Oscars (late, I know)? Whatever. Actually, seeing those YouTube flicks made me much more critical of the Best Animated Short awards--simple, dreamlike, deceptively innocent fables of life and love have no chance with me as long as I know that there are clans of rock-stupid, perhaps ironically mush-mouthed, sexually voracious Bill Cosby clones on YouTube who probably deserve it more. My friend Lou came over to watch the show with me, marking the first time I've ever actually had any of my Ann Arbor friends over to my present house (and I've been there for over two years). I rather like the place, to be honest, but it's not exactly the best venue for entertaining company: a dingy, quasi-student hovel (as I suspect it was largely redesigned). It was very much the opposite at my old place (our parties became so heavily populated that the cops were called once by our cartoonishly nimby next-door neighbor). It was a pretty fun night (although I was a little exhausted by the earlier part of the weekend), so maybe I'll have people over again. The Departed was my Best Picture pick (saw it a couple of weeks ago) and it was wonderful to see Scorsese win (too bad about Pan's Labyrinth, though). Even better is the fact that Forest Whitaker now has an Oscar!! I hadn't seen The Last King of Scotland, but... I mean, it's Forest Whitaker, one of the most reliably cool (the fact that he directed Hope Floats, weirdly enough, actually makes him cooler) and taken-for-granted actors in Hollywood--this must be what it would be like it, say, Jeff Daniels ever won (or hilariously enough, Alan Arkin--and so it happened twice!). Oh God, why do I take this crap so seriously? Maybe because of the fact that three of the acting winners had been beloved cult favorites of mine for nearly two dcecades. I can't remember the last time that happened, and so I'll just savor the fact that they got a few right for a change.

I read a notice in the Ann Arbor Observer that there would be a free sneak preview at the Natural Sciences Auditorium of the new movie 300, the CGI-heavy Thermopylae movie, with Gerard Butler in (I imagined) the role of Leonidas. I'm not sure why I was so sparked to see this; I'm not the biggest fan of CGI by any stretch (one of the only movies in which it's really been successfully deployed is Shaun of the Dead, probably because they used it for the little touches) and 300 was supposed to involve massive gobs of it. If memory serves, I'd promised myself to try and get back in touch with the current cinema this year, and this was kind of an opening salvo. Lou had gone to see a sneak preview of Children of Men there some time back (and now I wish I'd gone with him, as I heard it was awesome), and he mentioned a large number of people, so I decided to get there early. On finding the Natural Sciences Auditorium, I found a rather morose-looking girl with a promotional shirt on who was supposed to be handling the passes (in fact subbing for her friend who worked for the production company). "Passes?" I asked, thinking "uh-oh." She told me that there had been about two thousand passes sent out to students for this thing, none of which was mentioned in the Observer. Of course, it was a dicey proposition that anyone was going to see 300 there, as some teacher was already showing, of all things, The Wild Bunch. I peeked through the window and saw Ben Johnson and Warren Oates going apeshit among the winecasks at the hacienda, so I knew they weren't planning on leaving anytime soon. I had just bought a Dr. Pepper from the Diag Party Shoppe, and so figured I'd wait a bit and see what happened, investigating the building (the hallway facing the library looks like it could be part of a medieval fortress--or the Atlantic Wall, for that matter). We chatted a little, I read some more of Thomas Ricks' Fiasco, a very good history of the Iraq War, and... two somewhat wispy models in very tiny skirts of the kind I thought had gone out of fashion, oh, on the arrival of winter (and who, it turned out, had let me in the building in the first place) and a woman doing promotions showed up. The night had become sufficiently bizarre to "repay" my time even if I didn't get to see the movie (I still hadn't finished my drink anyway, and I wasn't taking it out into that weather). What these people had to do with the movie I had no idea, but then the promotions woman took out two garish red leather jackets and told the models to take them to the restroom and wash them. They walked up the stairs, I somehow managed to keep my eyes on my book, and a number of phone calls were made to people in the know who then revealed something about Angell Auditorium A. I knew the foreign students' association showed movies there, and it made sense. I offered to show the production company girl where Angell was, and so we trudged across the Diag and through the frigid weather to Angell. It turns out I had the auditorium confused with one of the large classrooms where the Chinese students used to show movies, but we eventually found the place, as well as a couple of poor pastards who were still trying to get in, but couldn't, because it was filled to capacity. We found this out from the shushing house-motherly woman who answered the door. I would have laughed if everyone hadn't looked so sad (I'd totally given up by this point), and they weren't letting the girl in either (it didn't help that one of the guys was trying to pretend he was with the production company, too). My time was up, really, so I patted her on the shoulder with my scarf and wished her luck. Walking back, I met the other three coming out of the Nat. Sci. Building, told them the way, and browsed through Borders for a while before going home. There I discovered, looking at my calendar, that it was clearly marked Angell A. How I'd arrived at the Nat. Sci. Auditorium is really beyond me (because they had too, after all). I mean, what the hell? After that, maybe seeing 300 would just be anticlimactic, no?

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:35 AM EST
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
7 March 2007
Y'See, Theo???
Now Playing: The Casionauts--"Southern Man"
Interesting week, interesting weekend (the ones before, anyway--I was sick half the week and most of this weekend).

Bury Me An Angel (1971): I almost wasn't going to see this Projectorhead-sponsored flick, an action that--it emerged--would have been profoundly silly. The February Current featured this description: "Dixie Peabody, armed with a shotgun, her Harley, and two friends, seeks to find the ones responsible for her btorhter's death." There's quite a lot of prima facie glory in that sentence alone, one that barely begins to hint at Bury Me An Angel's greatness. Peabody plays "Dag," a biker girl who splits a hilariously-filmed garage party (complete with coke sniffed off buckknives) with her brother only to watch him gunned down at the door by a transcendently goofy-looking assassin, the hilarity of whose recurrent appearances in flashbacks and dream sequences is almost sacriligeous to convey. It's actually pretty impossible to describe any of this little New World gem... it's like describing a soup (to be pretentious)--you can't really communicate the flavor through words, but you can describe the ingredients. In this case, those consist of bikes, guns, drugs, foolin' around, coffee, television apathy, witchcraft, Dan Haggerty, skinny-dipping, sex, fever dreams, revenge, barfights, alcohol, school administration, mountain scenery, and donuts, all crammed into an unbelievably rewarding eighty-five minutes. Peabody's performance is both insanely overwrought (in answer to someone's accurate assertion that she has "negative energy"--"What the hell is that supposed to mean?")and defiantly listless (whoa) but bizarrely convincing due to her imposing physical presence (when she arrives at a bar with her two friends, you gets the sense that she could literally eat you alive, or at least club you senseless and drag you to the Sadie Hawkins dance (or anywhere, for that matter). The actual showing was fittingly shrouded in weirdness; the last reel went missing and so, as the organizer searched frantically for his VHS copy, one of the other organizwers showed us five minutes of a fight scene between Lucille Ball and Maureen O'Hara from Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), an earlier Projectorhead film, redundantly and insultingly pointing out obvious plot points as if we were in kindergarten. The doors of the building were festooned with someone's posters: "Sarah Cook, I love you. Take me back." I wound up in a fetal position from laughing at dream sequences (and everything else), and haven't been with an actual theater audience that had such a good time watching a movie in eons. Bury Me An Angel... from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Last Friday night, I went to see a show at the Blind Pig which was something of an all-star Ann Arbor lineup: Chris Bathgate, Starling Electric, and Saturday Looks Good To Me. I was mainly there for Starling Electric, partially there for Bathgate, and only a little for Saturday Looks Good To Me, who used to be my favorite band in Ann Arbor. It was a curiously mellow evening, in which I had a weird feeling of peace and serenity, not really what I think of in terms of the Blind Pig. Bathgate was good, Starling ELectric were once more impeccable, with a lot of the new songs starting to take root in the mass consciousness (I assume) and the band all the tighter for the result (they started the set with a lovely cover of Wings' "Who's That Knocking At My Door?", and will hopefully do "Junior's Farm" or "Jet" at some point in the future). The most interesting set was the last, probably because I wandered around and about, missing a few songs. I hadn't heard SLGTM in over a year, and though I was pleased to hear old favorites like "Alcohol" making an appearance, there wasn't really the same sense of ball-busting joy I used to get at their live performances. Still, it was a fun night, and we had an unusual amount of roaming time after the end of the show and before close, at which latter time the staff charges around the floor like buffalo-herders with Asperger's, hustling everyone into the freezing night with abusive zeal, despite the fact that some of them seem to enjoy coming in five minutes before close at certain area restaurants. I know what it's like to help close a bar/music venue after a hard night of partying, but do let's keep some perspective. Afterward, Margot, Adam, and I toddled over to the White Lodge for the now traditional Starling Electric afterparty, at which, for perhaps the first time, I avoided making an ass of myself (I think). By the time we left, it was about five in the morning, at which time all the cab companies in Ann Arbor apparently cease operation. Margot and Adam invited me to crash at their truly Cyclopean apartment, which I thankfully did, waking two hours later (and again three hours after that) on a sinfully comfortable couch to find their cat, the sable Iago, trying to make friends. Iago and I farted around for a while, after which Margot fixed breakfast and the two began to initiate me into the ways of people leading century-appropriate technological lives. By the time we got through quasi-virtual tennis and bowling to YouTube, it had turned into a lovably weird weekend, especially since it was still Saturday (all too often, as with the previous weekend, all the good stuff starts Saturday night, leaving only a few dregs of day until the workweek begins anew). Thanks again, guys!

And, yes, the blog changed. Dying clowns don't appeal to me anymore, and who wouldn't prefer the "Borderland" template to "Plain Jane"? Or even "Tangerine Nip"??? I mean, really...

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:29 AM EST
Updated: 7 March 2007 9:33 AM EST
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink | Share This Post
19 February 2007
Daddy-Batter Blues On The Wong Dong Trail
Now Playing: Frederick Delius--"Sleighride"
I've probably mentioned before that my critical love of the cinema came largely from the all-nighter movie fests held by my friends and I in high school and during summers home from college. It began on the cusp of the 1990s. I was terribly, terribly excited about the death of the 1980s (and despite certain occasional nostalgic twinges, I'm still pretty sure I fel the right way at the time) and started to realize that I wanted more out of my pop culture than simple mindless consumption. I got the latest Leonard Maltin guide and started checking off the titles I'd seen and the ones that looked interesting, and then set to work. I flatter myself and my friends that we collected together a large selection of flicks, mostly older titles, if not exactly monuments of Hollywood's ostensible "Golden Age" from the 1930s-1950s (that would come later)--Shaft, Flash Gordon, Sleuth, Becket, Shaft's Big Score!, Hercules Goes Bananas, Conan The Barbarian, The French Connection, Dark Star, Shaft In Africa, Caligula, Metropolis, and so on. We watched very little contemporary material, for reasons I thought I knew at the time but came to know much more fully this last weekend, one of the most entertaining on record.

My friends Tracy and Dan, who I met through Sara and who threw such a wonderful Halloween party last year, decided to hold a movie sleepover in honor of Tracy's birthday. I hadn't done one of these, even alone, since the old movie fests, and was awfully enthusiastic about the idea. All the more so when I discovered it was to be a 1990s-themed party, with trivia games interspersed between barrages of goofy and at times deliciously sleazy cinematic fare. It was an inspired choice, particularly as the ongoing 80s-nostalgia industry would have us believe it was all John Hughes and sensitive, introspective loners who just needed to be understood. The final third of the decade usually gets left out of the equation.

I decided to make a banana-chocolate tart for the occasion.

Banana-Chocolate Tart

1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar
3-5 ripe bananas
1 tart crust
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (which I forgot)

Make tart crust. What I usually do is mix 1 1/2 cups flour with a pinch of salt, manhandle a stick of butter into it until it's loosely clinging crumbs, and then slowly pour 1/3 cup ice water into it until the crumbs are moist and congealing. You're supposed to do this with a food processor, but I get pretty good results by hand. Roll it out and then into a 9-in. tart pan and cook it with foil for 15 mins. at about 350-400 degrees, then for 5 uncovered.

Melt chocolate and butter together (I did it in a microwave), then stir. Bring corn syrup and sugar to boil in heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Lower heat and cook, stirring for 2-3 mins. until sugar dissolves into syrup. Remove pot from heat. Slice bananas into 3/4 in. disks, and cover tart shell bottom with one layer (oh, that's what I did wrong!). Whisk the egg and egg yolk together, then whisk a third of the chocolate mixture into the eggs. Do very gradually because apparently the mixture could cook the eggs, thereby scrambling them, and you don't want that. Whisk in corn syrup mixture, then vanilla, until you've got a smooth-looking custard. Pour over bananas, put tart in oven, and bake for about 40-45 mins.

It was the first time I'd ever tried a sweet pastry of this kind apart from sugar cookies and oliebollen, and it was rather fascinating to boil the corn syrup together with the sugar, later combining them with the chocolate-butter mixture and producing a kind of ganache to pour over the bananas. Either I didn't do something right or the recipe simply didn't allow for the proper amount of filling, because some of the bananas were still half-naked. Fortunately, that didn't seem to make much of a dent in the taste, which was excellent.

I walked over to their house Saturday evening, pausing along the way to take in a gorgeous post-twilight view from the Huron River bridge that crosses over from the Medical Campus. The sky stil hadn't completely clouded over, you could see Venus, and the medieval-looking buildings that lay along the ridge to the west gave a great Draculian feeling (prophetically enough) to the enterprise. On arrival, we had a rousing game of "Apples to Apples," and then got straight into it.

Easy Wheels (1989): A wolf-fetishist, female biker gang with a sideline in baby-snatching runs afoul of a male counterpart whose leader had some weird shit go down in 'Nam (the latter presided over by, of all people--I swear--George Plimpton!!!) and who spouts annoying existential love poetry which reminded me of Arcane's Nietszche-quoting henchmen in Swamp Thing. There are some rather creative assumptions made about Iowa, very, very old female wolves who "talk" with male human voices (and grunting, at that), and a pair of relative star turns given by Eileen Davidson (of the multiple personalities on Days of Our Lives some years back--"Stefano, he's King of the Vampahyers!!") and Paul LeMat (of American Graffiti and Melvin and Howard--nominated in the latter for an Oscar, if I remember right) as the gang's respective leaders. While not the best or most entertaining occult biker film ever made (for that, see here), this definitely had "spoof" written all over it. Unfortunately, it was one of those that just barely failed to pull it off, thereby transforming into the real thing.

Cool As Ice (1991): "Drop that zero and get with the hero!" This was initially the most exciting title of the evening, primarily due to the star billing of one-time singing sensation and man-hoochie Vanilla Ice. Even offering a summary of the plot just feels wrong (although somebody actually made it work here), but here goes: Ice plays "Johnny," a rapping biker who rolls into a sleepy Midwestern town and instantly starts making a play for a straight-arrow valedictorian. Her father (Michael Gross of Family Ties, the poor bastard), naturally enough, is in the Witness Protection Program, and so Johnny gets to vanquish not only her asshole boyfriend but also the Grade-Z equivalents of Howard Stern and Joe Pesci from the same year's Home Alone. Ice's performance is really just indescribable (paradoxically enough, in so many ways), although it reminded me of how much I used to love Leonard Maltin, as the review has this to say: "[Ice] does not exactly inspire memories of Ronald Colman." Strangely, this thing's cinematographer was Janusz Kaminski, who only two years later would win the Oscar for shooting Schindler's List!!! That's a quality shift to rival Michael Reeves between The She-Beast and The Sorcerers.

Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996): Yes, "In Space" is really the subtitle. It's one of those Snakes on a Plane things, where the title promises exactly what you end up getting. I've never seen any of the Leprechaun movies, so this was a genuine eye-opener. The Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is stranded on a mysterious planet--in space (it obviously doesn't do to ask too many questions)--with what appears to be a seductive dancing girl--who's really a princess (again, doesn't do...)! Fortunately, a crack team of Space Marines turned mercenaries (insert pre-existing disclaimer), sponsored by the deformed Mittenhand (Guy Siner, the fey Gruber of 'Allo, 'Allo and General Ravon in the 1975 Doctor Who classic "Genesis of the Daleks") arrive to make everything funnier. Weapons are fired, malevolent Irish sub-gnomes swim up electrical strams into human urethras in much the same way as those fish in the Amazon, there are sleazy not-quite sex scenes, bare breasts are shown (amusingly carrying an automatic death sentence)... in the end, it all boils down to there being a leprechaun in space, so complaining about anything pertaining to the movie just seems kind of gauche.

I dozed off through half of each of the next two movies--The Forbidden Dance (1990) and Double Dragon (1994). The first was the second of two lambada-centered movies that came out in as many years, and featured the very lovely Laura Herring (who'd go on to star in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive fifteen years later--which I still haven't seen) as a princess from the Amazon who comes to L.A. to stop the evil developers from tearing down her rainforest, in the process bringing the lambada to the States, confronting anti-Hispanic racism, and acquiring a yanqui boyfriend with stupid hair. I assume everything worked out, because I fell asleep halfway through the movie. There's not a whole lot to say about Double Dragon--it's a movie based on a video game, and they aren't usually any good (Resident Evil excepted, and not much). Admittedly, I'm not much of a gamer--I haven't really played since my brother still had his old Sega, and afterwards I never really felt the urge. I do wonder if Scott Wolf, on joining the cast of Everwood, was hazed in any way by being made to watch his performance in Dragon, because he's really very silly. His brother, incidentally, is played by future Brotherhood of the Wolf star Mark Dascasos.

9 1/2 Ninjas! (1989): I'd taken a cursory glance at the back of the video (it did me a world of good to see that most of these movies, bless them, were still on good old VHS) to see the plot, but apparently I hadn't taken much of an interest. It was also five in the morning at this point, so I wouldn't have been greatly concerned at any rate. Expecting a cheesy martial-arts ripoff, I found myself utterly taken aback by one of the more genuinely surreal experiences I've had watching movies in some time. Ninjas! is a parody of 9 1/2 Weeks (which I haven't seen), but with ninjas. Like Vanilla Ice's performance in Cool As Ice, Ninjas! is indescribable. Unlike Vanilla Ice's performance in Cool As Ice, I actually want to describe Ninjas! A ninja businessman--Joe--falls into a nasty scheme by, yes, an evil developer, to evict Lisa, a cute girl he meets ("somebody's mom," and I wish I could remember who said that). Everything that happens afterward is just so weird... Often very funny (with a few misfires, and the movie runs out of steam halfway, but just... weird. High praise from this quarter, obviously.

Die Hard Dracula (1998): Fittingly, the prize for "weirdest movie" went to the final contender, which, astonishingly enough, has nothing to do with Die Hard. Probably the weirdest thing about it is that it's all done on live-action video as opposed to film. At a time where I can hardly think of even any fictional TV shows that still do that, Die Hard Dracula stands out in the strangest way. The result seems to be video of someone's European vacation (and there are some Romanian or Czech churchgoers in one early scene probably well-deserving of a Borat-style lawsuit) mixed with some overwrought acting, school play-caliber set design (again, I wish I could remember who mentioned that), and near-softcore porn. We have a Mark of the Devil-style narrated introduction that, because of Die Hard Dracula's curious cinematography, resembles one of those late-80s proto-Discovery Channel documentaries of the kind prolific before the rise of Ken Burns. Then, a bunch of people in cast-off Renaissance Festival gear run around a castle only to encounter Count Dracula, who, in a stunning reversal of cultural assumptions, totally rocks this bloated Meat Loaf look (although they thankfully seemed to save a few bucks on his tuxedo shirt). Meanwhile, in the future, a guy who looks like Hayden Christensen loses his girlfriend in a freak waterskiing accident and understandably decides to get over his grief by visiting that place in Europe with all the vampires. After moping around Prague for what seem like geological eons, he gets in a car accident in Moravia and very sensibly starts running as fast as he can away from the road, to find a tavern in an "all mod cons" equipped village. The barmaid is the spitting image of his dead girlfriend. Van Helsing shows up (Bruce Glover, father of Crispin, who appeared in Chinatown and who endeared himself to countless grateful generations of James Bond fans as Mr. Wynt in Diamonds Are Forever, mincingly threatening Sean Connery), which is fine, since, ridiculous as this thing is, it's already better than Van Helsing (though probably about the same as Coppola's Dracula). They chase Count Dracula. They bargain with Count Dracula. They attempt to kill Count Dracula. Count Dracula calls women "stupid broads." Count Dracula goes to the dentist. Eventually, Die Hard Dracula reduces the viewer to a state of shock. There are stupefyingly awful special effects, worse attempts at "comic relief" (the Hayden Christensen kid is particularly maladroit in this department), some decent nudity in the style of late-night TV ads ("Do you have trouble meeting people? Do you want to meet exciting people who can show you a good time? Call 1-900-DRACULA!"), and a moronic ending that the filmmaker probably thought was daring but isn't (again, in so many ways). It's a wretched movie--there's really no getting away from that, but the scenery is sometimes gorgeous, there's at least one cool and genuinely scary scene towards the end, there's the sheer array of plot devices and decor (buried treasure, Dracula's ability with the ivories, the employment of safely public-domain orchestral music, including chestnuts like "The Blue Danube" and "Ride of the Valkyries" but more unusually Prokofiev's "Fanfare" from The Love For Three Oranges) and the mere fact that this thing exists at all is strangely inspiring; more than one person in the audience realized out loud that they could make a movie, too, if something like Die Hard Dracula saw the light of day (one could make the same argument for at least half the product coming out of Hollywood these days, but Die Hard Dracula threw the whole thing into major relief).

The movies were chosen pretty much at random, but there were a few themes that unexpectedly cropped up or figured prominently in the plots or imagery--flipping the bird, a callous attitude towards the abandonment or sacrifice of children ("I can always have another son/child"), and especially the wearing of lacy, white, anti-erotically elaborate women's underwear--by women, though the bottoms bore a slight resemblance to codpieces--of the kind that can still occasionally be seen in the back pages of the Metro Times. We all got several good laughs out of that, and there was a healthy creative energy to the weekend that lasted through breakfast at Big Boy, then a couple of brainstorming-type games back at Tracy and Dan's (resulting in the generation of at least one immortal catchphrase), and up to my return home, where I nearly ruined everything by watching Luis Bunuel's prestigious The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).

Last but not least, the people in the movies could do worse than to read this (thanks, Georgy)!

Thanks, Tracy, Dan, Sara, Dug, Amanda, Olec, Dresden, Karen and Jason. Word to your mother!!

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: 20 February 2007 4:58 PM EST
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post

Newer | Latest | Older