Monthly Archives: August 2007

Judgment Day Plus Ten

Or “judgement” day, but I’m going with the spelling used by the producers of the Greatest Film of All Time, which of course I don’t need to tell you is James Cameron’s 1991 apocalypse-contraception epic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 1992, I got my driver’s license and French-kissed a girl for the first time. But the highlight of 1991, the year of Achtung Baby and Use Your Illusion I and II (I wouldn’t buy Ten for a year, or Nevermind for several more after that), was definitely T2. It was the first film for which I bought the screenplay. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-purchased the film each time a new VHS or DVD edition was released.

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August 29, 1997 is the day that film told us half of the human race, give or take a few million, would perish in a nuclear exchange instigated by SkyNet, the artificial intelligence network entrusted with all the assets of the U.S. military. When SkyNet unexpectedly becomes self-aware, it decides that its human masters are a threat and takes preemptive action. You’ve all seen the movie. The 2003 release Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, revises the date of Judgment Day for obvious reasons, having an aging Arnold tell us, “Judgment Day is inevitable” and actually letting us see the beginnings of it in a surprise downer ending. But T3, although a decent-ish genre flick if not compared to its two brilliant precursors, was neither written nor directed by James Cameron, the auteur behind the first two, so it ain’t part of the canon as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway. We’ve lasted another ten years. Congratulations, everybody! Does that mean Michael Jackson is 50 today?

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Sustainable Community

Well, this is a bit odd. But only a bit.

I’m writing this from my old office in the house I lived in in glorious Ventura, CA from late 2000 until early 2005. This is day four of my first return visit to the Golden State since I moved to the District two years ago. I saw my ex, with whom I remain on friendly terms, for the first time in two years last night — she made dinner — and we’ll be hanging out together with some mutual friends this evening and tomorrow.

I shared a Studio City apartment with two really cool people with whom I’ve lost touch for about five sad months in mid-2005, but for most of my California experience, I lived in this town, in this house. Ventura is so beautiful it’s a little bit heartbreaking to come back and realize I gave this place up. I had good reasons for moving, and the two years I’ve lived in DC have been the two happiest of my life. But still.

When I came to Ventura, I had just turned 24, and the place (and of course, the relationship that brought me here) seemed full of promise. Two years later, it’s exactly as I left it. All the stores and restaurants I remember are still here . . .

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. . . including a few whose survival I never understood . . .

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. . . and most significantly, the original, non-News Corp.-affiliated Kwiki Mart!

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Salzer’s, my favorite record store (with apologies to Amoeba, which surely has a more wide-ranging selection but to which I never developed a sentimental attachment) remains. When I stopped in yesterday afternoon, Frank remembered my face, though I think he had to get my name off my credit card. I asked if he still had his band, and he told me they would be playing tomorrow night at a new bar that’s opened up since I left, a place downtown called It’s All Good. (Their booker must have better taste than whoever chose the name, I guess.)

Since I haven’t really found an indie record shop to favor with my commerce in DC, I was eager to drop some cash at Salzer’s. I got the new Rilo Kiley CD, Under the Blacklight, which came with a free vinyl single. (Not only does Salzer’s regularly beat chains like Borders on price, even if you’ve let your KCRW membership — usually good for $2 off every CD you buy — lapse; they also give you freebies like singles and posters. What’s not to love?) Also, since I’m catching up on Spoon and the New Pornographers, I got a pair of catalogue titles; Gimme Fiction and Electric Version, respectively, along with A Year in the Wilderness, John Doe’s new solo record, featuring, appropriately enough “The Golden State.”

Anyway, I went to my old house after that, greeted my old cat, and set out to run one of my old routes.

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With it’s moderate temperatures, low humidity, varied terrain, sparse traffic, and of course, its beauty, Ventura is a runner’s paradise. It’s more known as a surfer’s paradise, of course, but I never quite got the hang of that.

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After running all summer in the heavy, humid DC air, to run in a place where I can actually stand to wear a shirt comes as a shock to the system.

I carried my camera in my bottle-belt and took these shots while I was out puffing along.

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Anyway, after dinner and a catch-up visit with the ex last night, I went back down to Los Angeles, where I’m staying with my beloved professor from the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and her two dogs. Today I’m back up in V-Town at least until tomorrow night.

Earlier this afternoon, I was tooling around downtown. Like I said, it’s all exactly as I remember it. Which shouldn’t be strange, but given how quickly Columbia Heights, where I live now, is changing, and how constant the change in Chantilly, VA, where I grew up has been, it’s odd — and comforting — to find some continuity.

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I happened to be walking by the post office earlier, and I thought I’d stop in to get another look at the WPA mural I remember. Since I was already there, I figured I should ask if they have the new Marvel Super-Heroes stamps. I recognized two of the four postal clerks working the counter. And when I asked for the super-hero stamps, one of them remembered me. Specifically, she recalled that I was the guy who never wanted to use a meter strip to send a package if I could decorate the box with dozens of stamps instead. Nice.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to get to Sylva’s, which has relocated since I was a member, and Ralph’s Comic Corner. Viva Ventura.

What do the Cranberries and Dick Cheney’s judgment have in common?

They were both a lot better back in 1994 than they have been since 2003.

Gosh guys, I though you said John Kerry was the big flip-flopper!

I love Willie Nelson.

So, I submitted my September review requests today, with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price’s Sept. 6 Merriweather appearance at the top of the list. I’ll take my dad if I get that one. I wonder if Willie will play the tune I found from him on iTunes today: “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other).”

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It’s a pretty great song, actually. Maybe not as great as the cover image, which of course is included when you buy it from iTunes. Somehow I don’t think this one would go over so well with the crowd of jack-holes who were, apropos of nothing, chanting “USA, USA” when I saw Willie play Wolf Trap in, I think, 2003. But you never know.

The release date was Valentine’s Day last year. Nice.

Oh, I got some play in Freedom Rock again today. Just some talk about carbohydrates.

Column Itches

Today’s Paper of Record features my review of nu-Sinatra Michael Bublé’s surprisingly groovy show at the Patriot Center Saturday night. Or, if you’ve got some time on your hands, you can read my original version, which, I am reliably informed, weighed in at a mighty two dozen column inches. Oops.Take it away, Fellas!

Gentlemen, your attention, please: You won’t want to hear this, but it’s okay if you don’t hate Michael Bublé. Yes, your wife and/or girlfriend has had at least one of his CDs on repeat since his self-titled debut became a hit in 2003. Yes, your mother calls every time he shows up on “The Today Show.” But on the evidence of his glitzy revue at the Patriot Center Saturday night, he’s after your vote, too, fellas! And thanks to his self-deprecating, consciously Rat Pack-y stage persona, he probably deserves it.

Case in point: Greeting the people of “Virgin-yah,” he said he knew the correct pronunciation, but would stick with his because it sounded more like “a mystical fantasy country I want to go to.” After a rendition of “Fever” that was, well, feverish, he expressed his “sincere appreciation for you, my fans — you should see the house I just bought!” Badda-bing!

Resplendent in a black suit, tie loosened just-so, the 31-year-old Canuck’s evocation of the Chairman, God rest his blued-eyed soul, stopped just shy of punctuating his sentences with, “And you can take that to the bank, Buster!”

The standards-heavy setlist was mostly a series of big-band valentines to the ladies who squealed every time he narrowed his eyes in their direction. The dude may more resemble “Footloose”-era Chris Penn than “Footloose”-era Kevin Bacon, but with charisma like he’s got, the ladies would melt even if he looked like Tom Petty.

Oh, and he can sing a little, too.

Actually, he can sing a ton. It’s rare in this era of “American Idol” bathos to hear a vocalist whose got the range, the control, the — how you say? — chops to pull off the histrionic flourishes Buble deployed early and often during the 95-minute concert. His Shatneresque closed-fist gesticulating looked silly during his opener, Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” because he hadn’t shown yet that he had the pipes to live up to the hype. By the end of the song, nobody was laughing. Not at him, anyway. He makes it look easy, and makes it sound — oh, how it burns to admit this! — spectacular.

Not that the ladies in the house necessarily noticed. Based on the frequent interruptions of “We love you, Michael!,” they appeared to have come more to bask in the star wattage than to listen to him sing.

He didn’t discourage this behavior: When he asked a pair of girls in the front row their ages, and they responded seven and ten, he shot back, “There are pictures of me on the Internet I hope you never see!” Sensing that his hearts and minds campaign was in need of emergency course-correction, he leapt into the audience to pose for snapshots with the girls. Camera-wielding fans immediately surrounded him. He’d broken away when a fortyish woman fairly attacked him, throwing her arms — and other limbs — around his body while her husband (?) clicked away. A beefy security man hovered nearby, but apparently never got the kill sign. When Bublé finally crawled back to the microphone, he quipped, “Virgin-yah my ass.”

At $68 and $88, tickets weren’t cheap, but you could see where the money went. A 13-piece band backed the star, and the raked stage used four vertical projection panels to achive the impossible, turning the charmless, acoustically-frigid bunker that is the Patriot Center into something approximating the Sands Hotel.

About that band: Marvelous! Early on, Bublé turned the spotlight over to them. Feigning jealousy at the rapturous response their hot-jazz instrumental got, he sulked offstage. Trombonist Nick Vayenas leapt up for a hilarious monologue about what an insecure diva his boss is, complete with a too-brief impression of Buble’s jerky dance style. Only when Vayenas began to howl “Try a Little Tenderness” did Buble return.

Further hilarity ensued when the star, pledging to “take this to a manlier level,” gave a quick-but-great unplugged version of Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama,” with the moves Ed Sullivan wouldn’t broadcast. Buble called for the men in the house to asset their authority (“She might have dragged you here, but you are nobody’s bitch!”) just as the band kicked into “YMCA.” He struggled through a few choruses before admitting, “I’m glad I don’t know all the words to this.”

The only lull came when Bublé interrupted the parade of lounge favorites for a pair of tunes he co-wrote with pianist Alan Chang, “Home” and “Everything.” Both sounded ersatz amid all the warhorses, despite (or probably because of) the fact both were No. 1 Adult Contemporary hits.

“That’s Life,” featuring a ten-voice gospel choir, closed the set proper. For his encore, Buble ripped through “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and repeated his seemingly-heartfelt thanks, minus the Krusty-the-Klown-styled line about the new house, before saying goodnight with Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”

It was a classy, brassy finish to stylish and supremely entertaining evening. The only tacky note was the “MB” logo on the video screens, in lights, and on the back of the music stands. Yo, Mikey! You don’t need to put your name all over the stage. You already showed us who owns it.

Muse’s Invasion Hit Parade

(A shorter version of this piece is published in today’s Paper of Record.)

Combining the dystopian preoccupations of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, the attack of early Metallica, and the vocal flamboyance of Queen, the English power trio Muse bristle with enough energy to repel a totalitarian coup d’etat. At least we’d better hope so, since this seemed to be only one of the ill-defined threats against which their bombastic-but-fun set at the Patriot Center Thursday was meant as a rallying cry. The speech from President Kennedy that played as the band took the stage has never sounded more topical, but there’s still something distinctly Y2K about Muse’s sense of gathering menace.

The gig slammed into overdrive with probably the most nakedly silly tune in the group’s uber-serious oeuvre, “Knights of Cydonia,” and didn’t rest for a minute. “The time has come to make things right!” decreed the lyrics, projected in urgent block caps via three LED video screens. Er, details to follow? Probably not.

In the vocabulary of “Spinal Tap,” the entire 90-minute set was performed at 11, leaving the band nowhere to go when they really wanted to stir things up. But the audience was plenty stirred throughout, keeping the security team busy catching crowd-surfers and sending them back to the rear of the floor.

Frontman Matthew Bellamy’s crotch-thrusting-but-somehow-asexual guitar heroics are awesome — it’s like Eddie Van Halen broke into the Edge’s garage one night and stole his prized collection of effects pedals — and his heavily-processed vocal wail kept what sounded like a sold-out crowd (it wasn’t) at attention all night. Lead-footed drummer Dominic Howard knows how to bring the pain, too. But more variation in the tempo of the set would have given arena-ready anthems like “Starlight” or “Stockholm Syndrome” even more impact. As it was, “Invincible” was the evening’s highlight, if only because its deliberate, martial build brought some contrast to the unvaried crunch of the other songs.

Apocalyptic images of fallout shelters and missile-targeting systems flashed across the screens in sync with the band’s bleak-but-hooky pronouncements. The robot dance team video for “Supermassive Black Hole” brought a welcome —possibly even intentional — bit of humor to the otherwise po-faced sci-fi pageantry.

The precision of the video accompaniment (and the heavy use of prerecorded samples) is probably responsible for the show’s other flaw: It appeared to permit not a single spontaneous second. But, you know, they’ve got an invasion of our alien overlord one-world government masters to fight off! Or something! Nothing must be left to chance!

They Put the ‘Broad’ in ‘Broadway’

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My DCist review of ACT’s Hellzapoppin’ is here.