Category Archives: wistfulness

Watch-day!

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I’m going to see Watchmen at midnight , and I can’t wait. Actually, that statement is demonstrably false, because I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since I read (retired?) DC Comics Publisher Jeanette Kahn’s “Direct Currents” column about a potential film adaptation of Watchmen back in the late 80s.

I was excited when I read in the long-defunct Fantagraphics-published fanzine Amazing Heroes that Sam Haam had written a screenplay that actually improved upon the one (arguable) flaw of Moore and Gibbons’ 12-issue maxi-series: it’s 1950’s The Day the Earth Stood Still-style denouement. (I hear that an alteration to the ending has survived all the subsequent drafts and years of development hell, though only the Writers’ Guild knows whether the finished film’s ending was Haam’s.)

I was excited when Terry Gilliam was going to direct it, even though his own revision of the screenplay purportedly sucked worse than the film version of Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If anybody could get this thing onscreen intact, I figured, the guy who made Brazil could do it.

I was excited again, ten-plus years later, when Paul Greengrass was going to do it. (Though Cloverfield is probably a fair indication of what a Greengrass-shot Watchmen would have looked like.)

I was skeptical when I heard Zack Snyder, he of the-shot-by-shot adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, had won the gig. I haven’t seen 300, but I gather it was mostly about a bunch of CGI-hardbodies wrestling in Matrix-like slow-motion. But when I read about the faithfulness and commitment with which Snyder was translating Moore and Gibbons’ sprawling masterpiece for the movies — keeping it set in alternate 1985, casting non-stars, allowing for a near-three-hour theatrical-cut run time (three-plus for DVD) and, crucially, an R-rating — I began to get excited again.

In about seven hours, I’ll be watching the movie. Sometime after that, though possibly not right away, I’ll know whether Snyder and screenwriter David Hayter succeeded. I’ve tried to avoid reading the mainstream critics’ notices, though I did weaken and read David Edelstein’s review in New York, which articulated nicely my reservations about Snyder.

I believe this much, though: Snyder tried — really tried — to make something great. Or at least to be faithful to something great.

Orson Welles, who made three brilliant films and many more failures, said it takes as much hard work to make a bad movie as it does to make a good one. But William Goldman, who’s had more commercial success than Welles but never improved upon The Princess Bride, said that most movies aren’t even meant to be any good.

Watchmen, I have faith, was meant to be good. And now, we’ll see.

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Thoughts on Our Final Wire Intercept

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We’ll Not See Their Like Again: Freamon, Bunk, and McNulty say their goodbyes.

My girlfriend and I have spent about 3.5% of 2008 watching The Wire. Starting around new year, we voraciously consumed all 60 episodes. We watching the big finale last night, the evening of the 71st day of the year. So out of 1,704 hours of Double-Aught-Eight, we’ve spent 60 of ’em, give or take, in front of the tube. If you’ve ever seen this show, you’ll have no trouble understanding why: It sucks you in. And it’s so smart and honest and fully-realized, you don’t feel the least bit bad about allowing it to suck you in the way you do with, say, LOST or 24.

And now it’s all over. SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t already watched the finale, etc., etc.

You had us a little scared for a while there, David Simon. What with only 10 episodes in this final season (the result of HBO brass telling you to “do more with less,” as the Baltimore Police and the Baltimore Sun staff are both repeatedly to do?), your plotting sometimes seemed hasty in a way it rarely had before. The final episode of any Wire season always features a kind of accelerated, jump-cut storytelling that’s the stock-in-trade of formulaic procedurals like the deathless Law & Order: Whatever the Fuck, and your final, 50%-extra-length episode was no exception. I know you would have loved to have shown us the conversation where the Sun brass demotes Gus Haynes to copy editor, for example. Still, though, you managed to pull it all together in satisfying, credible fashion. Cheers.

Who knew you could be such a softie? I mean, sure, Marlo gets away with everything, but still: Michael becomes Omar. Sydnor become McNulty. Daniels becomes Matlock. Herc becomes Michael Clayton.

I was sort of expecting a Sopranos non-ending redux, but then again, this sort of symmetry has always been part of the show. Overall, most satisfying.

This Is More Difficult than It Looks.

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Tougher on your hands, too. The photo above is from Hudson Beach, New York City, last weekend. The one below is from Santa Monica, Sept. 2003. Getting older, just so you know, does not make this any easier.

Still, I wish there were more of these things around.  There are only two in the country, apparently.  The ones I used to play on in Santa Monica are known locally as the “traveling rings,” while they’re “swing-a-rings” in NYC.

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It’s a Mann’s Mann’s Mann’s Mann’s World, cont.

aimee_mann__smilers_071223_h_2550.jpgPostscript from the big little Birchmere show.

Capsule review: Nice! Aimee was in better voice than she’d been at the Christmas show in December, although still having some troube, most noticeably during “Deathly,” the last song she sang. On the upside, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her smile as much during a performance as she did last night. A relaxed, happy performer is naturally more fun to watch than a nervous one.

As promised, she made up more than half the 19-song set on the fly from audience requests dropped in a bucket at the foot of the stage before the show. (No love for “The Fall of the World’s Great Optimist,” my request, though.) After she chose “Susan” as the first audience-request number, she told us, “Here’s the funny thing: I never remember my own songs. So part of the fun of this is going to be . . . well, I don’t know what about it is going to be fun for you at all.”

She also played eight songs from the upcoming Smilers album, including “Medicine Wheel,” which we heard here at the Birchmere a year and a half ago, “Columbus Ave.”, which she played at the 2006 Christmas show, and “31 Today,” which she performed at last year’s Christmas show. Conclusions: Um, she plays regularly at the Birchmere. And she’s not shy about playing stuff she has no plans to release for quite a while.

Bonus points: she dissed Coldplay when somebody asked for “The Scientist,” stating reasonably enough that since she couldn’t recall her own lyrics, she certainly wasn’t going to remember lyrics as “not necessarily overly erudite” as those. Oh, snap!

The setlist:

*denotes a tune frome Smiliers, the new album she said last night will probably be out in April.

01 (unidentified song from Smilers) Sample lyric: “You’ve got a lot of money but you can’t afford a freeway.”

02 31 Today*

03 Susan (lots of scat-singing, many forgotten lyrics, ultimately aborted)

04 Longshot

05 (unidentified song from Smilers) lyrical snatches: “You love me like a dollar bill,” “love doesn’t change a thing.” Nice change/change wordplay there, Ma’am.

06 4th of July

07 The Great Beyond*

08 The Other End of the Telescope

09 Little Tornado*

10 How Am I Different

11 Medicine Wheel*

12 Invisible Ink

13 Columbus Ave.*

14 Ray

15 It’s Not

16 Borrowing Time* (commissioned for and rejected from the Shrek III soundtrack, she said)
ENCORE:

17 Save Me

18 Wise Up

19 Deathly

The K of D

thekofd-kimberlygilbert-heron-by-stanbarouh-6036-1.jpgMy review of Woolly’s debut production of Laura Schellhardt’s  prismatic spook-story, brought vividly to life by Kimberly Gilbert (pictured) and director John Vreeke, is on DCist today.  Read it, then go see it.  I know what’s good for you.

Santa’s Big Olde Bag, opened

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

Prologue: This is Christmas music! The first voice you hear is that of De’voreaux White as Argyle, the poontang-loving young limo driver who spent a memorable late-80s Christmas Eve locked in the parking garage beneath “Nakatomi Plaza” (actually the 20th Century Fox building) in Los Angeles. They made a movie about it, and that film is universally hailed as the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It’s called Under Siege. No, wait, it was Passenger 57. Um, Sudden Death? No, no, only kidding, merry-makers. It’s Die Hard, the once and future king of action pics.Once can only hope that IMDB is not an accurate reflection of De’voreaux’s recent career: His last screen credit is from eight years ago, in Shadow Hours. In the role of “Second Tranvestite.” Hey, remember when Ray Charles shot at a very young De’voreaux when he tried to pinch a guitar from Ray’s music shop in The Blues Brothers? That was awesome.

Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag. (The Bellrays, 2005) – Yep, Lisa Kekaula, that mic is on.

Ding! Dong! Death! (May Be Your Santa Claus!) (Sufjan Stevens, 2003; preacher recording found by Andy Cirzan, origin unknown) – A mash-up, albeit a very primitive one, of my own design. I started out with like, half-a-dozen pieces culled from Sufjan’s remarkable set of five Christmas EPs recorded each December from 2001 through 2005, and in June 2006. The latter is the one that includes “Christmas in July,” as well as “Jupiter Winter,” “Sister Winter,” and “The Winter Solstice,” most of each stand out as notably depressing even among this, whose five volumes comprise one of the most muted Christmas albums ever. Thanks for bringing us all down, Sufjan.

Save the Overtime (For Me). (Dees, Gallo, Knight, Knight, Schwarzenegger, 1983) – Surely the best of the Governator’s collaborations with Gladys Knight and the Pips. Squats are an excellent exercise.

I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You. (Margo Guryan, date unknown) – She’s a creepy broad, ain’t she? But tuneful.

Brian Wilson Reveals All. Behold the startingly revelatory, probingly incisive, revealingly probing, piercingly insightful secrets of Wilson’s creative process explicated here. Josh du Lac got some good stuff out of Wilson a few weeks back, like the fact that Phil Spector is “Zany!”

Melekalikimaka. (Al Jardine, Mike Love, 1974) – “’Melekalikimaka’ is ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaii talk-a.’” This kind of thing, really, is what this compilation is all about. A powerful argument that Jardine and Love were the real brain trust behind the Beach Boys.

Pearl Harbor Didn’t Work Out, So . . . (Steven E. DeSouza & Jeb Stuart, 1987) – I had a film studies textbook in college that claimed Die Hard was subtly, or perhaps unsubtly, racist, sexist, xenophobic and every other damn thing, just because it’s about a heroic white Reagan-voter who takes down a crew of slumming Royal Shakespeare Company types, including ballerina Alexander Gudanov and some American guy who looks eerily like Huey Lewis. The film supposedly espouses contempt for invading Japanese conglomerates, professional women who eschew their spouses’ last names (lots of stuff about that Rolex on Holly McClane/Gennaro’s wrist that Hans Gruber is hanging on at the end of the movie) and relegates not one but two black actors to sidekick roles. What an awesome movie.

Daddy Won’t Be Home Again for Christmas. (Merle Haggard, 1973) – This just in: Hag’s a shitty father. No clue here what’s keeping him away. Not prison, since he can write that “little check” that he’s hoping, puzzlingly, “will fit.” Is “forget” a really hard word to rhyme?

Sleazy Con Men in Red Suits. (Randy Kornfield) – Jingle All the Way is remembered as an epic, cautionary failure, but which I submit to you is not even among the five worst films released in 1996. Freed from its distracting visuals, the film’s audio, tastefully excerpted here, reveals a surprising profundity and even grace. Well played, Randy Kornfield, well played.

Christmas Present Blues. (Jimmy Webb, ?) – My prose is not worthy.

Snokenstein. (?) – The first of many, many treasures here that I appropriated from Andy Cirzan’s bizarro Christmas compilations as featured each year on Sound Opinions. Andy is on the show again this weekend, and I fully expect him to bring plenty of obscure wonders and oddities that you can bet will show up on my compilation next year.

A Great Big Sled. (Brandon Flowers, 2006) – Nobody will ever accuse Flowers of being a great lyricist, but I would have been delighted to have penned the line “little boys have action toys for brains” myself. I’m living proof it can last a long time. Way better than anything on Sam’s Town, the lyrically-impaired Killers album released a couple months prior to this.

The Ultimate Stretch. (Journey feat. Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger) – I just love hearing The Terminator talk over that opening vamp of “Don’t Stop Believing.” I guess we’ll never know whether Tony Soprano finished all 30 of the pushups.

Reindeer Roll Call. (Kornfield) – Listen to how Arnold is just mercilessly taunting Sinbad as he outruns him. “I’m having a good time now,’bye!” If you’ve seen Pumping Iron, then you know that workaholic salesman Howard Langston is probably the role truest to Arnold’s real-life personality, especially once his competitive juices get flowing. Jingle All the Way really does require repeat viewings to fully absorb its many insights into the Gubernatorial mind.

. . . and many, many more!

Merry Christmas, Friends! Time to kick it weird-school.

santas-got-a-big-olde-bag-front.jpgHo ho ho, music lovers! Santa’s Got a Big Olde Bag, my 2007 Christmas compilation, is now yours for the asking.   And you need these sounds in your yule-life.

But don’t take my word for it! J. Freedom du Lac, esteemed Washington Post pop music critic, had this to say in the Dec. 18 edition of his wildly popular and influential “Freedom Rock” webchat:

Richmond, Va.: Hey, J. Free — what is your favorite Christmas record? One of my friends made me a mix CD this year, and I can’t get enough of Ben Folds’ “Bizarre Christmas Incident.” That song doesn’t get played on 24/7 Xmas radio.

J. Freedom du Lac: My new favorite? “Santa’s Got a Big Olde Bag: Yuletide Times Eclectic and Inexplicable,” compiled/curated by our very own Chris Klimek. He gave me a copy last night, at the Aimee Mann show. (You know, the one Michael Chertoff also attended. Who knew he was a Nelly McKay fan?!)The album is a wild, wild ride: It opens with audio from “Die Hard” (you know, where the limo driver is listening to “Christmas in Hollis”), then goes to the Bellrays/”Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag,” then Sufjan’s “Ding Dong! Death! (May Be Your Santa Claus),” then Marah’s “New York Is A Christmas Kind of Town” and (this is ripe) Arnold Schwarzenegger doing a workout video over “Warming Up” by Gladys and the Pips! LOL. And on and on it goes. Great stuff. You should sign up for Klimek’s CD-of-the-Year club.

There you have it, Friends — a ringing endorsement from a bona-fide expert.

Liner notes below!

VERILY, a manifesto.We all have our favorite versions of the traditional Christmas warhorses. Actually, recent research suggests that many listeners hate, hate these fucking things. I yield to no man in my abiding affection for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 1975 performance of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” recorded live at C. W. Post College, and I only just came across a marvelous 1978 version of Keith Richards doing Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph” – it was released as single back then, Keef’s first. Then it went out of print.

No matter; you’ll find neither of them here. Tracks like that aren’t what this compilation is about. No, gentle listener! Here we turn our rapacious gaze mainly, albeit not exclusively, to seasonal melodies, films and ephemera that have not stood the proverbial test of time. Some of them haven’t been around long enough to take the test; some are too obscure even to have been summoned to the testing site; a few may have taken the test and flunked. All are glorious and honorable. Even Jingle All the Way, which puzzingly is remembered as an epic, cautionary failure, but which I submit to you is not even among the five worst films released in 1996. Freed from its distracting visuals, the film’s audio, tastefully excerpted here, reveals a surprising profundity and even grace.

2.5 TRACKS FOR EACH OF THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS! YOU CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO LISTEN!

Four Words About Sound Quality: All over the map. Much of this material I took from CD, manipulated in Apple Lossless Audio Format, and compressed only once, so it ought to sound stellar. Then there’s the stuff that was digitized from an ancient vinyl saucer and probably compressed two or three times before I got my hands on it. And plenty of stuff in between. I trust you will share my judgment that the content of the muddy-sounding tracks fairly demands their inclusion here, and forgive the pops, tics, crackle, and hiss. That’s the sound of authenticity you hear, Kids. – Mgmt.