Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thrift Store Pickings

It's been a busy holiday season and I haven't finished any reviews.

Since my last post about my new etsy store This Charming Man Cave, I've been making the rounds of the local thrift shops looking for things to put in my store.  Here's a picture of some of my most recent finds:

The first thing I found was a Budweiser vest jacket from the 80's and the two Vogue Picture Records that were released sometime between May of 1946 and April of 1947.  I had no idea what the records were worth, but they were 49 cents a piece, which turned out to be a hell of a deal.  They look amazing, and both play fantastically well.

My favorite of the two records is labeled Vogue Picture Record R731 and features Marion Mann singing Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea on one side and You Took Advantage of Me on the other.  Here's a closer look at the fantastic artwork:

The other prize of the day, was a Minnesota Northstars Starter jacket.  I haven't seen one in this style before, but I found the same jacket selling on ebay for over $200!

Not a bad outing.  I even got myself a little gift that left my wife's eyes rolling - The Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit edition.  Only $3.99.

Now I just need to get some of these items listed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This Charming Man Cave

I've been inspired by my wife and her success on etsy to start my own store.  Partly from a gentle nudge by her, partly because I thought it would make a good companion to my site.  I'd talked about starting an etsy site, and with her encouragement I did.  I've already gone to garage sales and thrift stores with her, and have an eye for things that are a little different than what she sells at her store.  When we were talking last week, she came up with the catchy name of my store, This Charming Man Cave.

The motto of my store is, Strong enough for a woman, but made for a man.  I'll be focusing on vintage things guys would like, but that doesn't mean women wouldn't like them either.  Right now I just have a couple of things listed for sale, but soon I will be adding a bunch of records, shoes, clothes, and several curios.

Here is the first thing I listed.  A 1940's Rita Hayworth film studio head shot:

Come on over and check out my site This Charming Man Cave

While you're at it check out Regan's site Regan's Brain

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo Winner!

 I finally did it, and with an hour to spare.  The third time was definitely the charm, and things were looking a little iffy for awhile.  I was about 5,800 words down going into the final day, but somehow rallied late and finished faster than I thought I would.

Now what?  To be honest, though I finished NaNoWriMo, my novel is only 2/3rd's of the way to its own goal line.  I figure if I crank out about 1,000 words a day, I should be able to hang up the first draft of this novel before Christmas.  What a gift that would be to myself.  I know that a first draft is a lumpy and awkward pile of shit that needs to be dug through to find the gold hidden inside.  It will take numerous rewrites, extra drafts, and a lot of cutting and stitching to get this thing to a place where it would be readable to other eyes than my own.

Regardless of all that is in front of me in this novel, I was pretty damn excited to have gotten across that finish line.  Some celebration was in order.  I rewarded myself with a bottle of Crispin Stagger Lee rye whiskey cask aged cider, a slice of lemon poppy seed cake, and hunkering down on the couch with my wife and watching my new favorite show, American Horror Story.

I will let you know how things go, but in the meantime, I found a great blog post by Chuck Wendig that enlightened me as to where I go after a first draft here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

40,000 Word Mark

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, so I've been pounding away at trying to finish my 50,000 word novel by this coming Wednesday at midnight.  This is my third attempt, and by far the closest I've come to actually completing this thing.

The Thanksgiving weekend put an abrupt halt on my efforts, and now I find myself with 10,000 words left and three days to write them in.  I have to crank out at least 3,400 words a day to finish, but I don't think that it's going to be too difficult.

The story in the novel might not be finished by the 50,000 word mark, but the goal is 50,000 words.  After that, pushing myself to keep going until the end of the story won't seem nearly so hard.

Almost there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why Was I Watching Gossip Girl?

What's wrong with me?  Why would I watch a soap opera aimed at teenage girls?  Is it because I'm secretly a teenage girl at heart?

No, it's because my wife sold some Audrey Hepburn pillows to the set designer of Gossip Girl and they were in the episode that aired on Nov. 21st.

My wife and I watched the entire show, scouring each shot to see where her pillows were used.

It was a blink and you'd miss it moment, which was excruciating, since the pillows were always just obstructed enough to not be clearly seen.  I was able to pull two screenshots of them from the show:

You can see one of them on the couch.

And here it is again, just under Blake Lively's arm.

I think we both hoped that they'd be displayed more prominently, but I'm super proud of my wife.

She sells her handmade pillows on etsy and can be found here: Regan's Brain

Maybe someday they'll show up in a show that we're big fans of ... I'm looking at you Mad Men.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

23,000 Words and 27,000 More To Go

I was behind in the count, I took a day off, which soon became three days.  Two days ago I decided to play catch up.  I wrote 9,000 words in two days.  My head hurt, my eyes were sore, and best of all, I discovered some really great things.  New aspects jumped out, several characters introduced themselves, and grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me into dark tunnels where secrets lie.

It's only been fourteen days, sixteen more to go.  This NaNoWriMo attempt is on schedule with 23,431 words and counting.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Comic Book Day

In the last year, I've really been turned on to the possibilities of the graphic novel.  I got pulled in by a nice little series called Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, and since then there have been a few others series that have grabbed me.  The comic or the graphic novel is almost a combination of screenplay and storyboard, with the movie laid out right in front of you.
That being said I've never been a fan of superheroes, so most of the things I read are not the big legacy comics.

This week I picked up two series I follow, and a third book on a whim.

The Unwritten is a fantastic series that plays with the idea of what would happen if literary characters came to life in our world.  It's written by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

PIGS is something new that a friend got me into.  It's only on its third issue, but it's intriguing as hell.  What if a Soviet sleeper cell had lain dormant in the US for forty years and was suddenly activated?

The third book that I grabbed is called Operation Broken Wings, 1936 by Herik Hanna.  It's set during World War II and just looked interesting.  We'll see if it's any good.

What Comics do other people follow?  I'd love to hear.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

9,000 Words In

I've been working on a story for a graphic novel collaboration.  The idea is there, but it's the execution that I've been having trouble with.  I've written screenplays before, but a script for a graphic novel is a little different.  There are panels involved, and as a first time comic writer, it's a little daunting.

So NaNoWriMo came along, and I jumped in head first.  I used the comic idea for the novel as a way to explore and brainstorm the story and the world in which it takes place.  Working in a structured way, and putting down words daily, has gotten me exploring dynamics in my story that I wouldn't normally have gotten into.  I'm now over 9,000 words in, and the whole thing is opening up to me in an amazing way.

I'm excited about where it's going, and hope that eventually I'll have something amazing to show you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo time

Every year I think about doing the National Novel Writing Month challenge.  I've even tried it twice before, as the two partial novels on my hard drive can attest to, but I've never actually finished the challenge.  This year is going to be different.  I'm lacking something in my life right now.  Some kind creative spark that I need to sustain me through the doldrums of another Minnesota winter.  I find myself bored by work, frustrated by a lack of creative outlets, and ready for something to energize me in a way that I desperately need.  When I'm writing, I'm happy.  When I'm not, I'm crabby and tightly wound.

I got an email from NaNoWriMo today, and I jumped on it.  So far I've written 5,250 words.  I need to average 1,667 to finish the 50,000 word challenge by the end of the month.  This is the year I do it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will the Talented Gallagher Brother Please Stand Up

Since the break up of Oasis, both brothers Noel and Liam have put out new albums.  Let's take a look, dig into each one, and figure out who the real talent of the Gallagher family is.

Liam's band Beady Eye put out an album first, so we'll start there.

Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding (Feb. 28, 2011)

Liam is the little brother who sang for the band Oasis, while Noel wrote the songs.  Since he wasn't the one creating the music, it seemed like he had something to prove, and always wore the sneer of a kid who just shit in your pudding.  So when Oasis broke up, he took the rest of the band with him and formed Beady Eye, his chance to shit in Noel's pudding.

Different Gear, Still Speeding is a 13 song, 52 minute album, which would be great if it were packed with solid hooks and beautiful melodies, but it's not.  The album is filled with forgettable songs with vapid lyrics.

The first five songs drift by without standing out in any way.  Four Letter Word is clearly aimed at Noel, The Roller rips off the melody of Instant Karma, and Beatles and the Stones takes the cake.  He compares himself to the legacy of these two great bands, and waxes about how he'll be remembered and canonized like them once he's gone.  I know, I threw up a little also.

Things change once Bring the Light arrives.  It has some nice piano work, is actually a catchy song, but has one little problem.  It suffers from a McCartneyesque refusal to end.  Instead it drags on way past the point it should.  Look down there kids, you'll see Paul kicking a dead horse.  The same problem appears later in the album, when Wigwam tacks an unneeded 3 minutes on.

The album isn't all crap.  For Anyone, is actually a really catchy song, and one of only two songs on the album that I could actually say are good.  It's just too bad you have to slog through 20 minutes of mediocre music to get to this little glimmer of hope.  Sadly, it doesn't keep up, and it's almost another 20 minutes until we get to another good song.  The Beat Goes On, may be the best song on the album.  It's catchy with a nice little Farfisa bit in the background.

The problem with Different Gear, Still Speeding is that you have to dig through 45 minutes of shit to find these two little nuggets of gold.  It's not worth the money.  Catch these two songs on spotify without having to listen to the rest of the garbage the album is packed with.  If this is Oasis without Noel, he's better off without them.

Noel Gallagher - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Oct. 17, 2011)

Noel was the song generator and the backbone of Oasis, but now that he's left the group and jettisoned his hanger on brother, he has a chance to show us how good he really is.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds is a 10 song, 42 minute album without any of the filler stuffed into Beady Eye's album.  High Flying Birds is packed with low key pop songs with catchy hooks, interesting imagery, and let's be honest, far better songwriting than little brother Liam could ever muster.

The album comes out of the gate strong with Everybody's on the Run and continues at top quality all the way through.  The second song, Dream On, could be a hit if it could ever reach the airwaves here in the states.  If I Had a Gun, is a somewhat love song, without the downfall of resorting to all of the cheesy metaphors that go with it.  The Death of You and Me is one of the better songs on the album, and clearly aimed at Liam.  Is he "the storm cloud sucking up my sun"?  It would seem so.

Four songs into this album, and the imagery becomes a clear thread of new starts, fresh outlooks, closing the door on the past, and distancing yourself or escaping from things that bring you down.  There's an optimism that runs through the songs, as if Noel's excited by the new path he's traveling down.

Aka ... Broken Arrow is a standout song, whose guitar work is balanced out by organ and what sounds like a theramin.  Stranded on the Wrong Beach follows with more images of falling, sinking, or drowning, and being on a journey into the unknown.

It's a shame that he didn't do most of the singing in Oasis.  He has a strong voice that's a lot clearer than the whining that seems to be Liam's trademark.  If people are expecting an Oasis style rocking album, they'll be disappointed, but if you appreciate a good pop song, then this album is for you.

Not many people know this, but Noel and Liam had an older brother who goes by the moniker of Gallagher, and is also a performer.  Gallagher left his home in Manchester to become a comedic sensation in the United States in the 70's and 80's.  He's known for his trademark newsboy cap, crazy skullett (bald mullett), and the large mallet that he uses to smash watermelons to the delight of people of all ages.  He became America's top comic for a time.

Sadly around the same time his younger brothers entered into the spotlight, the elder Gallagher was in decline.  People had grown tired of watching a grown man smash perfectly good watermelons.  But it was the allegations of racism and homophobia that eventually sidelined his career.

Now sadly living on the dole back in the house he grew up in Manchester, Gallagher feigns disinterest in the musical trajectory of his younger brothers.  When asked what he thinks, he just mumbles under his breathe, watching reruns of Are You Being Served while his watermelon mallet sits forlornly in the corner gathering dust.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Melancholia (2011) - Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier has always been known for his brutally emotional films.  Melancholia is no different, though it appears to be his most polished film since The Element of Crime.  The cinematography is gorgeous and the CG effects are used so perfectly, that they enhance the film without hitting us over the head like so many Hollywood films tend to do these days.  Von Trier's unfortunate Nazi comments shouldn't take away from the power of the film, which shows him tapping creatively into his own bouts with depression.

The film is broken into three parts.  Starting with a dreamy and gorgeous prelude which functions almost like the chorus of a Greek tragedy.  Instead of words, only the images and sound sets the tone and the mood for what will follow.

Part One - Justine

The story follows two sisters, the first of these, Justine (Kirsten Dunst),  is shown on her wedding day.  She and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgaard) are introduced already in the midst of a struggle.  Their limo cannot make it up the winding driveway to bring them to their reception, and becomes hopelessly stuck.  It's a simple way to introduce the couple, and it paints a picture of the larger difficulties to come.

Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) have thrown the party at their own home, an enormous estate in the midst of a private 18 hole golf course.  When the couple arrive two hours late to the reception, Claire, a control freak, is rubbed the wrong way from the beginning.  Justine notices a strange star on the horizon, glowing red in the night sky.  She finds herself unsettled by its appearance.  Add in some crazy parents, a boss that hounds her to come up with copy for an ad campaign on her wedding day, the nephew he tells to get it from her that night or he's fired, a hinted at problem with mental instability, and a husband powerless to help her keep it all together, and you have a hint of the dark path this normally happy wedding day takes.

Justine starts out a glowing, beautiful, and confidant bride, but ends the night broken, dishevelled, and uncertain once everything has unraveled, including her marriage.  Claire ends up being a point of strength for Justine, someone stable she can lean on when she can't stand on her own.

Part Two - Claire

The focus has now shifted to Claire, who we find taking care of Justine after she's had some sort of breakdown.  Claire helps to bathe and feed her since Justine hasn't the energy to take care of herself.  John, ever the confident husband, watches in judgement, disapproving of the time, effort, and money spent trying to rehabilitate Justine while their son Leo watches unaware of what's wrong with his aunt.

The star that had troubled Justine the night of her wedding turns out to be a mysterious planet that will fly past the Earth.  Claire fears it will collide with, and destroy the planet.  She obsesses about it.  John is confident that won't happen, and is excited about its appearance.

This second half of the film is about watching the scales tilt as Claire slowly becomes the unstable and irrational sister, while Justine appears to be the rational one.  Their roles have now reversed.

All of the characters in this film appear to represent facets of how depression is dealt with.  John is denial, Claire is fear and panic, while Justine becomes acceptance in the face of the inevitable.  It's a bleak message, but then again von Trier isn't known for his comedic chops.  They're all helpless to stop the impending destruction.  There's no escape from death.  It's something everyone has to look forward to.  It's just how you face it.  The same can be said for how people face depression.  Will it be with strength and courage, or will it be fear and panic?

The film is gorgeous, enjoyable (if that can be said about a film with such a dark message), and one of the better films I've seen in a long time.

Rent it here:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Criterion Collection #1 - Grand Illusion

Criterion Collection Spine #1
France 1937, 114 minutes
Black and White

Directed by Jean Renoir, Grand Illusion is one of the very first films to center its story on a prison escape.  Underneath the escape narrative, is a thematic undercurrent that shows the film to also be about aristocracy and class.

Set during WWI, we begin in a bar where French pilots hang out.  Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) sees a smudge on an aerial photograph, and wants Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin) to fly over so he can take a closer look.  They're shot down and taken to a German mess hall where they meet Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) the man who shot them down.  He treats them civilly and invites them to dinner, but they're taken away to prison before they can enjoy his hospitality.

Merechal and de Boldieu find themselves in a POW camp, where they meet some fellow Frenchmen in the same predicament.  The camp is strict, anyone caught outside the fences will be shot on sight.  Though harsh, these rules don't stop the men from digging an escape tunnel out of camp.

It's in the camp where the class undertones begin to bubble to the surface.  Captain de Boeldieu is a career military man, aristocratic families were expected to be in positions of military authority.  War was a gentleman's undertaking, but things are changing.  Their fellow prisoners are ordinary Frenchmen for the most case, and the one wealthy man, Rosenthal, who isn't, is the son of a immigrant merchant who has risen to a level once reserved only for the aristocracy.  They trust Marechal with their plans of escape, but aren't sure they can trust de Boeldieu.

Besides tunneling to freedom, the prisoners spend their time putting on plays for each other.  In the middle of one of their performances, they get news that the French have taken an important town.  Marechal interrupts the play to announce it, but his patriotism angers his German captors.  They throw Marechal in solitary confinement where he breaks down, but is only strengthened in his desire to escape to freedom.

Whenever a plan seems to be going well, there's always a wrench just around the corner.  The wrench for Marechal and his friends, is on the day they're ready to escape, they're transferred to a purportedly inescapable prison.  It's a castle built on a cliff with machine gun turrets, guard dog patrols, and random inspections.  It's run by an injured Captain von Rauffenstein, now looking like a stiff Anakin Skywalker after the Darth Vader mask has been taken off.  He hates his job, but its the only way he can be of use to the fatherland.

The added security does nothing to hinder the men's plans of escape.  They continue to work on a way to get to the freedom of Switzerland even under the added scrutiny of the castle.

The two men from prominent families, de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein find themselves spending a lot of time in conversation.  They're both formal and stand on ceremony, which makes them polite and courteous though they are on opposing sides.  They know they're a dying breed, and they "carry on a futile existence".  Von Rauffenstein laments that he missed his opportunity to get out of his own futile existence by surviving his airplane crash.  He's obsolete and surrounded by ugliness, to combat that, he tends a flower which is the only thing of beauty that grows in the castle.

Their conversations sink in for de Boeldieu.  When it comes time for Marechal and Rosenthal to escape, de Boeldieu volunteers to be the distraction that allows them the time they need.  He wanders around the castle leading the guards on a wild goose chase, teasing them with a flute.  Von Rauffenstein warns him that he'll have to shoot, but de Boeldieu pays no heed.  Captain von Rauffenstein means only to wound him with his shot, but his aim is bad, the wound is mortal.  It seems the aristocracy dies so that the common man can be free.

It's been over ten years since I'd last seen this film.  I remember liking it when I'd watched it before, and now I remember why.  Jean Gabin and Erich von Stroheim are fantastic to watch, as is the gorgeous cinematography.  The DVD itself had no extras whatsoever, but the film itself is worth the price.

You can purchase the DVD here:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks

If Woody Allen had married Wes Anderson instead of Soon-Yi, and they'd given birth to a film or television show, it would be The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks, the new web series from AMC.

This three part web series, narrated in the vein of The Royal Tenenbaums, and sumptously shot in black and white, was written and directed by Peter Glanz.  It focuses on the titular character Arthur Banks (Adam Goldberg), a neurotic, self obsessed Jew in the vein of Woody Allen's classic characters, which really means ... he has women problems.

The first episode, "I pulled a Polanski", introduces us to Arthur's world.  He's just cheated on his girlfriend Annette with Chloe, and when he awakes he immediately knows she isn't 18 years old.

Jeffrey Tambor plays Arthur's therapist and sounding board, who tries to help him work through his self destructive cycle of going after women that he knows he will never end up with.

We find Arthur in the middle of staging a new play "The Romantic Egoist" which is the most personal play he's ever written.  Anette's constant pressure for him to give her a child, and the ensuing fights that result from his excuse making, become the fodder for a rewrite of his play, and the wedge that drives the two apart.

The second installment, "Silent Treatment" finds Arthur nine weeks from the opening of his play, and dating Cornelia, the lead actress.  Not only is this a terrible idea, but their constant bickering, and her ensuing ailment, lead to a surprise discovery that makes his play pop in a way it hadn't earlier.

Arthur's therapist begins the third episode stating "Someone once said that you could look at life, the same way you look at eggs.  An optimist is always going to look at the world sunny side up, and a pessimist, or a latent existentialist, is always going to look at the world as scrambled."

"The Latent Existentialist" finds Arthur in a new relationship with Sophie.  She wants to take things slow, but the lack of sex is making Arthur grouchy.  After venting to his friend Chandler at the diner they hang out at, Chandler gives him the business card of an escort he's been seeing.  He thinks Arthur would do well to give her a call.

Though the play opens to an amazing success, Arthur is left unfulfilled, especially when he has to decide between love and sex.  I won't tell you what he decides upon, but the end of the series flips back on itself like a Mobius strip.

As of late, AMC has shown themselves to be one of the more daring networks.  Their slogan "story matters here" for the most part rings true.  The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks is the first of their offerings from AMC Digital Studios, and it boasts an impressive cast, coupled with a fairly interesting script, and amazing directing.  I'd love to see something more original come from Peter Glanz.  He has a hell of an eye, beautiful lighting, and some wonderful composition.  I think big things will be coming from him in the future.

Each of the three episodes clock in around 15 minutes.  To be honest, if they were any longer, my attention would have drifted.  But it's nice to see this kind of thought and budget go towards creating something interesting and unique on the web.  I hope that the relationships built through this series will blossom into something even bigger in the future.

Watch all three episodes and behind the scenes clips here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Trip (UK television series)

I wasn't very familiar with the comedy of either Steve Coogan or Rob Brydon before watching the first episode, and I'm not really sure you need to be to enjoy the series.  Coogan and Brydon play loose versions of themselves in this six episode BBC2 series directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Coogan has been hired by The Observer to write reviews of restaurants in the north of England, but since he's somewhat split with his girlfriend Mischa, and doesn't want to do it alone, he invites Brydon.  The food takes a back story, although its presentation is gorgeously shot.  Instead the interaction, rivalry, and one-upmanship of these two take center stage.

The tension between the two flares up during their first restaurant excursion.  Brydon finds it difficult to go very long without doing any impressions, which he's amazing at, but which begins to drive Coogan crazy.  He wants to be taken seriously, and is trying unsuccessfully, to break into Hollywood.  They begin with dueling Michael Caine impressions, each trying to outdo the other.  They continually spar with famous voices, and I found myself laughing like crazy every time they dueled.

The winter country side is gorgeously shot, its spare bareness reflecting Coogans inner emptiness.  He's searching for something he doesn't have.  He's unhappy and grumbly, unfulfilled and annoyed by the successes, though domestic, of Brydon and perturbed by the comfort and happiness of his unambitious friend.  He lashes out and puts down Brydon at every opportunity he can, while Brydon sees them as contemporaries, Coogan thinks of himself as a tortured genius and his friend a clown.

The three hour series was edited down into a feature film, but I much preferred the series.  It was much richer, and many of my favorite comedic parts were left on the editing floor.

Like the best of comedy, this show is a perfect mixture of sadness and hilarity.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A New Column, and a New Goal

Criterion has always been one of my favorite Film companies, and I've always wanted to watch all of the amazing films they've released.  I've collected quite a few of their titles, many of which I've never gotten around to watching ... until now.

I'm starting a new column on this site as a way to push myself into watching more films.  The column will be posted once a week, and I will be watching, critiquing (both the films and the extras), and writing about my experiences crawling through the criterion collection.

It's crawling through the Criterion Collection, because there are almost 600 titles!  I hope to learn a lot along the way, and expand my horizons at the same time.  I hope you join me for the journey.

You can find the Criterion Collection here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Would You Believe - Billy Nicholls (1968)

There are a few albums worthy of being considered lost masterpieces, and this is definitely one of them.  Would You Believe was Recorded and released in 1968 as a British response to the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, but was shelved due to financial difficulties after an initial run of 100 copies.  What a shame.  If this record had been given the publicity it deserved, who knows what would've become of Billy Nicholls musical output.

From what I can find out about Billy Nicholls, when he was 16 George Harrison helped him record some demos and got them in the hands of people involved with and around The Beatles.  The Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham liked what he heard, started a new record label, and hired Nicholls as a staff song writer.  In 1968 Nicholls recorded Would You Believe with help from session players and members of The Small Faces.  After the album was neglected and forgotten, Billy remastered it in 1998 and released it on his own label Southwest Records.

The album is a gorgeous mix of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, Pet Sounds, and 60's baroque pop.  Many of the songs have strings, harpsichord, multipart harmonies, and brass.  There are no stinkers on the album, and it's a solid listen from beginning to end.

I was first drawn to the album a few years ago after listening to the title song on someones blog.  Its gorgeous harmonies resonate throughout the song. There's so much packed into the sound, new things stand out all of the time, including a playful banjo and tuba sequence.  Life is Short features sumptuous harpsichord and brass, while Feeling Easy has some beautiful plucked strings and orchestration behind it.  Daytime Girl sounds like something that would have fit perfectly on The Zombies Odyssey and Oracle, in fact, many of the songs seem like companions to that wonderful album.  London Social Degree is definitely influenced by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson; Girl From New York has a nice fuzzy, dirty guitar part that reminds me of The Byrds.  The album closes with the Chamber pop piece It Brings Me Down.

I've listened to this album so many times, and have still found something new in it every time.  If you are a fan of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Zombies, or just 60's pop in general, do yourself a favor and give this album a chance.  I promise you won't regret it.  Find it here or at Amazon.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Wilfred is a new show on FX that's airing as a lead-in to their wonderful show Louie on Thursday nights.  I'd seen a clip of this show earlier and had no idea what to expect.  It appeared to be a show that could be either completely amazing or an achingly high concept miscarriage.

Elijah Wood plays a depressed man, Ryan, whose suicide attempt is interrupted by the cute girl next door, Jenna, who asks if he would watch her dog Wilfred while she's at work.  The catch is that Wilfred appears to be an Australian man in a dog costume that only Ryan can see.  Wilfred can talk, smokes pot, drinks beer, loves nachos, and has a knack for getting Ryan to break out of the rut his life has become.  They strike up a friendship where Wilfred becomes Ryan's Tyler Durden, getting him to let go and live a little. Like Tyler Durden, we're not sure if Wilfred is conjured in Ryan's head, or if he's something entirely different.

On my first viewing, I thought it was pretty damn good, but it took a second viewing with my wife for it to really open up.  I caught things that I didn't the first time, and the situations became more absurd when I consciously thought about the dog everyone else saw, and not the man that Ryan was having a conversation with.  So far I'm loving the show, and can't wait to see what else is in store.

Wilfred is based on an Australian show of the saw name that ran for two seasons on SBS One.  Jason Gann is one of the creators of the show, and reprises his role as Wilfred for the US version.  I've seen the first Australian episode, and it's refreshing that they took the show in a new direction without spoiling the original by being a mere facsimile.

I heartily recommend this show.  The US version can be found on FX at 10pm.

Or watch the Australian version here:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Super 8

This is the first movie in a long time that I've taken the time to see on opening weekend.  Even my wife has been excited for this film to come out.  The ad campaign reminded us both of the awesome movies of our childhood, like E.T. and Goonies.  The trailer looked amazing, so we ventured out Sunday and saw it.

I wasn't disappointed in fact it was better than I thought it'd be.  The best trick J.J. Abrams was able to pull, was to hide a character movie about loss and redemption inside of a summer blockbuster.  Yes there's a train accident, something terrorizes the town, the army takes over to hide what's going on, but it's all somewhat of a macguffin.  The real story is about young kids coming of age under difficult circumstances, and I'm not talking about the monster, I'm talking about their parents.  These kids lack all of the prejudices and guilt that their fathers so desperately need to shed themselves.

It's also a love letter to the type of movies that Steven Spielberg brought us so long ago, which have now sadly been replaced with movies that rely too much on explosions, car chases, and paper thin characters.  This is a movie with real heart, and real emotion, and can only be seen as a breathe of fresh air in a time of comic book movies and sequels.

The only problem I had with the film, and it may just be me, is that I felt they showed too much of the monster.  I'd rather not have seen it directly, and I think it'd be more frightening to have the audience fill in the blanks and use their imaginations, which will always be more harrowing than a CGI representation of our greatest fears.

All in all, it was a touching and extremely enjoyable film.  I want to see it again, and encourage anyone that hasn't seen it yet to do themselves a favor and check it out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rome - Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi

I've been a huge fan of some of the recent Danger Mouse collaborations, and once I read what this album was about, my interest was piqued.

From what I understand, this album has been 5 years in the making.  Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi have both been inspired by the music of spaghetti westerns, and Ennio Morricone in particular, and wanted to try to do something similar.  Both men wrote the music, and then recorded it in Italy.  They were able to gather the choir and musicians, now mostly in their eighties, that had worked for Morricone on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to be their session musicians.  The outcome is fantastic.

This album is a tip of the hat to the beautiful film score work of Morricone without ever being derivative.  To listen to one song randomly from the whole, is to do yourself a disservice.  This is an album that needs to be internalized in its entirety.  There are nine instrumental songs, and six with singing.  Of the six, the vocal duties are split between Jack White and Norah Jones.  The singing on their own albums is so dissimilar, that before you hear the music, you'd never guess how well it actually works, and it does work.

The lyrics are filled with loneliness, lost dreams, a troubled world, and being your own worst enemy.  The tone matches the music so well, and it's so absorbing, that I've found myself lost inside of it, humming it to myself at work, and now have listened to the relatively short album (35 minutes) at least a dozen times already.

I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack, and even though there's no film to go along with the music, there might as well be for the images it evokes in the listener. 

Do yourself a favor and pick up this little gem:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1776 by David McCullough

Having been a history major, I've read my fair share of dry, dull, and snooze inducing texts over the course of my studies.  There are some great historical non-fiction books that are also page turners, but for some reason my professors always assigned books that were too technical for public consumption.  Most were a real slog to get through.  Now that I've closed that chapter of my life and can read what I like, when I like, I'm prone to enjoy a good historical book now and then.

My first introduction to David McCullough was as the narrator of Ken Burns excellent documentary, The Civil War.  What a voice.  I had no idea he was both a historian and a writer until much later.  I'd heard good things about his novel 1776 for a long time, so I put it on my Christmas list.  Some how my letter must have gotten through to Santa, because it was one of my gifts.

McCullough writes in a way that just carries you along, swept away by the current of the narrative.  The book was hard to put down.  In fact, I spent several nights reading far later than I should have.

One of my biggest pet peeves with historical novels, is when a writer makes up dialogue for the characters, and intuits what he or she believes might have been said by these characters.  McCullough doesn't do anything of the sort, in fact, the only quotes he uses are from source material such as diaries and letters.  Hurray!

Everyone knows the generic grade school version of the Revolutionary War, but this book gets into the thick of the action right at the siege of Boston in 1776.  Nothing is glamorized in the book.  It deals with the hard facts of how rag-tag and hopeless the cause actually seemed to those involved.  We get first hand accounts of the massive and devastating defeats the Continental Army suffered at the hands of the British and the Hessian mercenaries in New York.  I never realized how bad things were, how frustrated Washington was, and what little supplies and massive sickness there were among the troops.

Some of the characters that McCullough pulls out from the shadows of history, should be the heroes that everyone remembers.  Two that stand out the most, are Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox.  Both men had no military training, and instead learned about war and tactics in books.  Knox is the more remarkable of the two, having been a bookshop owner who eventually did the unthinkable.  He trekked through the wilderness to Fort Ticonderoga to fetch all of the cannons and pull them back to Boston just in time to give the Americans the upper hand.

As the title suggests the book deals with just the first year of the war, which was really the make or break moment of the revolution.  It seemed everything was going horribly wrong, and that the British would swiftly put down the rebels.  The Americans were at there most desperate, but this is when we're shown the decisions, and the opportunities that saved the Revolution and gave the Americans the momentum to persevere.

The book was a complete joy from beginning to end, and I'd highly recommend it.  I may actually hand it off to my father with the hope that he likes it as much as I did.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Childrens Hospital Season 3

I find myself in the doldrums.  It's that special time of year when most television series have ended, and the waiting game of May and June stretch out until the summer television series begin.

Lately the only thing on television that's kept me going, has been AMC's The Killing.  The series is a slow burn, but in a good way.  My only qualms about it are, having watched Twin Peaks, I find that I'm always one step ahead of the show.  There are way too many similarities in the way the investigation of the murder of Rosie Larsen unfolds, and that of Laura Palmer.  Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic show, it just borrows too much.

So needless to say, I was overjoyed to find that the third season of Childrens Hospital had already begun.  The series was created by Rob Corddry and is a send up of hospital shows in general, and Grey's Anatomy in particular.  It mocks the genre in such an amazing way, with each episode filled with the absurd and hilarious in just the right ratio.  Childrens Hospital is a dysfunctional place, filled with dysfunctional people.  Rob Corddry's character is dressed as a blood smeared clown who insists that he can cure people with the "healing power of laughter".  He can't.  He's surrounded by other inept staff played by Lake Bell, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Megan Mullally, Erinn Hayes, Malin Ackerman, and the Fonz himself Henry Winkler.  There's even a hospital administrator making strange announcements over the intercom voiced by Michael Cera.

An example of the absurdity of the show, would be the premise of the first new episode.  A child falls into quicksand at a quicksand farm and is rushed to Childrens Hospital.  He's in a trough of quicksand and they have difficulty extracting him before he sinks to the bottom of the small tub.

Each new episode is 15 minutes long with commercials.  They're quick, they're fun, and have made me laugh harder than any other show on television.  If you're a fan of Arrested Development or Party Down, you will love this show.  It airs midnight on Thursdays on Adult Swim.

Watch some clips here.

Or buy seasons one and two here:

Friday, June 3, 2011


I never spent a lot of time as a kid reading comic books.  I was too preoccupied by Star Wars to get excited about superheroes.  There was a stint ten years ago when I really got into one series, The Maxx, but I didn't diversify and explore what else the medium had to offer.  Until now.

I found the first issue of Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov online.  I was drawn in by the cover, but by the time I finished reading it, I couldn't wait to run out and buy a copy.  It was so good, it blew my mind.  Each Wednesday the issues were released, I ended up at the local comic shop to grab a copy, and hurried back home to read the next installment.  My hats off to Top Cow Productions for putting out such an amazing creator owned comic.

The story is amazingly well crafted, and the black and white art by Rahsan Ekedal, fits the emotional core of the story exquisitely.  When the main character is lost or confused, his face and world visually echo his inner turmoil.  I had always thought that you needed color to best convey a story in comic form, but this series proves that color is not king.

Echoes is a limited series (and I say that sadly hoping for a 2nd arc) that has so many twists and turns, that it kept this reader on edge wondering what the hell happens next.  The ending is ballsy and killer, and It's hard to believe he pulled off such an amazing story without someone saying, "We need a more feel good ending" interfering and ruining the dynamic of the whole series.

I'll give a brief setup of how Echoes begins:

Brian Cohn's father is in the hospital dying of Alzheimer's.  His last words to Brian are an admission to killing a bunch of girls.  There's an address given and he mentions a box in a crawlspace under the stairs he wants Brian to find.  He then dies.

Thrown for a loop, Brian goes in search of this box.  Once in the house, an alarm on his watch goes off, he needs to take his pills.  Brian shares the same mental illness as his father, schizophrenia.  Without the pills he begins to get paranoid, and if he goes long enough before taking them he could begin to hallucinate.  He makes his way under the house, where he finds the box and opens it.  Inside are hundreds of dolls with little notes in their hands.  Each one has the name of the girl killed, birth and death date, and have been made from the skin, flesh, and bones of the girls.

Brian is shocked and confused, suddenly afraid that the schizophrenia is not the only thing he shares with his father.  Is there a killer lurking inside of him too?  He tries to put it out of his mind, but a little girl he's seen at a playground goes missing, then a detective shows up at his house asking questions, and a doll made from the missing girl is mailed to him.  Brian either has to unravel the mystery and discover what's going on or face up to what he's becoming.

The brilliant thing about the story, is that the more confused Brian gets, the more he loses grasp of what is real and what's a hallucination.  He's the ultimate unreliable narrator, and we see everything through his muddled perspective.  The series is dark and twisted, and we the reader, just like Brian, have to figure out what's real and what's imagined.  By the last page, I too questioned whether the ending was real or a figment of Brian's imagination.  I wasn't frustrated in the least, instead it pushed me to give the series another read.

I can't wait to see what these guys do together next.

You can find Joshua Hale Fialkov at
and artist Rahsan Ekedal at

Order the Hardcover of Echoes packed with extras and goodies here: