Sunday, January 31, 2010

Resquiat in Pacem: Pauly Fuemana (1969 -2010)

The news today is that Pauly Fuemana, one half of the duo OMC, died today at age 40. The initial news reports suggest that the band's single and only hit, "How Bizarre," was released in 1995, although it was not until late 1996 and early 1997 that it took hold in the United States. (Apparently, it was released in the band's home country of New Zealand first.). And take hold it did. If you listened to commercial radio in 1997, you heard this song countless, countless times. Your brain likely still retains most of the lyrics. It was ubiquitous, to such an extent that the catchy tune and the novelty of the singer's unusual voice wore thin due to overplay. It was light and fun fare, though, and it will always remind us of those simple times in the mid to late 1990s. Resquiat in Pacem.

Rick Astley - The Ultimate Collection?

Rick Astley's Ultimate Collection? Okay, I'm at a loss for words on this one. Shouldn't the collection have been called Rickrolling? Or rather, in the grand tradition of that Internet meme, shouldn't the packaging suggest that it is actually the greatest hits collection of another, far more critically acclaimed artist, and the purchaser only discovers it's Rick Astley's Ultimate Collection after taking the product home and opening the packaging? At least "Never Gonna Give You Up" is the first track; surely there's no reason to go further, especially if it was an ironic purchase.

Oh, and on the album cover above, doesn't Astley sort of look like a young Ricky Gervais?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

John Cusack for President (2001/2002)

It's never too early, or too late, to talk about presidential elections and their accompanying trivia. In August of 2001, Democratic consultant and progressive operative Dan Carol began a tongue in cheek effort to draft Hollywood actor John Cusack to run for president. Not endorsed by the actor, and envisioned as "a draft, volunteer campaign designed to promote community service," Carol's grass roots campaign included a nifty website (an archive of which can be viewed here). The campaign - if it could truly be called that arose out of the now defunct progressive website Junction City. But why Cusack? The website boasted:
He made the tough decisions in Grosse Pointe Blank. He couldn't be bought in Eight Men Out. He's cooler than John Malkovich. And we like his politics so far.
Ultimately, after the effort received some favorable press coverage, Cusack pulled the plug on the idea. The last version of the campaign website noted: "The word has come down from the Big Guy that he wishes that this campaign would stop —and we must respect these wishes."

You can review the original media coverage of the draft Cusack campaign here, here, here, here, and here. As for Carol, you can see his LinkedIn profile to see his political resume.

In December of 2007, just over two years ago, I conducted a brief email interview with Carol regarding the idea, which by then was more than six years old. The interview went as follows:

1. How did you come up with the idea for Cusack for President in 2002? Who designed the site and led the movement besides yourself?

We had what I thought was a pretty innovative citizen engagement web site called (now defunct) that we saw as a proving ground for different forms of creative online engagement, on issues and causes. In the summer of 2001, we decided to launch a celebrity for president campaign to reach out to young people turned off by party politics as usual. We thought about a bunch of folks, from Little Steven Van Zandt to Bruce Springsteen to Cameron Diaz, but Cusack's integrity, authenticity and "everyman" quality seemed like the right call at the time. It sure hit a chord. "We" was myself and the wonderful creative team at my cause consulting company.

2. What was Cusack's response? Did he ultimately ask you to stop the movement and website? How did you learn that?
As the effort took off on campuses and the entertainment press, we were contacted by a PR agency that was promoting one of Cusack's movies who asked us to blast out list about the movie. We took this as a tacit sign of support. Then when we expanded the site to include more campus organizing tools in early 2002, we got a clear go-ahead from folks in his camp that it was OK as long as we weren't raising funds. Later as Mr Cusack kept getting peppered with questions on the campaign, and because of the seriousness of choosing a president became clear in the 2002-2003 run-up to the Iraq war, we were asked quite understandably to close it down. Which we did.

Lots of folks saw the campaign as one of the important proving grounds for chapter-based online organizing efforts later used by the Dean campaign and MoveOn efforts, and for the Draft Wesley Clark campaign.
3. What did you think of Stephen Colbert's brief run for the presidency?
I LOVE Stephen Colbert and think he is brilliant. I didn't love his presidential run.
4. Did you think about starting the Cusack site again in 2008?
No way. I am busy with my work on smart forms of US energy independence. Plus the ball is in his court, not mine.

I would say this: I think past draft campaigns like this -- whether imaginary like the movie Meet John Doe (Frank Capra, 1939), tongue-in-cheek like Pat Paulsen (1968), somewhere in between (Cusack 2001) or fully serious (Perot 1992, Bloomberg 2008?) -- reflect voter demand for something more than what they are getting from the usual candidates. In some measure, I think some of the current presidential field are reaching out to these deeper aspirations, but the proof will be in the pudding and if we end up with a lot of voters who are "bored" with early nominations in March 2008, I wouldn't be surprised if something popped up here.

But we are in two shooting wars now, so this type of insurgent-creative challenge better be serious if it expects to get authentic and meaningful support.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Week That Was (1/23 - 1/29)

  • Above you'll find a recent "Chuck and Beans" comic strip published by Brian at the Shoebox blog this past week. (See the original post, with comments, from that blog here.). How wonderfully it encapsulates the violence that the Internets have done to nostalgia. (Hat tip to Ryan, former author of The League of Melbotis, for forwarding this gem.).

  • Brad Luen at the East Bay View blog posits an interesting theory: Not only did Radiohead not release the best album of 1990s, they also did not release the best album of the 200os. Can he be correct? In advancing this heresy, he rejects the recent best of decade lists claiming that 2000's Kid A was the best album of the past few years; he also goes so far as to claim that 1997's OK Computer was neither the first nor second best of its decade as well. Is it possible that one of the greatest bands of the past two decades could not have captured a best album of the decade designation in either of those two decades? Surely not.

  • "This is going to be the last post on this blog for a while, if not ever," the author of the sporadically updated Ramblings of a 21st Century Digital Boy, perhaps soliciting a myriad of comments begging him to reconsider, but more likely, permanently retiring from the blogosphere, in this announcement, entitled "My Only Friend, The End." (1/22/10). Although this is not the first time the author of this site has threatened to retire, it appears that on this occasion, he may be serious, particularly in light of the (successful?) farewell of the related site, The League of Melbotis, a now defunct pop culture blog. Accordingly, I have moved Ramblings from the official blog roll to the Dead Blog Cemetery in the sidebar.

  • Resquiat in pacem: J.D. Salinger (1919 - 2010). Though this site has existed (sporadically) for the past three years, I've written only one post mentioning J.D. Salinger. If you're interested, click here to see that post, entitled "J.D. Salinger and Two Films of 2002."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Zero Effect - 12th Anniversary? (1998)

Above: The title card for 1998's Zero Effect.

Well, you knew this was coming. I'd be remiss if I did not pause today to reflect upon this site's most ambitious project, which began two years ago today, on Monday, January 28, 2008. Back then, this site dedicated a full week's worth of posts to commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 1998 film, Zero Effect, starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller and directed by the young Jake Kasdan. It was a post a day for five days as follows:
Monday (1/28/08): Tenth Anniversary of Daryl Zero (An explanation of the anniversary project complete with links to multiple reviews of the film from a 2008 perspective).

Tuesday (1/29/08): The Soundtrack (An exploration of the film's official soundtrack, featuring new interviews with Esthero, Neil Gust of Heatmiser, Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers, and Chris Stillwell and Michael Andrews of the Greyboy Allstars).

Wednesday (1/30/08): Dan Bern's Unreleased Title Track (Featuring a new interview with folk musician Dan Bern regarding his unreleased song, "Zero Effect," a tune told from the point of view of Gloria Sullivan, the Kim Dickens character).

Thursday (1/31/08): The Television Pilot (Featuring about as much information as can be assembled from public sources about the 2002 failed television pilot based on the film and a handful of interviews with people associated with that project).

Friday (2/1/08): Behind the Scenes (Featuring new interviews with members of the film's supporting cast, day players, and technical crew about the making of the film).
It was quite a feat, with lots of interviews and independent research. Two years later, I still marvel at the fact that I completed the project, though I suspect many readers had a Zero Effect overdose after reading five days worth of posts on a film that came and went so quickly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slaughter - Stick It To Ya (1990)

Above: The album cover for Slaughter's Stick It To Ya.

Twenty years ago today, on January 27, 1990, the hard rock band Slaughter released its debut album, Stick It To Ya. Yeah, yeah, I've lost any indie street cred by professing a fondness for this album, but if you were a young teenager in 1990, and you didn't like the band's single, "Fly To The Angels," you simply had no soul. It was an ethereal and nearly perfect rock power ballad.

In fact, the album had not one but two versions of "Fly To The Angels," the first being the extended version that was familiar as the popular single, the second being a shorter, purely acoustic version. (This was, after all, the dawn of the "Unplugged" era.). Whatever the case, the song must have drawn some initial criticism, for on Stick It Live, a five song live EP also released in 1990, lead singer Mark Slaughter introduced the song as follows:
This next song's about losing somebody very important in your life whether that be your mother, your father, your best friend, or whatever. It's not a song about glorifying death and it's not about suicide, because it sucks.
The PMRC need not have worried. As far as hard rock went, Slaughter was lighter and far less sordid fare than many groups. (They had songs called "Spend My Life," in which Mark Slaughter sang about wanting to spend the rest of his life with a particular paramour. Compare that to Motley Crue's "She Goes Down," released in 1989, and you get the idea.).

The fates were not kind to Slaughter after 1990. Although the band's debut album spawned a number of notable singles (including "Up All Night"), the group could not withstand the changing tastes of the album buying public in the early 1990s. Their 1992 follow-up LP, The Wild Life was far less popular (and far less interesting), and even an appearance on the soundtrack of the 1991 film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey could not insulate them from the onset of grunge. The band's original guitarist, Tim Kelly, died in an automobile accident in 1998.

These days, they are mostly forgotten, save for "Fly To The Angels." Here's to you, Slaughter.

Above: The album cover for Slaughter's Stick It Live.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Week Until the Lost Premiere

Above: "LOST: Flight 815 Crash in Real Time," by YouTube user pyram1dhead

As of today, it is but one week until the premiere of the sixth and final season of the television show, "Lost." It is both an exciting and bittersweet occasion; though the new season brings new episodes and answers to long lingering questions, it is also the last season. There is no more.

- Spoilers and Predictions Found Below -

Last season was splendid due to its commitment to explore the issue of time travel and how interlopers from the future prove the concept of fate by only being capable of bringing about that which has already occurred. Some of the characters, however, unconvinced that what happened has already happened and cannot be changed, detonated a hydrogen bomb on the island in the late 1970s, where they found themselves after a number of anomalies stranded them there. If the program is to remain consistent in its theory of time travel, then the resulting explosion would change nothing about the future: the castaways would still find themselves on the Island in 2004 after having survived the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. All efforts of the characters to change that fate from the past would inevitably fail, as they were destined to crash on the Island, face the Others, find themselves transported to the past, attempt to change the future, but only bring about the future that brought them to the past in the first place to bring about that same future.

Circular, eh?

But as a narrative strategy, that may not be very satisfying. It would not be very pleasing to the audience to learn in the first several minutes of the premiere that all of their favorite characters were obliterated in the explosion but failed to change the future. So, I predict one of two possible outcomes which will be revealed in the first episode of the sixth season. One, viewers will learn that despite what we saw there was no explosion at all. Certainly, the last image we saw was the character of Juliet Burke frantically hitting the bomb and then a flash of white light. But that is not necessarily confirmation of an explosion; it may have just been a fade to white.. Two, and probably more likely, we will learn that the characters were successful in both detonating the device and changing the future. In so doing, their 2004 will be radically transformed: instead of crashing on the island in September of 2004 as we know they did, their plane will not crash and they will travel from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California without incident, thereby erasing the events of the first five seasons. The characters, who came to know each other well over the past five seasons, will exit their plane at LAX never having met. But what then? Perhaps the Island will draw them back together in the unexplained mysterious ways that it does so many other things. I'm curious to learn how the cliffhanger will be resolved. And I will, in a week.

The YouTube video above, by the way, is a splendidly fun experiment by the enterprising user, pyram1dhead, who created a 24-style real time mash-up of all of the views and vantage points of the crash of Flight 815 from various episodes throughout the past five seasons.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paul McCartney's Unplugged - The Official Bootleg

Recorded nineteen years ago today, on January 25, 1991, Paul McCartney's Unplugged - The Official Bootleg, was one of the very first albums - if not the first - to be released after an artist's appearance on MTV's "Unplugged." (The album would be released in the United States in June of 1991). After covering Gene Vincent's "Be Bop A Lula," McCartney welcomed the assembled crowd to "Unplugged," the "program where everybody takes their plugs out and goes mad."

The release generated some discussed on Usenet. On June 18, 1991, Phil Miller (who apparently worked for Hewlett-Packard in California at the time) offered his review of the then newly released live album on the Usenet newsgroup:
After a decade or more of trying to recapture the lost sound of his glory period, Paul sounds like he is really feeling himself for a change here, and lets the soul of musical rock-n-roll flow. It's as if he's surrendered to the fact that he can't sing the perfect "Let It Beees" anymore and that he can't churn out the top forty tunes. Instead he reverts back to his Elvis imitation days and has the fun of a youngster whose only true love is music.

On "Unplugged" McCartney shows that he can age into a very unique musical voice in the coming years. Perhaps now he will allow his natural talent to mature into a kind of gestalt of pop music the way Lennon seemed headed before his death. I mean McCartney has no reason to compete with his past, current pop stars, John Lennon, media expectations, and worst of all, his own awful "suburban pop" (e.g. "Big Barn Bed", "Ebony and Ivory", etc) drivel, which he has been dumping on us over the years.

I also believe Rolling Stone magazine slighted "Unplugged" by only giving it 3 and 1/2 stars. Heck, 10 years ago they gave "Tug of War" 5 stars. It's as if they'd feel too risky seriously recommending a Paul McCartney album to its trendy readership. Times have certainly changed. But so has PM. So if you want to hear a really good pop/rock cd, take a chance and buy his new cd.
Other 1991 Usenet comments of interest can be found here and here.

The release was notable for a few reasons. It featured "I Lost My Little Girl," purportedly the first song ever written by McCartney at age 14. He performed a number of covers, including tunes originally by Bill Withers, Gene Vincent, and Bill Monroe. He played six Beatles songs: "Here, There, and Everywhere," "We Can Work It Out," "I've Just Seen A Face," "She's A Woman," "And I Love Her," and "Blackbird," which he humorously referred to as "Blackboard" during the show due to a woman's misidentification of the tune. Perhaps most fun was when McCartney had to stop and start again on "We Can Work It Out" because he fumbled and forgot the opening lyrics. ("This is so informal, we'll start again," he said, and so he did.).

I remember the release of this album; at that time, I was still on my mad quest to purchase all of the Beatles records on CD (not knowing, of course, that in eighteen years, the remastered versions would be released and I'd have to buy them all again.). When I first learned of the imminent release of this album, I suffered that paranoia known only to record collectors: would I be able to obtain a copy of the limited edition release before it sold out? Thankfully, I trekked to Sound Warehouse shortly after its release and found a copy, which I have to this day. Of course, it was later reissued as a non-limited release, so all the worry was for naught.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Off Duty XV

Remember Tab? I suppose The Coca Cola Company still makes it, but they certainly don't promote it the way they do Diet Coke or Coke Zero. Why did it fall by the wayside?

Something to ponder today, as I am off duty from blogging.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bruce Willis - The Ultimate Collection?

Is the musical oeuvre of Bruce Willis such that it needed a 3 disc "Ultimate Collection"? The album is apparently comprised of Willis' two solo albums, 1987's The Return of Bruno and 1989's If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger, as well as a few extra tracks. The final disc is the soundtrack of the television show, "Moonlighting," on which Willis starred from 1985 to 1989. Willis' songs, mostly covers on the first solo album, are inoffensive light pop; most would find it to be forgettable adult contemporary. But with no huge hits, no clamoring fans demanding such a release, and no meaningful contribution to music, is this truly ultimate? (Of course, since The Criterion Collection has released an edition of Armageddon, who's to say?).

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Week That Was (1/16 - 1/21)

As we look back at the week that was, a few minor points to observe:
  • This past Wednesday, January 20, marked the passage of one month since the final post at The League of Melbotis, a now defunct pop culture blog.

  • I've discovered that Brad Berryman of Brad's Home on the Web apparently really, really liked my series of posts on Lollapalooza 1992. So much, in fact, that he's taken all the photographs and written content from those posts and placed them on his own website.

  • On the blog maintenance front, I've made a number of tweaks and modifications to the right hand side bar. Check it out and alert me if there's anything missing or amiss. If you're not yet a follower of Chronological Snobbery on Twitter, you can subscribe here.

  • "In the 'random great find from ten or so years ago' category: Zero Effect. In a modern and slightly parodic twist on Holmes and Watson, Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller play a brilliant oddball private detective and his long-suffering sidekick, on the trail of a blackmail case. I've never seen Pullman play anything other than a basically normal guy, so this was a delightful change. Turns out he can be a charming weirdo quite well," novelist Molly Ringle, writing here, in a January 17 piece profiling the best films she watched in 2009. We here at Chronological Snobbery, of course, know exactly how old this film is.

Resquiat in pacem: Michael Hutchence (1960 - 1997)

Michael Hutchence
(January 22, 1960 – November 22, 1997)

Today would have been the fiftieth birthday of INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence, who died on November 22, 1997 at the age of 37. Looking back to October 1987, when the INXS album Kick was released, it's difficult to overstate how popular the album would ultimately become. But even before that album, the band had a varied and interesting career, producing a number of interesting tunes, including "What You Need" and "Listen Like Thieves," both from 1985. The follow-up to Kick, X, released twenty years ago this September, had a number of hits, as well, including "Suicide Blonde," "Bitter Tears," and "Disappear." (In 1990, MTV was constantly playing videos from X, just as it had constantly played videos from Kick just three years before.).

Thirteen years after Hutchence's death, it's difficult to imagine what would have become of INXS had he lived. Would the band have regained popularity and influence after sagging in the mid-to-late 1990s, just as U2 did? Or would they have peaked in the early 1990s, never again to find the level of influence and popularity they once attained, just as R.E.M. did? Without Hutchence, the band floundered, ultimately choosing its new lead singer via reality show (although even that did not last long). By coincidence, I happened to see U2 in concert the day after Hutchence's death, on November 23, 1997, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. (See the set list for that gig here). Bono was particularly emotional that night, and at the end of the show, after U2 left the stage and the house lights illuminated the venue, the speakers began to blast "Never Tear Us Apart," the eighth song from Kick. It was a melancholy moment.

The Legacy of Budd Dwyer (Part II)

Twenty three years ago today, on January 22, 1987, R. Budd Dwyer, an embattled Pennsylvania politician, took his own life in front of assembled journalists during a press conference. The tragic event became fodder for much pop culture in the years that followed.

Two years ago today, I offered my analysis on this disturbing and bizarre event here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Italian for Beginners (2000)

2000's Italian for Beginners was the last major film to subscribe to the cinematic rules promulgated by the Danish Dogme 95 movement. The plot: All of the characters have recently been affected by the death of a loved one, and as their lives begin to unravel, they begin a new search for love and companionship. (Think of it as depressing Danish send-up of The Big Chill.). Unlike just about every American independent film-maker from 1993 to 1999, though, the writer/director, Lone Scherfig, did not pepper the narrative with alienated and woebegone lonely-hearts who incessantly bemoan their isolation from the world. Though this film easily could have degenerated into existentialist nonsense, it actually boasts a good natured feeling that is unusual in the cinemas both in 2000 and today, a decade later. The actors, then and still unknowns to American movie-goers, perform admirably, and as the film progressed, I actually found myself concerned for their welfare. Imagine that! A strange reaction considering that I am so accustomed to throwaway stereotypical characters in most films these days. Sigh.

A number of very interesting films have arisen from the Dogme 95 movement, including 1996's Breaking the Waves (written and directed by the then still tolerable Lars Von Trier), 1999's bizarre Harmony Korine directed Julien Donkey-Boy (which at times is a bit more expressionist than Dogme 95, if that can be said), and 1998's quite good Festen (a/k/a The Celebration).

Dogme directors vow to abide by the following rules:
1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
(See also here or more on the vow.).

The ten dictates were written by Danish directors Thomas Vinterburg (who directed Festen) and Von Trier, perpetrator of the aforementioned Breaking the Waves and the interesting-though-flawed Dancer in the Dark, also from 2000, which featured the musician Bjork as a put-upon immigrant mother in 1950s America. (Side note: Dancer boasted a number of courtrooms scenes which indicated a fundamental misunderstanding of the American criminal justice system. The original New York Times reviewer noted this fact in his commentary, quipping that the depicted "murder trial that seems to have been inspired by watching poorly dubbed episodes of 'Law and Order' on Danish television."). In the years that followed, Von Trier has become a pretentious hack, although perhaps he always was, but there at least used to be a scintilla of intriguing material in his films, which cannot be said for his more recent cinematic output.

A funny thing: The Dogme 95 vow essentially outlaws those things which low budget film-makers cannot afford anyway; thus, it elevates to virtue the pre-existing poverty of the film-maker and fobs off a lack of resources as a commitment to a new cinema. However, adherence to a readily defined set of rules could do many a film-maker much good. Working within a pre-arranged set of constraints fosters creativity. One need only look to the cinematic detritus arising at the multiplexes to ascertain that gobs of money and creative freedom are doing little, if anything, to produce art, genius, or even worthwhile films in today's America.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flightplan (2005)

Apparently, there is a Hollywood career path that takes an actress from critically acclaimed films of the 1970s to suboptimal suspense thrillers of the 2000s. Perhaps inadvertent, that has been the path of Jodie Foster, who began in critical fare like Taxi Driver and The Accused and has ended up in mediocre flicks like Panic Room and 2005's Flightplan, the subject of this post. The set up of the film could have been interesting: In a large, but confined space (in the form of an immense luxury airplane), a grieving widow and her young daughter settle in for a long flight. But shortly thereafter, the daughter vanishes, and no one can verify that the young girl was ever on the plane, or that she was even alive at the time of the flight's departure. Foster, of course, plays the widow, and she spends the first half of the film flailing about the airplane and attempting to convince the crew that she is not without her marbles. The flight's captain (Sean Bean) and air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) raise eyebrows at her histrionics. In attempting to advance the narrative, Robert Schwentke, the director, lifts some techniques from The Sixth Sense. In the first act of the film, viewers see Foster interacting with her daughter, trekking to the airport, and ultimately boarding the plane. However, the audience never sees the daughter interact with a person other than Foster, suggesting the alleged disappearance may simply be the result of Foster's character's dementia. This, of course, is what the director leads the audience to believe, as there is no objectively verifiable evidence of the daughter's corporeal existence. Is she a ghost? A figment of the protagonist's imagination? Is Foster's character nuts, or is everyone but her character part of a vast airline conspiracy? By the film's ending, the resolution is not interesting enough to justify the initial premise, but that's no surprise.

Of course, the "protagonist as crazed loon" angle would have been a cop-out of the first order. However, even that would have been better than the ultimate ending of the film, which degenerates into a B movie complete with a cartoonish villain and lousy action sequences. Really, the first half of the film is an almost workable set up for a psychological thriller, but the second half becomes something akin to cinematic detritus such as 1997's Turbulence. Alas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tremors (1990)

On the twentieth anniversary of the release of the 1990 film Tremors, we here at Chronological Snobbery pause to ask the following five questions about the film's place in history.

1. Has it really been two decades since Tremors was released on January 19, 1990?
2. What would have become of "Family Ties" actor Michael Gross had he not been cast in this film, its several sequels, and a resulting spin-of television series?
3. As this was the first film in which country singer Reba McEntire appeared (and really, her first meaningful acting role), do we have this film to blame for starting her down the path to "Reba," her television series which aired from 2001 to 2007?
4. When Kevin Bacon (now a Golden Globe winner) pauses to reflect upon his career, what enters his mind when his wandering thoughts turn to this film?
5. What does it suggest that Gale Anne Hurd produced blockbusters like The Abyss in 1988 and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, but Tremors in 1990?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Martin Luther King, Jr.
(January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down him
So let it be
So let it be

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thundercloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Let it rain
Rain on him

- Lyrics to "MLK" by U2 (from 1984's The Unforgettable Fire)

Two years ago, on Monday, January 21, 2008, I posted this piece on MLK Day regarding another song by U2 dedicated to the slain civil rights leader, "Pride (In The Name of Love)."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

24 (Season 8)

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, the world's unluckiest counter-terrorism agent, is so 2001. Season 8 of Fox's "24" begins tonight, and I must confess that I gave up on this series years ago. In 2001, when it was new to the airwaves, the premise of a program in real time was novel and gripping. Sure, even then, the show had its problems (Jack's wife's amnesia, Kim Bauer), but they were easily forgiven in the show's infancy. To boot, nine years ago, the show featured the lovely Sarah Clarke as the twisted and evil Nina Myers, who would be killed by Jack Bauer two seasons later. But that was then. These days, the show rigidly adheres to its tired narrative playbook, endlessly recycling its plots and themes and attempting to shock its viewers at the end of each episode. But to what end? We've seen it all before; there's nothing new here. Yawn.

What the show's producers have done to try to shake things up for the new season is not encouraging. The setting moves to New York City (but it will mostly be shot in Canada), and although that sounds more promising due to the compactness and immediacy of that city, I suspect a new locale cannot save the show from its inevitable doldrums. Further, Katee Sackoff from "Battlestar Galactica" joins the cast this season, but not even that casting decision could compel me to set my DVR to record this mess of a series. Would that the writers and producers would do something truly daring with the show, but alas, from what I gather, viewers are still left with moles and traitors and backroom presidential politics, all of which have been done to death and to death and to death. (What might have been? In 2005, the pop novel writer Dan Brown rejected the offer of 24's producers to adapt The Da Vinci Code into a full season of "24." Whatever that book's merits, that would have been an interesting season.). Alas.

So, to you, "24," I say goodbye.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Off Duty XIV

Today, I'm off duty. As I continue with this enterprise, I wonder sometimes if I should, as a matter of course, take weekends off and only post on business days. However, as you'll see in the coming weeks, some weekend dates constitute various anniversaries or occasions I wish to observe on the blog, so were I to take it easy on the weekends, it would be sporadic. Perhaps that would be fine and well and good with other bloggers, but I've not exactly earned the benefit of the doubt with my various and past sabbaticals from blogging. Oh, well. So, whatever the case, at least for the time being, I may just note on a particular weekend day that I'm off duty. As here.

If only to alert you that I still live.

(I note that my last Off Duty post was on February 18, 2008).

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Week That Was (1/9 - 1/15)

How many times must popular culture fold in upon itself before it produces a Star Wars burlesque show? Liz Ohanesian of LA Weekly profiles this new show from the Los Angeles club, Bordello. Click through to see a number of photographs which may both titillate you and destroy your inner child once and for all (assuming, of course, that your inner child survived the prequels perpetrated by George Lucas, which is a mighty assumption indeed).

(Link Courtesy of Life is a Thrill.).

What do Colt McCoy and Conan O'Brien have in common? They both spent their lives working hard and training each day to reach what they thought to be their ultimate ambition, only to have it taken from them, just as they arrived at the scene to realize its fruition. Colt, the University of Texas starting quarterback, was injured in the opening moments of the BCS National Championship game last week, while Conan O'Brien has spent the last seven months in his dream job - host of "The Tonight Show" - only to have it taken from by network suits facing poor ratings as a result of corporate mismanagement.

I've never disdained Jay Leno as the hipper-than-thou crowd has for years; he's always seemed to be a relatively decent fellow. Although I'm not a denizen of late night television, I do recall in days of yore watching Leno guest host for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." Back then, I knew Leno as the guy from the Dorito's commercials - "Crunch all you want, we'll make more." Leno somehow managed to escape the late night wars of the early 1990s with his reputation relatively unscathed; his agent, Helen Kushnick, took most of the blame for the dirty tricks required to guarantee the ascent of his career. Or so the story goes. But the way that Leno has acquiesced and allowed NBC executives to steal from Conan the job he moved across the country to take suggests a complicity that robs him of the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Leno thinks that he is only doing what he can do earn back the job he once loved. But it seems to me that the players in this late night drama - save for Conan - have behaved so poorly that there is no redemption. Leno has always seemed to value his nice guy image; but now, it is gone. Alas.

Although it appears Conan's fate is now sealed, we here offer him our support.

Finally, is there any greater thing in the world than Death Bear? If you've not learned of this performance art effort from Brooklyn, then drop everything and visit its website. The purpose:
We all have someone or something we would rather just forget. Things fall apart. Love hurts. Dreams die. But when you summon Death Bear to your door, you can rest assured that help has come. At first you may be intimidated by his stature and color (7 feet tall with a hard, black bear head, black jumpsuit, and black boots), but absorbing the memories of others is a dark art, and Death Bear must present himself appropriately for this solemn duty. Death Bear will take things from you that trigger painful memories and stow them away in his cave where they will remain forever allowing you to move on with your life. Give him an ex's clothes, old photos, mementos, letters, etc. Death Bear is here to assist you in your time of tragedy, heartbreak, and loss. Let Death Bear help you, and absorb your pain into his cave.
I wish I had thought of that. Sigh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wilson Phillips Covers Rod Stewart. Yikes. (1990)

I am somewhat disconcerted to learn that I own a television soundtrack featuring a cover of Rod Stewart's "Reason to Believe," done by Wilson Phillips, of all groups. Yes, yes, I know the song wasn't originally done by Rod Stewart, but of course, his is the most popular version, and probably, the only one you know, dear readers. I picked the right week to reflect upon this pop culture gem, as Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" was featured this week (ironically) on the season premiere of "Chuck." But, in 1990, it was difficult to resist the charm, the allure, and the gravitas of TV's "China Beach," which featured the lovely Dana Delany. (It also featured Marg Helgenberger as a madam of sorts; although the supermajority of modern viewers would only know her as Catherine Willows from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.). I understand that the series - never released on DVD - may never reach that medium due to disputes over the licensing rights for the songs originally featured during its broadcast run. (Ah, curses to the television producers who did not have the foresight to license the songs featured on their episodes in perpetuity for all media, including that not yet in existence.). But, its soundtrack, released in 1990, featured not only Diana Ross and the Supremes (their song, "Reflections," was the theme of the series), but also covers of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by Katrina and the Waves (with Eric Burdon!) and "Time of the Season" (originally by the Zombies) by Wendy Wall. Ah, 1990. Believe it or not, I originally bought this soundtrack 19 years ago, but sold it or lost it somewhere along with way, and repurchased a copy through the Internets just a week or two ago. I suspect that the disc may be out of print and/or hard to find, as it was more expensive than most used discs are these days. For good reason, perhaps?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The January Man (1989)

There's a reason why some films are left behind in the decades they were released, never to be remembered, recalled, or reminisced over in the years to come. One such film is 1989's The January Man, originally released twenty one years ago today, on January 13, 1989. Really, the film is only of note because it was the first film of Kevin Kline's to be released after 1988's A Fish Called Wanda (for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) and the last film of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's to be released before The Abyss, released in August of 1989. Kline plays a Beatnik former cop whose more by-the-book police commissioner brother, played by Harvey Keitel, of all people, lures him back to the force to catch an elusive serial killer. Mastrantonio, of course, played a love interest of Kline. (We, as viewers, are clearly meant to sympathize with Kline's offbeat character, who remains unappreciated by the law enforcement establishment despite his great skill as a detective.). Heightening the tension between the two brothers is the fact that Keitel's character's wife, played by Susan Sarandon, was once the true love of Kline's character. Ah, romance. What's curious about The January Man is that it is a very 1980s film, in style and tone, but as a would-be suspense thriller about police officers and their politics, it produces only boredom. (Compare that to the thriller Sea of Love, released just eight months later and starring Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, and John Goodman, which maintained a sense of suspense and plot development. Both films feature a New York detective attempting to catch a serial killer, but Pacino and Goodman work so much better together in that film than do Kline and Keitel here.). One good bit about The January Man: Alan Rickman plays against type; usually, he portrays sinister villains, but here, he is the effervescent artist roommate of Kline's character. Whatever the case, yawn.

Verdict: Watch it only as a cultural relic and wonder why Kline chose this project.

The film does prompt the question: What ever became of Mastrantonio? She was in Scarface, she was in The Color of Money, she was in The Abyss, she was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and very little after that. (Let's not count the forgettable 1992 sexual thriller, Consenting Adults, which reunited her with Kline, who played her husband.). Wikipedia tells us that in 2005-06 she appeared in nine episodes of the procedural television series, "Without A Trace." But if anything has vanished without a trace, it was her from mainstream popular culture. But I speak too soon: She has apparently been cast in the upcoming season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Actors from the 1980s and early 1990s ultimately end up on episodic cop procedurals. Alas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From NBC to TNT: Southland

When NBC suddenly canceled the police drama "Southland" last year, before it had even aired the first episode of its second season, I was a bit disappointed. The series, though flawed, showed some promise. It told the story of a cadre of police officers working in, you guessed it, Los Angeles. The best part: It wasn't a lousy procedural with lame cases of the week; it was a serial drama which focused on character development. (Imagine that.). The cast included Benjamin McKenzie (who you know as Ryan Atwood from "The O.C."), the underrated character actor Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, and Tom Everett Scott (who has appeared once or twice on "Sons of Anarchy."). It wasn't a bad show, and NBC renewed it for a second season, postponed its second season premiere, and then abruptly canceled it before a single episode of that second season had a chance to air. There was no meaningful explanation for NBC's shenanigans.

Well, NBC's loss may be TNT's gain. Starting tonight, the cable network will begin airing episodes of "Southland," starting with the pilot. It will air the seven episodes from its abbreviated first season (all of which NBC showed in early 2009) and then the six unaired episodes from what would have been its second season on NBC. It's possible that if TNT does well with the show that it will put new episodes into production. So give it a shot tonight. It's certainly better than watching the latest incarnation of American Idol, also returning tonight.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jungle Girl (Dynamite Comics)

Let's just say it. Some comic book writers and artists probably need to get out more. Really. Jungle Girl, from comic book published Dynamite Entertainment, is perhaps the best (or at least, the most recent) example of that clear need. (Well, as evidenced here, here, and here, the author of the now defunct The League of Melbotis, might disagree, but what to do?).

Here's what Dynamite Entertainment's character biography of Jungle Girl has to say about her:
While Jana has no superhuman powers, she does have several abilities that have helped her survive in the jungle. She's a strong fighter, a skilled acrobat, and a skilled hunter and tracker. Jana is familiar with most of the plant and animal species in the jungle and is fully aware of what they can do. According to the adventurers, she also has amazing reflexes.

Jana carries several weapons with her at all times, such as her spear, her hunting knife, and a vine rope. Jana also seems to be able to communicate with several of the animals in the jungle, including the woolly mammoth, which she rides in order to fight a finback.
"According to the adventurers, she also has amazing reflexes"? Wow. Did they really say that? It's also not clear from her outfit where she actually carries those several weapons, though.

Alas, Jungle Girl does not have much of a Wikipedia entry; much of it appears to have been pilfered from the aforementioned character biography. You'd think that someone would have come along by now and noted the implications of the character or the fact that it is not an example of attempts by the comics industry to broaden its base of readers. Oh, well.

On a related note are these recent thoughts on the portrayal of women in comics offered by Sleestak of the blog Lady, That's My Skull.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Bang and Blame," R.E.M. (1995)

Fifteen years ago today, on January 10, 1995, R.E.M. released "Bang and Blame," the second single from their 1994 album, Monster. The CD maxi-single included the following tracks:

1. "Bang and Blame"
2. "Losing My Religion" (live)
3. "Country Feedback" (live)
4. "Begin the Begin" (live)

Interestingly enough, the three live tracks were recorded at the often bootlegged November 19, 1992 charity concert R.E.M. performed at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. (There is much, much more about that show at this previous Chronological Snobbery post from October 2007).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reevaluating Watchmen

Tonight, the much maligned 2009 film Watchmen premieres on HBO. There has been ample discussion of its faults, in tone, in casting, and in concept. Based upon the much admired graphic novel by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins, the film, by the alleged "visionary" director Zack Snyder, was a mess. (The adaptation should have been done as an 8 to 10 episode miniseries on HBO, not unlike Band of Brothers.). Whatever the case, the only fun part of the film was imagining how it could have been better cast. My dream roster:
Silk Spectre I: Susan Sarandon or Helen Mirren
Silk Spectre II: Kate Winslet
Nite Owl I: Clint Eastwood
Nite Owl II: Phillip Seymour Hoffman
The Comedian: Mickey Rourke
Ozymandias: Brad Pitt or Chiwetel Ejiofor
Dr. Manhattan: Viggo Mortensen
Rorschach: Jackie Earle Haley, Sam Rockwell or Gary Oldman
President Richard Nixon: Anthony Hopkins
Moloch the Mystic: Sean Penn or William H. Macy
Obviously, Snyder decided to cast younger actors in the role, perhaps because it would have been easier to age them in the film than too make older actors look younger in flashbacks. That was a mistake, as it turns out. Of his original cast, I would only have kept Haley as Rorschach, although my two other alternatives would likely have been as good, if not better. Carla Gugino was not bad as Silk Spectre I, but again, she was just too young to play that role. Hoffman is far more in line with the Nite Owl II of the graphic novel than the fit Patrick Wilson. Just about anyone would have been better than Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. Just think: If Pitt had been cast in that role, perhaps Angelina Jolie could have done the micro cameo as Silhouette. And how could Anthony Hopkins not return to play Richard Nixon, after playing the same role in Oliver Stone's 1996 film?

Speaking of Oliver Stone, say what you will about him, but he would have made a stellar director for this film. Watchmen covers a lot of ground and flashes back many decades to establish the complex back story. With JFK and Nixon, he illustrated that he can cover a lot of history in a short amount of time using a number of cinematic techniques and camera types.

For further reading on this subject, check out the March 2009 review of Watchmen done by now defunct pop culture blog, The League of Melbotis, and then venture back to the summer of 2004 and read The League's prescient thoughts on the perils of adapting Watchmen to the big screen.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Week That Was (1/3 - 1/8)

"A quick aside on [Timothy] Dalton: I think he gets a bad rap for his stint as James Bond. I thought he was actually a very strong 007, but stranded in two fairly awful Bond films. (Living Daylights had one of the drippiest love interests of the series, while License to Kill was an embarrassing attempt to modernize the series by taking its cues from "Miami Vice.") Stick him into Goldeneye or Casino Royale as his introduction, and his tenure goes very differently." - TV critic Alan Sepinwall, writing in this review of the recent Doctor Who episode "The End of Time," which featured the last appearance of David Tennant in the title role and Dalton as a villainous Time Lord bent on the destruction of all good things (1/3/10).

First, Sepinwall is correct that Dalton is underrated as James Bond. Though cinema history may judge him a placeholder to occupy the role in between the time that Pierce Brosnan was initially offered the role and the time that he could ultimately accept it, Dalton did fine in the two Bond installments in which he appeared, 1987's The Living Daylights and 1989's License to Kill. It's difficult to compare those two films to the later entries with Daniel Craig, simply because the films are products of very different eras. But by 1980s standards, Dalton did more than well.

However, to characterize the actress Maryam D'Abo as "one of the drippiest love interests of the series?" D'Abo played opposite Dalton's Bond as Kara Milovy, a cellist and would-be assassin. Alas, Mr. Sepinwall provides no support for his comment that Ms. D'Abo was drippy, much less one of the most drippy Bond girls of all times. (Considering the fact that both Halle Berry and Denise Richards are in the running for their awful roles, it is a curious statement.).

As for D'Abo, behold:

D'Abo also starred in the 1988 NBC science fiction mini-series, "Something Is Out There," alongside Joe Cortese. D'Abo played Ta'Ra, the medical officer of an alien vessel who teams up with a local cop, played by Cortese, to catch a xenomorph which escaped from her ship. (I don't remember enough about the series to tell you what exactly a "xenomorph" is.). The miniseries became a short lived weekly series, which lasted an additional eight episodes, although according to Wikipedia, the final two were not aired during the original run of the series.

Readers probably know D'Abo's cousin, Olivia D'Abo, better. She played Karen, the older sister on TV's "The Wonder Years" and appeared in a number of films in the 1990s, including 1995's Kicking and Screaming, which this blog previously profiled in 2007. She has also done a fair amount of voice work in animated films and series based upon comic books, including Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, and Ultimate Avengers. Who knew?

For a photo collage of both D'Abos, click here for the blog Starlet Showcase's entry on them.

Don't forget "Chuck" This Weekend.

It's perfectly acceptable for a nostalgia blog to herald the new season of a new program when that program itself is fully immersed in 1980s nostalgia. NBC's "Chuck" struggled to be renewed, but NBC, in an uncharacteristic display of good sense, did renew it, and will be airing three episodes over the course of several days. The network is airing two hours this coming Sunday, and then an additional hour this coming Monday, which will become the usual air date for the weekly show. But don't take my word for it; watch this brief scene from the second season finale last year which sets an action sequence to a live cover of Styx's "Mr. Roboto," of all things:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Texas Fight!

Best of luck to Colt McCoy and the Texas Longhorns tonight as they take on Alabama in the BCS National Championship game in Pasadena, California. Hook 'Em!

UPDATE (1/8/10): Get well soon, Colt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Modern Family (2009)

I had heard good things about ABC's "Modern Family," a non-traditional sitcom which avoids a laugh track and utilizes the same types of talking head interviews as "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation." It's always tough to build an interest in new shows, so slowly, a huge backlog of episodes built up on my DVR's hard drive. During the holiday break, I began to watch the show and was immediately surprised that I was actually laughing aloud at something on network television. Imagine that: a sitcom which provokes laughter. Unheard of, these days. In addition to being funny, it's also quirky and offbeat, but not annoyingly so. Whatever the case, after a few weeks off the air due to the holidays, the show returns tonight. Be sure to watch.