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by John Bohannon

4 Jun 2009

Tom Brosseau has always had a peculiar knack for melody that many of his peers do not. Learning from the school of Leonard Cohen, his melodies never quite go in the direction that the average listener’s mind would take them. This became apparent on first listen to his new single “You Don’t Know My Friends”, a barrage of lo-fi guitars and overloaded drums, much different from his quiet affairs on previous recordings. Although the recording is full of racket, the vocals are still crisp and take what would have been an otherwise bland, fuzzed-out guitar structure, and meld it into something special. Not to mention the single’s insanely clever lyrical content, i.e. “Looking gaunt and living on beans and rice / I’m beginning to laugh like Vincent Price.” Brosseau’s new record, Posthumous Success, is full of these moments that bring driving melodies, lyrical wit, and an unusual sonic palette together for moments of rarefied beauty.

Tom Brosseau
“You Don’t Know My Friends” [MP3]
     

by Jason Gross

4 Jun 2009

That’s the magic question ain’t it?  Apple thought it had the answer with its 99 cent strategy but then had to bend to the major labels’ will and offer variable pricing.  The results?  Digital Music News and several other sources say that the higher prices for newer tracks have led to weakening sales. 

Unlimited music downloads for a set monthly fee sounded promising too as a Billboard article noting a study that a majority of users would shell out for a ‘legal P2P’ plan.  Nokia’s Comes With Music plan offered just that but started off disappointing start because they made the mistake of attaching DRM to the tunes, leading users to ask (as they note in the article) “why can’t I put this on on my iPod?”  Not an encouraging sign. 

eMusic seemed to be doing OK in its indie niche until recently when they took on the Sony catalog and then promptly offered less for more, telling customers that they’d have to pay a bigger monthly fee and get less music in return with the only payback being that they get a crack at Sony’s catalog.  The reaction was shift and fierce- users were boiling mad over the news, posting angry messages at the eMusic announcement page explaining the new pricing plan.

Just like the newspaper biz, the music biz is trying to find the right price that can beat out free (which sounds kinda crazy when you think of it).  One of the most promising ideas MIGHT be tying the payment incrementally to another service (i.e. phone, cable, Net access) as suggested in Wall Street Journal article.  The early cable TV model of offering more and better service is the model here and so far it’s a question mark and a theory at best but the idea of offering more goodies and extras are models already being tested by the industry- multi-format releases with additional material- so it might not be that far-fetched.  Nowadays, just about any feasible gamble is worth taking in the music biz…

 

by Bill Gibron

3 Jun 2009

Change is not always for the best. On occasion, it can undermine an otherwise perfectly sound conceit. When Sid and Marty Krofft, two exceptionally successful producers of Saturday morning live action kid shows (with classics like H. R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters to their credit) wanted to branch out into a more serious action/adventure format, they hadn’t a clue what to do. All they knew was that they wanted it to deal with dinosaurs, and provide a family-oriented offering of mystery and magic. Yet after three seasons, what had started as a serious speculative thriller was turned into just another wacky Saturday morning spree. And all because the powers that be wouldn’t leave it alone.

Truth be told, Land of the Lost is not really a Krofft production in the purest sense. Sure, they masterminded the basics of the show, but they weren’t prepared to take on the challenge of creating such a structured, sci-fi universe on their own. They knew they needed serious outside help. Setting aside their own vision, which was somewhat lacking, they wisely turned to David Gerrold, member of the illustrious Star Trek writing staff and guiding force behind the animated version of the series, to develop their idea. More or less giving him free reign to conceive and create the show, is was Gerrold who fathered what would eventually be one the longest running and best remembered series to carry the Krofft name.

It was Gerrold who devised the basic premise: a park ranger named Rick Marshall (played by stage actor Spencer Milligan) and his two teenage children, Will (soap star Wesley Eure) and Holly (newcomer Kathy Coleman), are whitewater rafting when a freak earthquake sends them cascading over a mysterious waterfall. They soon find themselves in an unusual land filled with dangerous dinosaurs, chattering ape people, and evil lizard men. It was Gerrold who dubbed the monkey men “the Pakuni” and the repugnant reptiles “Sleestak”. Relying on many of his Trek buddies to pen scripts — including D.C. Fontana (“Elsewhen”), Ben Bova (“The Search”), Walter Koenig (“The Stranger”), and Larry Niven (“Hurricane,” “Circle”) — he hoped to do something unheard of in Saturday Morning TV; he wanted to make smart fantasy for the pre and tween set.

And believe it or not, he did. Season One of Land of the Lost is a true minor gem in the sci-fi genre, a show that took itself, and its premise, very seriously. Carefully balancing elements both solemn and slapstick, the series wanted to engage the juvenile while it explored a more mature message and mannerism. Using the bonds of family as its primary foundation, the first few episodes offered exploration as an excuse to focus on cultural differences (human vs. pakuni), human foibles (as expressed by an intelligent and empathetic Sleestak character, Enik) and the standard stranger in a strange land dynamic. While the F/X were as close to cutting edge as a ‘70s television budget could make them (meaning lots of now-laughable stop motion silliness), there was still a sense of fear and trepidation in the show. We wondered if the Marshall’s would ever return home, and wondered how dangerous it would be for them to try.

Unfortunately, said potential was never really fulfilled. After Season One, Gerrold stepped down, and the untried Dick Morgan was brought in to guide the show. Right from the beginning, the changes were obvious: less overriding, serialized story arcs and more episodic installments with all dilemmas wrapped up neat and tidy in 25 minutes; greater emphasis on the ‘cute’ and ‘commercial’ Pakuni; more baby dinosaurs (Holly had a “pet” named Dopey that was a breakout character in the first series). In essence, they wanted to copy the obvious successes from the kiddie shows past. That is why we now had a new “intellectualized” evil character in the light-based bad guy, the Zarn. That is why we got Cha-ka (Philip Paley) and his parents (the only Pakuni on the planet) appearing in virtually every episode. It is also why Season Two feels like a retread, not an expansion, of Land of the Lost‘s possibilities.

This doesn’t mean the Second Season was a complete disaster (the disaster would come later). No, inside the prehistoric animal antics and claymation critters are some stellar installments. When Cha-Ka has to prove his maturing “ape-hood” by stealing an Allusaurus egg, said stunt provides “The Test” with its surefire suspense. The Zarn is responsible for a threatening shift in the planet’s particulars, creating a “Gravity Storm” and one of the show’s most inventive storylines. The Sleestak trap Rick, blaming him for the neverending sunlight of “The Longest Day”, while an accidental step inside one of the planet’s mysterious gold monoliths results in a time travel trip on “The Pylon Express”. Indeed, when viewed more closely, Season Two shines more than it shames. Though the lack of a linking plotline was problematic (the “heading for home” conceit getting lost in the shuffle), many of the shows found a way to stand out and surprise.

It was Season Three where things began to go downhill. Age was taking its toll on the performers, with stars Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman looking more mature and less childlike. For undisclosed reasons, Spencer Milligan decided to quit. Needing to replace Rick Marshall with another father figure type, new script editor Samuel Roeca (an old Hollywood stalwart — having worked on everything from The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok to Mission: Impossible) — conceived of “Uncle” Jack. He was Rick’s brother who himself got “lost” while out searching for the missing family. In one of the more convoluted conventions in the show, Jack managed to tumble through the same time hole as the family, following them directly to the exact moment when Rick “disappeared” during an earthquake. To make matters worst, Cha-Ka also lost his kinfolk during the seismic shift. Thus, this newly formed family had to regroup and find a new home to replace their now-destroyed cave enclosure.

Naturally, they ended up in part of the Lost City, near the sinister Sleestak’s temple. This allowed for a constant threat, as well as more interaction with the popular villains. The series began relying on guest stars, strange beasts, and other anomalies to keep the fantasy alive and fresh. Season Three would see Richard Kiel play a Godlike creature worshipped by the lizard men (“Survival Kit”); the random arrival of other humans, including a cavalry officer and the Indian brave he was chasing (“Medicine Man”); a hot air balloonist (“Hot Air Artist”); and a few new dino foes. Yet that wasn’t apparently good enough for the creative brass, as unicorns, dragons, and other odd beasties were brought into the mix. Chaka became less chimp-like and more an unwashed human brat, and Uncle Jack was less fatherly and more flummoxed by everything around him. There were highlights: a particularly scary outing involving the loss of the sun (“The Repairman”), and another return from everyone’s favorite cultured reptile, Enik.

But what this season showed more clearly was that Land of the Lost was resorting to gimmicks to get by. Good writing and proper production values were no longer important. When Gerrold was at the helm, he wanted the series to resonate with every age group. But by the time Roeca took over, the show was quite prepared to talk down to, and even a little bit below, its audience. It was no longer adventurous and fun — it was awkward and forced. Maybe Mulligan’s leaving was the key, or perhaps the desire to dress up every episode with as much sci-fi froufrou as possible or probable was to blame. Whatever the case, what once was a timeless classic worthy of the genre moniker was now just another Krofft experiment in speculative silliness. Its cancellation wasn’t unexpected. For some, it was merciful. Fans just couldn’t fathom another reconfiguration of what was once their weekend repast into an ethereal land of possibilities and pitfalls.

What stands out today, some 30 years later, is how good those first few shows were. Unlike Lost in Space, or other Swiss Family Crusoe’s concepts of individuals stranded in the cosmos, there was a real feeling of dread and danger, as well as a large dose of familial love. Gerrold understood that sci-fi was more than just weird looking places and strange monsters. It was about story, and characters, and audience identification. As the seasons passed, Land of the Lost got locked into its own little world, isolating itself from that which once made it great. Such insularity cost the show its creativity, and then its support. Had it simply stayed the course set out before, it could have continued on as a solid, seminal show. But every year, someone had to change something. And in the case of Land of the Lost, change was only took the show ever farther away from where it wanted to be.

by Matt Mazur

3 Jun 2009

When Oprah and Tyler Perry get together, you know it has to be important. This film received at standing ovation at Cannes and there is already deafening Oscar buzz for star Mo’Nique. Yes, from Charm School. Also, look out for the triumphant return of… Mariah Carey. One of the most hotly anticipated films of the year!

by shathley Q

3 Jun 2009

The opening page of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu presents a tabula rasa. But rather than the blank slate as opportunity, this tabula rasa is a prison for human creativity and an indictment against the society that produced it.

A group of children huddle together, not so much to investigate a boyhood curiosity, but more to push out an unpitying emptiness. In the background another boy walks by almost anonymously. His personalized backpack and wing-decaled baseball cap light up in a brief, but invariably inconsequential spark of creativity. Forced into a birds-eye view, the reader’s emotional distance from the scene is exacerbated. Unable to connect the visual fragments of the panel in a cohesive narrative, readers are simply onlookers.

Otomo taps primordial feelings of isolation and alienation in this powerful panel. Moreover, he incorporates the reader themselves in this drama. What Otomo presents the reader, is a comics that undermines the usual processes by which narratives are constructed from various visual and textual fragments. Just as the environment itself defeats the characters depicted, so too are readers defeated. The visual elements are too diffuse, and the textual elements are completely absent. The level of detail in the linework of the boys, the cross-hatching on their clothes and the ben-day dots coloring their shadows, serve to further isolate the boys through use of the masking effect (where greater detail equates to increased realism and therefore reduced emotional investment).

Domu tells the story of a battle between powerful two psychics, both residents of super-massive apartment complex in Tokyo. Cynical and jaded, Old Man Uchida uses his psychic powers for his own twisted entertainment. For him the thousands of residents in the complex become mere puppets, performing acts of vandalism and self-injury until they are psychically forced into suicide when Uchida grows bored with them. However, when young Etsuko and her mother move into the complex, a psychic battle ensues. Etsuko takes it as her duty to stem the loss of life and ultimately bring Uchida to justice.

Beyond the extrasensory battle that provides the centerpiece to the graphic novel, psychic repression of the human spirit remains the central conflict of the story. With Domu, Otomo delivers a powerful comment on how environments shape human psychology. Rather than simply demonize the monstrous Uchida, Otomo illustrates how even the villain’s murderous psychopathology is influenced by the stifling, soul-destroying environment he finds himself in.

With panels like this one, and many similarly-themed, Otomo illustrates an environment equal in monstrosity to Old Man Uchida himself. In 1983, Otomo was awarded Science Fiction Grand Prix (Japan) for Domu. This marks the first time a comicbook has won an award usually reserved for general fiction.

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Double Take: 'The French Connection' (1971)

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