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by John G. Nettles

28 Aug 2008

This column is dedicated to my long-suffering wife, a brilliant person, well-read and well-rounded, who took up with me no doubt expecting meetings of the minds, intelligent discussions of literature and art and philosophy. Instead she came to realize, alas, too late, that her man was hopelessly mired in cheesy crime novels, monster movies, three-chord garage bands, and a mountain of cheap and juvenile pursuits reeking with the stench of pop-culture effluvia.

It’s been the stated purpose of this column to seek out recent works of esoteric knowledge and literary merit to share with the discerning reader. To that end I won’t generally dwell on bestselling authors (everyone knows James Patterson doesn’t write most of his books but they still sell like crack) or books on politics (Republicans want to eat your babies; Democrats want to turn them into gay atheists—now you’ve read all of them), but rather I try to present books that have either blown me away with their beauty or shown me things I’ve never seen before.

Try as I might, however, I just can’t stay out of the junk pile. It’s just too damn entertaining in there. Here then are some of the other books I’ve read so far this year.

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Doubleday, 2008): Everybody knows Ian Fleming’s creation James Bond, so there’s no need to explain who he is. On the centenary of Fleming’s birth, his estate commissioned British novelist Sebastian Faulks to emulate Fleming’s style in this newest Bond adventure, which must have been interesting for Faulks because Fleming’s style was crap. Ian Fleming was a terrible writer, from his weird flavor-neutral prose to his fetishism for brand names and clothing labels, from his rampant racism and sexism to his obsession with games (whenever Bond enters a casino, pack a lunch; you’ll be there a while). But much like Mickey Spillane, Fleming was terrible in a way that was uniquely his own and nigh-impossible to duplicate—try reading John Gardner’s or Raymond Benson’s Bond novels and you’ll see what I mean. From the first page, however, Faulks pulls off the trick. Set during the Cold War, where Bond belongs, the novel puts 007 through all of Fleming’s favorite paces as Bond squares off against a deformed mad scientist with a megaweapon and an axe to grind, and one would swear one was reading something Fleming himself just ripped out between martinis. Bond fans will get this book. Everyone else should go back and watch Daniel Craig in Casino Royale again. It still rocks.

Money Shot by Christa Faust (Dorchester Publishing, 2008): One of the best things to happen to popular fiction in the last couple of years is the Hard Case Crime series of paperback potboilers from Dorchester Publishing, a mix of new and reprinted noir classics that hearkens back to the glory days of junk fiction when lurid covers hawked the beautifully brutal work of masters like Jim Thompson, Donald E. Westlake, and Richard S. Prather. And much like in those days, the Hard Case imprint has been a boys’ club until this year, with the release of Christa Faust’s sexy sledgehammer of a book. How noir is it? The book opens with Faust’s heroine, former porn star Angel Dare, stuffed in the trunk of a car and bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds. Unfortunately, all that does is make Angel mad, and we follow her as she cuts a swath through a seamy L.A. underworld of stroke flicks, white slavers, and more trigger-happy goons than you can shake a 9 mil at. This is the kind of stuff Tarantino wishes he had the stones to write—pure turgid goodness.

No Regrets: The Best, Worst, & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever by Aviva Yael and P. M. Chen (Grand Central Publishing, 2008): Yael and Chen are two of the minds behind the legendary “Dos and Don’ts” fashion column in Vice magazine, tasteless and viciously funny critiques of street fashion, done as captions under reader-submitted photos. Here they work the same dark magic in a book filled with pictures of some of the worst ideas people have ever had for permanent display on their bodies. Personally I’ve never understood those books filled with suggested tattoo designs—if you don’t already know what you want in a tattoo, then you obviously don’t need to get one—but here is a perfect guide to what not to get. If you’ve been pondering having Rodney Dangerfield or Pee-Wee Herman or a giant phallic rooster or an alien-invasion hellscape permanently etched into your hide, now you can see what it’d actually look like. And stop yourself. For the love of God, stop yourself.

Touch Me, I’m Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You’ve Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds (Chicago Review Press, 2008): There are only three lines in R.E.M.’s song “The One I Love”—two suggest that the singer is in love, then the third refutes it by calling the other person “a simple prop to occupy my time”. That’s it. Three lines, very simple and pretty clear, and yet couples still sing it to each other without a smidge of irony. “The One I Love” isn’t in Tom Reynolds’s book, but there are plenty of other examples of pop songs that should be creeping us out rather than inspiring us to karaoke. The natural first choice for über-creepy balladry, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, is here (it’s about Sting stalking his ex—stop playing it at weddings!), as well as Radiohead’s “Creep”, the Beatles’ “Run for Your Life”, Eminem’s “Stan”, and a host of others, some well-known (I always thought 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” was disturbing) and others not so much. Reynolds is a dead-on music critic, well-versed in music history and the nuts and bolts of musicianship, and his insights are frequently profound, but he’s at his best when his critiques go gonzo absurd. Certain chapters have him spelunking inside Alanis Morissette’s head, reproducing Eddie Vedder lyrics phonetically, and type-synching his way through Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me”. And he hates James Blunt as much as I do. All in all, Reynolds’ creepy love song to creepy love songs is just plain fun. And creepy.

Bigfoot: I Not Dead by Graham Roumieu (Penguin USA, 2008): The long-awaited (well, maybe not) sequel to Bigfoot’s earlier memoirs, In Me Own Words (2003) and Me Write Book (2005), is as heart-wrenching and moving as the first two volumes in Bigfoot’s ongoing saga of cannibalism, the pitfalls of media saturation, and the tragic price of fame. In his frank, confessional style, Bigfoot displays the kind of eloquent pathos Maya Angelou only wishes she could muster. One only wishes the Loch Ness Monster had been this forthcoming in her autobiography. (It’s actually a very funny book, and I’m just kidding about everything but the Maya Angelou part.)

There. Five perfectly good examples of enjoyable, fun, and decidedly uncerebral books with which to kill brain cells and while away the summer hours, and note that not a single one of them is a Jane Austen pastiche or vampire porn. Even when I let my id write the column, I can still perform a public service. I only hope that someday my wife will understand.

Originally published at Flagpole.

by tjmHolden

28 Aug 2008

Source: Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive

Sometimes travel is a metaphor and sometimes it isn’t, and often separating which is what, when, can be a perplexing exercise in peripatacity.

Today I am traveling across the United States – from the West to the East coast – on a diagonal, due north, as one half of a tandem. My traveling companion is a beautiful woman in waxing flower: my daughter – fresh off a high school graduation and a summer as restaurant hostess. Neither of which have sufficiently prepared her for this particular journey. Why? Because this is the first leg of the next journey of her life. A trek that is not only physical, but intellectual, as well . . . for she is embarking on her collegiate career. This, a new stage in her life, represents both an ending and a beginning: the culmination of one thing, the debut of another. Cast that way, it is hard to avoid reckoning this moment – these paces she is now undertaking—as a representation. As a something standing for another thing.

See what I mean? Where does travel stop and metaphor start? The physical and the mystical getting twinned so facilely. Which is what I like about peripatacity. It has a knack for keeping one guessing.

 

by PopMatters Staff

28 Aug 2008

Mogwai
The Sun Smells Too Loud [MP3]
     

Batcat [Video]

Daedelus
For Whithered Friends [MP3]
     

The Spinto Band
Summer Grof [MP3]
     

Common Market
The Crucible feat. Geo from Blue Scholars [MP3]
     

The High Decibels
That Dude [MP3]
     

Koushik
Bright and Shining [MP3]
     

Land of Talk
Some Are Lakes [MP3]
     

Grampall Jookabox
Peace Attack [MP3]
     

by Christel Loar

27 Aug 2008

In the eleventh episode of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 28th at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), Bryan Adams talks about his love for studios—he rescued and renovated a gold-rush-era building in Vancouver, BC for his own state of the art studio—and how much the sound of a room can influence the sounds of songs. He performs songs from the very beginning of his career, as well as one from his 2008 release 11 in a set that, at one point, he refers to as “Busking at Abbey Road”. First up is a beautiful acoustic version of “Heaven”, with gorgeous violin accompaniment. Next, “She’s Got a Way”, a product of the instantaneous chemistry that can often come into play with creative partnerships and another lovely love song made more so by the violin. Lastly, Adams goes solo for his first big hit, “Cuts Like a Knife”.

Ben Harper, of course, is accompanied by the Innocent Criminals. His musical influences include not just genres, but every sound and conversation he has ever had. He also believes that the live music experience is of great importance and the performances in this segment support that belief, especially “Better Way” from 2006. That song’s performance expresses all the freedom and energy you might find at an outdoor festival, and is one song that he considers “an accomplishment, musically”. Harper describes his impression of studio two in Abbey Road as, “Sonically, it gives right back to you in the clearest, most honest way.” Harper and the room are kindred, then. As his closer, Harper treats viewers to his own sexy, wicked version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, and the note he holds near the end of the song will convince you that you can feel the room giving back to him.

Justin Currie, perhaps best known as lead singer/songwriter for Del Amitri, only performs one song during his Abbey Road session, which is a bit unusual for this program, but it’s a great song. Currie lets us in on why you must be superstitious about writing songs, or any writing really: “Because no matter how hard you work on it, it doesn’t make it any better… and the songs that you consider to be good, just come along—in a highly mysterious fashion.” His performance of “Still in Love” from 2007’s What Is Love For is a deep and haunting. It’s a ballad for piano and strings, which showcases not only Currie’s ability to write a stunner, but his talent for elevating a great song even further on the strength of his voice. You can just imagine what the room gave back to him.

Upcoming Line-ups:

Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson

by Bill Gibron

27 Aug 2008

Mathieu Kassovitz is livid. Not just angry, mind you, but completely pissed off. After five long years of planning and praying, after months of harsh production elements and massive studio interference, his dream project, Babylon A.D. is about to close the Summer 2008 season. Not with a blockbuster bang, mind you, but with the kind of wounded whimper and no preview punishment that comes with abject studio hatred. That’s right—Kassovitz’s righteous indignation is no match for Fox’s fear of failure. The Hollywood heavyweight is purposefully writing off this title, allowing it to tank in the most obvious way possible.

It’s no wonder that the man behind the celebrated La Haine is outraged. Sure, his resume doesn’t wholly redeem his position—after the aforementioned black and white drama about disaffected youth in France, Kassovitz has had little cinematic impact. And no, working with Halle Berry on the worthless Gothika doesn’t count. It all leads to the classic Tinsel Town clusterf*ck—vaunted foreign filmmaker, respected past productions, moderate American success, studio desperate for something new, creator hungry to realize a long gestating ambition. Put them all together and you have the recipe for a big fat juicy (and unexpected) hit… or in the case of Babylon A.D., a Hindenburg waiting to burst into flames.

Based on the book Babylon Babies by French science fiction author Maurice G. Dantec, this Vin Diesel vehicle had an inauspicious start. Kassovitz had long wanted to adapt the material, and finally got commissioned to develop a script back in 2005. While the director had planned to star pal Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) in the lead, Diesel eventually signed on. Thus began a series of screw-ups, set backs, and situational traumas that found Fox stepping in to wrangle control. According to published reports, bad weather pushed production over time and budget, and the studio, sensing that Kassovitz was in over his head, was a constant source of on set interference. Originally slated for Thanksgiving 2007, the release date was pushed back—first to February, and then August 2008.

In the meantime, the filmmaker saw his pet project whittled down from an unwieldy two hours plus to what he considers to be 90 minutes of “violence and stupidity”. With a complicated story involving a mercenary (Diesel) hired to deliver a woman from Eastern Europe to a futuristic New York, and a fanatical religious group desperate to get their hands on the ‘host’ of their new messiah, Kassovitz saw a parable for our post-modern world. He wanted to explore the concept of faith, and the human frailty to follow it. He also envisioned something epic in scope, but very personal in perspective. Fox clearly wanted action and aggressiveness. According to the director, the studio cut out all the context (almost 70 minutes worth), leaving him with an unsellable, almost un-releasable mess.

Now, this is not the first time that a ‘misunderstood’ foreign filmmaker has had his or her vision violated by an American company that can’t see the creative writing on the wall. One of the most notorious examples of this ideal was Once Upon a Time in America. Sergio Leone, a then ‘60s icon for his brilliant deconstructionist spaghetti westerns, had spent 10 years nurturing a screenplay based on Harry Grey’s novel The Hoods. He even turned down The Godfather to focus on his own ode to Jewish gangsters in the ‘20s and ‘30s. When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, the 229 minute version was hailed as a masterpiece. But when Warner Brothers tested the film for American audiences, their proposed distaste for its length and elaborate flashback structure indicated the studio may have a bomb on their hands.

Taking the movie away from Leone, a two hour and nineteen minute calamity hit theaters to scathing reviews from most film critics. Gone was the time tripping exposition. In its place were unconscionable trims, missing scenes, and a straightforward storyline that made little sense. The butchery was so great that cultural bellwethers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert devoted a whole section of their At the Movies show to disemboweling Warners over the decision. When the studio approved cut nose dived, Leone got a chance to refashion the film. While he never did manage a full 320 minute print like he wanted, the original was restored and is today considered one of his greatest achievements.

To listen to Kassovitz talk, the same thing has happened with Babylon A. D. , and while one can forgive a filmmaker for unfulfilled ambitions (and the resulting bitching and moaning), such a suggestion is strong indeed. Since no one has seen his purported 160 minute attempt, it’s hard to say if he even has a point. Much more telling is Fox’s reaction. Clearly they did not get the brain-dead Vin Diesel action romp they expected. With a leading man not known for his subtlety, and a premise that some have likened to a bigger, more brutish Children of Men, an intriguing contradiction occurs. Surely Kassovitz didn’t pull a professional bait and switch. Fox had to approve his script, and his concept for the film. So if they knew what they were getting, why do they now not want it?

That’s always the big question here—why do studios act so shocked when they get exactly, or pretty darn close to, what they initially bargained for. A screenplay is never a wholly singular creation—hired ‘doctors’ diddle with it endlessly, making sure that stars and other outsource concerns are addresses and modified. This is not done in a bubble, mind you, but with full corporate co-op, usually. Also, a big budget always means a version of Big Brother on the set. No filmmaker can cry foul when they get in bed with a known name. Interference is apparently part of the mainstream game—you just have to learn to circumvent it. Finally, most foreign filmmakers face an inherent prejudice that comes from seducing Hollywood. Shakespeare may have argued for the wrath of a woman scorned, but an angry studio is no picnic either.

So where does the sense of wounded pride on both sides come from? Why save face, especially to a media estate slowly dying in both relevance and respect? If Fox hates Babylon A.D., they should offer it up for review any chance they get. Such a slow burn would bury Kassovitz and his whining once and for all. But of course, the studio won’t do this—and we all know why. Call it sheep to the cinematic slaughter, but there are people in the demo who will line up for anything done by certain stars. Slap a name on a marquee and no matter the pre-release provenance, a few million mindless drones will drop their dollars. This is clearly what the studio is hoping for. Diesel may be dull, but he’s still a draw (at least in someone’s eyes). No reviews means no chance of missing out on any of that fluctuating fanbase cash.

Still, it’s always hard to speculate on these situations. Film folk, noticing how Fox systematically cancelled screenings around the country over the last few weeks, simply point to the lack of said advanced word and whistle “disaster”. The whole symbolism suggested by “not screened for the press” is confirmation enough for them. But what was it exactly about Kassovitz’s original cut that was so offensive/off base? Did he really make such a horrible motion picture? The stench of several unsuccessful focus group gatherings is fairly obvious here. Why studios continue to think that everyday people can guarantee them a hit still boggles the mind. The rabble tends to like anything (or hate everything), and their opinion on how to “improve” a film usually revolves around comfort level, not creativity.

Which still leaves the entire question of Babylon A.D. in the lurch. Surely it can’t be as bad as Fox thinks it is (or made it, for that matter). Equally true is the notion that Kassovitz, after seeing his baby disrespected, is merely sticking up for his motion picture principles. Somewhere in the middle of this mess is the truth. Maybe Babylon Babies wasn’t the best book to adapt. Maybe Diesel is a dud as a leading man (his career arc would suggest so). Perhaps both financier and filmmaker bit off more than they could ever possibly chew. Maybe there is no clear answer from either side—an artistic/artificial meeting of the minds that never occurred.  It won’t matter much after this weekend either—that is, until the inevitable “director’s cut” DVD arrives in stores sometime this winter. Then the debate can begin all over again.

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