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by Bill Gibron

10 Nov 2008

Right now, it’s only a rumor, and if the gods of film are paying attention, here’s hoping it stays that way. Granted, Variety is not some nerd dominated rag given over to the spurious reporting of half truths, but when one reads an item like this, it naturally leads to questions of journalistic integrity. Can it really be true? Can the king of the blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, really be considering a remake of Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy with none other than the Prince of July 4th, Will Smith, in the lead? Somewhere, in his isolated basement bedroom, a film geek is quietly weeping.

For those totally unfamiliar with Park’s disturbing effort, the pairing of Smith and Spielberg may seem like a natural. After all, both men excel at bringing larger than life entertainments to the big screen, and yet each one is quite capable of the smaller, and yet still mainstream friendly film. That the two haven’t hooked up before is one of those Tinsel Town truths that just seems false. After all, they represent the reach of the artform, both commercially and culturally. But those who know Oldboy understand what a major miscalculation this is. The disturbing, violent revenge flick is about as far outside each artist’s comfort zone as creatively possible.

Oldboy centers on the story of unimportant businessman Dae-su Oh and wealthy playboy Woo-jin Lee. The former has been ‘wrongfully’ imprisoned for 15 years. The latter apparently has the means - and more importantly, the motive - to affect such a severe personal punishment. Within such a set up, we are treated to a brutal, sometimes beautiful narrative, Park exploring the nature of retribution and past mistakes as part of a three film trilogy on the subject. Oldboy falls in the middle, between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. It’s also the film critic turned director’s most recognizable and acclaimed international hit.

Now, no one is saying that Spielberg and Smith can’t handle the action. Both men have made movies where edge of your seat thrills is one of the picture’s main purposes. And the nasty nature of some of the sequences could be toned down for Western tastes without losing much of their blood-drenched import or dynamic. Even issues of age, cultural philosophy, and narrative ambiguity could be handled by these Hollywood heavyweights. No, where the main issue with Oldboy comes is in the translation department, and the subject matter requiring adaptation. In this manner, it seems surreal that two superstars not known for controversy would court same in such a blatant, box office unfriendly manner.

For those who have not see Oldboy, the next few paragraphs are going to be loaded with SPOILERS, so perhaps it’s better to stop reading now. For those who love Park’s original, the material mentioned here is the 800lb gorilla in the screening room. You see, the main subtext in the conflict between Dae-su and Woo-jin is incest. One blames the other for starting a vicious rumor that lead his sister to suicide. As a result, Dae-su is kidnapped on his daughter’s birthday, hidden away for 15 years, and then when released, given a limited time frame to find out why. So Dae-su spends most of the movie playing pissed off detective, destroying those who stole his life from him.

Naturally, there’s a love interest. But leave it to Park to play perverted and disturbing with the genre formulas. When Dae-su meets the lovely Mi-Do, he doesn’t realize that they are related. Indeed, all throughout Oldboy, Park slowly peels back the narrative layers to reveal that Woo-jin, angry that his former classmate may have driven his sibling to her death, plots a sickeningly savage payback. Just as the rumor of incest (and the truth, perhaps) led to one tragedy, Woo-jin orchestrates Dae-su’s capture and torture to lure his victim into the arms of a woman - his own daughter. It’s a disturbed little denouement, and one that offers up Oldboy‘s final act of personal attrition.

With an ambiguous ending that suggests Dae-su and Mi-Do may stay together after all, and an unhealthy kind of karmic realignment, Oldboy is indeed a masterpiece. It’s visually stunning, while announcing Park (and the entire South Korean film industry, for that matter) as a post-millennial foreign voice worth considering. When it was released in 2003, it caused a sensation. Festival audiences lucky enough to see it where left drained, while messageboards began the inevitable debates and deconstructions. Even as it was finding its niche on DVD, talks began about the almost automatic Hollywood remake. While such names as Harvey Keitel and Nicholas Cage were mentioned as potential stars, nothing really solid came out of such suggestions.

While no one is claiming that Smith and Spielberg can’t handle themselves professionally, one senses something wrong with either choice. Park’s problem in Oldboy was making his generally nasty anti-hero into something sympathetic, while the villain is veiled in the kind of upper class snobbery and personal charisma that makes him simultaneously easy and hard to hate. Mi-Do is neither victim nor vixen. Instead, she’s a sad girl, desperate to cling to something to make up for her vacant, painful past. So where, exactly, in either man’s creative canon does such subtle complexity lie. Spielberg’s most ambitious drama was also his most obvious - Schindler’s List. He didn’t have to do much to make the Holocaust horrific. Smith, on the other hand, has a couple of feel good dramas under his belt (The Pursuit of Happyness, the upcoming Six Pounds), but most everything else is tinged with humor.

The notion of Mr. Fresh Prince taking on Dae-su’s unfathomable ordeal, a journey which transports the character from nobody to prisoner to insanity to murder to sex to scandal to self-mutilation is one drenched in Eastern values and precepts. Smith may be able to battle angry extraterrestrials, light-sensitive zombies, and CG creations of all shapes and size, but we’ve never really seen him attack personal demons in a deliberate way. Indeed, much of what Smith does as an actor is outward. Even in this past Summer’s Hancock, when he had to play sullen and disconnected, his moroseness seemed to come from the exterior of his character. While he’s done good work in many films, Smith seems wrong for Dae-su’s complicated dimensions.

And since when has Spielberg shuttled his famous feel good framework to delve into the depraved. Oldboy would be a better challenge for Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, or David Fincher than the man who made dinos and darling little aliens into cinematic stalwarts. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with mixing things up a bit, to fly outside your ‘worked before’ ways. Even something like Munich played indirectly into his larger than life, broader in scope designs. Perhaps if the right script came along, one anticipating the problems both men bring to the table, this version of Oldboy could work. But one senses that Smith, already betrothed to the terrible Akiva Goldsman (must be part of the Devil’s standard contractual lingo), will make sure things stay suspicious.

While one hopes that the story turns out to be a hoax, or better yet, a PR move to determine the industry reaction to such a pairing and project, fans should stop complaining and realize that an Americanized Oldboy was always part of the plan. The ‘who’ and ‘when’ were the only unsettled issues. If Smith and Spielberg pull it off - great. They will prove many a proposed pundit wrong. But if they take the material and turn it into something like City of Angels (the sappy, crappy Wings of Desire remake) or any number of cheap, charmless J-Horror revamps, everyone loses. Of course, Smith and Spielberg will retreat to their palatial positions as industry icons and go about their box office business. The fate of Park’s potent meditation on mankind and misery is another question entirely. 

by Roman Kuebler

10 Nov 2008

When Baltimore’s Oranges Band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings.  Blog entries One through Five tracked them from the very beginning of pulling the band together for the first time in the studio, to laying the album down piece to piece, to looking into just why albums can sometimes take so incredibly long to finish.  In entry six, with the album largely tracked [Editor’s Note: It sounds incredible], Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler takes somewhat of a break from writing about the experience of recording to providing the photos that come along with it.—Jon Langmead

THE ALL PHOTO BLOG!

This is the all photo episode.  We had a few guests in while recording this album and I remembered to snap a few pictures here and there (and Dave took a few also).  Thanks to them for their contributions! Listed below the photos are links to their respective musical outputs so visit them and tell ‘em I sent ya. (I’ll get a cut of the profit if you do!)

The tape machine. A Sony JH-24 if you are interested. Use tape y’all, it’s like someone is softly whispering your songs back in your ear as you fall asleep.

Producer/Engineer Adam Cooke through the glass.

Mandy Koch (Karmella’s Game), Shawna Potter (Avec), and kicked out the background vocals for our most wannabe dance-y, ESG, “Steam”-era Peter Gabriel track to date, “When Your Mask Is Your Revealing Feature”. 

Roman does the conducting!  (Really, I was just trying to stay out the way…)

Jim Glass (Impossible Hair) is a straight-up legend! If the Oranges Band album were a play, Jim would be playing the part of Peter Murphy from Bauhaus.

Jim Glass up close and personable. Jim also does an incredible Andy Partridge of XTC, but that would be a different play.

Pat Martin (Oranges Band bass playing dude) is the least intimidating security dude ever, according to his press release. I wish the rest of the staff at the Ottobar were Koala bears.

Pat Martin is ready to field your calls.

I was afraid that my recording blog was a little lacking in technical detail so I include, for those who care about these things, a picture of rack mounted objects with knobs and screens and needles that we probably used to make our album sound so much better.

I think what I really want to do is ONLY play tambourine in bands.  I guess I’ll need to go back in time and join the Shangri-Las… or the Feelies, they had a percussionist, right? Weirdos.

RATSIZE!  We needed gang vocals on one of our songs… so I found a gang called Ratsize. Noel Danger, Matt Gabs, Pat Martin (L-R).

Noel Danger does NOT fuck around when it comes to eating a sub.

I say, “Ok, so the part is ‘OH, YEAH’”. Ratsize says, “OH YEAH!” Easy enough…

Amplifiers for a more technically and electronically rounded experience.

This is how we mix the music in the new millennium.

Jim and Roman… corporate schills!

by Mike Schiller

9 Nov 2008

On Tuesday, November 11, many educational institutions and places of employment in the United States will give their students and employees a day off for Veterans Day, as the day is set aside for the recognizing of the contributions and sacrifices that our armed forces make for the sake of the rest of us.  A pair of releases this week will have an awful lot of people wishing they could take the entire week.

First up is the release most associated with Veterans Day, a game whose Tuesday release is obviously no accident: Call of Duty: World at War.  Honestly, I think it’s a risky move for Activision to be releasing a fifth Call of Duty game even as the fourth in the series remains the top Xbox Live draw.  The release of a new edition of the game, while it will undoubtedly sell gobs of copies based solely on the success of its predecessor, will likely split the Call of Duty online audience, which may well generate some confusion as to which game is the “must-have” of the online shooter group.  This isn’t even to mention that Activision has gone back to Treyarch—if you’ll remember, they developed the oft-maligned Call of Duty 3—for this one, and Treyarch has gone back to World War II for their source material.  Despite all of the caveats, however, there’s simply no way that any online shooter fan will be without this game come Tuesday.

Wait a couple of days, though, and you may notice that the streets will be a little quieter, the traffic a little lighter…as Wrath of the Lich King finally (finally!) arrives on Thursday.  The latest World of Warcraft expansion has been hyped and anticipated for so long, it’s actually something of a wonder it’s been able to maintain the sort of anticipation that’ll lead to the millions of sales come Thursday, but it has and then some.  I don’t need to sell this one—it’ll fly off the shelves no matter what I tell you.

Past those two utterly tremendous releases, the DS has a few releases that might just be enough to pique your interest.  Populous DS is probably something I’ll end up with, simply because the thought of randomly popping hills up underneath people I don’t like while on the subway is terribly appealing.  My Stop Smoking Coach with Allen Carr is an incredibly intriguing release, in that I’ll be curious to see a) whether it sells, and b) whether any testimonials start coming out saying that it actually works.  It sounds utterly ridiculous, but for a nicotine-addicted gamer, it may be the ticket to sticking to a plan.  And there’s Tecmo BowlTecmo Bowl!  It’s almost enough to make you forget that there’s another DS Guitar Hero on its way too.

Oh jeez, I just realized I went four paragraphs without mentioning Mirror’s Edge.  Good Lord.  This is truly a great year.

What are you playing this week?  Or are you just broke from buying all of the other stuff that’s come out?  Let us know, and while you’re thinking, check out the list of releases and the pair of trailers after the jump!

by Jason Gross

9 Nov 2008

There’s going out to shows and then there’s going out to clubs.  When you go to a show, you’re going to a place, any place, to see a band like you like.  When you go to a club, you’re picking out a particular place to be because you happen to like the space, regardless of who’s there.  That’s a crucial difference that many clubs take for granted, usually at their own peril.

Think about it.  How many clubs do you go to because you like the atmosphere or the set up?  Now think about where you see concerts.  Are those the same places that you like to hang out? 

For me, the answer is no.  There’s a reason for that. Even if a club books good bands, that doesn’t mean that you’d go there to hang out if you weren’t into whoever’s playing that night. 

For me, an example is Blender Theater in NYC.  It’s right around the corner from me so it’s super convenient.  It’s got a pretty good set up where there’s a small section of stadium seating in the back and a downstairs lounge with a bar.  If an act that I’m even slightly interested in happens to be playing there, I’m inclined to go because it’s convenient and I like their set up. 

The present (and soon to be former) location of the Knitting Factory in NY is the same way.  They have three levels of performance spaces, including bars on each level so you have at least two chances to see a decent show there or if you like, you can just hang out at the upstairs bar for free and not see any of the shows (sad to say, they’ll soon be moving to a much more confining place soon).  The Tonic was like that as they had a lower level (the Sub Tonic) that was great to hang out and hear a good DJ.  Both the Sub Tonic and Knit let you in even if you weren’t gonna see a show in the main space, which is a big plus.

Compare that to larger, less personal venues like Manhattan Center or Roseland.  You only get in there with the intention of seeing a show and once inside, there’s no good out-of-the-way place to hang out with friends- you pick the spot where you’ll watch the show and that’s about it.  If a really good band is playing at either of those venues, I’ll definitely go but I’m inclined to be at either place otherwise.  I don’t think that they’re necessarily bad venues but at the same time, they don’t do anything to try to grab you.

With so many clubs going out of business, maybe that’s one of their problems- they don’t realize that it’s not just the acts that should draw you into a club and that they have to offer something more.  That extra thing could be atmosphere, having good DJ’s or good places to hang out or even places to be elsewhere where you don’t even have to see the show. 

Then again, the Knit’s new space isn’t going to have any of those qualities unless they renovate a lot plus the Tonic is gone while M.Center and Roseland have both been around for a while and don’t look like they’re going anyway.

Still, for other clubs that are struggling to stay afloat, they might wanna consider other ways to attract crowds.  Esp. in tough economic times like now, having good acts might not be enough.

by Bill Gibron

8 Nov 2008

Has it really been 20 years? Was it really just two decades ago when a local Minnesota UHF station, desperate for some cheap weekend programming, hired a few provisional stand-ups and gave them access to a few minutes of programming and their b-grade matinee movie archives? And was it really the tale end of the Reagan era when Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, and behind the scenes studio technicians Kevin Murphy and Jim Mallon, got together with some hastily cobbled together puppets and a crappy piece of schlock and made the practice of talking back to a bad movie screen cool? Indeed, the KTMA phase of Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted on 24 November, 1988, and the rest is, how they say, basic pay cable channel history.

It’s definitely been an unusual and uneasy legacy: A few station switches; a cult phenomenon; a rumored acrimonious breakup between the original partners; the ascension of head writer Mike Nelson into the show’s new star, critical acclaim; the final gasp of Sci-Fi fandom; the rebirth as competing entities Riff Trax and Cinematic Titanic; a few DVD releases. Indeed, for anyone who has worshipped the efforts of what used to be known as Best Brains (or a close collective facsimile thereof), keeping track of all the continuing comedy has been a chore in and of itself. While Nelson, Murphy, and current co-conspirator Bill Corbett deconstruct every new release in their audio only format, Hodgson, Weinstein, Beaulieu have recruited Mary Jo Pehl and (TV’s) Frank Conniff to jumpstart the silhouetted satire routine.

And with its fourth independent installment, the lamentably awful Legacy of Blood, Cinematic Titanic finally finds its groove. Previously, the quintet battled between reverence to the past and placating the present. Fans wanted backstory, clear indications of what the group were doing and why they were returning to familiar territory. What was the Time Tube, and why the weird warning light “skits” in the middle of the movies. Well, all those who wondered about the internal workings of the CT situation, pay attention. Before the horrific thriller from 1971 unravels, the collective have a conversation with the crew which may fill in many of the blanks. While not 100% satisfying, it sets us up for all the underground bunker commentary to come.

As for Legacy, it’s beyond horrific, the kind of And Then There Were None rip-off that made Agatha Christie cry in her Mousetrap. When the patriarch of the rotten Dean family dies, the siblings all show up for the reading - or in this case, the listening - of his will. They are joined by their respective spouses, repressed memories, and the most unhelpful set of servants ever. Naturally, the dead man’s estate stipulates that they all must spend a week at his home, and that if any of them should die, the other’s split the money evenly. Before you can say “Miss Jane Marple”, relatives are reeling, freshly killed corpses pushing up the alcohol fueled daises. Eventually, one remaining Dean is left, and when the murderer is finally revealed, we get a strange sense of cinematic déjà vu. Or maybe it’s just gas.

Like an episode of Dynasty gone gangrenous, Legacy of Blood uses a freakish family, the standard story set up legalese, and a bountiful collection of closeted skeletons to turn something supposedly shocking and scandalous into 90 minutes of mindnumbing dullness. Director Carl Munson was clearly a fan of the Method style of acting. He lets every member of his ‘Where Are They Now’ cast crow and carry on like mourners at a New Orleans wake. And then they REALLY start to overact. As part of the onscreen interpersonal dynamic, we get a sister incestually obsessed with her practically porcine brother, a psychiatrist in-law whose constantly on the make for the clan’s over the hill matron, a cowardly couple whose ratty little dog takes a lethal swan dive into the cement pond, and a tank of piranhas just waiting for a human body part to munch on.

Instead of terror however, Legacy of Blood is all talk.  Characters here just gab and gab away, hoping that their lengthy conversations overloaded with suggestions and sordidness will make our skin crawl. Sadly, they just make our eyes droop. Naturally, this makes for perfect Cinematic Titanic fodder. The gang can’t ignore the unctuous sexual sleaze pouring out of every character, and their quips about said horniness are classic. Sure, some of the material crosses over into the more “adult” oriented element of their demographic, but it’s nice to hear some borderline blue humor from the gang. Equally funny are the fill-in bits, with Trace offering up a goofy game show were Josh must guess which item WON’T kill him, while Frank is busted for that most heinous of show etiquette violations - gum chewing!

But it’s the back and forth between cast and celluloid that keeps the Cinematic Titanic series fresh and fun. The sequence where the chauffer character Frank is seen lounging among his collection of Nazi paraphernalia (including a lamp made of human skin - yikes!) is one of the series’ best, and nothing says ‘stupidity’ like the bad indecipherable accent attempted by Munson pal (and exploitation titan) Buck Kartalian. While most of Legacy of Blood - a retitle from the original Blood Legacy, go figure - is antiquated e- performers pitching fits of hopeless thespian histrionics, there are small moments which remind us of why films like this are just asking for a sassy dressing down.

With 20 years comes a lot of history - of missed opportunities, of unofficial classics, of times when it seemed the subject and the subjected meshed in perfect comedy clarity. Cinematic Titanic provides glimpses of such splendor. It reminds us of the reasons we fell in love with Hodgson’s homespun experiment in the first place. It’s the kind of entertainment that speaks to a specific ideal, that angers some purists while pleasing those with a much smaller motion picture axe to grind.  As they continue to create their own unique revamp of the pristine MST format, there will probably be stumbles and struggles along the way. And anytime you take on the distribution yourself, you’re bound to get lost in the self-produced melee. But fans both young and old understand that there’s nothing better than the original. With Cinematic Titanic, and Legacy of Blood, you get the closest of reproductions.

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