Latest Blog Posts

by Robin Cook

26 Mar 2008

Ska beats and politically charged lyrics—two great things that taste great together. Just ask Dave Wakeling, touring once again with the English Beat. Of course, the group also wrote lighthearted pop to go along with their social commentary—note “Save It for Later”, recently covered by Pearl Jam. Here, Wakeling talks about the band’s past and revival.—Robin Cook

by Mike Schiller

26 Mar 2008

As gamers get older, their focus changes.  Gaming becomes a little bit less about competition, about winning at all costs, and a little bit more about the joy of being able to play at all.  Gaming is one of the few things that we can bring with us from childhood that happens to be a little bit socially acceptable—heck, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are becoming staples of the bar scene, cutting into karaoke nights everywhere, and the recent popularity of casual and multiplayer gaming is upping the emphasis of the social aspects of gaming.

As a part of that set, I’m all for the recent rash of retro-gaming that has graced the console and portable set of late.  Arcade ports?  For it.  Atari 2600 remakes?  I’m cool with that.  Sega Genesis compilations?  Yep.  The Wii Virtual Console?  I’m addicted.  As much as we love finding new ways to be drawn into our televisions with controllers in our palms, it’s almost as exciting to be reminded of what made gaming an interest/hobby in the first place.

After playing ROM CHECK FAIL, the latest offering from the up-and-coming indie developer known only as Farbs, I may not need to be reminded for a while.

The experience that comes most readily to mind when playing ROM CHECK FAIL is that of A Clockwork Orange, specifically the scene in which he is sitting with those metal things prying his eyes open, as he watches violent scene after violent scene, supposedly on his way to being cured of an addiction to violence.  ROM CHECK FAIL is like that, except that instead of violence, we get retro hit after retro hit, and instead of being forced to stare, we simply cannot turn away.

If you played video games at all in the ‘80s, there’s a good chance that on some level, conscious or unconscious, you will recognize every single thing in this game.  What makes it interesting is that you have never seen the juxtapositions of those things the way that they’re presented here.  By pulling sprites and tiles from the classic games we recognize, we are presented with something familiar but not; say, we could have Mario jumping on the ghosts of Gauntlet.  Pac-Man could be chomping on space invaders after turning them into blue ghosts with a power pellet, and he could be doing it in a level straight out of Bomberman.

No matter which control scheme you start with, however, don’t get used to it.  It’ll change in a matter of seconds.  This is what makes ROM CHECK FAIL so disorienting—every character you remember is saddled with all of the advantages and limitations you remember, but once you get used to the scheme behind whatever character you’re playing as, you need to adjust to a new one.  No sooner are you used to driving as the Spy Hunter car and shooting straight up than you turn into Mario, fall to whatever platform is directly underneath you, and accidentally jump into whatever it was you were shooting at.  It’s maddening, in the best possible way.

It’s so worth it once you get to the end, though.

Pictures cannot do this game justice.  The YouTube vid below is not even close to an accurate depiction of the maniacal action that the game offers.  You really have to play it.  It’s free, and it’s fun as hell, if not all that hard once you get the hang of it.  Give it a go, and you might not need to scratch that retro itch again for a long, long time.

Thanks go out to the Blog for this one.

by Bill Gibron

25 Mar 2008

Dear Weinstein Brothers. We know things aren’t going particularly well for you right now. After severing ties with the notoriously bothersome House of Mouse and striking out on your own, you’ve found nothing but roadblocks in your Neuvo Miramax highway to success. Your recent releases have all underperformed, and now, that 2007 tent pole, the fascinating Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez retrofest Grindhouse is being buried under a bounty of bad press. The entertainment community, desperate to see you fall on your flabby behinds, has come after you like sharks on a wounded whale, and the foreseen flopsweat is ripe with potential failure.  It’s gotten so bad that you’ve even been thinking of taking both movies, expanding their individual running times, and releasing them as separate cinematic experiences.

Guys….guys…guys…calm down. Grab a bottle of Artesian spring water, a couple of prescription sedatives, and rest for a while. The LAST thing you want to do here is split apart this already intriguing return to the drive-in dynamic of three decades ago. Film fans of a certain age and demographic get what you were going for and really appreciate the time, talents, and tenacity you showed in getting it released. This was never going to be an easy sell – for one thing, Tarantino and Rodriguez are Grade-A certified geek meat if ever audiences tasted same. Their projects are propelled from a dork driven place so deep down inside their idiosyncratic ideals that basement dwelling film nerds feel unworthy in their presence. If you thought you were about to make mega-bucks with these oddball directorial dweebs, you must have been smokin’ screener copies of Shakespeare in Love.

Grindhouse was destined to be a tough ticket for numerous, obvious reasons. You’re dealing with horror and other genre elements, facets that most film fans tend to kvetch over, and critics can’t understand or appreciate. Next, you’re dealing with a category of cinema that few comprehend, let alone welcome. Ask someone what they think of exploitation, and you’re likely to get the regurgitated opinion of some overly academic dickweed who doesn’t cotton to any aspect of the raincoat crowd. Add in the uneven tone, the tendency to associate the entire project with the outer fringes of major mainstream motion pictures, and the lack of genuine buzz (thank you so bloody much, 300!), and you’ve got a dead on delivery dud. Even if you gained a 100% “fresh” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, audience ennui would be enough to give your business plan agita before the Friday estimates were released.

But this doesn’t mean you give up. You shouldn’t conform to a viewing going public too dumb to fathom what you’re doing. As a matter of fact, the failure of the film has nothing to do with what’s up on screen. Grindhouse remains a witty, inventive, highly satiric, and gross as all get out experience that’s practically overpowering in its artistic energy and invention. Tearing it apart and turning it into a crude competition of sorts (and between Rodriguez and Tarantino, one can almost envision where your cash is landing) will destroy everything your filmmakers fashioned. And let’s not forget the fake trailers. Those who participated in making those marvelous mock ads deserve some respect as well. Yet the question becomes, how do you solve this seemingly impossible problem. How do you make audiences interested (or in some cases, re-interested) in a title already tainted by a group of jaded journalists? The answer, oddly enough, is right in front of you.

Like the fabled producers of old, the men who made exploitation the historical hinge for all post-modern cinema, you can’t take failure as the final response. David F. Friedman, Dan Sonny, Harry Novak and Bob Cresse didn’t make mountains of money – and a ballbusting reputation - by moping around the minute the public rejected their efforts. No, they reinvented these projects, using the standard carnival barker approach of bait and switch to change the perception of their problematic productions. Sure, this SOUNDS like what you want to do, but there is a big difference between cutting your losses and trimming the fat. These men made their all important names out of never failing the public, by understanding what the people prefer, and more importantly, what they’d be willing to pay for. If a standard sexless thriller didn’t work, they’d tack on a scandalous ‘square-up’ reel to increase the erotica. If the horror wasn’t high enough, more blood drenched gore was quickly inserted. Entire films were re-edited, sequences reshoot, and plotlines changed to find the right combination of salable shuck and jerryrigged jive.

So, following this pattern, here’s what you should do. First, pull this daring double feature from the theaters before more self-styled pundits can piss all over it. Take stock in what you have already available in cutting room trimmings and existing tweak time, and get your auteurs involved. Make them part of, not the reason for, this process. Don’t dawdle over money or creative control – the ship is sinking and the rats have already ponied up and abandoned you. Look to the future – say the end of August/beginning of September – and get your accessible forces poised for war. It’s going to be a long and involved process, but in the end, you could be looking at 300 style returns at the end of the day.

In the case of Planet Terror, reinsert the “missing reel” sex scene between Rose McGowen and Freddy Rodriguez, turn the Bone Shack into a combination barbeque pit and badass biker bar, let the chopper riding rejects rumble with some good old fashioned fisticuffs, give us more of the stoic stripper storyline (including lots of shots of nubile naked torsos) and then tell Robert Rodriguez to remove a little of the freak show spectacle. Granted, no one enjoys mindless bloodletting as much as this considered critic, but fountains of grue spouting over and over again can get a tad, well, old. Instead, how about more of those amazing moments when deconstructed corpses are examined in nasty, nauseating detail. In a world awash in CGI chum, physical effects can really help you stand out. Besides, nothing will sell the fright flick facets of this production better than more shots of Fergie’s hollowed out head.

As for your main man QT, tell that diva director to turn down the chatter. The dialogue in Death Proof is amazing, the kind of potent palaver that Tarantino carries Oscar gold for. But in a film that’s a self-described “slasher flick”, what we need is more slice and less nice. Listening to girls gossip and give their unique opinions of sex and self within the context of a killer action thriller is like featuring random shots of kittens during a snuff film. Trim a few minutes of their minutia driven confabs, give Kurt Russell more lines (he is an endlessly fascinating character who we need to know more about) and provide another stellar suspense sequence like the one where the car’s characterization is proven on Rose McGowen’s unsuspecting person. Make it lean and mean and you’d have one amazing movie on your hands.

Finally, find a few more famous filmmakers willing to give you some new and novel trailers – perhaps approach members of the referenced and revered like John Carpenter or Herschell Gordon Lewis. And then tell the MPAA to go to Hell. That’s right, thwart convention. Take a stand for all lovers of cinematic extremes. Position yourselves as the artist’s advocate, and let the marketing challenge chips fall where they may. It’s going to take you a good few months to get the interest level back up again, and to purge the perception of failure from almost all elements of this movie. Again, breaking them in two won’t do that. You’ll just double the disgust, making movie fans, in their mind, choose the lesser of two unexceptional evils. To revamp awareness and create curiosity, you have to reposition everything about your concept. 

And the only way you can do that is via education. Time to teach the public what they obviously do not know – that is, that exploitation rewrote the motion picture roadmap. It created a freshness and openness that most filmmakers never even considered. Better yet, when foreign films couldn’t find a footing on American shores, the Grindhouse gang rescued these movies, exaggerated their simplistic sexual freedoms, and turned the arthouse into the cathouse. Recognize that you’re going to have to do a lot of explaining and hire someone happy to oblige – say Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney, or Psychotronic’s Michael Weldon - and walk the viewers through a short lesson in the genre’s mesmerizing history. Get the remaining members of the 40 Thieves together for a series of interviews, or better yet, have IFC, Sundance, Encore, or any other cable channel that’s willing to work with you do a series of Grindhouse specials. Showing a certain style of movie once a week won’t cut it. You need constant coverage of the category with input from the people who provided the foundation for your post-millennial homage.

Then, create a documentary mini-series. Get QT and Rodriguez to go coast-to-coast, roadshowing their new versions in a day long grindhouse extravaganza. Let them position their films midway through, and then surround them both with a dawn to dusk collection of classics, cult faves and unknown gems. Toss in a few real trailers, a bunch of those clever, kitshy ads from the era, and make it a magnificently misguided marathon. Turn it into the Lollapalooza of b-movies madness, a real event that will proceed the regular theatrical showing. Of course, this is just the suggestion of someone who loves the original double feature and would hate to see it die from what appears to be a predetermined desire to see you fail. You’ve worked your magic on other minor efforts before. Here’s your chance to show the entire world that you can, and do, mean business. You can’t let audience apathy wear you down. Grindhouse is a good movie. Now it’s time to convince everyone else of that fact.

by Jason Gross

25 Mar 2008

Satellite radio services XM and Sirius just got a nice present from the weak-kneed Dept. of Justice in the form of a stamp of approval for their merger.  As the NY Times reports, it’s great news for the two companies and their stock holders but will not be great for consumers who will now have to deal with one mega-company for all their satellite radio needs.  As some saner voices point out near the end of the article, the DOJ are pathetically shrugging off their duty as public watchdog- also see this Broadcast and Cable article about doubts raised about the merger.

All that’s standing in its way is the dreaded FCC, which isn’t exactly known as a bastion of public service.  Indeed, Congress is now demanding that head-schmuck Kevin Martin turn over piles of internal documents about his controversial decisions over the last few years over big issues like ‘a la carte’ cable offerings but this will also likely shine some much needed light on his unsavory decisions about media consolidation also.  His masters in the media conglomerate world must be crapping their pants right now and it’s about time.  But in the meantime, look for him to squeeze through a thumbs-up for the satellite deal.  He now says that he hasn’t made up his mind but he lied about that before, and to Congress no less (which I could have sworn was a crime…).

The Satellite companies are arguing that they should be able to create a monopoly because there’s so much competition from other music services.  This is the same lame argument that media conglomerates are using to consolidate their power and get the green light to buy up more and more radio and TV stations and newspapers. 

Not that I buy their argument but they do have reason to be worried- as the Washington Post reports, companies like LastFM and Pandora offer DIY music services for people to customize to their tastes and these companies are getting more and more traction, with lots of subscribers and lots of music offered. 

But does that justify creating monopolies to compete with them?  And besides, if these greedy companies were running their business better and offering more of what the public wanted, they wouldn’t have to beg the govt to get permission to grab up competitors.  Also, if they screwed up their own companies, what’s to say that they’ll do any better to leverage more companies for their bottom line?  Most likely, they’ll screw up the other companies they swallow up too.

And again, how is all of this in the public interest?  It ain’t and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

by Lara Killian

25 Mar 2008

Can I get a show of hands – how many of you listen to audio books? Come on, now, don’t be shy, I know you’re out there. I’ve just started figuring out why they go out like hotcakes at the local public library where I spend some of my Saturday mornings helping out. At the moment my commute is mercifully short so I’m not drawn to audio books to make me feel like I’m wasting less time in the car. Rather, I like to do two things at once (minimum) and listening to an audio book allows me to get through some reading I’ve had sitting on the back burner while working on a project around my apartment.

Currently I’m whizzing through Eldest, Christopher Paolini’s bestselling sequel to his bestselling first novel, Eragon. Since there was all that hubbub when Eragon first came out (genius 15 year old author et cetera) it has been on my to-read list, along with about a thousand other things. Letting British-accented award-winning narrator Gerard Doyle read me the unabridged Eldest is a treat.

When I first decided to give an audio book a try a couple of months ago, it was because a patron had just returned one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, Thud. Something to keep me laughing, I thought, that would be good, and I always enjoy Pratchett parallel giant-turtle-centric universe. I started listening to Thud only to quickly realize I was familiar with not just the recurring characters in the series, but with the plot of this novel as well; turns out I had actually sat down and read Thud at some point in the past, holding the paperback in my own two hands, the old-fashioned way.

Disappointment quickly turned to renewed interest – I continued listening, but without the need to pay direct attention to the story at all times. It was more background noise while I puttered over the weekend. An ideal intro to the world of audio books.

With Paolini’s books however, it’s all new to me—I haven’t seen Eragon the movie yet, either—and I do need to pay attention as the action moves along swiftly and the characters are a bit complicated. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that even though I could read faster than the narrator can speak, it’s nice to move steadily through a work of fiction. (And also to not have to guess at pronunciation in the Ancient language.)


Brisingr, the third book in the Inheritance trilogy, is due out in September 2008, so we have that to look forward to. What’s your take on audio books? I know I would like to get my hands on presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s Grammy award-winning The Audacity of Hope. Any other particularly good ones I should know about?

//Mixed media

Double Take: The African Queen (1951)

// Short Ends and Leader

"What a time they had, Charlie and Rosie. They'll never lack for stories to tell their grandchildren. And what a time we had at Double Take discussing the spiritual and romantic journey of the African Queen.

READ the article