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Monthly Archives: May 2008

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Weekly Mishmash: May 11-17

Happy End of the World — Pizzicato Five and Readymade Digs Disney 1 — Konishi Yasuharu and Pizzicato Five. I was in a Pizzicato Five mood this week. An eMusic download, 1997’s Happy End of the World typifies their brand of fizzy, fun retro dance pop — even if it’s a bit long and dated sounding at times. I was further inspired to look for one of the Readymade Digs Disney compilations after seeing Patrick write about them. Since they’re hard to find Japanese imports, I managed to track down vol. 1 in the series through other means (coughBitTorrentcough). This one has P5 and Konishi Yasuharu covering a variety of Disney tunes in styles that are alternately jazzy and/or layered with hyper dance beats and a sugary children’s chorus. I wasn’t fully prepared for how invigorating and creative this is — especially their takes on the Main Street Electrical Parade theme and that Mary Poppins song with the long, long title.
Modern Times (1936). Another thing to cross off the “classic films I’ve never seen” list. This was very appealing and enjoyable, a beautifully made valentine to the particular strengths of silent filmmaking. Chaplin is still overrated and too sticky-sweet for my tastes, but this was a fun diversion.
North Country (2005). An infuriating movie for all the wrong reasons. This was based on a true story of events at a Minnesota coal mine which led to the first sexual harassment class action lawsuit. A worthy subject for sure, and Charlize Theron is excellent. I just wish the screenwriter didn’t load Theron’s character with an extraneous (and likely fictionalized) backstory and the direction wasn’t so friggin’ unsubtle. The film would have been so much better if they stayed true to what really happened and toned down the Lifetime movie of the week dramatics.
Six Feet Under series finale (2005). I reached a milestone this week when completing all five seasons of Six Feet Under via on and off viewings of rented DVDs (since 2002!). The finale’s end, though, was an unforgettable experience. Recalling old David flashing back to a youthful Keith playing touch football again makes me want to cry.

Bunnies, Comic #8

Two Bunnies and a Duck has been updated with a strip paying tribute to the manga comics I look at all day. If that doesn’t elicit a giggle, how about an Onion news report touring a historic “Blockbuster” video store museum? (via Hacking Netflix)

For Supple Wrists Only

Pinball Hall of Fame - The Williams CollectionI have to admit that I like playing pinball sometimes, even if pinball doesn’t like playing with me. When I was about 11 years old, my dad bought the family a late ’70s-era pinball machine at auction. It had a gnarly stone age monster theme — rendered in vivid oranges, yellows and greens — and we enjoyed having the luxury of multiple plays without having to feed it quarters all day. Alas, once we got an Atari the bloom fell off that rose. Still, I occasionally got a pinball fix at Castles ‘N Coasters in Phoenix, an arcade/mini golf emporium which houses a roomful of old-ish machines that would give any coin-op museum a run for its money. After getting Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for the Wii, all these scattered pinball memories came flooding back. All this game does is faithfully render ten vintage pinball machines in a virtual arcade, but it does this so well that it’s like having a little Castles ‘N Coasters at your own disposal.

When you first pop the disc into the Wii, you’re presented with the arcade (complete with generic heavy metal music playing in the background) and 40 credits to spend. Of the ten machines available, only four are unlocked for unlimited free play. Accumulating credits is easy enough, however, and even an average player like me can get all ten machines unlocked within a week or so.

The machines themselves boast a wide variety of visual styles and complexity, enough to keep one busy for a long time. I was even happy to see one table, Gorgar, which closely resembles the one my family had all those years ago (although I don’t remember the name, it must’ve been Bally’s attempt at a Gorgar knockoff). Another favorite was the groovy Jive Time, by far the oldest table of the ten and a creaky antique by pinball standards. Although most of the reviewers I’ve read seem to hate this simple game the most, I find playing it weirdly comforting. The sound of the ball rolling on a wood surface, old-style bell dings, a spinning wheel, and a Peter Max-like playfield add up to a brainless little diversion that’s enjoyable just for winding down at the end of a busy day. With the two most recent machines, Funhouse and Whirlwind, I can recall getting a few frustrating plays from their real-life counterparts. Playing the virtual versions ends up being so much more fulfilling, since it’s a lot less painful to lose balls in the gutter on the Wii. Speaking of the Wii, the makers of this game did a great job adapting pinball controls to the Wiimote and nunchuck. In addition to roaming the arcade playing games randomly, you can also do tournament play and something called the Williams Challenge, a machine-by-machine tournament. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get past the Funhouse stage on the challenge — since basically I suck at Funhouse. The aforementioned Jive Time, Pin*Bot and Taxi are my three favorite machines.

Here’s my obligatory link to buy the game at Amazon. At thirty bucks, it’s a steal. Hey, I might become a pinball wizard after all.

Goodbye, Robert

I was saddened to hear of the death of artist Robert Rauschenberg at age 82 (thanks to Christopher for the link). His work was way ahead of its time; consuming the internet and absorbing the collage of words and images on the web can be closely compared with what his combine prints and paintings were going for. And, of course, he and Jasper Johns were involved in what may have been the coolest gay partnership of the mid-20th century. I remember first hearing about that in a late-’80s interview with Johns and being taken off guard — I had no idea those two were gay, much less involved!

Weekly Mishmash: May 4-10

The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz. Fantagraphics’ two volume a year, two years in each volume Complete Peanuts series is still in full swing with the 1967-68 volume having just been released, but I’m still playing catch-up with this earlier volume. The strips from 1959-60 find Schulz at the peak of his talents, a huge asset for the book making up for Whoopi Goldberg’s lousy introduction (in reality it’s just an interview, and a pointless one at that). This was the period that saw the debuts of Lucy’s psychiatry booth, “happiness is a warm puppy,” and Charlie Brown’s baby sister Sally (interestingly, the other characters talk about her for at least a month before she’s actually seen). It also contains one of my very favorite strips, one that was also singled out in Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker Schulz appreciation from 2004. It’s the total Peanuts philosophy summed up in four panels:

Peanuts Strip

Grave of the Fireflies (1988). I saw a good chunk of this anime classic when it showed up on the IFC channel a few years back, but didn’t get to see the whole thing until Christopher just rented it. The story of two children orphaned in WWII Japan is beautifully told, powerful and at times too bleak. The gorgeous animation and powerful story are things to admire; too bad I wasn’t affected all that much by it at the end of the day.
Network (1976). I haven’t seen this in years, decades maybe, and was a bit taken aback at how prescient it was. What originally played as a farce on the TV industry in ’76 looks pretty realistic today. A script as smart as Paddy Chayefsky’s doesn’t come along very often. I was also struck by how the part of Diana is one of those “once in a lifetime” roles, and Faye Dunaway really grabs hold of it and makes it entirely hers. William Holden and Robert Duvall were also excellent.
Various — Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters. Picked up this compilation in the same record shopping trip that netted the B-52’s disc from last week. In a selection very similar to the 1992 comp Atlantic Sisters of Soul (the two discs even share a track, Laura Lee’s “What a Man”), these sixteen female-led soul nuggets were either previously unreleased or languished on single b-sides. Although padded with some nicely performed but nondescript R&B, I enjoyed this one a lot. It opens with Aretha Franklin’s stunning cover of “My Way,” recorded in 1970 during the Spirit in the Dark LP sessions. Other highlights include Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles’ “(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days” (kinda old-fashioned sounding for 1969 but lovely nonetheless) and Bettye Swann’s seductive, proto-disco “I Ain’t That Easy to Lose” from 1973.
A Very Brady Sequel (1996). Tivo’d this, a rare sequel that’s better than the movie it spawned from. The Brady Bunch Movie was mildly amusing but it milked the “Bradys stranded in the ’90s” theme too much; this one just plays it for laughs and lays on the in-jokes at a fast pace. Not all of it works, and the ending was lame, but I liked it — especially Christine Taylor as Marcia and Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan. Those two are the grooviest!

Book Review: At a Crossroads

At A Crossroads - coverYou just graduated college, now what to do? Conventional wisdom tells us it’s time to get out there in the so-called “real world” and get in on the ground floor of a lifelong career. That’s what you’re repeatedly told in your teens and early ’20s, but from a jaded 39 year-old’s perspective I now know it’s a crock. Many young college graduates go through a strange “holding pattern” which might even involve returning to the reassuring cocoon of Mom and Dad’s place to regroup for awhile. Kate T. Williamson’s sweet autobiographical comic At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place recounts such an experience. After her graduation, Williamson found what was supposed to be a 3-month stay at her parents’ home stretch out to over a year. The book details her mundane life of holidays, concerts, working at a flower shop, noticing the passing seasons, and harboring a strange obsession with the music of Hall & Oates. Although it may seem boring, Williamson has a gift for noticing the bizarre little details in ordinary life that is simultaneously funny and touching. A lot of it reminded me of my own “crossroads” time of being jobless and living with the parents for a few months in the fall of 1992. The book’s minute observations are mirrored in her simple yet effective drawing style, enlivened with lush watercolor paints. This is a brief read, and a bit expensive for such a slight story, but she deals with a subject that is never covered in books and yet remains something that most everyone can relate to.

At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place was just recently published by the Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at Amazon here.

At A Crossroads - spread