Saturday, December 3, 2011

Theatre Review: Occupy Animal Farm by Justin Karcher at The Subversive Theatre Collective

I'd forgotten what a great story George Orwell's Animal Farm is. I remember reading it in elementary school and the teacher went to great lengths to explain the love declared between male pigs Napoleon and Snowball, the leaders of an animal revolution, was NOT the same as the love between a man and a woman. It was more brotherly and certainly not sexual.

The Subversive Theatre Collective, a feisty and tireless political theatre group working out of an old Pierce-Arrow automobile plant in Buffalo, New York is presenting Occupy Animal Farm, an original play based on Orwell's allegorical novella about a political revolution among animals on a farm. Here, there is little doubt Napoleon and Snowball (Jeffrey Coyle and Jonathan Shuey) are gay pigs frolicking in the mud, plotting revolution and very much in love.

They are self-proclaimed leaders of the revolt after convincing the other farm animals that pigs are the smartest of the animal kingdom. Early in the play while scheming to take control of the farm, Napoleon unexpectedly announces to Snowball, "I love you.". It's a funny scene with a finely executed dead beat that caught the audience unaware as if responding, "Did we hear that right?".

I was reminded that the book was a real page-turner, and the integrity of Orwell's vision, a cleverly comic fable with totalitarian thunderclouds threatening a socialist agenda, is intact in writer Justin Karcher's original work, which leans heavily on the humor while never relaxing the muscle that gives the story dramatic weight, even suspense.

Director Drew McCabe incorporates several unlikely theatrical forms into the proceedings: chaotic chase scenes set to the tune of a wacky slapstick soundtrack (think Benny Hill); audience participation that never quite catches on (this only works when the audience is enraptured); and dance choreography (yes, not only do these animals talk, they dance) to Justin John Smith's original, bizarre, and finally memorable music that combines rock and Hindustani influences. The closing dance with the entire cast, a morphing of modern and Asian-Indian dance forms by choreographer Jenny Kulwicki, is strangely effective while having seemingly nothing to do with Animal Farm.

The actors work their tales off. While it would have been more visually fulfilling if the farmyard had several more animals in it - a sheep here, a cow there, everywhere a goat-goat - the seven actors, donning masquerade-like animal masks and sometimes in multiple roles, express graceful acrobatic animal gestures while never hee-hawing the production into farce.

Maria Droz as Mollie, the young horse indifferent to the political revolution and longing for the lazy days of hand-fed sugar cubes and pretty mane ribbons ("No one wants to RIDE me anymore!"), bellies a perfect counterpart of desire to the gang mentality of revolution, as she sashays her way across the farmyard as if on her way to visit Mr. Ed. Brian Zybala as Boxer the work horse masters the sound of a horse snorting (he also does a fine chicken strut in a second role), and, like the hard laborer, is the backbone of this production in a strong sympathetic performance as the genuine believer in political change.

Technical difficulties hampered the show on its second night with one long moment in darkness where nothing happened but a dead stage. The decision to put the only human character in a mask (Matt Kindly as Farmer Jones) lent the stage a bit of confusion as the actor played multiple roles in various masks.

At home after the theatre I lookeed through my books to see if I had a copy of Animal Farm. I need to occupy it again. That is the measure of the success of this production.

Occupy Animal Farm plays through December 17 at The Manny Fried Playhouse in the old Pierce-Arrow automobile plant in Buffalo, New York. For more information call 716-408-0499.

this review was first published by the author at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

MUSIC REVIEW: Kate Bush, 50 Words For Snow

It's marketing strategy that Kate Bush's new album, 50 Words For Snow is released just as the winter solstice is stirring outside. Who better that Kate Bush to hunker down with on a cold winter night, start into a candle flame, tip a glass of wine, and entertain some serious intimacy? Bush's feverish followers, waiting sometimes years between new releases, will indulge in their passion for the art-rock goddess.

The new album finds her conjuring wispy piano chords while musing with her breathy multi-ranged voice on the mysticism of snow. It's an ambitious project that misses very few snowy ideas. Unlike Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover", we get all 50 words for snow here, assuming phrases like "hunter's dream" and "ankle breaker" constitute words. My favorite here: "poland-sent-it".

The music is often dreary and meandering. An indulgence in mysticism or religion finds her soul deep in her psyche but wallowing in shallow execution. . Opening track "Snowflake" finds the cold white stuff heralding no less than the origin of man with Bush assuming a first-person godlike point of view, "I was born in a cloud", she begins and after trekking the ascent of man allows her son in a choirboy soprano to sing, "I am sky!".

I am tipping my second glass.

This notion, or condition, gets hip deep in the snowdrifts and runs through the entire album. She muses about the man who fell to earth while prancing on simple and amateurish piano chords that seem only the beginning of a creative process. A rough draft of music.

Better is her bizarre take on "Frosty The Snowman". In "Misty" she is seduced in bed by Misty the snowman who apparently is a little chilly in the love department. She sings, "so cold next to me, I can feel him melting in my hand", with all the drama of her most serious work. Here she paints a frightening, maybe enlightening picture of a man made of snow melting in her bed with nothing but the empowerment of women left on the soaked sheets.

But there seems little reason for the distant "Wild Man", the first and probably only single off the album, about the discovery of an ancient man and the attempt to communicate with him. "We found footprints in the snow", the lyrics read, constituting an entry in Bush's snow files.

Her duet with Elton John, "Snowed In At Wheeler Street" is god-awful. A creepy cloying song about a tragic 20th Century love affair that sounds like an old Ashford-Simpson composition set against the backdrop of a concentration camp. Is she truly referencing the Jewish Holocaust in a call and response duet with Elton? - "Then we met in '42 but we were on different sides. I hid you under my bed, but they took you away". Ironically, Elton hasn't sounded this good in decades.

As alluring as 50 Words For Snow seems on the verge of, it is as often a cold affair. Its only intimacy is that we all share some kind of poetic notion about snow. Bush comes close to tapping into that shared consciousness, but never succeeds in conveying that to a great piece of music.

On her official website, there are heaps of praise for the album from several major media critics. I'm glad for that because I've always loved her music. But for me, for now, here's a snowball aimed right at it.

This review was first published by the author at

Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Lost Weekend

The next 10 random songs on my iPod are not enchanted twists of fate. The next ten songs randomly chosen from the god of cyber-space on my iPod are indeed - astounding in their own familiar quiet way. I'd like to cheat but it's like the honor system in competitive birding. If I want The Rolling Stones and I get Men Without Hats make beer with a twist of lemon. Or maybe it's time to call the playlist executioner. Blame the Cardinals winning the world series. Blame the Occupy Wall Street crowd who I think should be occupying Skid Row. Organize man! You're fast becoming a tourist attraction.

Open mouth and insert foot and swallow whole. I'm at a new job and there was an employee meeting around a large rectangular table. There was a lull so I spoke. I repeated the scene in "Oliver Twist" where he asks for more porridge.

I don't want a friend I want a designated driver.

I won a pack of unopened Topps baseball cards from 1987 with bubble gum intact from I so want to taste that bubble gum but I did a market check on all baseball cards from that year and they need to remain unopened for another thousand years.

The Handsome Family, Don't Be Scared

Poor sensitive Paul lets birds and weather rape him. Sleepy steel guitar ballad from "In The Air" goes nowhere but in the air.

Men Without Hats, Messiahs Die Young

Synthesized horns, a bongo beat box and a pleasant audio drone made this a surprise hit in the American Bandstand of my mind in 1984. Revolution! of the mind.

The Beatles, Can't Buy Me Love

one of the earliest songs I remember loving on the radio but I thought the lyrics were, "Can't Bobby Love". Not until Brian L. and Robert W. staged a mock lyp-synching Beatles concert in an extravagent elementary school 'show and tell' session did I realize the actual lyrics. It's been a lifetime of preferring my original interpretation of lyrics to the actual words - (Elton John's "Rocket Man"- "burning off the shoes of evermore" ... no?). McCartney's raw vocals and Ringo's garbage can top drumming make this a garage rock supreme classic.

Former actor, famed trumpeter, successful songwriter (Ally-Oop, Wonderful World), owner and founder of A&M Records, (he's the "A"), co-producer of the Tony Award winning "Angels in America" on Broadway, not to mention his string of instrumental hits with The Tijuana Brass in the late '60s, Herb Alpert appears to be one hell of a guy. He's the only artist to have two number one songs on Billboard's Top 100 in the category of instrumental : "Rise" in 1979, and vocalist in 1969 with this song, the Burt Bacharach-Hal David written "This Guy's In Love With You". It's pure '60s shmaltz from a guy who really can't sing which lends the song an effective intimacy, like any "guy" can croon to his beloved. Alleged to be one of George Harrison's favorite records, that's two of us.

Sonic Youth, Sunday

A great noisy guitar jam interrupts this laudable would-be hit single from this forever experimenting band. Perfect mental fodder for my second least favorite day of the week. From the album, "A Thousand Leaves".

Kate Bush, King of The Mountain

This British art rocker has some of the worst rock videos I have ever seen and the video for this, with Elvis Presley's famed sequined outfit flapping in the wind like a homeward angel refusing to go home, doesn't jive with this king of the mountian. Kate, the song is about bravely taking on middle age with the energy of a newborn, right? From "Aeriel".

Swans, Weakling - Man vs. machine and man wins but is eaten alive anyway. Industrial noise and man mantra sounds like a typical day in a factory I used to work in. From "Filth".

Man vs. machine and man wins but is eaten alive anyway. Industrial noise and man mantra sounds like a typical day in a factory I used to work in. From "Filth".

Bette Midler, Delta Dawn

After intermission, Midler came back to the stage in this early HBO concert recorded live in Cleveland, Ohio, and delivered a rousing version of Delta Dawn that brought the house down. Midler makes this more than just a popular ballad - it's an Evangelical sweat busting workout. From "Live At Last".

Drive-By Truckers, 72 (This Highway's Mean) and Shut Up and Get On The Plane

Two songs from The Truckers' "Southern Rock Opera" fittingly close this iPod session - a doom mongering, life affirming tribute to Skynard.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

SHANNON - "Abergavenny" (1969) - YouTube

SHANNON - "Abergavenny" (1969) - YouTube

Spanky and Our Gang I'd Like to Get to Know You - YouTube

Movie Review: THE BIG YEAR - Birdwatching Extreme

A bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush to a hunter, but to a competitive birdwatcher (a "birder"), a bird in the hand is as worthy a prize as the chirp of a bird on a tree branch a quarter mile away.

That's because the mere sound of a bird, correctly identified, could tally a point of one on a "year list" - a year long count of bird species, a game played as disciplined as a round of gold, by birdwatchers who have advanced their sport to a competitive level.

It is the subject of the new movie, THE BIG YEAR, starring comedy kingpins Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, and if we are to half-believe the tongue in cheek written opening of the film - "This is a true story, only the facts have been changed", - those privileged or passionate enough to spend an entire year documenting bird species do it for the love of the birds, the thrill of the hunt, and the bragging rights to being hailed Birder of The Year by "Birder" magazine. Plus all that comes with that, which apparently doesn't amount to a sack of birdseed.

Hopping on a plane to Alaska or climbing a snowy mountain peak at the mere rumour of a rare species is commonplace to these obsessed adventurers, yet with all the potential for a wild and crazy chase across the continent snapping pictures of birds, (Can't you just picture Jack Black at the weak end of a tree branch with a camera?), THE BIG YEAR scores its points on its gentle nature, even as you feel the hard scribe of a screenwriter avoiding heavy ventures into screwball and sentiment.

So we get a swath of human detail: marital strife, financial strife, meaning of life strife, as groundwork for three guys racing around the country with the passion of a Herculean task and the duty of an office stenographer. After about the 200th recorded species, you begin to care for these slightly cliched characters, (one's rich, one's poor, one is a cocky king of the birders jock), and envy the freedom and single-mindedness they possess on their seemingly insignificant mission. Following a quaint wintry trail in pursuit of a snowy owl with a sparkling limitless credit card in your pocket, becomes a fitting movie ideology.

The three leads deliver expected solid performances and Black is especially inviting as an aimless (except for birds), thirty-something who abandons life's duty for the chance to wear the crown of birding. There is an eye-popping list of actors, including Angelica Huston, Brian Dennehy, Diane Weist, and others offering strong selfless support.

The screen is often a flurry of computer graphics depicting competing bird counts, maps, and images of species, while the camera trails the birder's wayward paths like a bloodhound in pursuit. The birds themselves, more often than not, are just short of genuine, with a Disney-like touch up, making them appear like a distant naturalized cousin to an actual bird.

It's a breezy yet frantic romp in pursuit of something forever elusive. An attempt to define life by the achievement of a task, in this case the number of birds found and recorded in a calandar year. The critics have been harshly negative to this film but it somehow all works, for me anyway. Then again, I can tell the difference between a hairy woodpecker and a downy woodpecker in a heartbeat.

this article was first published by the author at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kate Bush - Wild Man - radio edit still video - YouTube

wrote this in early October - nothing to write home about

Here's a promo for Kate Bush's new album, 50 WORDS FOR SNOW, due out Nov. 21. It's a quirky indulgence seeming to chronicle historian's quest (thirst) for prehistoric man. Or it may be referencing Truffaut's "The Wild Child", a French film loosely based on an 18th Century documented case of a child discovered living independently in the woods.

Found myself unexpectedly at The Sportsman's Tavern on Saturday afternoon watching local musician and ensemble Leroy Townes perform two sets of smart country rock. Townes has a strong vocal range with a commanding sound and his ensemble is a tight jam banging group of local musicians, with special mention to the perfectly nimble slide guitarist, whose name I can't find. Exceptional original lyrical compositions balanced nicely in my beer sipping brain. The passing of my father 12 years ago came to mind. He would have digged this band. Special mention to good friend Al who introduced me to Townes as a "writer". I did a double-take. I could have looked around the room asking, "where's a writer?". His wife once introduced me to someone as an "actor". At least they come up with creative excuses for my poor existance. God luv 'em.

How 'bout this fine October weather? I'm loving the Bills 4 and 1 season but although my faith for a Super Bowl win isn't diminished I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are playing exceptionally but are only capitalizing on their opponents' weakness. They need to be more aggressive to make it all the way to 2012. Even more so, I'm addicted to the MLB playoffs, as I fine baseball, at it's best, can be even more exciting and dramatic than football. I'm predicting Texas and St. Louis will be the World Series contenders. Given my record for predictions, it will probably be Detroit and Millualkee. And I'm toying with cracking The Ginter Code.

Did the door at Subversive Theatre's production of THE PESECUTION AND ASSASINATION OF JEAN PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS de SADE. A brilliant playful and disturbing production based on a true incident that burrows through theatre's fourth wall and makes you feel you are certainly sitting, maybe rightfully so, in the center of an insane asylum, either rounding up crazies or joining the psychotic conga line. Chris Standart takes the stage of the lunatic asylum as de Sade, a finely balanced blend of lunacy and lucidity.

And now I have to go to work and fight for my right to party.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie Review: MONEYBALL

Sabermetrics, a statistical analysis of baseball performance is a non traditional grading system coined by writer statistician Bill James, current advisor for The Boston Red Sox, that emphasizes players' ability to score points as opposed to old-school measures like RBI and speed. The Oakland Athletics attempt at sabermetrics in the 2002 Major League Baseball season is the subject of Moneyball, a funny and serious baseball drama produced and starring Brad Pitt, based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Unless you're steeped in statistical baseball drama, maniacally scribbling numbers and geometries in a scratchpad, sabermetrics amounts to common sense, the same sense Athletics team manager Billy Beane, (Pitt) realized after failing to win a World Series bid in 2001, while attempting to compete with financially privileged teams like The New York Yankees, who won the American League title over The Athletics in 2001.

It was Beane's conclusion money ruled baseball and without it less fortunate teams like The A's could not compete. Their best players were picked off the team with the lure of money and their scouts could not offer the mega-bucks being offered to new talent. Certainly not a new concept in major sports.

While Beane 's advisers and team owner, Stephen Schott, insisted on working within the framework of their limited budget to develop talent, not to purchase it, Beane's chance meeting with Peter Brand, (a pseudonym for statistician whiz Paul De Podesta, played by Jonah Hill), a recent college graduate scouting for The Cleveland Indians and a sabermetric nerd of the highest order, turned the tables on the 2002 season, as the two baseball hounds scouted players for Oakland with their meager offerings based on statistics ignored by other teams.

Hence the pitcher who "throws funny", (Chad Bradford), and the former catcher, first baseman (Scott Hatteberg), who never played first base before and fears the ball coming "anywhere in his general vicinity". The use of sabermetrics resulted in a much healthier season for Oakland, although not quite that championship season, and this biographical film depicting Oakland's rise from the bottom of the league to the top of their division in the 2002 season, is as easy-going and fun as a wad of bubble gum in your mouth while thumbing through a pack of baseball cards.

It also offers the warm-hearted side drama, in this case Beane's relationship with his sweet young daughter, but director Bennett Miller never allows the film to venture far outside the hardcore baseball interplay it examines. The added bit of family fluff never interferes, indeed enhances Brad Pitt's commanding performance, which exudes a confidence akin to the leisurely pace of a baseball game early in the season, brimming with the excitement of an underdog team turning a losing season around.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Darling, I Have Your Epic Poem Right Here


Eggs and beat
i know you're watching
we are so bored
you beat four eggs in a bowl
and served it down my throat.

It was just so freaky
once a year i see her
then i dream her
then i feed her
so i timed it at a minute and a half
and didn't look back.

Bet she's gonna lay a bet on me

Do I lose you now?
I dreamt i woke and started my day
and called out the morning window
"get the willowy girl to sing again"
and me and you and the mathematician
all pinned notes to the back of the bar.

Ha! You.
You fucking scare me
You're an anonymity
Killing me softly
but you're wrong about what's inside me
I'm a biological terrorism devotee
with no discipline
no hammer

Just teeth.

Monday, July 4, 2011

3 Films: 10 Rillington Place - The Shipping News - Withnail and I

Superman, oh Superman!

"I never said your film reviews suck. I said they were boring."

Blog block and roll. Here are three films I've attached to my soul over the last handful of years. I deem them all worthwhile mental investments.

The decision to abolish capital punishment in Britain in 1965 is partly a result of the wrongful execution of John Evans in 1950, who was convicted of murdering his baby girl and sentenced to death by hanging. 10 Rillington Place (1971) tells that story and the story of the real murderer, serial killer John Christie, who murdered at least eight women in England in the 1940s and '50s, burying some of their bodies in a concealed crawlspace in his apartment after having postmortem sex with them.

The first time I watched this movie online, (I unexpectedly just happened to click it on) I was riveted in my seat like I was 10 years old watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho for the first time, my hands clenching the armchairs like I was gripping the safety bar on a roller coaster. It is the dismal, hopelessly horrific dark atmosphere and the snail's pace crawl of it that mesmerized me into equal parts repulsion and fascination.

The horror is heightened considerably by the on-location filming at the very address the main murders took place. 10 Rillington Place is a depressing, very British dark and dingy row of apartment houses with rooms, as the British say, not big enough to swing a cat. The infamous street has since been renamed.

Directed by Richard Fleischer, who directed another fine true murder film, The Boston Strangler (1968), and is the son of cartoon animation pioneer Max Fleischer, the movie boasts an exquisite British cast with Richard Attenborough as serial killer John Christie, certainly one of the creepiest movie villains ever to peer luridly out a window, and John Hurt, as the unfortunate and illiterate John Evans, who rallies a performance that cries out for the abolition of the death penalty. But be forewarned - the film is relentlessly grim.

How I hated The Shipping News (2001). I saw it in the dead of winter in the coldest theatre in western New York, so frigid that the small handful of audience in attendance were hunched over, huddled in winter garb -gloves, scarves, hats - attempting to conserve body warmth, as if we were sitting around a life saving campfire and not looking up at a movie screen. That the movie screen was projecting the winter season in Newfoundland was like experiencing a survival endurance test.

After repeated viewings, (the beautiful blue and white Newfoundland scenery kept getting my attention when it ran on cable), I saw another film entirely. It's a rosy-cheeked black comedy exploring the inherent nastiness of the human condition while mellowing that notion with a life affirming swath of goodness.

Everything that didn't work in the film the first time I saw it nestles into a companionable place when I watched it again and again - the wimpy self-pitying introduction of a boy being taught how to swim by his father who tosses him into the water like he's unloading a sack of unwanted kittens - the mystical subplot of a skinny ghost accompanied by a white dog roaming the stormy nights and seen only by a child with gifted perception - a gay older woman still traumatized by a familial rape in childhood - and several other wayward plot lines which were an attempt at humanist statements but fell short of coherent theme and profoundness.

I was wrong. There is a ghost roaming the stormy night, a special child can hear an old house speak, the scars of childhood can destroy an adulthood, and just because your ancestors were cut-throat pirates doesn't mean you carry the bad seed. The Shipping News is indeed a movie with enough heart and humor to warm the coldest winter, (but apparently not the coldest theatre).

From a popular novel by Annie Prowlx, (Brokeback Mountain) the movie stars Kevin Spacey, no longer too subtle but just perfect as a bewildered man who turns to his new found Newfoundland heritage for guidance, Julianee Moore as a romantic interest with a shameful secret and a recipe for seal flipper pie, and Judie Dench as gay Aunt Agnis.

One thing I didn't miss in that cold theatre was the dynamic portrayal of Petal, the prostitute that marries the protagonist, by Cate Blanchett. All eyes on her in a brief performance that rushes by like a gale wind in hot pants.

There's gay Aunt Agnis in The Shipping News and there's gay Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1986), a semi-autobiographical British film written and directed by Bruce Robinson. I ran across it one day channel-surfing when Jimi Hendrix's All Along The Watchtower blared out of the speakers sound tracking two English blokes sharing a bottle of whiskey while cruising out of London in an old jalopy. I've been laughing at substance abuse ever since.

Heavy pot smoking, booze galore, delicious decadence, a drug dealer who behaves as though he just stepped off a toadstool in Alice in Wonderland, a week in the country and a soft charming center detailing that special time in life when you know it's time to step up to the plate of adulthood or die. Indulge in this film and enjoy but be prepared to take in a little culture on the side. This ain't no Cheech and Chong pot-o-rama.

p>Two young unemployed British actors at the end of the swinging sixties, living in squalor in a London flat, manage through some manipulation to take vacation in the country in the dilapidated cottage of Uncle Monty.

And that's pretty much it. Except that you may never meet a more comical, pathetic and beloved character than Withnail in all of movie-dom. The would-be Shakespearean actor is a feast for the amused mind made celebratory by the fact that this role was actor Richard E. Grant's debut movie performance.

And at the risk of sounding like just any movie critic, (bad grammar keeps me unique), Richard Griffiths portrayal of Uncle Monty, the queer once thespian, eccentric aging faggot, grieved to the soul with dramatic remorse and wailing to the wind lamenting former lovers, is just about the most assured, perfectly nuanced comedic performance I have ever seen.

And I like the character of "I" too - writer Robinson's injection of his young self, played by Paul McGann, the only solid character, although seeming on the verge of drug collapse, we dare relate to.

It's not quite the perfect movie. The sparks subdue a bit by the time Withnail and I get to the country, but their odyssey is a trip well worth taking. Withnail and I secures a strong cult following with websites devoted to it and a deadly game that attempts to duplicate all the drinks consumed by Withnail in the film. My favorite bit - out of alcohol and suffering withdrawal, Withnail consumes the last remaining lighter fluid in a bottle and then reaches for the anti-freeze when "I" warns, "you should never mix your drinks".

Withnail and I was co-produced by the late George Harrison.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Don't tell me what the poets are doing - The Tragically Hip

I'm in a mood. With just hours to go before the weekend I find out I have to work tomorrow. Now I gotta race home from work tomorrow and take off for the Elvis Costello concert at Buffalo Rocks The Harbor where I'm serving beer at a booth for Meals On Wheels. I don't know how these things happen. When my brother asked me to do volunteer work at the Costello show for Meals on Wheels, all I could picture was delivering drugs on a scooter to stoned out hippies at the show.

I'm live baby. Let me entertain you with the next 10 random songs on my iPod. Jesus, I wish I had a (martini).Drive-By Truckers, Moved, I hear "I moved on down to Georgia / Where people so nice they got a wild stallion stare" - I don't think that's the actual lyric and I'll be disappointed to find out it isn't. This double album from the Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, shows up a lot on my iPod. I downloaded it in its entirety. Southern fried blues wailing about disassociation in modern culture. Heady or what?

Swans, The Sound, Give this song to a guy standing on a bridge contemplating jumping, and he will certainly take the plunge. So dark, it's dangerous. It happens man. Music like this and drugs are a lethal combination. One minute you're grooving to the tunes, the next you're standing on a street corner flagging down the communist starfleet that is due in your town. Dig the broken glockenspiel tinkling at the end. Groovy, but so cliche Michael. From the album, Soundtrack For The Blind.

Swans, New Mind, It's a Swans double-header! Take that same guy standing on a bridge and give him this song and he'll ram an ice pick into his eye before jumping. For the initiated, a beautiful intolerance towards status quo. From Children of God / World of Skin.
The Afghan Whigs, Lost in The Supermarket, From the Clash tribute album, Burning London, the Whigs put their soulful touch to this London Calling fave. Social disengagement seems to be a running theme in this iPod adventure.

The Handsome Family, Up Falling Rock Hill, The Handsome Family love the dead and old Americana folk songs of cheery resigned despair. Take these opening lines from the song and picture a smoking shotgun under an Appalachian moon - Up Falling Rock Hill where the leaves swoop like bats, I shot my brother William 5 times in the back, have mercy have mercy dear brother he cried, but the wind has no mercy and neither do I. - From the album, In The Air.

The Band, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, I loved what somebody somewhere said about this song. You will not find a more concise description of the anguish caused by The American Civil War in all of history and literature. Sorrow quivers in the singer's voice as he watches his kingdom coming down around him. One of rock music's finest moments. From The Band's self-titled second album.

The Clash, Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice), It opens with what sounds like a non-music NYC public radio show being interrupted by a punk phone caller politely requesting "more music now". From there it's a delicious romp in Joe Strummer's New York City where the world seems to have jumped aboard an apocalyptic drug infused joy ride. From Sandinista.

Men Without Hats, I Sing Last / Not For Tears, You don't like Men Without Hats? Well then to hell with you. This song closes their magnificently ignored second album, Folk of The 80s, Part III. It's a sad gulp of intolerance wrestling the slightest ray of hope. One of my favorite albums of that decade.

Steely Dan, The Things I Miss The Most, Steely Dan at their most gentle; a breezy brass infused and oh so melodic ode to divorce. From another ignored album, their most recent Everything Must Go.

Drive-By Truckers, Angels and Fuselage, How cool that they started this 10 random songs and are now ending it. Come to think of it, my last fortune cookie said this would happen. From the album Southern Rock Opera, which may be an entire eulogy to Lynard Skynard, it's a ticket aboard Skynard's last plane ride. Beautiful.

It's official. Peter Falk has died again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Is Nora a martyr or a peacemaker? The 60-something divorcee goes to great lengths to prepare a Passover meal for family and friends, but when the invited guests arrive, they find Nora has quietly committed suicide in the bedroom. The entire Passover meal; the matzah balls, the gefilte fish, etc., is neatly packed in plastic containers in the refrigerator ready to be cooked per her instructions left in handwritten notes on each container. Just help yourself, Nora says from beyond.

Nora's Will, or as translated in the opening credits, Five Days Without Nora, is a Mexican film directed by Mariana Chenillo (the first woman to receive the Mexican equivalent of Oscar for directing), that explores the social issues of death, particularly suicide, without sinking to passionate low-brow levels. No corpse humor or warm hearted enlightenment here. Instead, a nervous amusement prevails as Nora's body is kept cold with ice packs on the bedroom floor throughout the film.

Each of the guests is touched in a profound way by Nora's death, but only her ex-husband Jose (Fernando Lujan), who lives across the street and discovers the body, sees her demise as a vicious manipulative ploy; an attempt to control those around her even in death. So annoyed is he by his ex-wife's decision to kill herself, he switches the cooking instructions of each container in the refrigerator before the guests arrive.

the movie would have us believe that Nora, with a lifelong passion for suicide, is a wise old bird who understood her death would unite long severed binds and challenge the living to confront their own lives. While Nora's sudden departure doesn't tidily resolve all issues, and miraculously cures others, it does bring her family and friends closer together and forces her ex to make funeral arrangements while confronting his misunderstood past.

Even Judaism itself is called upon to answer to Nora who is without a resting place and wears a scarlet letter even in death as her suicide marks her unwelcome in a Jewish cemetery. Hence the ice packs surrounding her body and the scramble to find a place to bury her.

The conflict of what to do with dead Nora allows the film a funny barrage of religious references that finds one character saying to another after speaking with a priest on the telephone, "the Christians will take anybody".

Nora's Will is as gently imposing as attending a funeral with an impatient appetite for the post funeral brunch. A giddy nervousness prevails while a hunger for resolution keeps the film rolling at a steady pace. While the guests teeter about life and death issues and Jose cools his anger at his ex-wife, (she loved him, he learns), there is still this business of a dead body in the bedroom during Passover.

The movie is a modest amusement that seriously champions life and death issues. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Article first published as Movie Review: Nora's Will on Blogcritics.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

In 1994, what is believed to be the oldest known prehistoric cave drawings were discovered in a mountain range in southern France. Hundreds of paintings of animals were catalogued from Chauvet Cave including several extinct species and others that have never been seen in prehistoric art before. Although the age of the paintings is in dispute among scientists, the drawings are believed to be 30,000 years old.

Due to the sensitive nature of the art, the cave is not open to the general public and great care has been insured to preserve the drawings, including the installment of a large thick steel door blocking the entrance to the cave. German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), received special permission from the French Minister of Culture to enter the cave and film the drawings under strict conditions. He and his crew were allowed only six days of shooting of four hours each. They were not allowed to touch the walls or floor of the cave, (the camera was placed at the end of a long mechanical arm), and they were confined to a two-foot built walkway traversing the paintings.

The culmination of that expedition is revealed in Herzog's new film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 90 minute film shot with 3-D cameras that record much of the artwork. The 3-D technology is used to magnify the contour and delicacy of the art and successfully brings depth and life to the paintings. Shadows in the cave cast an eerie wavering effect on the pictures as if the play of shadow and light were of the artist's intent. Multiple images of wild horses aligned with one another gives the illusion of the horses running when a light is cast upon them.

As magnificent as it is to view the paintings in the ideal conditions of a dark movie house, Herzog's film is a bit menial in scope for the cinematic movie screen. It's singular photographic effect would be better served on television. Cable TV's The History Channel co-produced the production.

It's also a bit preachy. Serving as philosophical narrative, Herzog, his crew, and several archaeologists and scientists offer their reactions to the paintings, which sometimes disturb the sedate nature of the art. Ideally, one wishes to bask in the pictures with the advantage of Herzog's 3-D technology and ponder one's own historical, spiritual, and philosophical thoughts without a thunderous musical score and idle, maybe even pompous chatter.

It is what the camera does not show where the film leaves its deepest impression. Much of the ancient art and evidence of human activity is unreachable and could not be filmed, and one is struck with wonder as Herzog points to an area of the cave, not captured on camera, where a boy's footprint, possibly the most ancient footprint ever documented, had been found next to the paw print of a wolf. Herzog poses the question, were the boy and wolf walking together, or was the wolf chasing the boy? We will never know.

Herzog's film sheds light on the magnificent etchings of ancient man found in Chauvet Cave. It is the next best thing to being there. Very soon The History Channel will likely be bringing these deeply moving images to the comfort of your own home.

this review was first published by the author at

Sunday, June 19, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Jane Eyre (2011)

The new movie version of Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, is the equivalent of a Reader's Digest condensed novel. All the elements of the story are evident but the writer's pace, breadth, and strategy are whisked away, reducing Bronte's proto-feminist literary work to melodramatic romance in a spooky mansion.

It would have made a splendid four-hour BBC mini-series with time to breathe like a fine wine, with its genuinely chilly England in the 19th Century atmosphere, and a broad if not probing view of class and sexual discrimination. The lovely on-location scenes from the often handheld camera gives the film a fluidity of movement, absorbing the stuffiness from a classic Gothic love story set in the lush English countryside. The supporting cast is as fine as Masterpiece Theatre can provide and the story remains riveting. At a roughly two-hour running time though, key plot elements and character motivation are sacrificed to the beating hearts of a plain, sex-hungry virgin and an older been-around guy beast.

Jane Eyre, the grand-mommy of Gothic romance, tells the story of an orphaned English girl suffering a loveless childhood under the rule of abusive relatives and a cruel school for poor girls. In preparation for a life in servitude to the upper class, the intelligent Jane savors the independence of adulthood.

She gains employment as governess to a French ward at Thornfield Manor, a spooky country estate governed by the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. Despite their difference in social status, chemistry clicks and this odd couple fall in love. For Jane, it would be Gothic romance heaven, if it weren't for a scary madwoman roaming the mansion at night, (the Gothic element), and Rochester's flirtation with the feminine elite, (the romantic conflict).

Mia Wasikowska is a quirky Jane with the high headiness the character seems to have been born with. Her few kind adult mentors during childhood are not included in this version, making her empowered feminist stance seeming to spring from nowhere. Demure and humble, she lacks a depth of character and there is a rush to capitalize on social independence in sparring matches with Rochester. Wasikowska's performance is nonetheless effective and the fault lies with the novel's narrative being unrealized.

In the book, Rochester is described as a brooding ugly man possessing a pronounced sexual allure. The dashing Michael Fassbender certainly doesn't look the part, but broods well, and again, establishes a rush to identity to curtail the novel's lengthy passages. He hides a dark secret conveyed through facial worry lines, piercing glances, and an unsettling carefree behavior.

Dame Judi Dench manages to duck our from under her royal celebrity crown and offer a believable portrayal of the lowly and kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. There is also a wonderful and brief performance from Tamzin Merchant as one-third of a trio of siblings who save Jane from certain death on the English moors.

This is a fine movie, falling just short of tapping into the excitement of the novel. As a final example, a memorable moment of the book, Jane's confrontation with the "ghost" of Thornfield Manor, is omitted from this version. Its inclusion would have added a needed element of suspense to the highly charged emotional atmosphere and would have helped make more of Bronte's purpose come through.

this review was first published by the author at

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jimmy Webb at The Tralf, January 22, 2011

On a frigid snowy night in Buffalo, New York, songwriting legend Jimmy Webb strolled onto the stage of The Tralf Music Hall, before an unpacked house of about 200, looking as anonymous as a Neil Diamond cover artist. He sat down at his grand piano and played "The Highwayman", his composition made famous by country super-group The Highwaymen; Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

And that reminds him of a funny story. It's the one about Waylon Jennings strolling off the set of the Dinah Shore show, (Dinah!), in the 1970s. While taping the show with The Highwaymen and Webb, Waylon kept wandering off camera interacting with his fellow musicians while playing his guitar, much to the dismay of the camera crew who told him to keep still. Being the free spirited outlaw he is, Jennings eventually wandered off camera, off stage, and right out of the building while the band played on.

The night was filled with as many stories as music. My favorite was of a drunken night in a London pub with the late Harry Nilsson. In a slip tongued stupor Nilsson said to Webb, "Do you know what's wrong with your music?". Webb said, "What?". Harry said, "It stinks.".

It seemed Webb felt the need to fill the night with the imagery of celebrities more luminous than himself. An anecdotal story with a famous name, Frank Sinatra, Richard Nixon, and Linda Rondstat to name a few, followed nearly every song. A member of the elite class of songwriters who rose to fame within that perimeter, (Burt Bacharac is another), Webb has been recording and performing his own music since 1970.

His list of songwriting credits is astounding; Wichita Lineman, Galveston, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, MacArthur Park, and countless others including the movie score for the excellent Robert Redford western, "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here".

Big fat snowflakes could be seen piling up outside the window as Webb warmed the room like a ski lodge fireplace with a 90 minute set that found him in strong voice, (although his singing is not his strength), and fanciful strides on the piano. "Wichita Lineman" stirred the pot of nostalgic A.M. radio gold, a slow and almost religious interpretation, and "All I Know", a hit for Art Garfunkel in 1973, was faintly recognizable as a Christian hymnal, a source Webb gains much of his inspiration from.

Perhaps the most musical moments of the evening came when Webb concluded a song with an improvised soft staccato on the piano, so quiet you could hear the snowflakes dropping. It was a fitting personal signature to the song, and indeed to a wonderful career.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I was online Thursday night
I was ebay and out of sight
and I thought I might
see if Broadcast was all right

so I hung out at their dormant blog

the next day they whistled in my ear
iPod, dear
and their dormant blog

I'll have to pay
to broadcast in my ear
I hate you iTunes
speak to me in my dream machine
have you ever seen Medium
i can't get through 20 minutes of that program

and I'll be goddamned if I'm not cursed
even though she's got it worse
in a chat room written by some jerk
Trish Keenan died at 9 AM this morning.

don't roll over, make some noise
don't roll over, make some noise
don't roll over, make some noise

YouTube - Broadcast - Come On Let's Go

Monday, January 10, 2011

TRUE GRIT (2010)

Truer to the original novel by Charles Portis than the 1969 movie starring John Wayne, the new TRUE GRIT is a smaller film in scope. In the original film directed by Henry Hathaway, the big western sky and rolling horizon were a mighty backdrop to the simple story of a young girl on a quest to avenge the murder of her father. With aging beloved John Wayne in the saddle, that film projected a sunny, big country shine as wide as Wayne's ten gallon cowboy hat.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen trust the big sky hangs overhead and are more concerned with the shadows cast by a small group of people traversing a vast and lonely Indian territory. The camera angles are at eye level here as if the point of view is over the shoulder of characters saying, "you're on your own, partner.". The new country is dark and cold, not sprawling and inviting, guided by human endeavor and what brilliant light there is comes only from the aspirations of the characters.

In the film, fourteen year-old Mattie Ross, (Hailee Seinfeld) arrives in town to claim the body of her murdered father, and hire a gunslinger to kill the culprit, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who killed her dad. Wrangling and bargaining as if buying a cow, she chooses aging drunken Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to track and bring Chaney to justice. Rooster's killing decree is legendary and he'll do it for fifty bucks.

Or so he says. He swipes the fifty bucks, buys her a ticket home, leaves her a note, and hightails it out of town on the trail of a bigger bounty reward for the capture of Chaney. He forms a two-man posse with Texas Ranger La Boeuf, (Matt Damon), also on the trail of Chaney for the killing of a Texan.

But hold on, cowboys. The little lass has got bees in her britches and doesn't take kindly to being left behind. She soon gallops up from behind to join the posse. In traditional western style, the three searchers ride off into a bleak and snowy sunset in search of justice and reward.

And so goes TRUE GRIT, an allegorical western in which the search is a near desperate attempt to connect with humankind. Young Mattie will bargain her dying breath to avenge her father's murder and the two gunmen discover motivation in themselves beyond cash and dutiful reward.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen, masters of several dark and cynical films, (Fargo, No Country For Old Men), have allowed this film to run free of their cutting edge input, leaving it indebted to the original novel and western genre. At times brutally violent, as you can expect from a modern western, it is often profoundly emotional with a heartening decency we haven't seen from these directors before.

Jeff Bridges as one-eyed Rooster Cogburn is skillfull in recreating a beloved character so recognizable as belonging to John Wayne, (Wayne won his only Oscar for the role). With a steely-eyed smirk, drunken sensibility and rattlesnake reaction to gun play, this wilder and more introspective Rooster Cogburn shakes the boots off any preconceived cowboy.

But beyond Bridges and the entire casts wonderful performances, it is the Coen Brothers' grasp of Americana virtues and violence that make this film memorable and even haunting. I entertained a gulp in my throat as the movie rode into its final sunset.

this article was first published at