Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
and something blue.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Funny how some seminal movies never end up in film classes, or even get an honorable mention. I took a lot of film classes in college (what fun!), but don't recall "Taking of Pelham" coming up even once. Pity. But then, I doubt The Poseidon Adventure got mentioned either - other than as the subject of a snigger from the prof. - even though it spawned a film genre (unless you wanna be a twit and sniff that Airport probably was the real progenitor of disaster films). Whereas you can make a decent case that The Poseidon Adventure was hackneyed, regardless of how influential it was, you can't claim the same for "Pelham." It, quite simply, is a wonderful, grubby, authentic little film.

Though dated in the sense that you can tell from whence it came, it's not in the sense that time has diluted the impact of it. As a matter of fact, (and I swear I did not take this from the Netflix description which I didn't see until after I went to rate the film), this is really the font from which most of Quentin Tarantino's film have sprung, particularly Reservoir Dogs. As the film spooled out of my DVD player, and it dawned on me how much Tarantino "borrowed" from this movie, I began to wonder when something goes from "homage" to, well, theft. Reservoir Dogs is sort of a remake in which the fates of the criminals are slightly reimagined, is all.

Walter Matthau stars at the transit cop who has to deal with one of the subway trains being hijacked. Jerry Stiller, Ben's dad (or George Costanza's dad if you think in fictional terms), stars as the beat cop who works with Walter. Robert Shaw, the shark boat captain from Jaws, is the head hijacker. Joseph Sargent directs. Interesting note on Sargent, he also directed Colossus: The Forbin Project and the "Star Trek" episode: The Corbomite Maneuver - the one where young Clint Howard (Ron's brother) takes a break from his series, "Gentle Ben," and fakes out the Star Trek crew that he's an ugly green alien via ventriloquist dummy until he finally invites them on board for some Tranya.

It's a fun, tense ride that's entirely plausible, if not almost quaint in the days since 9-11. It's filled wall to wall with ugly New York mugs and accents (check out the cast character listing - it alone is a hoot), and pretty foul language for the day. The film is rated "R" pretty much for language only. Of all the joys of the movie, one of the best is Walter Matthau's final scene. Actors can work their whole lives and never get a moment like that.

If you are a movie lover, this one should be on your "must see" list.

Dave Matthews - Stand Up

For once I'm not gonna whine about the state of rock radio because today, brethren and sistren, we have a cause for celebration. Yea and verily Dave Matthews and the band have created a masterpiece, in my opinion. Stand Up indeed.

The reviews on Amazon.com are intriguingly schizophrenic, and I have a theory about that. When an artist bursts out of their previous mold, fans are often dismayed that the old stuff ain't quite like the new stuff. Imagine what the reviews on Amazon.com would have been like had it existed when the original fans of Fleetwood Mac encountered Rumours. We all know what a classic Rumours is, but Fleetwood Mac started out as a blues ensemble (check out "Black Magic Woman") and here they are kicking out smooth California pop rock. I'm sure many a drunken rant ensued in pubs across Britain at the time. So my theory is this, the more groundbreaking an album is, and the possibility that it's a potential classic, the more you'll see that in the confusion of the reaction towards it. If it sucked, that'd be obvious. If it were good and what's expected, that'd be obvious too. But if it's just out of the blue possible genius that wasn't presaged by earlier work, you get a "what the fuh?" reaction like you see on Amazon.com. Imagine if Cobain had survived to finally make that album that would rival the Beatles we all knew he had in him (Queue: "If There's a Rock and Roll Heaven...").

The last album I thought was this groundbreaking and out there was the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but while that one's kinda quirky, and more along the lines of you'll love it or hate it depending on your tastes, I can see Stand Up as one that is much more universal. (I'd be interested to see what my buddy Sleemoth thinks of it, hint hint.)

Though there's not a stinker in the whole set, standout songs are:
- "Dreamgirl" - Which starts the album with a gorgeous harmonizing that evokes a sunrise on the savanna, then sways into a loping gait that melts into a melody worthy of the title.
- "Old Dirt Hill" - About racing your bike around when you're a kid. You can almost hear the playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes.
- "Stand Up" - Awesome bass break which then dives into the chanted title. My wife snarked that it sounds like a record skipping, but dogonnit, if a record skipping sounded that funky, then there'd be all these DJs just making records skip. (...Wait a minute!...)
- "American Baby" - Probably the standout hit. My daughter's favorite. "God's grace lost, and the devil is proud." - Beautiful line. Kind of the antithesis of Guess Who's "American Woman."

These are just the first four tracks folks.

The rest of the greats are:
- "Louisiana Bayou" - A funky snort of a groove, replete with South African guitar style. (I'd always wondered why you never heard any South African guitar from Dave, a South African artist.) The vocal is a lot of fun, and I've not heard any other contemporary artist take such an interesting chance and choice outside of Dwight Yoakam.
- "You Might Die Trying" - A tense scuffle about not wasting your life, braced by a phenomenal sculpted drum sound reminiscent of Bowie's intro to "Modern Love" and decorated with great sax work.
- "Hunger for the Great Light" - Though this starts out sounding like a hymn, it fades into an all-out rocker about sex. Hilarious! The opening lyric: "Here ... you ... go, you dirty girl! Good God! Try to love ... try to ... uh ..." and from there he's clearly too swept away to go on. This ends with a luscious violin meditation, and since it's the last song it flows directly into the harmonics of the first song as though the album were designed as a continual loop. Beautiful. It leads me to wonder if they constructed the album as an event, a whole work, like the artists of yore used to do.

And, to make things even more spectacular, this album is available in the DualDisc format, where one side is a standard CD, but the other is a DVD (all on the one disc). Most DualDiscs that I've seen waste the DVD side with "extras" or a 5.1 mix of the album (which can be cool, but so far, outside of the mix on the Beatle's DVD of Yellow Submarine), I've not been impressed with a surround mix on a music DVD), but this one is a Linear PCM format: An uncompressed 96 kHz/24 bit sample version of the whole album. (It does contain a short documentary on the "making of," but the highlight is this version of the songs.)

Oh. My. God. (Or, to quote Dave from the last song: "Good God!") I imagine the leap in sound quality here is equivalent to a move from a wax pressing of a 78 played on a phonograph whose speaker was really a megaphone to a stereophonic vinyl LP played over a high fidelity system. I have literally not heard such amazing sound come out of my stereo before. See, even the 5.1 soundtracks in movies are compressed, which causes a limit to the sound, and the intent of a movie soundtrack is usually not pristine music delivery anyway. When the first song started, I stood gobsmacked, pricking up my ears like a cat homing in on a mouse, because I'd never heard sound that full and bottomless before - outside of an original 24-track master played in a recording studio. There is no discernable limit to the high end or low end on this recording. I turned to my daughter who was sitting there with kind of a shocked look on her face, too, and asked, "Have you ever heard anything like that?" She just smiled and shook her head and then shushed me. We have yet to stop playing this thing when we get an opportunity. It's now the primary soundtrack I use to lull my baby asleep (the sound is so rich that even the upbeat songs don't have harsh edges to them - something I was completely unaware of in other recordings previously), which is great because I was getting a little tired of Enya.

And ignore those warnings in the Amazon.com reviews about this version not being copyable. I've made a copy of the CD for my car (a strict rule in my house is only copies can be used in a car stereo) and MP3s for my computer. Perhaps they were trying to copy or rip the DVD side, which is silly if you're going to be playing it via an MP3, or in your car. Any gain in sound from the DVD side as I've described above wouldn't survive the transition to a compressed MP3 or the sonic environment of a car.

The Book Meme of the Blogs of Summer 2005

I've not been tagged, nor do I intend to tag anyone, but I've really enjoyed reading other's lists, so....

1. Estimate the total number of books you've owned in your life.

I don't even have a clue as how to estimate this, because as a Lit major, I've owned so many books and anthologies, I will have to completely guess.

TLD: One of the tiny regrets of my life (and all of mine are tiny so far, I'm happy to report) is that I had to sell all of my college books about three years after graduation in order to have enough money to get home after a disastrous attempt at graduate school (disastrous because that was when Ronnie cut all the education funds, and I could no longer afford it; the caps on the loans I could get would have only paid for half of the degree - but no regrets, as I said).

Anyway, on a slow day when I worked in a bookstore, I went around and pulled forward an inch (so I could easily push them back quickly) all the books I'd read to that point, most of which I had owned. Even so, the store had only about 1/3 of what I'd read. I ended up pulling about 1,200 books. And that was in my twenties. So, round up, add two decades, and I'm guessing I've owned about 3,000 to 4,000 books.

2. What's the last book you bought?

I don't buy books anymore. A couple years back when I got laid off during the Bush Depression, I finally had all the time in the world to read, and no money to do it. Luckily, we have one of the finest libraries in my town that I've ever encountered, which even allows you to search for and then reserve books via the web, so I've never looked back. Kinda like Netflix, only free. Plus they have this "lucky day" section where all the latest and greatest releases are available; no one can reserve them or keep them for more than one checkout period, so the turnaround is great.

Now, I only buy books I want to keep. The last book I bought a couple years ago was: Which Lie Did I Tell? : More Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. (This does not count books I've bought for my daughter.) I love movie gossip and trivia, especially when it comes from the horse's mouth.

3. What's the last book you read?

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. It was on the "lucky day" shelf and my pile was empty. I enjoyed the suspense of The Da Vinci Code even if I had to roll my eyes through all of the BS conspiracy theory about Jesus having a wife who bore a child, and thought this would be fun, too. It was. Mr. Brown deserves his bestsellerdom.

4. List 5 books that mean a lot to you.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Perhaps the most perfect novel ever written in the English language. No other work has ever moved me as much as this does. The Great American Novel, and all that.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Funny as hell, and as complicated. A trippy Mobius strip as promised by the title.

Robots of Dawn by Issac Asimov
What science fiction can be if it tries hard enough. This has it all: Love, mystery, robots, sociology of planetary systems (which is more interesting than you'd think if you're not a sci-fi fan), and a twist ending that knocks you right off the couch. And, by this time, Asimov had become a pretty decent stylist.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
Funny and profound all at the same time. Even my mom, who's not a fan of sci-fi at all, loved this series. She laughed so hard at one point, a neighbor came by to make sure she was OK.

Texasville by Larry McMurtry
The second in the "Last Picture Show" series, though you don't need to read the others to enjoy this one (though the whole trilogy is good). McMurtry is probably alone in his ability to evoke real people with all their warts and still make you love them.

Here's a page I put together years ago along these same lines. Odd that I haven't really read anything worth adding in a while. I should add The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, come to think of it.

5. Tag 5 people!

Y'know, I've come so late to this game, I doubt there's anyone left to tag.

Primer Plot Graph

No movie has haunted my thoughts in recent years more than Primer has. While a better film and ultimately more satisfying, my other recent obsession, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was more of an emotional rush than an intellectual one - though it certainly has an intellectual payoff, too.

So I was suffused with joy when I happened across all this prime (har har) linkage on Kottke.org, particularly this one which is a graphical representation of the time travels of our heroes in Primer. It's a thing of beauty, a thing of joy. (And it's blue in keeping with my theme!) I got a big printout of this thing and have had a lot of fun pouring over it. Luckly, my wife understands me and waits until she's in the other room before she rolls her eyes after she catches me tracing my finger around this thing.

These guys, however, disagree that the timelines, multiple people copies, and so on are as complex as that graphic makes them. I haven't decided for myself, yet (I have to buy a copy of the damn thing and watch it a few more times - yay!), but I betting that the amount of work that went into that graphic speaks to its accuracy.

Have fun!


Sya said...

I once checked out Infinite Jest the same time as Gravity's Rainbow from the library. I read Pynchon first and got so fed up with it that I ended up returning all the books and abstaining from the library for a while. I will have to try Wallace again one of these days.

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Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

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