The Gash

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Location: Memphis, Tennessee, United States

I was told I was in the Science Club in high school. I don't remember it. I bet it was wild.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


To Whom It May Concern,

As a University of Memphis student and a supporter of College Basketball, I join a growing community in asking you to discipline Bill Raftery. In your national coverage, your announcers are supposed to remain objective in their analysis and commentary. However, in the Memphis-Ohio State game, Mr. Raftery could hardly contain his vociferous preference for Ohio State, and as a result was uncritical of the lopsided officiating.

Mr. Raftery stands behind his status as a supposed basketball institution, and a colorful one at that. As a fan of the sport, his act is growing tired. The purpose of an announcer is to provide insightful analysis and display a knowledge of the game. Based on recent telecasts, it is increasingly apparent that his expertise is limited to pithy one-liners and pointless colloquialisms. This, on top of his obvious rooting interest toward premier teams and celebrated players, proves that he is no longer useful as an announcer and that his status as an institution is undeserved. In his bias, lack of insight, and perfunctory “inside” knowledge gleaned from the front page of the local Sports station or from a sports report prepared for him by an assistant, Mr. Raftery has the traits of the worst announcers.

I join with a growing number of fans who long for a season of Basketball without the irritating persona of Bill Raftery. In particular, I ask that you consider him unwelcome at coverage of University of Memphis basketball games, or at least that he be asked to issue a statement of apology for his bias.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

OK, I wrote some really mediocre reviews of three new albums I love but they’re on my laptop and I can’t get them online. So you’ll get them next week.

Here’s what I what to take on this week:


If you get tired of reading me, you can read the Onion article here.

Boy is this a stupid list. It’s obviously an attempt for Record retailers (who this is brainchild of, along with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) to repackage records and include some kind of “bonus” that will make it cost more. I think it’s a last gasp effort for the Record sellers to remind us that they still matter, even if Record seller is a pleasant euphemism for music marketers.

I don’t know if this list will be publicized or not, as Blockbuster often does with their “classics” in an attempt to sell more movies, but if it does it will backfire in a big way for the following reasons:

1. The audience who likes slick, overproduced rap, Matchbox 20 and/or the Grease soudntrack, and Country (all of which are included for mostly arbitrary reasons) do not care about lists like this, and therefore will not consult it to buy a Miles Davis CD.

2. The audience who likes Jazz, PET SOUNDS, and Electronica and have memorized every Rolling Stone or Pitchfork list, are going to immediate disregard the list for the inclusion of the above genres.

Therefore the companies involved will lose a lot of money in repackaging these albums. And what’s most mystifying is that they decided to rank these. Why not just put them in alphabetical order to better justify Norah Jones as having delivered a better album than anything the Beach Boys did besides PET SOUNDS (which is, of course, insane)? And apparently 191 albums are better than Steely Dan’s AJA, and over 200 (at least) are better than CAN’T BUY A THRILL, COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY, PRETZEL LOGIC, GAUCHO, KATY LIED, THE ROYAL SCAM, etc, among them something by KID ROCK?????!?!?!? One album by Radiohead. No Stooges, Television, Wilco, Sigur Ros, Elliot Smith, Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, R.E.M., Neutral Milk Hotel, Kinks, Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison, or Nick Drake. No Bruce Springsteen albums that don’t start with BORN. Also, there are no albums by the Talking Heads or the Velvet Underground, two of the most influential bands to ever wear goofy shirts, and my two favorite bands EVER.

Here are the most questionable inclusions:

(BTW, as for the format issues, I am quitting Blogger soon; I'm sick of this cut and paste junk; how hard is it to format something out of WORD?)


14. Metallica, four albums, including their S/T, which even most of their fans hate (at #14)

  1. Shania Twain, COME ON OVER
  1. Alanis Morissette, JAGGED LITTLE PILL
27. Norah Jones, COME AWAY WITH ME

  1. Outkast

33. Dixie Chicks, WIDE OPEN SPACES (two years ago, this would not have made the list)

36. Def Leppard, HYSTERIA (are you kidding me??!?!)

37. Soundtrack, GREASE (more on this in a second)

  1. Bon Jovi, SLIPPERY WHEN WET (remember folks, there are no Talking Heads albums on this list)
  1. Whitney Houston, WHITNEY HOUSTON
  2. Dave Matthews Band, CRASH (Oh sweet lord….)

57. 50 Cent, GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’ (Because the people he has exploited and is exploiting need to have his filthy, materialistic legend plastered on a list like this made by people who don’t listen to him)

  1. Green Day, AMERICAN IDIOT (50 spots better than OK COMPUTER)

65. Coldplay, RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD (Soon to be playing softly in an elevator near you)

66. Meatloaf, BAT OUT OF HELL (I used to think that the Loaf was kind of underrated, so its nice to see that now I can stop saying this, because he’s now overrated)


69.George Harrison, ALL THINGS MUST PASS (“See,” They’re saying, “we can be inclusive snots too! Then there’s this:

  1. Kid Rock, DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE (bitchin!)

74. Phil Collins, NO JACKET REQUIRED

76. Faith Hill, BREATHE (Which is a much more groundbreaking accomplishment than all the stoic hipsters who cried after hearing OK COMPUTER)

84. Linkin Park, HYBRID THEORY (I’m starting to wonder if this is a joke.)

86. Def Leppard, PYROMANIA (I can just see this dude demanding TWO Leppard albums on the list or he QUITS!)

87. Janet Jackson, CONTROL

91. Matchbox 20, YOURSELF OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU (the most unforgivable sin on this list)

95. Creed, HUMAN CLAY (never mind – this is one spot ahead of LONDON CALLING, mind you. Creed is one spot ahead of LONDON CALLING.)

97. Celine Dion, FALLING INTO YOU (damn that woman can sing!)

100. Dixie Chicks, HOME

103. Soundtrack, TITANIC (You know! It had that song by Celine Dion on it! And . . . all the other songs!)

113. Dixie Chicks, FLY

116. Mariah Carey, DAYDREAM

117. Soundtrack, TOP GUN (Where the hell is Belinda Carlisle anyway?)

123. Tool, LATERALUS

127. Christina Aguilera, CHRISTINA AGUILERA (I actually think this is an OK album, and might go on some best albums of the last 20 years list. But the 127 Best albums EVER?

133. Natalie Cole, UNFORGETTABLE (See this belongs here, because obviously it made Natalie Cole the megastar she is today, and wasn’t merely proof that she could only sell an album by relying on her Dad’s fame. Oops)

151. Janet Jackson, JANET

154. Will Smith, BIG WILLIE STYLE

158. George Michael, FAITH (Another OK album by an artist we now revile, which still has no business being ahead of THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST)

162. Avril Lavigne, LET GO (WHAT?!?!?)

168. Soundtrack, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Obviously there was no criteria for this list; it just had to be “something you can buy in a CATS.)

172. Shakira, LAUNDRY SERVICE (The influence of this album is astounding . . . NOT; #175 is Curtis Mayfield’s superlative SUPERFLY soundtrack, BTW)

176. Live, THROWING COPPER (Oh, are we through making fun of them now?)

178. White Stripes, WHITE BLOOD CELLS (Who on earth thinks this is a better album than the not-included ELEPHANT or GET BEHIND ME SATAN?!?)

182. Wings, BAND ON THE RUN (snicker . . .)

197. U2, ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND (Let the arguing begin, although even among still-active U2 fans, the suggestion that this album is better than BOY, WAR, or even RATTLE AND HUM should be insidious)

I probably left a few out (BEYONCE, for example). But I still find the list appalling, and it is obviously only around to turn money for people who don’t necessarily need to sell records to exist. Everyone on here is fat and happy, and most of them are defunct (in more ways that one). No kid is going to see this list and fall in love with an underrated classic.

To end this with something positive, if I knew that, tomorrow, I was going to be whisked away to a desert island and could only bring ten albums, they would be:

Velvet Underground, VELVET UNDERGROUND (the gray album)

Talking Heads, FEAR OF MUSIC



Television, MARQUEE MOON


Radiohead, THE BENDS



The Beach Boys, SURFS UP

Saturday, February 24, 2007

When you don’t read this, the Oscars will have come and gone. You are probably wondering my predictions. I don’t know, maybe you’re wondering how silly putty picks crap up from comic books*. But I think BABEL will win while Scorsese gets his obligatory Best Director/Lifetime Achievement/Sorry We Haven’t Given You An Oscar Yet Best Living Director statue. The other awards are a shoo-in: DREAMGIRLS will sweep the supporting noms while Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren will take home the big awards. I have seen none of those actorial movies. Like everyone else who lives in the bubble outside the mainstream (not many girls there), I am upset that CHILDREN OF MEN did not receive some arbitrary major nominations that would have opened it to the wider audience it deserved.

Here are my latest thoughts:

THE DEPARTED, on second viewing, gets even stronger. Scorsese gives a perfect overdose of style to a story that is somewhere in between a SOPRANAS knockoff and the Irish version of GOODFELLAS. Marty is working with the best actors available and they’re all excellent. My first impression of Matt Damon was that he was a dull cipher for a character that needed to a lot of buried syndromes. This time, I was pretty impressed by the way Jason Bourne allowed Scorsese to turn his image upside-down: he’s an impotent lothario scumbag who just happens to be very, very smart. Mark Wahlberg wraps his talent around the best dialogue the movie has to offer, and its proof that he has not abandoned the talent that BOOGIE NIGHTS proved he had. Di Caprio is awesome – he’s in the midst of a Nicholson-esque string of great, diverse roles. The supporting cast, particular Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone, are pitch-perfect.

This is the most acrid Scorsese, normally a life-affirming libertine, has ever been. He attacks, in no particular order: priests, city government, the current Elephant Administration ™, Chinese Democracy (of the non-Axl variety), ceremony, psychiatrists, cell phone culture, the inadequacy of prescription drugs, real estate, the nation’s ultra-patriotic post 9/11 love of firemen, KANGAROO JACK funnyfatman Anthony Anderson, City Pride, TV News Sophists, and funerals. This is the least effective part of THE DEPARTED (the man has never been very good, or needed to be, at messages), but it is still the most powerful piece of High Profile Cinema in the last few years.


Two magic movies in Fall ’06 and both featured the participation of legendary conjurer Ricky Jay (as a performer in PRESTIGE, a consultant in ILLUSIONIST). THE ILLUSIONIST was, apparently, the bigger hit, which was odd because THE PRESTIGE was the more conventionally entertaining. I liked both films kind of. They both suffered from high concept stories obsessed with making a connection between deception-based magic and deception-based storytelling. With its showy cinematic, THE ILLUSIONIST would seem to be the one making more of a moral about the ILLUSION of movies, but ultimately THE PRESTIGE spends more time in the “You Can’t Really Believe Everything You See” camp. THE ILLUSIONIST is popcorn camp passed off as high style (done very well), while THE PRESTIGE is a grand gesture about all kinds of contrived wizardry pieced together into a genre pic.

Though I liked both films kind of, I preferred THE PRESTIGE mainly because of Christian Bale’s crazy eyes, Michael Caine’s enduring watchability, David Bowie’s participation, Scarlett Johannson’s siren presence, and Hugh Jackman’s perfect mix of vulnerability and cocksure arrogance. Bale, in particular, is an actor who deserves more credit: I found him boring in BATMAN BEGINS, but it wasn’t his fault. Except for maybe fellow chap Clive Owen, he is the most inaccessible persona on the screen, and this makes him fascinating. He refuses to let us in, to show up on talk shows wearing jeans and a blazer and tell funny stories about his kids. He stares in the camera as though he can break the lens. When he laughs, it’s because he’s smarter than you. It’s hard to believe this is the doe-eyed expressive ragamuffin from EMPIRE OF THE SUN.

THE ILLUSIONIST features a tedious performance by Edward Norton, who has only been interesting in movies he could manipulate (like the wretched DOWN IN THE VALLEY). As the cop, Paul Giamatti is always interesting, but Norton sleepwalks through every scene he’s in. Since 25TH HOUR, Ed has been in a downward spiral that might necessitate the dreaded “comeback.” But since he was never a major star to begin with, and never a pop-culture icon, audiences are likely to yawn when he does, unlike the Travolta/Carradine resurgence models.

Still, a double-bill of both films is more than passable entertainment.

I have been busier than the guy who cleans the toilets in Hell recently, so I have plenty of reasons not the see the hideous January/February releases like the recently released JIM CARREY HAS LONG HAIR AND AN EXPLICIT SEX SCENE AND BABBLES ABOUT NUMEROLOGY. I recently saw a preview that said


Rhetorical question: would anyone arrest a serial killer of blurb artists-for-hire? Not-so-rhetorical conclusion: I think I’ll do it anyway.

Speaking of serial killers: One question about these dud-season releases, why was David Fincher’s ZODIAC dumped at the beginning of March? As I remember, the same thing happened with his mediocre PANIC ROOM. Fincher directed, by my vote, the best Serial Killer movie ever made, and one of the best movies of the last twenty years: SEVEN**. Now he’s back in his wheelhouse, working with a great cast (and, sadly, Jake Gyllenhaal), and making a stylish late-period piece ripped from the headlines. Could it be a bomb? Is Fincher a dead man walking? Has he both betrayed his iconoclastic roots that made him such a force of nature and ruined his chance to make big budget genre pics (of which his THE GAME is one of the best of recent memory)?

A long post, I realize. In case you’re one of the people who hasn't talked to me in the last four weeks, the best album since Arcade Fire’s FUNERAL is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s SOME LOUD THUNDER. I say this only so you can go buy it. I’ll post about it’s Television/Talking Heads-inspired awesomeness in a later post.

* - I ripped off this line from a movie you should see, KISS KISS BANG BANG

** - I absolutely refuse to type the actual title: SE7EN***

*** - I just did

Thursday, February 15, 2007



LETTERS is Eastwood at his (paradoxically) most restrained and least subtle. For The Man With No Name But Two Oscars, that is saying an awful lot – but his latest progression of movies is following that trend: more restrained in terms of form and stylistics, and less subtle in terms of performance and nuance.

Still, LETTERS is a really good film, kind of brave at times in its insistence that the fanaticism of the Japanese was not their raison-de-etre. That the Japanese fit so neatly into the typically stoic-passionate vision quest of Eastwood’s films is a testament either to the Japanese or the filmmakers’ ability to make them something other than noble savages, Eastern voodoo archetypes, or kamikaze nutjobs.

Where the film lacks subtlety are in the typical scenes where serious looking members of the proletariat tell us the theme of the movie. There’s a very moving “We don’t know anything about the enemy” speech that is intended to be very moving. And, like PRIVATE RYAN, there’s an unnecessary framing device.

My take on Eastwood is this: He has made one masterpiece (UNFORGIVEN) and one awesome, archetypal, though mostly forgotten genre piece (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). His third best film is LETTERS. The rest of his catalog (and it’s expansive, because he makes a movie a year) is hit or miss: from


Curious Misfires That Are A Classic Mismatch of Director and Material: BREEZY, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART


Solid, but mostly forgotten, certainly not iconic, but very entertaining genre pictures: SPACE COWBOYS, THE EIGER SANCTION, FIREFOX, THE GAUNTLET, HEARTBREAK RIDGE, TRUE CRIME, ABSOLUTE POWER

There are those who are quick to celebrate some kind of Eastwoodian Renaissance with MYSTIC RIVER, and those people were quick to dismiss him after BLOOD WORK (you didn’t see it; I’m not surprised – it was his least seen movie since THE ROOKIE). But now Eastwood, Scorsese, and Speilberg have been entered in some kind of high-falutin’ “Best Director in the World” contest. I think the person who will be hurt most by this is Eastwood, who has the capability to move toward the arty and the overly serious as opposed to the genre pieces that generally better reflect his gifts and charms. (I'm still waiting to see FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS)


I complained that the otherwise stellar ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND was not funny where it should have been. Music Video wunderkind Michel Gondry directed it with the kind of solemnity usually reserved for Hallmark movies. Gondry’s gifts, I decided, were a quirky visual flourish that doesn’t draw attention to itself (whereas everything about SUNSHINE was designed to draw attention to its elaborate artificiality). But with SCIENCE OF SLEEP, he surprised me with his humor.

The film is endlessly inventive and funny. It has both a daffy exuberance and hipster’s lazy attitude towards finishing things. Gondry’s brilliant decision is in his refusal to distinguish between reality and dreams, and it allows the movie to fit outside and inside both worlds.

Gael Garcia Bernal pisses me off. He is obviously the kind of guy who can walk into any bar where I happen to be, and pick up the girl that I have deemed the best looking and the coolest. More than any actor under forty, the camera is in love with him, and he is comfortable in front of it. Charlotte Gainsbourg is the filmic equivalent of the “girl that I have deemed the best looking and the coolest.” She ranks a close second to Zooey Deschanel on my working list of “girls who wear sweaters too big for them that I dream about

Chuck Klosterman has a hypothetical situation involving a wizard that makes you that much better looking for every dollar you give him. This hypo is similar to my thoughts about the Velvet Underground and movies. If a movie includes a VU song, I will like it that much better. Needless to say, SCIENCE does.


BABEL is a bleak, practically hopeless meditation on people who uncomfortable with the place they are. Like 21 GRAMS, it works on three levels: in this case, global, economic, and personal. Almost Nobody in BABEL really likes themselves all that much, and yet the film finds the weirdest sort of compassion for every one of them.

I wish I credit this to Alejandro Innaritu for some reason other than “artistry,” but I cannot. Innaritu is a plain old-fashioned cliché: an artist. He has no truck for the type of cohesive realism that modern directors feel hamstrung by and allow to hamper their resources for artistic and political expression. That said, BABEL doesn’t feel overly political – the implications are all the viewers. No one comments on the surroundings, and this has caused many to say it is uneven. I think it’s the reason for its greatness.

The performances are amazing, and one of the things Oscar got right was in nominating the Mexican and Japanese actresses whose names I can’t remember.

If Babel has a flaw, it’s that oft-mentioned lack of causality. But if you can escape that, and you should, it is one of the best films of the year.

BTW, If I were going to update my top ten list after my recent viewing experiences, it would look something like this (withe everything else dropping to honorable mention):


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Eulogy to a Hell of a Dame by Charles Bukowski

some dogs who sleep At night
must dream of bones
and I remember your bones
in flesh
and best
in that dark green dress
and those high-heeled bright
black shoes,
you always cursed when you drank,
your hair coming down you
wanted to explode out of
what was holding you:
rotten memories of a
past, and
you finally got
by dying,
leaving me with the
you've been dead
28 years
yet I remember you
better than any of
the rest;
you were the only one
who understood
the futility of the
arrangement of
all the others were only
displeased with
trivial segments,
nonsensically about
Jane, you were
killed by
knowing too much.
here's a drink
to your bones
this dog
dreams about.

I don't really know what to say about the life of Charles Bukowski, other than that he spent most of his life as a boorish drunk postman/barhopper with ridiculous poetic ambitions that were amazingly realized. There is not much redemption in his story. For most of his life, if his numerous autobiographical tomes are to be interpreted, he was an acne-ridden slob who could not hold down a job, a woman, or regular room and board. Then his poems became a success, he was an underground sensation, and he traveled the country to give drunken poetry readings and cryptic answers to 'Zine lapdogs. Anyone who wants to know more about the last sentence can see the recent documentary BORN INTO THIS, where Bukowski seems at once arrogant and befuddled by and about his ability to write poetry.

The average person does not know Charles Bukowski, and this is ironic because it is the average person he thinks he is writing about. But Bukowski's averages are grotesques: lonely, irresponsible loudmouths who manage to piss off every boss they ever worked for. It is the critics who find that Bukowski supremely represents the bridge and tunnel crowd.

Still, I've always found Bukowski to be a fascinating poet and novelist, ever since Ben and I attempted to adapt his last novel, PULP, into a screenplay. His HAM ON RYE is one of my favorite books. He writes about the underbelly from the underbelly, without any attempts at sympathy or objectivity. It is raw, unforced, and immediate - gutter poetry, I've heard it called, and that about gets it.

The latest attempt at a Bukowski movie, FACTOTUM, is hit or miss. In the 80s, critics fawned over the Bukowski adaptation BARFLY. Bukowski apparently hated it, and chronicled the experience in the superlative "novel" HOLLYWOOD. BARFLY starred Mickey Rourke as Bukowski alter-ego Henry Chinaski, and stumbled around the whole movie talking like Snagglepuss. I found it to be an annoying performance in a dull movie. FACTOTUM stars Matt Dillon, an actor I've always liked, and while Dillon does not give into Rourke-esque indulgence, he is wrong for Chinaski. Chinaski is a pug-ugly, pudgy loser who could have only existed in 1940. Dillon is a former teen idol. Sadly, like Rourke, his movie star looks will always haunt him, because this is the role he seems to enjoy the most - depraved, wayward, and rough.

The biggest problem is the curious decision to the update the time. There are many adjectives that can be used to describe C.B., but "timeless" is not one of them. His novels are rooted in a period; Chinaski rejects a very particular, archaic set of values that made him an iconoclast at the time, but today would make him at home with many. In reading the novels, he is the antithesis of the so-called greatest generation - and thats what made him such a compelling literary figure: his refusal to buy into any of the party lines. Today, of course, one out of every three people you meet are the antithesis of the greatest generation.

Chinaski was Bukowski's warped, brilliant attempt at the picaresque tradition - where the rogue hero grows only through his misadventures. But he's also a naive in the tradition of Forrest Gump or Candide, whose apparently world-weariness is countered by his discomforting (often grotesque) childishness and need for companionship. Like those heroes, Chinaski succeeds with wit, not knowledge, and instinct rather than understanding. This character seems out of place in a setting that is so obviously modern. The job-bouncing Chinaski would not be able to rent five dollar rooms anywhere. In FACTOTUM, he is an anachronism who is never explained, and this makes the film curiously disjointed.

Still, there is much to admire about the movie, particularly in the passionate performance of Lili Taylor. The film captures out-of-work lowlifes in the same way that Bukowski did - without degrading or sentimentalizing them in a Damon Runyan gallery of toughs. It has the typical crude, hilarious, and cringe-inducing humor of the best Bukowski work. At its worst moments, it gave further proof that no filmmaker will ever be able to capture Bukowski, thus never exposing him to a wider audience. At its best, it reminded me of the brilliant closing losing lines of HAM ON RYE, perhaps my favorite ending of any novel. Chinaski, unemployed and penniless, covered in acne that is at once his badge and his scar, plays a primitive robot boxing game with a Mexican boy. The fighters fight; Chinaski loses. Bukowski writes:

"I put in another dime and blue trunks sprang to his feet. The kid started squeezing his one trigger and the right arm of red trunks pumped and pumped. I let blue trunks stand back for a while and contemplate. Then I nodded at the kid. I move blue trunks in, both arms flailing. I felt I had to win. It seemed very important. I didn't know why it was important and I kept thinking, why do I think this is so important?
And another part of me answered, just because it is.
Then blue trunks dropped again, hard, making the same iron clanking sound. I looked at him laying on his back down there on the little green velvet mat.
Then I turned around and walked out."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Perhaps the most enthralling film experience of the year was my recent viewing of NEW YORK DOLL. The story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, former bassist for the cross-dressing, drug-snorting New York Dolls, is a cliché of the highest order – it has the dizzying highs and squalid lows that most film critics deplore because of the innate push-button sentimentality. But here’s the thing: NEW YORK DOLL is a documentary. The storybook structure is entirely true. Though some (perhaps unnecessary) artifice has been used to tell the story, all of this happened exactly like this. The film may not be remarkable (as the Onion said, it’s the filmic equivalent of the best episode ever of VH1’s BAND REUNITED), but the story is.

The New York Dolls broke on the punk scene in 1971, an uneasy synthesis of misfits, junkies, and social outcasts who decided that to gain a crowd, they’d have to be noticed. While many punk bands were fronting androgynous singers, the Dolls took it a step further – dressing as transvestite whores and dancing seductively around the stage. Their scene was the scene, plain and simple, and the music was at once lurid and exhilarating.

Full disclosure: I have never really cared that much for the Dolls. I find them to something of a Stooges/MC5 knockoff*, and none of their music excites me as those two bands do. A major rock figure (who will be mentioned later) calls them innovative and original, but I just don’t see it. I can’t tell whether David Johansen is channeling Mick Jagger, or outright copying him (they even look alike though Jagger is, amazingly, better looking.) Their music isn’t so much great as it is opportunistic: it’s the kind of sound you’d expect from a group of dudes that look like ladies. And in archival footage released last year as NEW YORK DOLLS: ALL DOLLED UP, they came off as insufferable, immature assholes looking around for “squares” to shock.

But I am fascinated by them.

The story of the Dolls is familiar to anyone who has read PLEASE KILL ME or has spent any time reading about New York scene. When they were about to have a major breakout, drummer Billy Murcia ingested a number of conflicting substances and died after imbecile groupies poured hot coffee down his throat. The band broke up in 1975 with only a cult following and having made no money. Lead Guitarist Johnny Thunders and new Drummer started the Heartbreakers and developed a new cult. They both died of heroin overdoses. Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain faded into obscurity, occasionally working with Johansen. Johansen had an unsuccessful solo career until he dudded himself again, this time as an anachronistic lounge singer named “Buster Poindexter.” Anyone alive in 1988 remembers his only hit, HOT HOT HOT. He then had a semi-successful acting career in films liked SCROOGED and CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? Now, he regrets this decision because it damaged his status as a nihilistic icon.

“Killer” Kane, the statue-like bass player, suffered the strangest fate. After years of unsuccessful attempts to recapture the early “success,” he became an abusive, suicidal drunk and lost all of his money. He grew sullen and bitter, particularly at the thought of Johansen’s late-80s resurgence. At some point, he stumbled into a Mormon temple and spent fifteen years poor but clean. The 180 is obvious: from the most extreme libertine to the most rigid conservative. Kane took the bus, wore dorky ties and short-sleeved button down white shirts, and worked at the Family History Library. He pawned his guitars and ignorantly paid every year to keep them in hock, when for about seventy dollars more he could have owned them outright. Occasionally someone would mention that he had once been in a rock band.

But the Dolls had one very influential fan - one of the more enigmatic, respected, and consistent pop stars in recent memory: Morrisey. Before Morrisey became a shoe-gazing megastar, he was obsessed with this transgender rock. That this very private personality participates in the interviews of this documentary is a testament to his admiration. He is the doting impresario behind the comeback. His actions seem completely selfless as he recognizes the debt he owes to them. This is odd because their music is so different.

In 2004, Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane reunite to play “Morrissey’s Meltdown.” By all accounts, it is a success. Johansen and Kane bury the axe. Kane is, for once, happy.

I have no doubt that in 1973, “Killer Kane” was an obnoxious, unbearable persona who bought into the glam and decadence of the scene that embraced him. But in 2004, Arthur Kaneis a sad, sweet, soft-spoken figure – an ascetic who sincerely believes that his unique misery can be successfully channeled into service for the Mormon church. Also, he is not the brightest bulb - whether robbed by his early indulgences or just born this way. To paraphrase Chuck Klosterman in his article on Metallica, rockers like Kane have all their success and are adulated at an early age, and thus never have to grow up or learn to handle conflict in a mature, reasonable way. Kane was probably never good at much other than playing Bass - his popularity in the band was a result of his lack of personality. He lacks the necessary introspection or intelligence to do something about his lot, to put everything in perspective. so he puts his complete trust in the Mormons to point him in the right direction. Judging by this movie, they've done an amazing job at giving him some kind of purpose.

There is a tendency among my fellow Evangelicals to ridicule Mormons and point out their theological inconsistencies, to effectively shun them from any meaningful conversation about God. I realize this film was made by a Mormon, and therefore may have a slanted perspective, but these people love Kane unreservedly, even though he was once the antithesis of their moral teachings. He was a broken, violent, bitter man and they gave him something to keep him alive. As Morrisey notes, he is mostly "miserable," but the community gives his sustenance - they keep him from being more miserable.

It is amazing to think that for fifteen years, you could walk into this library, and meet the bass player for the New York Dolls. When he arrives in London to play Morrisey’s gig, he marvels at a hotel room that most of us would find completely average. Before the big show, he explains to a baffled Johansen about the “Word of Wisdom.”

NEW YORK DOLL is being marketed as a movie about redemption, which it certainly is, but I find it more fascinating as a movie about bass players. In Tom Hanks’ underrated teenage girl fave THAT THING YOU DO!, the bass player is named, simply, “T.B. Player,” a mark of the easiest member of the band to forget. They carry large instruments and usually stand stock still. In Metallica, Jason Newsted was the ostracized and ridiculed member, and he eventually quit. Bass players are often left out of the core of the group. I found a list of the greatest bass players ever, and, other than Flea, the average rock fan probably couldn’t even name them.

Even if you loathe punk, or are ignorant about it, you should enjoy this documentary. After reading a vitriolic biography of Iggy Pop, I was refreshed by this film that describes the weird energy of the period, and the at-times awful fallout. And no matter what creed or faith you belong to, it shows the resuscitating power of spirituality when fused with an absolute faith in its ability to save you.

It made me like the Dolls.

* Other bands/people that ripped off the Stooges/MC5 (for better or wose): Dead Boys, WASP, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust act, Def Leppard, KISS, Slayer, Joy Division, The Clash, The Beastie Boys, Metallica, Jet, Aerosmith, Blondie, The Hives, The Strokes, Mid-70s Lou Reed, and (most famously and atrociously) The Sex Pistols.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

BEST OF 2006

I always begin by noting the movies I've missed. The (somewhat unfortunately) trend continues as the number of movies on the list escalates. There are a lot of movies I really wanted to see, but couldn't, and they don't come out on DVD for a while. 2006 was a good year for films, not a great year. But any year that features my top two can't be dismissed. Also, it cannot be considered a bad year when Michael Mann, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese make movies.

So a redux is to come. But it's the season to be making self-important lists.


So that said, here's the big top 10, with little fanfare or explanation

Normally I reserve a spot for a documentary, but this year I did not see (a 2006 release) worth considering.


Todd Field's film of Tom Perotta's book is flawed, but he makes the kind of bold decisions that I like to see filmmakers make. After leaving the film somewhat annoyed with those choices, I realized that I had unfairly taken ownership of the book and refused to see his vision. After much thought, I realized that he almost perfectly cinematized the book and gave us a version faithful in tone if not to the letter. Great performances throughout.


The second most fun movie of ot-6, and a good note for Altman to end on. It fits perfectly in his meandering, endless watchable canon. The dryness is hilarious and the world well-conceived. It also has this weird amped-up ticking clock of a narrative that Altman (and Keiler) refuse to take seriously. And that's all part of the fun.


I am torn on Richard Linklater. He is the most hit or miss director working. For every movie he makes that bores me (SCHOOL OF ROCK), he returns with this fascinatingly odd science fiction question. It's in the best spirit of the 70s paranoia film, fused with the innovative technique of rotoscoping. And (this may not be saying much) it's the best performance of Keanu Reeves' career.


The most fun movie of the year. I have not been more pleasantly surprised by a comedy since OFFICE SPACE. Unlike the overrated ANCHORMAN, this is a comedy that actualyl tries to tell jokes, instead of rolling out strange setpieces. Like the underrated HAPPY GILMORE, it has some interesting things to say about sports culture and celebrity, but it never blatantly says these, because it wants to be really, really funny. The scenes with Reilly and Ferrell are among the comic highlights of the century.


Michael Mann made another movie. And I loved it. And I am immune to your criticisms, those of you who wanted this to be STARSKY AND HUTCH.


I shrugged at PI and was horrified (in a good way, I guess) by REQUEIM FOR A DREAM. But THE FOUNTAIN gives me an Aranofsky I can go along, wide-eyed, with as he introduces me to magical trees and ambiguously interlinear magic. A meditation on love, justice, faith, hope, and reincarnation that will either haunt you or piss you off. You will not leave this movie unchallenged.


All the stupid criticims of this movie are from the anti-traditionalists interested in boosting their own heroes as the "greatest living director." GANGS OF NEW YORK was an inglorious ambitious mess, and THE AVIATOR could have probably been directed by someone else (though not as well), but THE DEPARTED is Marty at his best. As with the best Scorsese, even the most base acts of violence are at once disgusting, exciting, and saddening. I am curious about how much of this (at any production level) was inspired by the superlative THE WIRE.

3. UNITED 93

I did not want to see this movie. I probably will not see it again. My biggest questions remains: would this still be a great movie if nothing depicted had happened? Does it matter? A perfect match of style and substance, it avoids memorialism and shameless sentimentality. And yet, it is kind of a memorial because of the respect with which Greengrass gives his subject.


Read my review in the next post.


I have rarely felt more invigorated after leaving a movie. BRICK is creatively conceived, brilliant acted, and a thematic puzzle that doesn't beg to be put together, but can be (or maybe it's a mystery, I'll ask Malcolm Gladwell.) Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives the years best performance as the smart kid who never goes to class because he's too busy kicking around open lockers and falling in love with doomed girls. If I were to vote now, I would give the BRICK the "gashie" for BEST DIALOGUE OF THE DECADE. And it's not even showy about its conceit. This is why I have a hard time explaining its charms to so many people who expect it to be BUGSY MALONE or A SHARK'S TALE. High School is kind of a film noir, and Rian Johnson's first movie dances with that.





Anything I left off? Anything I MUST see? Write below.


Much hoohaa has been made about the "Three Amigos:" the three ridiculously talented and prolific Latino directors who have broken out even further this year: Alfonso Cuaron with CHILDREN OF MEN; Alejandro Innaritu with BABEL; and Guillermo Del Toro with PAN'S LABYRINTH (the last two are unseen by me, though I certainly will see both).

I have never really understood Del Toro's "genius," though many have tried to explain it to me. Many gush about HELLBOY or MIMIC, but I found them derivative and uninvolving, and even lacking in the type of directorial flourish usually gushed about in Del Toro reviews. Still, I'm looking forward to PAN'S LABYRINTH, which is supposedly a big step for him, without ever really moving away from his passions. Innaritu has been accused of making panoramics that lack any kind of guiding reason, and are dominated by a bombastic chaos thats too cinematic for his verite approach to the film, but I loved AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS. The Academy had no problem with the glossy CRASH, perhaps because it was just that, glossy. It never made you forget it was a movie. Innaritu has real balls for trying to merge these narratives with a gritty realism that suggests that the world is disordered and somewhat beyond repair, but replete with humanity.

Then there's Cuaron. Breaking on to the scene with much ballast but little success in 1998's big budget, high-expectation GREAT EXPECTATIONS, he returned South of the Border with the raw, energetic, and alarmingly sexual Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. His next return to the Gringo studios was much stronger, as many feel his Harry Potter flick is the best of the bunch. (And, no, I haven't forgotten 1995's A LITTLE PRINCESS; I just haven't seen it and don't know anything about it).

But CHILDREN OF MEN is a masterpiece. Based on a novel by mass-marketeer PD James, Cuaron's film is at home equally in the sci-fi dystopia genre and as a modern thriller with a lot of heart. The plot is revealed (a little too much) in the trailer: It's 2029 and the youngest living human is eighteen - in other words, eighteen years have passed since the last birth. Britain is the only country that hasn't succumbed to internal combustion, but it's a dreary place. Illegal Immigrants are being carted off left and right, and diverse terrorists groups are blowing up civilian haunches. The plot is vaguely similar to V FOR VENDETTA, but the commitment of Cuaron proves once and for all how stupid the comic book artifice of that message-film dystopia really was.

Of course, the not-so-subtle undertone, as with any similar work since Orwell defined the genre with 1984, is that the future is much like the present. There are references to Abu-Ghraib, Iraq, September 11th, and the ridiculous celebrity sub-culture. But Cuaron keeps those as backdrop (literally), and refuses to let any of his well-conceived characters act as a voicebox. Mostly, because they are trying to survive - and that's what makes it such an exhausting experience.

Clive Owen is neither particularly smart nor particular heroic as the hero. He sleepwalks through the first half of the movie and then becomes its emotional center almost by accident. He never lets his innate cool overwhelm a character who is, basically, a burnout and a failure. Though he will not (and should not) earn any award nominations for the performance, it moves him up in the ranks of my favorite actors. And Michael Caine plays Michael Caine, and I was thankful for it. It reminded me of Winston Smith's love for chocolate, and how that kept me going through pages and page of Big Brother's faceless atrocities.

The most brilliant conceit is the opening image: cable news coverage of the ridiculous celebrity death of the aforementioned youngest human, "Baby Diego." In this moment, Cuaron and co. show us the extremes of media, the utterly counterfeit nature of celebrity, and the human need that is associated with it. And then he gives us our cynic, and guide through this film in Owen. It's a great narrative pathway to the world we're about to discover.

At one point, a fictional futuristic disc jockey exhorts his listeners to feel nostalgic for 2003. It is odd that the directors voice becomes the generic voice of a superhits station mike-banger, but it works - because I did feel nostalgia for 2003, when we seemed to be more optimistically recovering from the 9/11 and most of sincerely believed we were involved in some world liberation project. It might be a stretch for Cuaron to decide that this barren chaos is the future we have created. But there is hope in a familiar sound, and when we hear it, we recognize that even in the most broken of places lies hope.

That Cuaron made this film from a pulp novel adapted by six different screenwriters is the equivalent of blowing up a printing press and producing MOBY-DICK. It's flawless (and thankfully wasn't hit by the pandemic of 2006 films of being too long.) You must see this movie.

(Bonus points if you find the Pink Floyd allusion in the movie)