Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I did another write-up for Late Night Wallflower. This time it's on one of my favorite records of the year.
Probably my utmost favorite album of the year is not something anybody I know that’s into punk, hardcore, or post-hardcore would truly like. Matter of fact, it would probably make people question my credibility and taste in music in general. Yet I see not guilt in something that I truly like, and see no real reason to have my tongue in my cheek as I write this. I can’t help but be rather defensive in describing my fandom of Journey’s 2008 album, Revelation.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

At the Movies Revisited

In the last few days, I've read this Los Angeles Times article on Ben Lyons, one of the critics on the rebooted, Ebert-and-Roeper-less version of At the Movies, a few times. I've also checked out Stop Ben Lyons! a few times. This prompted me to watch some reviews on the At the Movies site. Do I think the overall nature of film criticism is going downhill? Nope. Instead, I'm getting a better understanding how I find out about movies and decide whether or not I should see them compared to how I used to find out about movies and decide whether or not I should see them.

There was a time when Siskel and Ebert was the only place I really found out about movies beyond trailers, commercials, magazines, and Entertainment Tonight. Like what 120 Minutes was to me as a music fan, Siskel and Ebert was where I could see more coverage on stuff beyond the mainstream. But this was in the mid- to late Nineties. Hard for me to believe because it doesn't feel like it, but this was ten years ago, and plenty has changed since then.

I took plenty of classes on film and TV critique in college, as well as on writing. I heard plenty about what makes a good film good and a bad film bad. I met quite a few people who spouted their opinions as facts more than opinions, and I found that distracting. I watched plenty of episodes of At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper but lost track when it disappeared from its regular schedule. Somewhere in between then and now I reached a point where I decided that I wanted to form my own opinions on movies rather than regurgitate other people's opinions.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of films that I'm on the fence about seeing. These are the ones that I pay attention to what respected film critics say. Sometimes their opinions are the dealbreakers for me. Then there are a certain few movies that I want to see no matter how bad the buzz is for them. Some current examples are The Spirit and Mamma Mia! (yes, Mamma Mia!). I have my own reasons to want to watch and decide.

I still read Roger Ebert's reviews because I like his writing and value his opinions. I don't always agree with him (his review of Bottle Rocket and his review of Southland Tales are just the beginning) but I am curious as to what he says. Again, if I'm that curious to see a movie, I'll see it no matter what critics say. I'm so invested in films in general that I'm not somebody who doesn't have time to look into movies, wonder how they got made, etc. I've got the time and the drive to do this, so why stop now?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Above all . . . it's a love story

This week's A.V. Club inventory focuses on twenty-three films that have yet to appear on Region 1 DVD. Reading through it, I'm reminded that not everything is on DVD, and there is still a hunt for hard-to-find gems. I knew there was a good reason to still have a region-free DVD player and a VCR.

Thanks to Trailers From Hell and almost any interview with Quentin Tarantino, there is no shortage of lost films that I might like to see. Part of the enjoyment in these movies is the scarcity of finding a copy. As nice as it is to have old films restored and readily available on DVD, there seems to be something special with the hunt.

Case in point, a few months ago, I watched Freebie and the Bean for the first time. I enjoyed the film even though what I watched was a DVD-R rip from an old VHS tape. Since the aspect ratio of the film (2.35:1 I believe) was shrunk to fit the pan-and-scan 4:3, plenty got left out of the picture. Still, I found the film to be enjoyable and I hope someday it's released on DVD in widescreen.

But I can't forget something Tarantino once said on a commentary track. Saying something along the lines of seeing an old print of El Topo versus seeing a pristine copy of the film on DVD, it just wasn't the same. In other words, there's a personal sense of liking something that a lot of people have forgotten about or don't even know of its existence. The film is not going to look good and the chances of it appearing in a pristine transfer are small, thus making the gem seem more appealing.

That said, I can't forget seeing Kentucky Fried Movie in widescreen and on DVD. I got so much more out of seeing the film that way, and I have not pined to see it on VHS in pan-and-scan. So, there's always a hunt going on, and that's part of the fandom of films in general.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Holidays

Blogging will be scant for the next couple of weeks because of the holidays. I hope everybody has a nice holiday.

To tide you over for now, here are some links:

My book is a great stocking stuffer.

I did a quick rundown of three great shows I saw this year for Frontburner.

My first column for Late Night Wallflower is online.

I was on TV earlier this week.

Cake Wrecks is a chance to laugh at cakes gone wrong.

Stuff White People Like is a chance for people my age to laugh at themselves.

Finally, here are a few Christmas videos to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You're only as good as your drummer

Throughout the month of October every year, I think about what all I'd like to put on my Christmas list. This past Halloween, I decided that a certain item will not be on my list this year: Guitar Hero World Tour.

I have no problem with playing guitar on the Guitar Hero or Rock Band games. I have no problem with friends of mine playing these games and having a good time. It's just that my exposure to the drum parts on Rock Band, and especially Guitar Hero World Tour, has made me rather annoyed with these games.

When I played GHWT at a Halloween party this year, I tried various degrees of expertise and I could barely get through the songs. Super-simple songs, like the Smashing Pumpkins' "Today," were difficult to pull off for me. I can play the songs with no problem on my drumset, but no dice in the virtual world.

Probably my biggest gripe here is that a sense of rhythm is not needed. When it came to keeping a beat, no problem. When it came to doing fills, forget the rhythm. So when I recently played Wii Music, I was very, very happy to see that keeping a steady beat is required not only for drumming, but for playing all instruments. This is probably one of the most fundamental aspects of playing music, and I applaud the makers of Wii Music.

In lieu of the other games, I think the best way to play drums is on a real kit, and playing along to a record is not a bad idea either.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sometimes They Come Back . . . Again and Again

Well, the timing was weird for this, given the topic of yesterday's post: Variety reports today that Rob Zombie will be making a sequel to his take on Halloween. If this is as any good as Zombie's director's cut of Halloween, I will probably wait until his director's cut comes out on DVD.

What's frustrating about slasher sequels is that they all seem like a ploy. No matter how gruesome the apparent death of a monster, the monster always seems to come back. My cynical side says the real monster is not the one you see on the screen: it's the producers that keep wanting to audiences to come back each new installment. And yes, this is somebody who likes all of the Saw sequels. At least when the lead villain was killed in those movies, he didn't come back (for now).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fooled Around and . . . Liked a Remake

In my continuing effort to arm myself with reasons why movies should not be remade, I've found myself defending a remake of one of my all-time favorites. No, it's not Zack Snyder's take on Dawn of the Dead (which isn't that bad and is surprisingly decent). And it's definitely not the Black Christmas remake (which looks good, but that's about it). I'm talking about Rob Zombie's take on Halloween.

The original Halloween is something I watch about once a year, usually near the end of October for obvious reasons. I still jump at the scares, find the acting believable, and find the film's look still really special. I thought a remake was a bad, bad idea for several reasons, re-stating my reasons why the idea of remaking is asking for trouble.

Now I'm not about to say Rob Zombie's take on the material is better than the original, but I will say see this movie if you're curious about the Halloween sequels and/or connection-in-name. If you want to see how to run a franchise into the ground and have the patience to sit through nearly a dozen hours of bad movies, see Halloween III, IV, V, VI, and Halloween Resurrection. If you don't want to do that and want to see some good sequels, see II and H2O. But I highly recommend Rob Zombie's take as well.

I'm well aware of the criticisms of Zombie's version. Stuff like making Michael Myers more human lessens his power as an evil entity and there's an unnecessary amount of nudity and gore. While I think those criticisms are valid, they didn't weigh the film down for me. I found Malcolm McDowell's take on Dr. Loomis was very good, and Sheri Moon Zombie is really, really fine as Michael's mom. (Maybe since I didn't like her character/acting in House of the 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects I didn't have high hopes for her role. Still, she's really good in this.)

Yes, this is a modern update on a classic. No, I don't think making modern updates of classic movies is a great idea. But no matter how much people whine and complain about them, more are to come. So, I think it is worth my time to check out some remakes rather just respond to the idea of them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A year in watching movies

Earlier this year, between the completion of Post and its release, the amount of DVDs I watched rose significantly. Now it's to a point where I see an average of three DVDs a week, all while finding time to do others things. Again, in lieu of having cable, I choose to watch a lot of DVDs. I don't see a lot of new movies in the theater, mainly because there are a lot of movies out there on DVD that I want to see for the first time.

Four movies I actually saw in a theater
And those four were: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Saw V, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I still gripe about going to a theater, but these were movies I could just not wait to see them on DVD. Iron Man and The Dark Knight packed a visual and audio punch my home system couldn't, so I'd have to say these films were more satisfying to see in the theater.

DVD I bought just for a commentary track, even though I had never seen the film before
It seems rather risky and stupid, but I bought the "Director's Cut" 2-disc version of True Romance mainly because of Quentin Tarantino's solo commentary track. He has yet to do a commentary for the films he's directed, so this was something of a major curiosity for me. I liked what Quentin had to say, but for some reason I haven't watched the film itself sans a commentary track on. Strange, but that's just me. I also purchased Once Upon a Time in the West just for its multi-person commentary track (including directors John Carpenter and Alex Cox), but I have yet to watch anything off of it.

A great film that should reissued on DVD
Deceiver is a film I had first heard about from, of all places, Zao's Liberate Te Ex Inferis. Just a quick sample of some dialogue from the film made me curious about it. Featuring a number of great actors (Tim Roth, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Rooker, Renee Zellweger, Chris Penn, and Rosanna Arquette), the movie is quite a head-trip that doesn't end on a cheat. It's quite a great noir piece about deception, but its current transfer on DVD is not all that great. A reissue would be wonderful.

A film that everybody I knew liked but I didn't
I heard great things about The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but when I saw it, I found its premise to be very, very thin. The record holder remains elusive while his fans try to undermine the number one contender. This ain't no underdog story like Rocky or even Mystery, Alaska. As much as I like video games, they aren't something I take that seriously. I just couldn't root for the underdog or this film.

A film I hated, hated, hated
Dan in Real Life looks great with its use of autumn colors, but what could have been a great look at grief and love felt like a long and painful test of my patience. Using a frequently-used plot device in half-hour sitcoms (waiting until the very, very last moment to be upfront with people about something), I could not wait until the film was over. That's not something I often encounter with films I choose to see, but it happened here.

A film that I hope more people see on Blu-Ray and on big screen TVs
It's funny, a Wachowski Brothers movie sold me on DVD: The Matrix. Now another one of their movies sold me on Blu-Ray: Speed Racer. Their live-action version of the beloved cartoon isn't all aces (I found the attempts at comedy with Spritle and Chim Chim rather distracting), but it's a visually stunning film with heart. I never thought I'd say that about a live action version of a cartoon, but there it is.

Films that get even better with repeat viewings
Suspiria, the original Black Christmas, and Southland Tales are films I liked when I first saw them, but love more and more with each viewing. I still can't explain what all happens in Southland Tales, but then again, I can't fully explain what all happens in Donnie Darko.

Film that I hope to see in the theater so I can get a better understanding of why its source material is so revered
I'm looking forward to seeing Zack Snyder's take on Watchmen, based on a graphic novel that is very, very highly regarded. I have only read the book once and found it to be a dated piece of Cold War fiction that apparently works on so many levels that I didn't detect.

Film that I hope to see on DVD once Netflix no longer lists it as "Long Wait"
WALL*E. A film I've heard plenty of great things about, but due to high demand for the movie on regular and Blu-Ray DVD, I, in the words of Bob Nastanovich, will just to wait.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In hopes of not sounding like Matt Foley

Credit goes to Scott for this one, based on a recent post.

The day after Halloween this year, I came to a realization. Ten years ago, I spent my Halloween alone in my off-campus apartment watching Halloween and Halloween II on my 13-inch TV. This year, I spent it watching Zack and Miri Make a Porno in a theater and then going to two different Halloween parties hosted by friends. It was upon comparing these events based on my ten years of living in the D/FW area that I thought it was safe to say that I have made progress on the social front.

Upon this realization, I was reminded of how I had to keep a sense of faith with going to a university where I only knew a couple of people. My social life would have probably been easier if I went to the university my friends went to, but I wanted to go to a smaller school. Call it the road not taken or something like that. I thought I should just stick with making my own path. I was still in touch with my friends, and I'm still in touch with them today. It's not like there was a time when I considered giving up and switching schools. Sometimes things just sucked when I'd spend numerous hours by myself trying to find some ways to entertained. Other times it was great and liberating.

Over time, with each semester and new year, things started to really work out, especially with working at the campus radio station. All these years later, I think it's safe to say that the path has been totally worthwhile. But I don't think we really notice growth until well after the fact.

All I'm saying, if this were to be directed to a freshman in college, find something you are really passionate about. If you enjoy doing it, be it by yourself or with a few or a lot of people, stick with it. You never really know where exactly this passion will take you, but it's quite rewarding to find out where it takes you.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Anywhere But Here

I'd say one of the things I truly enjoy with Wes Anderson's film is their look. Some of them look like they could be filmed anywhere. In the case of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, they were filmed in Dallas and Houston, respectively, but they don't look like the Dallas or Houston most people see. Maybe that's why I don't always think of those films when I drive around their filming locations.

Now, on the flipside, with a recent viewing of RoboCop (after not seeing it for seventeen years), I couldn't help but think of Dallas whenever there was an exterior shot. Save for the scenes in the saw mill, the exterior shots were shot around downtown Dallas. Dallas City Hall and Reunion Tower are very visible, and I couldn't imagine the story was set in Detroit.

I guess it boils down to the landmarks that are used in a film. Aside from the big Fair Park ferris wheel being visible in a scene in Bottle Rocket, nothing really screams "Dallas!" Same with Rushmore.

Believe or not, but this a major influence on the setting of When We Were the Kids. Town names are mentioned, but they are not supposed to be in one particular place. I want to give an idea of what it was like to live in a suburb in 1990s. Not all suburbs, but a typical suburb like the one I lived in, as well as several of my friends. Setting things in a very identifiable area and talking about very identifiable landmarks can limit things. Since I want to put across universal thoughts and feelings, I think it's good to set things in an area that could be anywhere.

Because this general idea is mentioned on the Rushmore commentary track, it's another example of how a commentary track informs me as a writer. Strange, but it is what it is.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bottle Rocket Tour Re-revisited

As I patiently await the arrival of Bottle Rocket on Criterion Blu-Ray, I think about the day-long Bottle Rocket tour I took a few years ago. Since most of the film was filmed here in Dallas, I figured I should venture out sometime and see where it was shot. Just my luck, it was on an overcast day, the type of day you normally see in a Wes Anderson film.

I hit up the hotel where Bob, Anthony, and Dignan hide out, the bookstore they robbed, the school where Anthony talks to Grace, Bob's house, the street where Anthony and Dignan discuss the "Things Dignan's Not Supposed to Touch" list, and the location of Hinkley Cold and Storage. I never knew where the mental hospital, the prison, the Lawn Wranglers' hideout, the country club, the fireworks stand, the drug store, or the Mexican night club were, so I didn't try to find them. But still, I saw a lot in one day.

The weird thing is, as much as I love the film still to this day, I tend to forget that the film was made here. Dallas is not some small little town who has a single claim to fame. I'm sure more people from around the world come here looking for places filmed for the TV series Dallas than Bottle Rocket. But for me, there are times when I'm reminded that it was filmed here. Any time I pass by the Texas Ice House (the location of Hinkley Cold and Storage), I usually remember. When I park my car in Northpark Mall's parking garage, I remember how the bookstore used to be on that ground. When I went to a band practice at Bishop Manor, I think I passed by the Lawn Wrangers' hideout. In other words, there are reminders here and there.

As far as the film itself, I find it to be one of my favorite Wes Anderson films. Something about the subject matter (post-education guys trying to find their way in the world) still speaks to me, and the humor and music are fantastic. Hearing about all the struggles going into the movie and the subsequent limited release are definitely nice reminders that not everything is easy and peachy keen. I'm glad this special edition of film restores all of this and more.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

You Won't Forget

Over the weekend I received a very nice postcard from one of the most prominent people featured in Post. He congratulated me on the publication of the book, thanked me for sending him a copy, and said he looked forward to reading it. I found his gesture to be very, very kind and I immensely appreciated it. Sometime while processing this I came back to an idea I've discussed before: you never forget the experience of doing something yourself. Whether it's putting out records or books or making your own movie, that experience will probably stay with you for the rest of your life.

I have yet to meet somebody who deeply regrets doing any of the aforementioned activities. Not everybody has the drive and/or desire to see something from beginning to completion to release, so it's still somewhat of a rare thing these days. For me, I find way more common ground talking to a punk band about DIY than say, interviewing a member of KISS and wondering if it's OK to talk about KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. In other words, there's an entryway to something deeper beyond the facade of fame or popularity.

Now that I'm in a position where people are contacting me about writing a book themselves. Whatever help I can offer, I'm more than happy to share with them. I'm not going to forget the people that inspired me how (and how not) to treat others looking for advice. I'm not one to discourage as I've found those with the passion to do something like this will do it with your help or without your help.

Monday, December 01, 2008

New Born

Well, it's only taken me nine years, but I can now say I am a fan of Muse. It's not like there was a time when I hated the band's music. It was just not the right time when I first heard the band.

Well after Radiohead released OK Computer but before they released Kid A, there seemed to be a number of Radiohead-like bands getting a push on college radio. Palo Alto was one of the many, coupled with a large number of bands with Jeff Buckley/Thom Yorke-like singing. Hearing falsetto after falsetto got to a point of breaking for me. So when Muse's "Uno" and "Muscle Museum" were added into high rotation, I was not impressed. (Adding fuel to the fire: I remember getting a call from a woman asking about that new Radiohead song I just played.)

Basically, the Radiohead comparisons had to stop. Radiohead had to put out a new record. I followed Radiohead through Hail to the Thief and still enjoy them, but I don't listen to them as much as I used to. With Muse, I lost track of them, but I was still aware they had released a few more albums. I had dug "Starlight" because of its similarity to an 80s dance pop song I can't seem to remember its name. I had also attempted to get through "Knights of Cydonia" on Guitar Hero III.

Fast forward to a month or so ago: I see their excellent DVD of a concert at Wembley and I see High Tension for the first time. Knowing the band put on a really great live show and enjoying the use of "New Born" in High Tension, I figured I'd invest some more time into the band. Now it's reached a point where I can't stop listening to their stuff. Even the Showbiz songs, there's something I really have a new appreciation for.

All I can say is, I can't swear off a band forever. Sometimes life has its way of reintroducing a band you loathed but later love.