28 February 2010

24 February 2010


Anna Karina

22 February 2010


Maybe it's just me, but I imagine Charlie Kaufman will always be best known to the world at large for the remarkable Being John Malkovich. That hasn't stopped him from pursuing his intensely singular vision over the course of five subsequent films, though, all equally excellent in their own right. After Malkovich in 1999, he wrote Human Nature (2001), Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (both 2002) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), but with 2008's Synecdoche, New York, he finally made the transition to directing and in doing so, crafted one of the most brilliant, complex and assured pieces of filmmaking of the last few decades.

To say it's challenging would be like describing reality TV as banal: This is not light entertainment. Anyone satisfied by the comfortably predictable fare regularly cranked out by the Hollywood studio system probably isn't going to see what all the fuss is about. There's nothing easy about this film, and it's difficult to describe. I won't let that stop me from rattling off a mildly unwieldy plot synopsis, though...

On the surface, it's the story of theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose relationship with his wife Adele, a gifted painter on the brink of international stardom (Catherine Keener), unravels as he achieves success with his production of Death of a Salesmen (using all young actors, so the notion that they'll eventually wind up as crushed and disillusioned as poor Willy Loman) and begins to mount an ambitious new play. Armed with a MacArthur "genius" grant and committed to the ideal of producing something brutally real, he assembles an enormous ensemble cast, moves into a massive warehouse in Manhattan's theater district and begins directing his cast to recreate the most mundane moments of life in a series of individual and all-too-lifelike vignettes. In the process, the lines between fiction and non-fiction in Caden's world blur; the differences between what's real and imagined become increasingly hard to ascertain.

There's much more to it than that, of course. Caden is also beset by mounting health problems and following the abrupt dissolution of his marriage, he seeks solace in relationships with Claire, one of his actors (Michelle Williams), and Hazel, a strikingly candid young woman who could well be the love of his life (Samantha Morton). He's also heartbroken over the loss of his four-year-old daughter Olive, whom Adele takes with her when she leaves, obsessively reading and re-reading her diary years after she's out of his life. Oh, and the actor hired to play Caden in the play, a man named Sammy (Tom Noonan) who has followed the director for 20 years and knows him almost better than he knows himself, is just a little too good at his part, creating friction first with Claire and then later (and disastrously) with Hazel. And that's to say nothing of the constantly burning houses, an obsession with household chores, the eternal construction of the play's sprawling set and several different identity changes.

There's a lot going on.

In addition to gradually letting reality warp around his characters as Caden buries himself deeper and deeper in his masterpiece, Kaufman plays fast and loose with chronology, with time elapsing as rapidly and inconsistently as it might in a dream and leaving the audience (and even Caden himself) unsure how many years have been passed from one moment to the next. In fact, at times, it seems likely that some, if not all, of the film's events are merely fevered recollections of things that were or perhaps could have been, unrealized hopes and dreams mixed in amongst the failures of a life crashing down to its end. There are certainly several "Paul is dead"-sequel moments throughout the film: At one point, Caden's therapist asks him, "Why did you kill yourself?" before surreptitiously rephrasing the question as "Why would you kill yourself?" and then at another, Caden ponders whether his long-dead father was present at his mother's funeral. He confuses a newspaper headline about Harold Pinter winning the Noble Prize with an obituary, and he sees himself in a number of bizarre television ads. At times, it's almost like watching his memories and dreams, replayed out of sequence as he slowly awakens from the dream of life.

It's all a bit heady – apart from some obvious references to Arthur Miller, Kaufman also manages to invoke Kafka, Pinter and Dostoyevsky – but at the same time, it's incredibly heartfelt. Messy summaries aside, Kaufman does an excellent job of allowing us to witness the agony of a man so achingly self-aware that he hasn't a clue who he really is or what he really wants, so obsessed with what could be that he never fully appreciates what is. Kaufman really covers all the bases here: life, death, love, sex, creativity, ambition... but he does so in such a careful way that it never comes across as preachy or contrived. And there are so many genuinely touching, truly poignant moments in this film that it's impossible not to absorb the ridiculously simple message that it is better to live in the world as it is than as we might wish it to be. Easier said than done, but something to aspire to, nonetheless.

Many will find this film to be something of a downer, and make no mistake: There are some incredibly bleak moments here. As with all Kaufman's work, though, here's also a lot to laugh at – sometimes when you're least expecting to – and the sheer magnitude of the cast makes Synecdoche, New York an absolute pleasure to watch. Hoffman, Keener, Morton and Williams are always excellent, but Kaufman's script allows each and every one of them to outdo themselves, and the same goes for Emily Watson, Hope Davis and the inimitable Dianne Wiest in their brief roles. And if it you like it as much as I did, here's some good news: It's such a unique film that it's even better when viewed more than once. (I've seen it four times at this point.) There's such an avalanche of ideas, thoughts and feelings in this movie, it's almost impossible to process them all in one sitting. Like David Lynch's (ever-so-vaguely related) Mulholland Drive, it may not necessarily reward multiple viewings with absolute clarity, but it will give you a greater sense of what the questions are and what Kaufman is truly trying to accomplish with this one of a kind work. If nothing else, it will give you even more to ponder, which to my mind, at least, is something all great fiction, regardless of the medium, should strive for.

It's a modern classic. If you missed it in the theater, by all means make it a point to see it on DVD.

21 February 2010


A couple of Roxy Music live clips: First from German TV in 1973, with a wonderfully camp Brian Eno still in tow...

...and then from much later, at London's Hammersmith Apollo during their 2001 reunion tour...

After teasing a new album by the original members (including Eno) since their reformation, it's sounding more and more like that's not going to happen and they'll just continue to tour. If they continue to sound this good, then great. It's not like there aren't five amazing albums and a couple good ones for fans to enjoy in the mean time.

19 February 2010


If you haven't heard about the upcoming comic book series by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards, Turf, I highly recommend checking out the new site Tommy recently launched to promote the book over here.

Set against the backdrop of New York in the '20s, Turf is a crime thriller with a twist: Instead of simply doing the typical gang war bit, Ross and Edwards have tossed a clan of vampires and a shipwrecked alien into the mix. So it's cops versus gangsters versus vampires with the only hope of deliverance coming from an unlikely alliance between a stranger from another world and a mob boss with nothing to lose.

Published by Image Comics and out in April.

18 February 2010


“Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, for the people and by the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master… Let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware.”

–Mary Elizabeth Lease (1890)

"Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was..."

–David Byrne (1980)

17 February 2010


Selma Blair

16 February 2010

15 February 2010


I came across this photo online recently – it's Eric Clapton with The Yardbirds at London's Marquee in 1964 – and it reminded me of a short story I'd read a few years back. (And recently reposted by the original author here.) Essentially a bit of recollection by an original '60s Mod, the part that stuck with me was the protagonist's chance encounter with Clapton:

"Just before you go eye-to-eye, you take in a three-ply, midnight blue, four- button tonik suit, cut by a master and then hand- stitch finished, wrapped around a Ben Sherman Oxford button down and a polka dot slim jim tie. This guy's the Face. How come you don't know him personally? But you do, from a distance. It’s Eric "Slowhand" Clapton, lead guitarist with The Yardbirds..."

By most accounts, Clapton was an enthusiastic clothes horse, a dedicated follower of fashion with more style than all four members of The Who combined: They talked the talk, Clapton walked the walk. And at least while he was playing with The Yardbirds, he was the epitomy of London Ivy cool.

After leaving The Yarbirds and hooking up first with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, then later with Cream, Clapton traded in his Ivy League clobber for the more flamboyant styles that dominated the mid-'60s onward. His hair got longer, then there was the beard, then flares came into fashion... Clapton remained a follower of fashion trends, but never quite looked as cool as he did in those early years. Worse still, somewhere along the way his fashion sense because as dull and uninspired as his music and this became the Eric Clapton our collective consciousness accessed whenever his name was mentioned:

To be fair, Eric Clapton isn't the only cultural icon from the early '60s to make a wrong turn at the style crossroads: They all did. For the kids at street level, the sharp look of the '60s Mod gave way to hippiedom or was taken a step further with the original Skinhead look, but the musicians of the time seemed to get caught up in fad after fad. It worked for some – others wound up looking like walking reminders that fashions may fade, but style is eternal.

Which may be why, after all these years, Clapton seems to have reverted to an earlier, simpler and altogether more stylish look:

14 February 2010


Ah, Valentine's Day.

Cap'nWacky.com has assembled several galleries of strange holiday cards, but this collection of unfortunate Valentine's cards remains my favorite. Especially the Batman card.

12 February 2010


There's a good article over at npr.org about two of my favorite things: music and comics. Focusing on comics inspired by music, it's a nice rundown of the various forms that inspiration takes, complete with a recommended reading list of music-related comics and graphic novels.

One of the best examples is Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's
Phonogram, published by Image Comics. Now on its second volume, it's a series I'd recommended to anyone who appreciates indie comics, even more so if you're partial to British Pop.

You can read the first issue of volume one

11 February 2010


The oddest couple. The sweetest song.

Forget the ongoing Specials reunion, I'd like a whole album from Sinead & Terry, please!

10 February 2010


Marianne Faithfull

09 February 2010


Back when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and The Who and all those other titans of pop's Golden Age were just starting out in the halycon days of the '60s, none of them could have guessed they'd still be a going concern nearly five decades later. And actually, judging from countless interviews with your Lennons, your Jaggers and your Townshends, they all would have predicted the exact opposite. I wonder how they all felt when they realized their success had transformed them from energetic upstarts to lumbering institutions? They came, they conquered, they became part of the cultural wallpaper.

With that in mind, I don't know what I was expecting when it was announced The Who would be playing this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show, but I certainly wasn't anticipating anything as cringe-worthy as watching Townshend and Daltry croak through a medley of "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Riley," "Who You Are," "See Me, Feel Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

"Hope I die before I get old," indeed.

Frankly, I'd prefer to remember them like this:

Or even this:

08 February 2010


As the title of Under the Covers, Vol. 1 suggested, Matthew Sweet and Sussana Hoffs cover band collaboration didn't end there. In fact, their first album wasn't even the duo's sole release for 2006, as a four-track EP followed almost immediately afterwards.

Released digitally and on 7" vinyl, The Pillowcase EP paired two of the best songs from the album ("I Can See the Rain" and "She May Call You Up Tonight") with two other tracks, presumably from the same recording sessions, The Kinks classic, "The Village Green Preservation Society," and another Who cover, "I Can See For Miles." Both covers sound great and the EP works fine both as sampler and addendum, but it's a little frustrating that the Kinks track couldn't have taken the place of one of the Neil Young covers on the album proper. That said, the main thing Sweet and Hoffs accomplished with The Pillowcase EP was creating an appetite for another album.

Flash forward to summer 2009 and Under the Covers, Vol. 2 finds Sid 'n' Susie paying tribute to the 1970s. There are 16 tracks this time around (on one version, anyway – more on that point later) and as with the first album, there's little here anyone with a passing knowledge of '70s rock won't have heard before. Sure, they avoid covering the obvious choices by Fleetwood Mac and John Lennon (and there's absolutely zero Wings, so take that, Macca!), but that still leaves ample room for "All the Young Dudes," "You're So Vain," "Maggie May," "Hello It's Me" and "Go All the Way."

It actually sounds like a bit of a disaster, doesn't it? Amazingly, it's not, even if it does take a few listens for this batch of songs to take hold.

For starters, even though everyone's heard The Rasberries' "Go All the Way" a million times or more, there's something incredibly cool (not to mention undeniably sexy) about the way Sweet and Hoffs transform it into a duet and while there's nothing wrong with Eric Clapton's vocal on "Bell Bottom Blues," having Sussana Hoffs take lead on this one was an inspired choice. Susie's also a perfect stand-in for Carly Simon on "You're So Vain," so much so that I have to say I prefer this version. Sid's backing vox on this are ace, as well. Two Todd Rundgren songs is pushing it, however, and it's likely no one would've missed the Grateful Dead or Little Feat covers. Or Bread's "Everything I Own."

But Lindsay Buckingham shows up to shred on "Second Hand News," as does Steve Howe on "I've Seen All Good People," and the whole thing ends on a high note with a cover of George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness" that features Harri-son Dhani on guitar. Or does it?

See, the problem with Under the Covers, Vol. 2 is that someone got a bit over-ambitious and decided a "Deluxe Version" should be made available via iTunes, adding a second helping of 10 extra covers. So, out roll covers of Badfinger, Blondie, The Ramones and most shocking of all, Television's "Marquee Moon." Sadly, apart from an interesting take on "Killer Queen," nothing here is as immediate as anything on the first disc, let along the first album. Worse, there's precious little to join these disparate covers together (seriously, how does Badfinger wind up between covers of "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "You Say You Don't Love Me?"), so the bonus disc doesn't even work well on its own merits. And it definitely, definitely does not whet the appetite for an album of punk/new wave classics as re-imagined by Sid 'n' Susie.

Bottom line: Under the Covers, Vol. 2, while a bit of a grower and still fairly enjoyable, is bit more tedious than its predecessor. There are highlights here to be sure, but making it through some of these songs is too much like work. Sweet and Hoffs still sound like they're having fun, but an unfortunate truth about '70s rock is that not all of it is as fondly remembered or as easily accessible as '60s pop.

07 February 2010


Listening to the Hot Rats' Turn Ons brings to mind another surprisingly enjoyable covers album: Under the Covers, Vol. 1 by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs.

Released with little fanfare in 2006, Under the Covers is a little more focused than Turn Ons, with nearly all 15 songs hailing from the mid-to-late '60s. The sole exception is a cover of the Bee Gees' 1972 hit, "Run to Me," but considering that track's place on an album wildly regarded as the swan song for the '60-era Bee Gees, it makes a somewhat fitting coda for this record.

So what exactly do we get on Under the Covers, Vol. 1? Well, the album opens with a fantastic version of Marmalade's "I Can See the Rain" before Sweet and Hoffs (or Sid 'n' Susie, as they're referred to in the liner notes) take on everything from The Beatles ("And Your Bird Can Sing") to Fairport Convention ("Who Knows Where the Time Goes?"), covering gems by Dylan, The Who, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Love and Velvet Underground along the way. Is it the most adventurous choice of covers? With "Monday, Monday" and "The Kids Are Alright" in the track list, probably not, but the quality of the songwriting is high from track one to track last and while I could quibble about the inclusion of two Neil Young covers, at least The Left Banke cover is something other than "Walk Away, Renee" or "Pretty Ballerina."

Most everything works, thanks in large part to the shared sensibility of most of the songs, but even more so because Sweet and Hoffs just sound fantastic together. I was never tremendously fond of the Bangles, but I've always like Susanna Hoffs' voice and she has definitely improved with age. Sweet complements her perfectly, and both singers sound so genuinely in love with the material that their passion for the songs is infectious.

Really, the only low point on the album is a slightly silly "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and the bum intro to "Care of Cell 44," but listening to this again for the first time in a while, it's definitely a collection of songs Sweet and Hoffs can be proud of.

06 February 2010


Has it really been 15 years since "Calvin & Hobbes" ended?

There have been no "Calvin & Hobbes" films or animated series, no "Calvin & Hobbes" cereal or t-shirts or underoos. Despite pressure from his publisher, creator Bill Watterson was (and is) staunchly against merchandising his characters. And as with the value he places on his privacy, his decision to confine his creations to their original medium has been met with a resounding lack of understanding, not just by the media, but by many fans of his work.

Longish story shortish: Watterson is to comics what J.D. Salinger was to modern American literature.

Sure, Watterson has been a bit more accommodating of the press than Salinger. He has occasionally written about other comic strips and every so often, he'll speak with the press. So, it was interesting to read this reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer grapple with questions surrounding Watterson's decision to end "Calvin & Hobbes" in this rare interview. As Watterson explains, "It isn't as hard to understand as people make it," but don't expect that to stop them from trying to unravel another mystery that never was.

05 February 2010


I doubt they'll be showing this on FOX News anytime soon, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released this chart comparing job losses during the last year of the Bush Administration to the the first year of the Obama Administration. The numbers don't lie: Job losses increased over Bush's final 14 months in office, while decreasing during the 12 months since Obama took over. Does that mean everything's better? Well, no, but it does mean it's not Obama's fault. The President still has a long way to go towards proving he can actually turn the economy (and the country) around, but no matter how loudly Obama's detractors claim otherwise, our troubles started with Bush.

04 February 2010


Ten songs that pick me up when the weather's got me down:

The Beatles - "Rain" (1966)
Back when 45 rpm singles were all the rage, the Fabs had mastered the art of the b-side and this is one of their best. Recorded during the sessions for Revolver and released alongside "Paperback Writer," this was the first hint of the band's great leap forward and one of the first recorded examples of British psychedelia. Also notable for being the song Oasis' Liam Gallagher seems to have based his entire career around.

Echo & The Bunnymen - "Ocean Rain" (1984)
Many refer to the album this track shares its name with as the Forever Changes of the '80s, which I've always found odd given Ian McCulloch's affinity for The Doors. The strings and subtle psychedelic guitar flourishes make this one of the tracks that does invite comparison to Love, though, even if it you can still hear Jim Morrison in McCulloch's breathy vocal.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "One Rainy Wish" (1967)
Released a mere seven months after the astonishing Are You Experienced? (which almost certainly, in today's vernacular, would be called a "game changer"), Axis: Bold as Love cemented Hendrix's position as a musical superstar. It also showcased his growing maturity as a songwriter, and along with "Little Wing," "Castles Made of Sand" and "Bold as Love," this is one of the highlights of a nearly flawless album.

Gladys Knight & The Pips - "I Wish it Would Rain" (1968)
Maybe I've just heard the Temps' classic a few too many times (after all, that's the version I heard first), but I've always preferred Gladys Knight's heartfelt delivery on this one.

Led Zeppelin - "The Rain Song" (1973)
Not exactly what you'd expect from a Led Zeppelin song – which is probably why I like it so much – but given how ridiculously well their fourth album was received (not to mention sold!), it's hardly a surprise Houses of the Holy seemed consciously more diverse than its immediate predecessor. All the same, there's some lovely and understated guitar work by Jimmy Page here, and the mellotron on this track gets me every time.

Ann Peebles - "I Can't Stand the Rain" (1973)
Forget "The Rain" by Missy Elliott: This is the original. Recorded in Memphis with Al Green's backing band and the recently departed Willie Mitchell, this really is the business. Better still, it's only the first track of 10 on an altogether amazing album. Just a fantastic groove on this and one of the finest voices of '70s soul.

Traffic - "Coloured Rain" (1967)
Despite being my favorite Traffic long player, there's little else on Mr. Fantasy that sounds like this organ-fueled scorcher. Essentially just a psychedelic love song, Steve Winwood sings and plays with such passion that it's as thrilling today as when I first heard it.

Scott Walker - "It's Raining Today" (1969)
Walker's first two albums were comprised mainly of covers, but that all changed with Scott 3. Although just my second favorite of his albums, it's where he finds his voice as a songwriter and this sublime opening track is just one of the record's many highlights.

XTC - "Ballad for a Rainy Day" (1986)
Probably XTC's best-known album, Skylarking was the product of a monumental battle of the wills between Andy Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren. Recording sessions for the album nearly collapsed under the weight of the two-oversized egos sharing a single studio space, but the results speak volumes. Wedged between "That's Really Super, Supergirl" and "1000 Umbrellas," this sumptuous feast of a song features a smorgasbord of lyrical imagery that nearly always brings a smile.

Neil Young - "See the Sky About to Rain" (1974)
Following the runaway success of Harvest, Young came back first with a ragged live album (Time Fades Away) and then the melancholy masterpiece this is On the Beach. Probably my favorite record by ol' Shaky, and for me, this is tied with "For the Turnstiles" as the best track. Love the harmonica on the outro.

03 February 2010


Chantal Goya

01 February 2010


And here's a video of a track that's actually not on Turn Ons, the Hot Rats' version of "Drive My Car:"