Saturday, April 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 213

The Date: April 30

The Movie: Häxan (1922)

What Is It?: My vote for the best movie of the twenties is a documentary in form but its special effects and wacky scenes of broom-riding, baby-killing, Satan’s-butt-kissing witches make it a true horror movie.

Why Today?: Tonight is Walpurgis Night when witches do all their best broom-riding, baby-killing, and butt-kissing.

Friday, April 29, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 212

The Date: April 29

The Movie: The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

What Is It?: This German fairy tale apparently scarred many a British kid after the BBC started airing it as a miniseries in the sixties. I’m not really sure what they thought was so terrifying, but the homemade quality of its creatures and sets are enchanting… it looks like the cover of Their Satanic Majesties Request has come to life (sans Charlie Watts).

Why Today?: Today is Arbor Day for trees that sing and ring and trees that don’t.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: 'The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture'

While it’s been socially acceptable for grown men to trade statistics about other grown men playing children’s games for as long as newspapers have had sports sections, the phenomenon of adults collecting toys, dressing up in tights and capes, and reading books intended for kids is much more recent. As is the case with any phenomena, one brave pioneer had to break through that glass ceiling to make “nerd culture” acceptable in the adult world. According to Glen Weldon, that pioneer was Bat Man, and the writer lays out how the Caped Crusader made it OK for grown ups to not put away childish things in his new book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture.

The Caped Crusade essentially tells two complimentary stories: the basic history of Batman through all his dark and light variations and how those variations sparked the comment and outcry from the people who refused to grow out of their Batman fandom that is a key aspect of what Weldon calls “nerd culture” (as a nerdy nitpicker, myself, I personally prefer “geek culture.” I always considered a “nerd” to be an exceptionally smart book worm, while intelligence is hardly required of the “geeks” who go crazy over comics, cartoons, superheroes, sci-fi, etc.).

While Weldon clearly ranks among the geeks he assays, he maintains a rightfully irreverent attitude toward them. He recognizes that reading “Detective Comics” or watching Burt Ward exclaim “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!” is tremendous fun, but it’s ridiculous for adults to fly into outrage—often homophobic or misogynistic outrage— about a TV show, book, or movie that fails to properly “respect” a particular (sorry… not particular; always dark and gritty) iteration of Batman. After all, as Weldon shows with good humor, there have been many Batmen, all have been legit in one way or another, and all have done their part in creating a world in which children from eight to eighty can debate whether Adam West or Christian Bale is the “true” Batman or whether or not Luke Skywalker is actually Rey’s dad or any of the other silly things that make life a little more fun.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 211

The Date: April 28
The Movie: The Brood (1979)
What Is It?: Samantha Egger’s abusiveness toward her kid and obsession with a faddish therapist cause her to birth a bunch of murderous anger babies. David Cronenberg’s divorce births his own murderous anger baby called The Brood, which offsets its own absurdities and misogyny with Grand Guignol outrageousness and a serious examination of the awful cycle of abuse.
Why Today?: Today is Biological Clock Day. Hope you don’t make any anger babies!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: 'Easy Rider' Blu-ray

It’s well known that the gritty, independently minded cinema that defined the seventies officially began in the final year of the previous decade with Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. It was the perfect bridge between the goofy acid and motorcycle movies of Roger Corman’s sixties independents and seventies landmarks like Five Easy Pieces and The French Connection, with their sexist antiheroes and unflinching cynicism. While Easy Rider has a hazy reputation for celebrating the sixties’ hippies, drug culture, and Rock & Roll, it’s really a eulogy of that era. 

Hopper is Billy and co-screenwriter Peter Fonda is Wyatt, outlaws in cowboy hats and leather jackets riding across the wide-open west on their iron horses. Just like the cowboys of frontier times, they are also doomed to extinction. They visit a hippie commune lapsed into depression and destitution. Instead of changing hearts and minds with their in-your-face freedom, they meet a succession of unmovable, hostile, long-hair-hating rednecks. They end up weeping on acid. They end up in jail. There they meet a short-haired, tie-wearing lawyer (Jack Nicholson in the performance that rightfully made him a star) who’d never even smoked pot but seems to understand and embrace the joys of freedom more than they ever could. Wyatt sums up the film’s true message when Billy crows about a drug deal that will make them “rich” and able to “retire in Florida” (hardly hippie ideals) with a deflated “We blew it.” Things get worse from there.

Easy Rider is a defeated survey of sixties Utopianism. It packs a particular punch because it’s made by two guys who’d believed in that ideology. The general failure of that ideology largely led to the cynicism that plagued seventies cinema. Yet there is joy in its songs (The Byrds, The Band, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix), László Kovács’s gorgeous panoramic cinematography, and Jack Nicholson’s exuberant performance. The set piece in which the guys sell drugs to Phil Spector as heavy airplane traffic roars twenty feet above their heads is an ingenious piece of ultra-noisy “silent” filmmaking. The haunting graveyard acid trip is cinema’s first— and perhaps only— psychedelic sequence that does not feel like a comic strip parody. Don Camber’s flashing editing creates tension in the most serene scenes.

In 2010, The Criterion Collection gave Easy Rider a major hi-def renovation as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story blu-ray/DVD box set. Last year, Criterion began the process of breaking up that collection with a stand-alone release of Five Easy Pieces, and it continues this year by putting out Easy Rider on its own (Head, meanwhile, will be part of Rhino’s endlessly upcoming Monkees Complete Series box set). This release is identical to the one in The BBS Story with the same hi-def restoration, extras (two commentaries; two documentaries from the nineties; a revealing interview with BBS’ Steve Blauner, who gives some fascinating information on his days working with The Monkees;  two minutes of B&W footage from Cannes 1969 featuring Hopper and Fonda), and even booklet essay. Fortunately, all of that stuff was great in The BBS Story, so if you wanted Easy Rider but didn’t want to spring for the whole box, this new release is ideal.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 210

The Date: April 27
The Movie: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
What Is It?: Billy Wilder tops his films past and future with a dark, funny, occasionally surreal portrait of fading Hollywood stardom. Gloria Swanson devours the camera… she teases it… she curls up inside of it… she stares it down and passes into legend.
Why Today?: Today is Tell a Story Day, and waterlogged corpses tell the best stories.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: 'Another Splash of Colour: New Psychedelia in Britain 1980-1985'

Pop music is cyclical, which was never more explicit than in late seventies/early eighties Britain when punk returned rock to the simplicity of the fifties before a new Mod scene indebted to the early sixties emerged. These scenes naturally led to a return of mid-sixties trippiness, and the New Psychedelic scene was barely underway when WEA was already putting it into historical context with a compilation of its very own. The thirteen tracks on A Splash of Colour did a pretty good job of laying out the guidelines of UK New Psychedelia. American garage psych groups such as The 13th Floor Elevators and The Electric Prunes were as influential as homegrown fare by The Beatles (always “Tomorrow Never Knows”) or Syd Barret’s Pink Floyd (always “Lucifer Sam”). Though the influences and attitude were unapologetically retro, drum machines, synthesizers that don’t require an engineering degree to play, and other eighties tools and toys were welcome at the Love In. The anti-war, pro-understanding sentiments parroted Summer of Love ethos but also served as contemporary statements against Thatcher/Reagan-era bellicosity. Consequently, the music often doesn’t sound any more stuck in the past than the latest discs by The Cure or Siouxsie and the Banshees, two seemingly super-contemporary bands that drew on sixties influences deeply.

35 years later, Cherry Red’s RPM Records is revising and expanding A Splash of Colour with a triple-disc set called Another Splash of Colour. With the exception of two tracks by The Doctor, all of the tracks from the 1982 compilation are on this new box set, although the running order is mixed up, shuffling the 11 remaining tracks with 53 additional cuts basically in the Splash of Colour spirit. Some of the new artists are bigger names than the ones on WEA’s comp: Robyn Hitchcock with and without The Soft Boys, Captain Sensible, The Damned in the guise of Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, Julian Cope, The Television Personalities, The Monochrome Set, The Attractions (without Elvis), The Dentists. Those bands all turn in reliably excellent tracks, while lesser-known acts supply the excitement of discovery, particularly when they don’t follow psychedelic tropes so doggedly. Knox takes a rather obvious cover choice—Syd Barret’s “Gigolo Aunt” — and makes it truly exciting by shooting it up with punk aggression. Magic Mushroom Band’s “Wide Eyed and Electrick” is another thrilling punk/psych fusion. Some of the best tracks would have sounded perfectly at home on Cherry Red’s Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival box, namely Kimberley Rew’s “Stomping All Over the World” and Squire’s “No Time Tomorrow”. 

There are only a couple of outright skippable tracks — Charlie Harper’s novelty “Night of the Jackal” and Blue Orchid’s grating “Work”— though Another Splash of Colour is not quite back-to-back gems otherwise. At times, groups get a little too trapped in the tropes, as when The High Tides waste their time and yours with a longwinded, sloppy jam in the middle of “Electric Blue”, a remnant of the WEA compilation. Some of the new selections sound like they don’t quite fit, such as Scarlet Party’s “101 Dam-Nations”, which is a bit jangly but generally indistinguishable from any other piece of eighties pop. However, as Miles Over Matter shout on “Something’s Happening Here”, “Just because the love generation did it, doesn’t mean we have to.” The fact that the mass of tracks on Another Splash of Colour do not merely copy psychedelia’s original wave but update it for their own age gives them a personality of their very own and makes them sound strangely contemporary today.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 209

The Date: April 26
The Movie: Wake in Fright (1971)
What Is It?: Ted Kotcheff transforms Australia into a horror environment twenty times more terrifying than Dracula’s castle. It’s a nasty portrayal of outback culture with the inhabitants cast as soul-suckers more relentless than Romero’s zombies. The kangaroo hunt, which involves real hunting of real kangaroos by real drunk hunters, may be the most disturbing sequence I’ve ever seen. Watch at your own risk. You’ll be waking in fright for months after watching this brutal, unforgettable film.
Why Today?: Today is Hug an Australian Day!

Monday, April 25, 2016

21 Underrated Prince Songs You Need to Hear Now!

Over the coming weeks we will surely be hearing so much Prince you’ll think it’s 1984 again. The reason is an undeniably sad one, but Prince’s music is almost scientifically designed to make people happy, so there has never been a better time to spin the hits. And there’s no doubt the hits will get the most spinning. Prince had enough that it shouldn’t get too repetitious, but he was an artist through and through, and his album tracks and B-sides were very often as spectacular as the stuff that got lots of radio play.

So now would be a good time to roll out 21 underrated Prince songs for those who’ve never gone deeper than The Hits. In fact, my sole criterion for determining what might be underrated was to simply eliminate anything that wasn’t on volumes one and two of that compilation series (the bonus disc of B-sides, however, was fair game). My one other exception was “Batdance”, a number one hit that somehow got left off of The Hits, possibly because it’s enduring reputation is not quite as respected as that of, say, “1999” or “When Doves Cry”. Nevertheless, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Batdance” is the most bizarre and experimental song to ever take Billboard’s top spot, and in it’s own way, it is completely underrated. Yet I’m pretty sure you’ve heard it… at least you did if you were alive in 1989, and if you weren’t, why are you reading Psychobabble? Unless you’ve served as a foot soldier in the Purple Legion, there’s a fair chance you have not heard all 21 of the following underrated Prince songs. 

1. “Sister” (from the album Dirty Mind) 1980

Ever since those primordial days when Jackie Brenston warned you ladies he was gonna introduce you to his “Rocket 88,” Rock & Roll has had a very dirty mind. In the sixties, guys like Mick Jagger and Lou Reed upped Rock’s pornography quotient, but none of those cats had the sheer audacity to do what Prince did on his third album and first true mission statement. Dirty Mind pirouetted over a series of sexual taboos, culminating in “Sister”, an ode to incest screeched in gospel rapture that not only memorializes losing one’s virginity to a sibling but also tosses in references to S&M, blow jobs, blue balls, and getting one’s underwear caught in one’s pubes. It was as if Prince wanted to separate the fair-weather “I Wanna Be Your Lover” fans from the real freaks who would follow him down any dark alley he chose. Those who did were rewarded a-hundred fold.

2. “Private Joy” (from the album Controversy) 1981

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 208

The Date: April 25

The Movie: Solaris (1972)

What Is It?: Andrei Tarkovsky crafts an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel about an astronaut experiencing hallucinations aboard a space station that has Kubrick’s scale and ability to stir awe and Bergman’s intimacy and inscrutability. Say adios to your heart, because Solaris will wrench it out.

Why Today?: Today is International Astronomy Day.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 207

The Date: April 24

The Movie: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

What Is It?: William Castle’s best movie is great fun on its own thanks to the filmmaker’s humor and budget-trumping artistry, Vincent Price’s Vincent Price-ness, and at least one true-blue scare, but this is still a movie best seen in a theater full of delinquents chucking popcorn boxes at the inflatable skeleton Emergoing overhead. Duck!

Why Today?: On this day in 1914, William Castle is born.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 206

The Date: April 23

The Movie: Rock and Roll High School (1979)

What Is It?: Unlike yesterday’s film, today’s movie limits the apocalypse to a single high school—Vince Lombardi High School to be precise. Naturally, a fatal cocktail of Ramones, truancy, and Clint Howard bring about the destruction. But PJ Soles brings it about with the charismatic warmth of a million suns. She’s great, and so is Mary Woronov as Principal Togar (Booo! Hisss!), but it is Marky Ramone who should have gotten the best supporting actor Oscar for his work in this film. Hand it over, Melvyn Douglas!

Why Today?: On this day in 1976, Ramones is released, triggering the spontaneous combustion of thousands of phonographs.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Watch a Preview "Monkees" Episode in HD

As a little consolation prize for those of us who expected to be unwrapping our pricey "Monkees" blu-ray sets in a week or two but recently learned it would be more like a couple of months, the official Monkees You Tube Page posted a restored, HD "Monkees" episode yesterday. The episode is the series' penultimate-penultimate one: "Some Like It Lukewarm". Hoorah for HD "Door Into Summer"! Hoorah for HD Dean Martin's daughter wearing a mustache! Hoorah for HD Charlie Smalls ("Mm, bah, ska-dee-doo bah!")!

In related news, Rhino has also released a more explicit picture of the upcoming set. Here it is:

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 205

The Date: April 22

The Movie: The Quiet Earth (1985)

What Is It?: Geoff Murphy paints the end of the world in poetic and haunting colors then drops a great big ellipsis at the end of it all as a cast of three navigate the post-apocalyptic Earth.

Why Today?: Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Farewell, Prince

Absolutely shocking news today: one week after being taken to hospital for undisclosed reasons, Prince was found dead at his home in Carver County, Minnesota. The details of Prince's untimely death at 57 have not been released yet. What we do know is that he was one of pop's most brilliant and influential artists; one of the very, very, very few who rightfully deserves to be called a genius. He turned the communal sounds of funk into something incredibly personal with intimate lyrics about family, love, and of course, sex, and experimental production approaches that could be retro-psychedelic or ridiculously futuristic. He often functioned as a one-man band, tackling keyboards, bass, and guitar with equal deftness. His supersonic guitar work and unbelievable vocal range were as exciting as his hooks were indelible. "1999". "Little Red Corvette". "Raspberry Beret". "I Would Die 4 U". "Baby I'm a Star". "Automatic". "Take Me With U". "If I Was Your Girlfriend". "Kiss". "Sign O' the Times". "Alphabet Street". "Controversy". "Paisley Park". "7". Even "Batdance", surely the most experimental and bizarre single to ever get to number one in the US.  Each one is marvelously conceived and completely unlike anything else in Prince's trick bag.

I had the luck to see him perform twice about a dozen years ago: one a crowd-pleasing greatest hits show at Madison Square Garden, one a Prince-pleasing jazz/funk jam set at Club Black on the night he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While the MSG show was great fun because of the song selections, the Club Black one may have been even more special, both because I stood in such close proximity to Prince and because it was the ultimate expression of his refusal to follow anything but his own muse. If he had been any other way, he would not have been the great artist he was and is, but my favorite Prince moment may have been his appearance earlier in the night at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony as he strutted on stage during an all-star jam of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George Harrison had been inducted that night too). The all stars (Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne) seemed fairly indifferent about sharing a stage with the Purple One, but Harrison's son Dhani was clearly beside himself with joy to be hearing such spectacular music. It's always the young ones who best understand the progressive nature of genius. 

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 204

The Date: April 21
The Movie: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
What Is It?: Ray Harryhausen’s penultimate film may have looked a little old-fashioned in the year that saw the release of a couple of other special-effects-centric fantasy flicks, but all these decades later, his stop-motion baboon, troglodyte, and saber-tooth tiger still have the power to charm. Keep an eye out for Peter Mayhew as the Minoton. He was a busy boy in 1977.
Why Today?: Today begins the phase of the Taurus star sign, which should be of interest to bullish folks like the Minoton.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: Deluxe Reissues of The Move's 'Move' and 'Shazam'

The original British bands tended to follow in the footsteps of either The Beatles or the Stones. The Beatles led the parade of sweet pop harmonizers, such as The Hollies and The Searchers. The Stones led the gang of thuggish R&B shouters, such as The Animals and The Pretty Things. Arriving later on the scene, The Move seemed to follow The Who with their eccentric blend of weird song topics performed with cute melodies and bashing beats. They even picked up on The Who’s violent stage act, taking it to absurd extremes by smashing TVs and junked cars with sledgehammers while dressed as gangsters. The Move were hardly poseurs, though, and with brilliant songwriter Roy Wood steering the ship, The Move moved beyond the terrific Who-like singles of their early career to more progressive forms that had all the humor and cheekiness critics complained were missing from those Yes albums.

The Move’s first album was basically a riff on their zany early singles with some great (Eddie Cochran’s “Weekend”) and not-so-great (“Zing Went the Strings of My Heart”) covers filling it out. Released after some delay, Move must have sounded a bit out of step with the mid-1968 rock scene and its move away from psychedelia toward Dylan and The Band’s more rustic country-rock. Today it sounds like one of the year’s freshest albums.  Perhaps “John Wesley Harding” and “All Along the Watchtower” were more “artful,” but they sure weren’t as fun as “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree” and “Flowers in the Rain”. Come to think of it, those Dylan songs may not have even been as artful as “Cherry Blossom Clinic”.

That track became even artier when The Move recut it for their second LP. Shazam is one of prog’s wackiest records. It throws a big custard pie in the face of charges that progressive rock is nothing but po-faced mathematics. The revamped and expanded “Cherry Blossom Clinic” takes bizarre detours, turning familiar Bach, Dukas, and Tchaikovsky tunes into cartoon confetti. Singer Carl Wayne takes breaks to chat with passersby throughout the record. The Move makes heavy metal hay with pop (Frankie Laine’s “Don’t Make My Baby Blue”) and folk (Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind”) standards King Crimson would not have touched with a twenty-foot Frippertronics stick.

Move and Shazam are both terrific albums, but The Move was always at its most comfy making singles, so deluxe editions of these LPs are necessary to tell the whole story. Salvo Records did that in 2007 with a terrific double-disc edition of Move and an expanded single disc one of Shazam. Nine years later, Esoteric is expanding those expansions even more expansively with a triple-disc Move and a double-disc Shazam.

There is not a dramatic difference between the sound on Salvo’s discs and Esoteric’s new remasters, which utilize the same analogue tapes the 2007 editions did. That still means they sound very good, and the extensive bonus material makes an upgrade well worthwhile. Like the Salvo discs, Esoteric’s include contemporary singles, and it’s a fabulous crop with such essential Movements as “Night of Fear”, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”, “Blackberry Way”, and “Curly”. Salvo made one big blunder in that department by only including a new stereo remix of “Wild Tiger Woman” on Shazam, but Esoteric corrects that by including the original mono single mix along with the stereo variation. Move includes the 1968 mono and 2007 stereo mixes of all the album’s tracks save a cover of Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma”, and unlike Esoteric’s jumbled “New Movements” presentation, it plays out in the same running order as the original album. It also includes exclusive alternate mixes of “Disturbance” and “Fire Brigade”, which features prominent piano, and a whole disc of BBC sessions. Most valuable is a selection of eight folky and modish originals and soul covers cut in the studio or for radio almost a year before their first single was issued. Five are making their debut on this set.

Shazam contains such exclusive material as the abridged single edit of “Hello Susie”, the full-length version of “Omnibus”, an alternate mix of “Beautiful Daughter”, and the backing track of an acoustic-based rocker called “Second Class (She’s Too Good for Me)”. There’s also another disc of ferocious BBC sessions. The Move’s eclectic taste in covers of songs made famous by Neil Diamond, Jackie Wilson, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Dion, etc. reflects their own gonzo fusion of sugary pop, hard rock, cabaret, and doo-wop. Oddly, it lacks the Italian language version of “A Certain Something” previously issued on The Best of The Move, but only Italian fans and the craziest completists should have a legitimate beef about that one flaw.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 203

The Date: April 20

The Movie: Reefer Madness (1936)

What Is It?: Pot is bad: ten times more hallucinogenic than LSD; twenty times more addictive than crack. Don’t believe me? Well, just watch this movie, Hep Cat.

Why Today?: Today is 4/20. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 202

The Date: April 19
The Movie: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
What Is It?: Dark exploration of loner/rebel’s ruthless quest to recover what was taken from him. No biker is safe. There is no place in the Alamo he won’t trespass, even its basement. He has no time for romance. He’ll hitchhike with a convict or rest in the mouth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. His story is epic. His name is Pee Wee.
Why Today?: Today is Bicycle Day!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: 'The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Two'

Spending over ten million bucks on a sci-fi fantasy for kids was a huge gamble in a cinematic era defined by gritty Earth-bound dramas, but as we all knew a week after its release, Star Wars paid off in a big way. So did the equally risky Topps trading card series devoted to George Lucas’s universe of sand and steel, and when he produced its sequel, another Topps series was inevitable. Just as Empire Strikes Back improved on the original Star Wars in a number of ways, Topps’ new cards were a step up too. The images on them covered the most visually accomplished episode more completely than the first series covered Star Wars. They were less repetitious and more eclectic with comic-booky illustrations and Ralph McQuarrie’s enchanting production paintings mingling with the usual promo and production photos, which include outtake scenes and behind-the-scenes moments. The quality of the images was also finer than the grainy, blurry shots on the first Star Wars cards.

The excellence of Topps’ Empire Strikes Back cards makes Abrams’ new anthology of them both essential and frustrating. The increased number of cards in the series meant that Abrams could not allot an entire page to each card back and front, as it did in volume one. In volume two, most of the backs and fronts are paired on pages, but the smallness of these images is unnecessary and disappointing. Whereas Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series represented its cards slightly larger than their original 2 ½" x 3 ½" dimensions, the paired images in The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Two are shrunk down to 2 ⅛" x 3" even though there is plenty of room to spare on each page. This is particularly unfortunate when McQuarrie’s beautiful artwork is miniaturized. Thankfully the other illustrations are all presented full page.

While that sizing issue can’t be dismissed (hopefully it will not be an issue when the Return of the Jedi cards anthology is published this summer), volume two is certainly lovingly packaged, with some great extras, such as full-page images of Topps’ large-size photo cards, ads for Topps’ plastic character-head candy dispensers, a packet of six bonus cards, and Gary Gerani’s introductory essay and commentaries, which are just as entertaining as—if less abundant than—the ones in volume one. His copy on the original cards reveals that his wit was in play from the very beginning. Best caption: “A PILE OF SEE-THREEPIO” labeling a shot of the recently blasted droid. Best Shakespearean allusion: “ALAS, POOR THREEPIO” labeling a shot of Chewbacca holding said droid’s severed head.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 201

The Date: April 18
The Movie: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
What Is It?: Hitchcock named this disturbing story of a beloved uncle who turns out to be not-so-great as his favorite of his own films. Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton are brilliant as a niece/uncle team with a pretty strange bond.
Why Today?: The railway station in the film’s climax was one of the few structures to survive the earthquake of April 18, 1906.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 200

The Date: April 17

The Movie: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

What Is It?: As cinema’s first memorable female monster, Gloria Holden battles through a homophobic script to command Lambert Hillyer’s effectively gloomy visuals with her imposing presence.

Why Today?: Today is Bat Appreciation Day

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Latest Bonus Specs on the 'Monkees' Blu-ray Box

OK, so it's disappointing that the "Monkees Complete Series" Blu-ray set, which was originally supposed to be released last January before being bumped up to late this April, has been delayed once again to June 27, but it sounds like Andrew Sandoval and John Hughes have been hard at work adding more content to this set. They recently appeared on the "Zilch" podcast to express their embarrassment over the delays, assure us that this is the last one, and go into greater detail about what we can expect from the set. You can listen to the full podcast here, but this is the gist of the bonus content:

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 199

The Date: April 16

The Movie: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

What Is It?: Last hoorah of Universal’s golden age of monster movies or first hoorah for the new age of sci-fi terrors? Who cares when the creature design and underwater photography are so beautiful?

Why Today?: The Devonian Era that saw the birth of gill men started 416 million years ago and today is 4/16.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Great Albums: The Final Special Editions

I've just wrapped up the final revisions to past installments of Psychobabble's Great Albums series, which includes major and minor additions to 1967, 1971, 1977, 1979, 1980, and 1995.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 198

The Date: April 15

The Movie: A Night to Remember (1958)

What Is It?: The one and only Titanic movie worth watching is a superb adaptation of Walter Lord’s excellent book about the ocean liner disaster. Director Roy Ward Baker would ultimately make his name as a horror movie maker, but he doesn't need a single vampire or zombie in this most horrific and beautifully made film.

Why Today?: On this day in 1912, the Titanic sinks.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Monkees Blu-ray Has Been Postponed Again

Remember back in January when it was just two weeks until the release date of the long-awaited Monkees Complete Series Blu-ray and Rhino announced that it was going to be delayed by three months because a few pieces of bonus content were being added? Well, we're apparently in reruns, because Rhino has once again announced a long delay just two weeks before the April release date. The wait is not quite as long as the last one; the set has been postponed for two months this time with the new date being June 27.

I can understand Rhino's desire to make this set as complete as it can possibly be, and "the very first live performance from The Monkees ... for a KHJ radio promotional event" and "a fully restored version of the original unaired pilot from the original 35mm negative" sound decent (though I'd personally prefer alternate song tracks for every episode that had one in reruns rather than a paltry ten episodes), this method of waiting to announce the delay just two weeks before the previously announced release date is pretty weak.

Review: 'Time and a Word: The Yes Story'

Like the proggy/poppy group it documents, Time and a Word: The Yes Story is a bit schizo. Martin Popoff’s book is part straight-forward timeline, part oral history. Generally dry and purely informational by nature, time lines are almost never interesting to read. Chatty, gossipy, and a bit hard to trust, oral histories are almost always great fun. That means—like Yes’s discography (sorry, I’ll stop comparing the book to the band)—Time and a Word is enjoyable in fits, but it also lacks the authorial insight and details that would truly make it “The Yes Story.”

We readers learn the basic beats of the band’s career: the comings and goings of its multitudinous members, the record releases and the receptions to those records from both critics and band members, the splits and reunions right up to 2015. What we don’t learn is much about the people in the band. Jon Anderson’s spirituality gets discussed quite a bit, but only because it was so relevant to the music he wrote, and this is really a book about music not people. Rick Wakeman, the most flamboyant member of the group by some degree, has no problem exuding his personality regardless of what he’s talking about. Otherwise, a bunch of guys who critics have often criticized as being faceless music-bots do not get humanized in any meaningful way. Because those guys aren’t particularly gossipy, the oral history portions often fail to fill in the gaps, particularly when dealing with inter-band conflicts. That Popoff’s writing can be very lively, which is evident from his personal assessments of the albums the Yes Men made in and outside of the group, makes one wish he’d tapped into that energy more when explaining the history. Time and a Word could have used a lot more of that kind of liveliness and insight. As it stands, it kind of reads like box set liner notes.
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