Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: 'American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1990s'

Considering how forcefully comics have driven the pop culture of the twenty-first century, it is kind of amazing to review the state of the industry at the very end of the twentieth. Comics companies were stuck in a rut, catering to collectors rather than readers with cheesy “limited edition” stunts or pandering to audience’s basest instincts with brutal vigilante violence and bra-bursting sexism. Cinematic adaptations of The Phantom, Judge Dredd, Barb Wire, The Shadow, and Steel were sucking wind at the box office while The Flash could barely complete a single season on TV. Marvel, the company that practically holds a monopoly over the Hollywood of today, filed chapter 11. Comics sales as a whole slumped.

However, the nineties was also the decade when comics buying went totally mainstream as the tale of Superman’s (extremely temporary) demise flew off shelves and his romance with Lois Lane (by way of Teri Htacher) lit up small screens. It was when Batman did more than very well in theaters and shook up the state of TV cartoons with his Animated Series. It was the decade that saw the debuts of such innovations as The Maxx, The Tick, Hellboy, the artist-owned Image Comics, and the racially diverse Milestone Comics.

In the latest installment of TwoMorrows Publishing’s comics history overviews, Jason Sacks and Keith Dallas survey that topsy-turvy landscape of the nineties. While too many comics storyline summaries trip up the narrative, the fascinatingly troubled tale of the comics industry in the nineties still manages to come together in American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1990s. Sacks and Dallas not only cover the major companies and upstarts but also get deep enough into underground titles to forge a pretty complete portrait of a complex decade. And if you find yourself zoning out while reading those plot summaries that never seem to stick to the consciousness, you can just shift your eyes over an inch or two, because there is always some fabulous piece of full-color art to re-focus on.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Restored 'Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus' Arriving a Little Later Than Expected...

Last fall, word escaped that ABKCO was prepping a trio of 50th Anniversary Rolling Stones releases for the remainder of 2018. While a blu-ray of the Goddard film Sympathy for the Devil: One Plus One and an anniversary edition of Beggars Banquet did emerge before the year's end, a blu-ray edition of The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus did not. While we will have to wait a little longer to take in the 4K restoration (from the original 35mmm film) of this marvelous, made-for-TV special featuring the Stones, The Who, Marianne Faithfull, John Lennon's Dirty Mac, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, and some acrobats and fire eaters, we now have word that the project is still happening. 
For an invited few, it will happen on December 11 at an exclusive London screening. For the rest of us schlubs, it will go down sometime in the spring of 2019 when a home video release is apparently planned. The cool news about this announcement is that the film will be presented in widescreen for the first time. The press release also describes this new edition as "expanded," though I'm not yet sure if that refers to the wider frame or the addition of footage that did not appear in the 1996 cut of The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus. As soon as I have more details, I'll be sure to pass them along. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 7, 2018

2 Beach Boys Outtakes Sets Now Available

As we passed through the fall, which will soon break into winter, we received the expected 50th anniversary releases from The Beatles and Stones, but I was a bit surprised that The Beach Boys' camp was silent considering last year's CD release of the excellent Beach Boys 1967 set. Where was Beach Boys 1968, a look back on the year they made some of their best music since Pet Sounds, the year they released the highly underrated Friends album and the fine singles "I Can Hear Music" and "Do It Again"? Well, I have my answer today as two new Beach Boys 1968 collections--Wake the World and the Friends Sessions and I Can Hear Music: the 20/20 Sessions-- are quietly arriving. The catch is that these sets are only available as digital downloads, and unlike the Wild Honey-focused Beach Boys 1967 set, they arrive without fresh mixes of the albums they feature.

I guess the good news is that there isn't any wait for these two new Beach Boys 1968 sets: they are both available to download on right now here: Wake the World and the Friends Sessions and I Can Hear Music: the 20/20 Sessions.

Here are the track listings for both sets: 

The Beach Boys 1968Wake the World and the Friends Sessions

Review: 'True Stories' Blu-ray

A mayor who never talks to his wife directly but talks with his hands incessantly. A gregarious yet lonesome soul determined to find a wife. An amateur voodoo practitioner. A woman dedicated to cuteness. A woman devoted to lying in bed. A woman simply devoted to lying. A narrator who finds them all worthy of wonderment and love. These are the inhabitants of Virgil, Texas, the mythical setting of True Stories.

David Byrne directed a few music videos to gear up for his transition from Talking Head to filmmaker, and there is music video style aplenty in his feature debut. Besides the actual musical interludes that include the “Wild, Wild Life” video, there’s the rhythmic editing, seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions, people and ideas that don’t exactly lead anywhere, and emotional focus that transcends meaning that beam through the entire picture. With their script based on some of Byrne’s doodles, Stephen Tobolowsky and Beth Henley string together the disparate characters of True Stories into something that makes sense even as it doesn’t not strive to make sense. When it’s all over, you do not want to say goodbye to any of these Virgil citizens even though they are flawed, even though they tend to lead you down narrative dead ends, because Byrne the director and Byrne the narrator present them with such judgment-free affection.

In a time when the nation is so divided along party and state lines, when real villains devoted to nothing more than what is worst for every American trample the United States, it is both heartening and sad to survey Virgil’s fairy land of mutual understanding and acceptance. Even that married couple who haven’t spoken to each other in years seem to do so more because they want their own entry in the Guinness Book than because they don’t love each other. The film itself finds a liberal from a signature New York City rock band welcomed into the heart of American conservatism. Did an America like this ever exist? I don’t know, but 90 minutes with True Stories is a warm escape from the America forced upon us today. Somehow this films makes laziness, the refusal to communicate adequately, conscienceless consumerism, and complete untruthfulness charming even in a time when Americas worst monster embodies all of these sins.

The Criterion Collection’s blu-ray edition of True Stories presents the film with its customary flawlessness. The Texan landscape is vivid, each frame is free of scratches or blotches, and the soundtrack ripples and booms. That entire soundtrack makes its CD debut (though you may not find things like Annie McEnroe cooing “Dream Operator” great listening when divorced from images of the world’s weirdest fashion show) and leads the way among several choice supplements.

The best video extra is a new hour-long documentary on the film, though it would have been nice if more of the cast members were among its talking heads. There are also shorter new documentaries about how the film’s locations have aged and Tibor Kalman, the graphic designer who masterminded the film’s opening montage and advertising campaign. Vintage material includes a 30-minute making-of featuring many of the original cast members in character (John Goodman on a tour of the house that served as the Ewing homestead on Dallas is pretty priceless) and 14 minutes of fairly interesting deleted scenes. The packaging is also praise worthy, especially the newsprint booklet designed as a mock tabloid.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Farewell, Pete Shelley

Buzzcocks were one of the first bands to find a direct link between legit punk and sweet-as-candy pop, and they did it better than most that would follow with songs that looked at adolescent sexuality and isolation with humor and true emotion. The band's face and voice was Pete Shelley, who also penned or co-penned their post enduring smashes. He drooled his way through "Orgasm Addict", got mopey with "What Do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen In Love (with Someone You Shouldn't've)", raved with "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" and never lost his wit or way with a tune no matter how much the tempo sped . He was also one of the first original punks to embrace electronic music and to open up about his bisexuality, which he did on his 1981 solo classic "Homosapien". Sadly, Pete Shelley has died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 63. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Psychobabble’s 10 Favorite Retro Music Releases of 2018

Now finishing out its tenth year, Psychobabble has gone full-retro. So the emphasis of 2018 has been on vinyl, and there has been no shortage of great reissues and deluxe editions of the waxy variety. However, there have also been some very worthwhile CD sets as well. Yet the year’s biggest thrill comes via vinyl presentations of classic albums by a decidedly CD-era artist. Check out all of my fave raves among Psychobabble’s 10 Favorite Retro Music Releases of 2018.

(As always, each entry links to the original review)

In short:A splashy package, indeed, but the original album in its mono mix remains the uncontested star attraction of The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-HollandExpanded Edition.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review: 'Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1959 to 1963'

The Superman comic strip ran in newspapers daily from 1939 to 1966, so IDW’s latest collection of them comes close to the end of the run. As early a 1961, you can kind of sense why a good thing had to wrap up as our hero engages in such inanities as an encounter with a telepathic dinosaur from space who can transform into a rock and yet another insulting storyline involving a character who suddenly becomes overweight.

The silliness of such storylines at least hints that Superman was still more about unfettered whimsy than punching bad guys in the face, and that’s a good thing since the strip was always more interesting as a vehicle for wackiness than as a conventional superhero yarn. A storyline in which Supes is rapidly promoted through the army because of his unusual abilities is like a supernatural episode of Sgt. Bilko. One in which he reveals his longstanding love for a mermaid is both bizarre and oddly affecting—an epic, interspecies love story. Another takes what may be the weirdest turn of all when Lois Lane transforms into a bug-eyed alien with superpowers. Daily Planet Chief Perry White develops superpowers too. Oh, there’s also the one where Superman transforms into a thing with a human body and the head of an ant.

Plus we see Superman face a series of bizarre challenges from a colony of Amazon women, and Lois Lane believing that her love’s secret identity is a Rod Serling stand-in! Yet these stories lean on some more tired devices as once again Superman goes to great lengths to avoid marriage and Lois once again falls victim to a slightly malicious prank. She just can’t get a break in these stories.

Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1959 to 1963 contains a few clunker plotlines, but for the most part it delivers the usual fun. And also as usual, it’s a beautifully designed, full-color package from IDW.

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