Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: 'The Mad Magician' Blu-ray

Poor Vincent Price. All he wants to do is chop off Mary Murphy’s head with a buzz saw in front of an audience of slack jaws, but the prop company for which he designed the trick just won’t let him use it! No wonder he goes from being just another amateur magician to a mad magician.

1954’s The Mad Magician is another in Vincent Price’s homicidally tortured artist pictures that kicked off with House of Wax the previous year. A bit slight in comparison to other such movies like Wax or Theatre of Blood, The Mad Magician is almost singlehandedly distinguished by Price, though Lenita Lane certainly deserves credit for adding quite a bit of supporting color as the amateur sleuth who suspects there’s something fishy about our magician (she’d be even more wonderful playing alongside Price in 1959’s The Bat).

Despite his own rep for making moody murder mysteries such as The Lodger and Hangover Square, director John Brahm basically stays out of Price’s way to allow the star to chew the scenery in his delightfully inimitable way. Price also gets to play it more subtly with some impressive vocal disguises (George Bau and Gustaf Norin’s makeup disguises are equally impressive). Presumably, even the film’s 3D is unostentatious. There’s certainly no excess of magic wands or fingers poking at the camera.

Nevertheless, Twilight Time still presents its new Blu-ray edition of The Mad Magician in 3D. Since I’m not equipped for that, I could only watch it in two measly dimensions. Fortunately, I never missed the poking fingers since it is still a handsome, widescreen presentation with organic texture and no trace of scratches, squiggles, or blemishes (which might have been pretty psychedelic in 3D!).

A 20-minute, making-of doc leads a neat selection of extras. Two 3-D Three Stooges shorts maintain the multi-dimensional theme and deliver on the poking things missing from the main feature. There’s also an audio commentary between film historian Steve Peros and Price historian/master raconteur David Del Valle that is almost as amusing as the feature.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: 'Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol'

Sometimes a rock autobiography works because it reveals that a great lyricist’s way with words translates well to prose. However, as I recently learned from reading I Am Brian Wilson, a convincing translation of the writer’s peculiar communication idiosyncrasies is often what’s really needed. I didn’t want Melville-level wordsmithery from the cat who wrote “He sits behind his microphone-JOHNNY CARSON!—he speaks in such a manly tone—JOHNNY CARSON!”, and I sure don’t want it from the guy who called Bill Grundy a “fucking rotter” on live TV either.

As the host of his own radio show, Jonesy’s Juke Box, ex-Pistol Steve Jones is not exactly an uncomfortable communicator as Wilson famously and endearingly is. In fact, Jones is quite comfortable communicating anything and everything about his checkered past. Those who pick up memoirs because memoirs tend to be lurid will not be disappointed by Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol. Each page squishes with smack addiction, sex addiction, nonces, compulsive wanking, peeping, vacuum fucking, bread fucking, and/or kitten strangling. However, it is Jonesy’s creative thievery that stands out most among his crimes. He nicked Ron Wood’s portable TV, Keith Richards’s coat, Ariel Bender’s guitar, Bryan Ferry’s tuner, and half of Bowie’s stage gear. That alone would warrant a memoir.

Of course, its Jones’s time in The Sex Pistols that probably sealed the book deal, though Lonely Boy is the rare rock auto-bio that is often least interesting when focusing on its subject’s music. But that may just be because I never gave much of a toss about the Pistols. It can also get tiresome during the druggy/recovery passages, but that’s only because you’ll find that kind of stuff in every memoir ever written. Nevertheless, Jones’s unapologetic yet disarmingly humble and really funny voice make Lonely Boy readable all the way through. Plus, steering clear of the atrocities on his appendix list of things that are not Rock & Roll (examples: sandals; selfies; cunts who get your signature on stuff then sell it on ebay…) constitutes a pretty good life plan.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Farewell, Miguel Ferrer

Sad news today. Miguel Ferrer, the gruff actor beloved here at Psychobabble for his unforgettable turn as Special Agent Albert Rosenfield on Twin Peaks and in the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, has died of cancer at the age of 61. Ferrer had quite a resume. As well as being the show-biz offspring of Rosemary Clooney and José Ferrer (who also worked with David Lynch in Dune), he was a drummer who played on Keith Moon's cuckoo solo album Two Sides of the Moon, and of course, an actor. Throughout his very prolific career he appeared in such cool items as the underrated Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the genuine cult classic Robocop, and Tales from the Crypt. In a sad coincidence, he also ran lines with Carrie Fisher when she was gearing up to audition for Star Wars. However, it was his embodiment of the  cynical special agent who also professes to live in the footsteps of Gandhi and King that may have won him the most fans. As Rosenfield, Ferrer was off-puttingly hilarious, and his statement of purpose to Sheriff Truman was one of the most brilliant scenes in a show with now shortage of them. Fortunately, we'll get to see him in the role one more time this May. Anyway, here's that classic scene one more time.

I love you Sheriff Truman. Love you Agent Rosenfield, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: '100 Years of Iconic Toys'

A fun little offshoot of our culture’s desperate nostalgia is the emergence of fancy-schmancy books devoted to the stuff we drove, put to war, and burped as kids back in the twentieth century. A couple of years ago, I reviewed one such book, Alessandra Sardo’s Vintage Toys, here on Psychobabble. It contained crisply photographed images of classic toys supplemented with short captions aimed at adults in a lavish hardbound package. It’s a nice book.

So is ROADS Publishing’s 100 Years of Iconic Toys, which aside from its smaller dimensions, shorter time-line, and dip into the twenty-first century, feels like an almost conscious extension of Sardo’s book. There is a lot of overlap in the toys the two books cover—essential icon such as the Rubik’s Cube, Kenner’s Star Wars line, Transformers, Teddy bears, etc. There are a some of genuine essentials curiously missing in the newer book, including Barbie dolls, Masters of the Universe toys and Hot Wheels cars. Instead, we get a few of the essentials Sardo left out, such as My Little Pony, the Cozy Coupe, Barrel of Monkeys, and Lincoln Logs (which this new book taught me were created by a son of Frank Lloyd Wright, interestingly and appropriately enough). Curiously, neither book made room for Mego toys, the essential pre-Star Wars action figure line, but those really warrant their own volume. Maybe the next publisher that decides to repeat the Vintage Toys format can do an all-Mego volume instead.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: 'Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move'

Esoteric Recordings’ deluxe editions of The Move’s entire pre-Harvest catalogue comprised the grooviest reissue campaign of 2016. Early in 2017, the label is wrapping up that campaign with Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move.

This kind of move is generally useful for less-committed fans but redundant for the more devoted who already picked up the deluxe discs of the proper albums. However, Esoteric is making this particular Best Of well worth your dollars and pounds for a couple of reasons. First of all, the CD includes several Harvest sides that were shut out of the deluxe editions: “Ella James”, “Tonight”, “China Town”, “California Man”, and “Do Ya”—Move essentials all. Secondly, there is the addition of a region-free DVD containing an hour of wild and beautifully presented Move movies that really clinches the deal.

The disc includes a promo film for “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and extracts from the Beat Beat Beat (totally live; totally exciting), Top of the Pops (live vocals with enthusiastically mimed instruments), and Beat Club (aside from two live performances from 1970, completely canned but loaded with chroma-key fun) TV programs. Then theres the crop’s cream: The Move’s full and full-color ten-song set caught on the BBC’s Colour Me Pop in early 1969. I’ve had a bootleg of this appearance in my collection for many years, and I’m very happy to replace that smudgy old Rorschach test with Esoteric’s vibrant and crisp new images. Despite the lack of an audience to egg on the band, The Move manages to deliver their total energy across an almost completely live set (canned renditions of Beautiful Daughter, Wild Tiger Woman”, and Something are the odd  exceptions). There are some boffo covers too, a couple of which air out the band’s love of The Byrds.

I’m not sure if Esoteric considers this DVD to essentially be bonus material to that 21-track Best of set, but speaking as someone who acquired all those deluxe editions last year, I rate it as the main attraction of this colorful, crazed collection of patented-Move power pop and poppy prog.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"Twin Peaks' Season 3 Has a Premiere Date

After a wait longer than that scene with the bell hop that kicked off its second season, Twin Peaks now has a premier date for its long-awaited third season. According to David Nevins of Showtime, we'll be peaksing again come Sunday, May 21. A few more details slipped out too. In keeping with Twin Peaks season-premiere tradition, the first episode will be a two-hour one, and sixteen more hours of wonderful and strange TV will follow. Start hoarding cups of deep, black joe now.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review: 'The Train Kept A-Rollin’: How the Train Song Changed the Face of Popular Music'

From time to time I receive a piece of media that I didn’t specifically request to review. Whether or not I review such items depends on my availability and interest. At the moment, my schedule is pretty packed, and I’ve never been particularly fascinated by trains, so I didn’t think I’d crack Spencer Vignes’s recent book The Train Kept A-Rollin’: How the Train Song Changed the Face of Popular Music. Then I started thumbing through it. “Mystery Train”. “Waterloos Sunset”. “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”. “Last Train to Clarksville”. “Midnight Special”. “White Room”. “The Locomotion”. “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. “Folsom Prison Blues”. The book’s title song. Huh. As it turns out, a lot of my favorite songs deal with trains, which got me wondering why so many great songs are train-centric. So I decided to take Vignes’s ride.

As it turns out, there’s no definitive answer to the essential question The Train Kept A-Rollin’ raises. Trains are mysterious because they whisk our loved ones off to undisclosed destinations. Musicians dig trains because trains take them to gigs or serve as quiet places to write songs. Poor blues and folk artists found work on railway lines. Several British pop artists have engaged in the UK tradition of trainspotting. All are posed as possible reasons the train is second only to the car as the preferred pop conveyance.

This lack of a definitive conclusion is natural considering that Vignes does so little editorializing and consults such a wide variety of sources to break through the mystique of train songs. The author’s interviewees are just as much of an enticement to read The Train Kept A-Rollin’ as the songs he discusses are. Ray Davies, “Clarksville” so-writer Bobby Hart, Ian Anderson, T.V. Smith, Robyn Hitchcock, Bryan Ferry, Chris Difford, and “White Room” co-writer Pete Brown make up a small sampling of the brains Vignes picks. The author also doesn’t limit his pages to train songs. He dallies with train-themed album covers, music videos, on-stage films, and model train collectors in the pop world.

Yet the absence of a few of my personal favorite train songs that would have brought a few more angles to the story—particularly The Beach Boys “Cabin-Essence”, which could have introduced a few paragraphs on how railroads disrupted the American landscape and The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”, which addresses the less savory things that might take place on trains—left me feeling as though The Train Kept A-Rollin’ still isn’t quite the ultimate train-song book. Nevertheless, the book chugs out a long-enough line of great songs and artists to satisfy both train freaks and train-ambivalent freaks such as myself.
All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.