Thursday, January 31, 2019

Farewell, Dick Miller

Dick Miller was one of the best and most prolific character actors of the second half of the twentieth century--a favorite of Roger Corman and Joe Dante who appeared in so many movies it is ridiculous to try listing even the favorites. He rarely got a starring role (Corman's A Bucket of Blood was a rare one), but his mere momentary presence brought any movie to life instantly. His rough mug, gruff but lovable demeanor were, and absurdly long resume earned him a documentary tribute called That Guy Dick Miller in 2014 that is well worth seeking out. 

Daly, Dick Miller died today at the ripe age of 90. His presence in future movies will be missed.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Farewell, James Frawley

James Frawley was a master of wonderfully silly entertainment, starting his directorial career by handling nearly half of The Monkees, including such stand out episodes as the Emmy-winning debut episode "Royal Flush", "One Man Shy," "Captain Crocodile," "Monstrous Monkee Mash," the poignant "Emmy-nominated "Devil and Peter Tork", and the innovatively low-tech "Fairy Tale". Prior to that gig, Frawley had been a guest actor in such series as Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (and Monkees fans will also remember Frawley's on screen appearances in a few episodes, most notably "The Monkees Blow Their Minds"). 

Following The Monkees, Frawley mostly continued directing TV (including episodes of That Girl, Magnum PI, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Cagney & Lacey, Law & Order, Picket Fences, and Grey's Anatomy). However, he made one major contribution to the big screen when he put his talents for managing music, comedy, and an anarchic cast when he directed the marvelous Muppet Movie in 1979. Sadly, Frawley died at the age of 82 this past Tuesday. According to his wife, Cynthia, Frawley had a serious lung condition and recently suffered a heart attack.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: 'The Rolling Stones in Comics'

With Mick’s exaggerated lips, Bill and Charlie’s square heads, and Keef’s bird’s nest scruff, The Rolling Stones always did look a bit like cartoon characters. And between their easily caricatured mugs and equally outrageous behavior, the Stones have always been ripe targets for cartoonists. Bill Wyman even anthologized newspaper comic parodies of his band in The Stones: A History in Cartoons back in 2006.

Now a writer named Ceka is using the comic medium to tell a somewhat more complete version of Stones history in a book called The Rolling Stones in Comics. Between large chunks of text-only exposition, 21 different artists bring portions of the story to life employing a variety of styles from Domas’s Sunday comic section doodles (illustrating Lennon and McCartney composing “I Wanna Be Your Man”) to Kyung-Eun Parks’s more detailed, slightly grotesque style (illustrating the Stones’ fall out with the Marquee club) to Dominique Hennebaut’s Underground Comix-indebted approach (Mick and Keith’s first songwriting attempt) to the stylized yet more realistic approach of Amandine Puntous (the Redlands bust) to Anthony Audibert’s sketchy abstractions (Mick’s alleged dalliance with Anita Pallenberg while making Performance). It’s an invigorating mixture that makes the 1000th retelling of The Rolling Stones’ story seem fresh again. So do Ceka’s realistically coarse dialogue and decision to include such valuable trivia as the real… and horrifying… explanation for the term “Rolling Stone”.

The one downside is Ceka’s tendency to sometimes veer to close to hagiography, as when he refers to all five of the Stones as “geniuses” (I doubt any one of them deserves that much-overused designation) or deifies the horribly abusive Brian Jones as an angel. Fortunately, the author balances moments such as these with sly criticisms of the Stones myth, such as a sardonic depiction of Mick’s half-hearted and hypocritical participation in socio-political activism in 1968. I also really dig the sections that fly away from the main story, such as the clever explanation of Keith’s open tuning from guest cartoon character and real musician Vincent Blanchard and Ceka’s personal story of finding the love of his life as “Angie” spins at a party. The Rolling Stones in Comics works nicely as a pocket history of Rock & Roll’s key band, but its narrative quirks and far-out art are what make it special.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: 'Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin'

When Franc Wertham stirred the panic that led to the censorious Comics Code with his book Seduction of the Innocent, he did so with outrageous claims about a natural link between juvenile delinquency and reading horror comics and homophobic theories about Wonder Woman and Batman. Yet parents weren’t quite crazy to be a little concerned about the graphic violence and Shock-SuspenStories that appeared on the pages of many horror titles during the pre-code era. And EC, the poster boy for seducing the innocent, wasn’t the only book that traded in graphic dismemberments, dripping corpses, rotting faces, and necrophilia. Such things could also be witnessed in Journey into Fear, Baffling Mysteries, and the other vintage titles Craig Yoe has been collecting in his Haunted Horror anthologies since 2012.

The latest hardback collection of Haunted Horror issues is a different story. The tameness of most of the stories within is a veritable theme. Neither a drop of blood nor a chunk of flesh flops to the floor in Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin. The tale of a ghost learning the haunting ropes called “How to Be a Gracious Ghost” (originally printed in Strange) is fit for an issue of Caspar the Friendly Ghost. There is also a definite focus on the most basic horror tropes: stories starring ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and devils, several of which are set on Halloween, abound.

Fortunately, there are enough twists on the usual creepy tropes to keep things interesting. There’s a vampire who shares more DNA with cats than bats (“The Vampire Cat” from Forbidden Worlds) and another vampire tale with a genuinely surprising twist (“Out of the Black Night” from Web of Mystery). The twist ending of “The Witch of Death” (Web of Evil), however, is straight out of Scooby Doo. Only toward the end of Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin does the content become dicier, starting with the racist “Terror in Chinatown” (Web of Evil- why not just weed out this kind of shit?) and then getting a bit more gruesome with stories such as “The Murder Pool” (Strange Fantasy) and “Step into My Grave” (Baffling Mysteries).

Though the artwork in these second-rate titles is often pretty shoddy, it is always charming and sometimes creepy enough to give some younger reader a nightmare or two. Consequently, the first 120 or so pages of Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin would function very nicely as a first step in seducing some innocent into the wonderful world of horror comics.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review: 'Notorious' Blu-ray

Eight months after the end of World War II, Alicia Huberman’s dad is convicted of spying on the U.S. for the Nazis. An agent named Devlin recruits her to infiltrate the home of her dad’s pal Alex Sebastian, a Nazi industrialist hiding out in Rio who has long carried a torch for Alicia. Since Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia and Cary Grant is Devlin, they’re just too damned good looking to keep their hands off of each other, and the budding romance complicates her dangerous liaison with Alex, played by a unsettlingly sympathetic Claude Rains.

This bizarre love triangle is the backbone of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Without the Gothic feverishness, luridness, wild set pieces, or high adventure of Hitchcock’s most celebrated work, Notorious may stand as his most low-key and adult film. Grant even suppresses his usually uncontainable charm to play Devlin as a cold fish whose actual motivations do not become clear until the very end of the film. All of this does not render Notorious similarly chilly. Hitchcock still manages to electrify his imagery with flashes of disorienting camerawork and wrings classic moments of suspense out of such subtle actions as a palmed key and a dwindling champagne supply. However, it is Bergman who really ignites the atmosphere. She was rarely better than she is here as a fierce alcoholic determined to outpace her father’s reputation but ends up as a pawn in a potentially fatal scheme.

The Criterion Collection is now giving Notorious a 4k upgrade, and the film looks good with a natural grain and no noticeable flaws. At times sharpness and contrast are a tad weak, but the picture looks very fine overall. The supplements constitute a veritable crash course in cinema studies. Chief among them is David Thompson’s 2009 documentary Once Upon a Time… “Notorious”, which spends 52-minutes analyzing the filmmaking, describing making of details, and placing the picture in historical/political context…some of which will require a very strong stomach as it includes actual concentration camp footage. There are also plenty of new exclusives, such as David Bordwell’s video essay focusing on the film’s style and chillingly subtle ending, an interview with cinematographer John Bailey on the look of the picture, and additional featurettes starring Hitchcock’s biographer Donald Spoto and David Raim. There is also an hour-long radio adaptation of Notorious starring Ingrid Bergman  and Joseph Cotton, a very brief pathe reel featuring Bergman and Hitchcock, and Marian Keane’s audio commentary ported over from Criterion’s 2001 DVD.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: 'Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution' Blue-ray

No movement springs up overnight, and as tied to the eighties/nineties as the Queercore scene seems to be, there had been rumbles for decades in the films of Kenneth Anger and John Waters, Flaming Creatures, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jayne County, Buzzcocks, and the fashions of Vivian Westwood. However, according to Yony Leyser’s 2017 documentary Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution, it was Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones’s button-pushing ’zine J.D.s that gave form to the movement and inspired a gang of young punks to give it a sound. And so came Tribe 8, Pansy Division, the spectacular Team Dresch, and a host of groups willing to actualize J.D.s vision… and often make it more specifically political.

While Queercore is superficially a rock doc, it makes a much wider point about a movement with nothing but disdain for limitations. Queercore was a philosophy that reached into all corners of art, and for a lot of people, it was a way of life. It wasn’t just a way to stand apart from straights in the “not-gay” sense of the term. It was a way to stand apart from any limitation conservative society—gay or not gay—considers acceptable. So Queercore culture didn’t just embrace the favorite music of straight boys—Rock & Roll—but it might also embrace such transgressions as porno, violent imagery, and the stereotype of predatory homosexuals while gobbing in the face of assimilation. What’s punker than that?

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution is highly educational, studying the genesis of an important though rarely discussed tributary of rock history as well as exploring how it grew, flourished, and lives on today. It’s also a shitload of fun as we see and hear the bands in action, and view clips of some pretty hilarious short films that sprung from the movement. Aimee Goguen’s ’zine-like animations convey the spirit of the topic with wild flair.

One strange move was to cut Jayne County’s crucial (and really, really funny) talking head out of the discussion, especially since Leyser filmed her discussing gay artists of the original NYC punk scene, which is a topic barely touched on in the film. Fortunately, that twenty two-minute interview is included among the bonus interviews on the new blu-ray edition of Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution. Extra interviews with John Waters (delightful as always), Dennis Cooper, Kim Gordon, and Don Bolles from The Germs round out the supplementary features.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review: Vinyl Reissue of The Flying Burrito Brothers' 'Burrito Deluxe'

While their debut album seemed intent on showcasing how seriously The Flying Burrito Brothers took American roots music, they allowed themselves to loosen up and rock a lot more on their second disc. If there is a defining sound of Burrito Deluxe, it is the rumble of Chris Hillman and (especially) new-recruit Michael Clarke’s rhythm section. They deliver the same hard-driving boogie that made The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo a true country-rock record. In fact, the guys even resurrect “Lazy Day”, a tough Sweetheart of the Rodeo outtake. They also overdrive Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” into something approaching country-punk and have the distinction of being the first band to release a version of “Wild Horses”. You know you have a tough album on your hands when a Rolling Stones cover is its most delicate track.

Because of its unflagging chutzpah, Burrito Deluxe is a more immediately likable album than the subtler and more elegant The Gilded Palace of Sin and Intervention Records’ new vinyl reissue really highlights the bottom that makes the album move. The throbbing bass on “older Guys” will knock you off your hay bale. The 180-gram disc was mastered from a half-inch safety copy of the original master tapes using an all-analog process. Attention to detail inside and outside the sleeve is strong…dig the slick foil lettering on the cover.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Vinyl Releases Psychobabble Would Like to See in 2019

Psychobabble's 2019 resolution is to continue championing vinyl. With the current resurgence of whirling wax, there should be much to champion this year, and we can already bank on such enticing releases as reissues of every album by The Zombies and The Cardigans, as well as the likely continuation of annual vinyl reissues from such major leaguers as The Beatles (a 50th Anniversary Edition of Abbey Road) and Stones (ditto Let It Bleed). However, there are some vinyl releases we shouldn't necessarily expect in 2019 but Psychobabble would love to see nonetheless. Here are five varieties of them.

1. The Beatles' U.S. Albums

Box sets devoted to single albums has seemingly replaced the odder Beatles-related reissue projects of recent years, so while I once believed that vinyl reissues of the group's U.S. albums were a sure thing, I now have my doubts. Five years ago we received such a set on CD only, and purists took issue with the presentation since the stereo mixes on those CDs did not match the often reverb-drenched messes on Capitol's original records. With this year marking the 55th anniversary of The Beatles' invasion of the states, it would be a good time to finally put out these albums in their original vinyl states...complete with dodgy echo. 

2. Pink Floyd: The Early Singles

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