Thursday, March 05, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Dazed & Confused (1993) ****

R, 102 min.
Director/Writer: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Sasha Jenson, Marissa Ribisi, Deena Martin, Michelle Bruke, Cole Hauser, Christine Harnos, Wiley Wiggins, Mark Vandermuelen, Esteban Powell, Jeremy Fox, Ben Affleck, Jason O. Smith, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey, Catherine Morris, Nicky Katt, Parker Brooks, Rick Moser, Terry Mross, Richard Dillard, Fred Lerner, David Blackwell

I recently decided to start a vinyl record collection. It all came about from an article (that has since been lost in the vastness of the web) about collecting music. I was an avid music collector throughout high school and college. I collected cassettes and then reluctantly moved on to CDs as they were beginning to change the music soundscape. I remember the debates about analog and digital recording and mastering. Who remembers when CDs would sport a letter code of three letters consisting of ‘A’ and ‘D’ to distinguish which part of the production process was done analog or digitally? ADD, or DDD or different variations of such.

Anyway, when I embraced the Compact Disc format, by music collection exploded into frightening proportions. My collection was something of legends within the socializing networks of my college experience. Who remembers the long boxes CDs were once sold in? They were designed as a way to discourage theft I believe. It may have actually encouraged theft, as it was possible to open the box and slide the plastic CD case into a large pocket without much detection. I believe this is why they were eventually done away with and the locking case mechanisms began to be employed by all music outlets.  Well, my dorm wall art as a mosaic of about 100 of those long boxes stapled to my wall.

After I got married, my passion for music died down for a time. By the time I began to immerse myself in the world of music once again, it had all changed. CDs were artifacts from an ancient time. Everything now was digital. I had to buy myself an mp3 player. I went for the one that had the most to do with changing the way we listened to music—the iPod. My first was a 4G nano. I couldn’t even begin to fit even a small portion of my CD collection on that device, so I graduated to an 8G, which I had gotten for free. I was able to fit about a year’s worth of new music on there. I had to get something that suited the sheer volume of music I consumed—the iPod Classic 160G. That one almost had enough room for all the music I had obtained in my lifetime so far. It would do.

As we all know, the digital world lost the iPod Classic last fall when Apple just seemed to forget to renew its contract. It was a whimpering end for a device designed for the people who championed music with a passion. What’s worse, my iPod died a terrible death by brain frying just weeks before all its future siblings just disappeared from the Apple website and stores everywhere. So, I couldn’t even replace my precious! If it hadn’t died, I’d probably still be syncing it regularly and dreading the day that its screen retained the black of death when I plugged it in. As it was, I needed a new way to consume music once again.

I’d been playing around with Spotify for some time, at that point, but never committing. So I bit the bullet and joined their premium service. It was the dawning of a new day with the shear amount of music now available as I realized Spotify had acquired a greater collection of music than I ever could, and just like most of my collection on my iPod Classic, it was all available in my pocket. What a revelation. But something troubled me about it.

A few weeks ago I read a blog that put my finger on it. I didn’t really have any music anymore. And without purchasing music, I wasn’t pointing out to those special artists in my opinion by saying “you really matter to me. I bought your album.” Buying digital in this streaming age, however, just seems redundant. So, what was left to me but buying analog?

I decided it was time to enter the vinyl market. However, as you may have guessed I have a penchant for getting carried away with my music consumption. With four kids, the last thing I need is another obsession. So I decided to keep my vinyl purchases fairly restricted for the time being. At the moment I’m only collecting special and limited edition soundtracks on vinyl. I searched for a long time for my first purchase. I wanted to purchase the new John Carpenter album. I was willing to overlook the fact that it isn’t a soundtrack to anything but the movies in Carpenter’s head that we’ll never see. But, I missed the special editions of that one. Sold out.

In the meantime, I obtained a vintage SounDesign turntable through my wife’s efforts on our local radio station’s swap shop. I had no idea whether it was any good or not. It turned on when it was supposed to, but did it spin at the right speeds? Was the needle any good? Sure, I could take it some place, but that would ruin the great price I paid for it. So, I decided my first soundtrack should feature songs that I knew pretty well. I’d read about a limited edition Awesome Mix Vol. 1 (the Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack) by a company called Mondo. Sold Out. Damn!

Then a deal came across my computer screen. The Dazed and Confused Soundtrack: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition green vinyl with a BluRay Criterion Edition of the movie for a great price. Well, that was it. “Dazed and Confused” would be my first foray into vinyl. I got the package, after having subsequently ordered two more items from that Mondo company, and it sounds great. The old lady who practically gave it to me was right; that turntable is as good as new.

So that’s how I came about my first record collection of my adult life. It’s also how I came to see Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” again after many years away. While I was watching it, I couldn’t help but try and glimpse the characters’ vinyl collections in the brief shots of them shown in a couple of scenes. I also can’t help but remember my parents’ own vinyl collection when I was a kid. I’m sure I could do without the Ray Conniff Singers albums, but there were a few I’d really like to see in my collection today. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, and most especially—considering my current movie soundtrack theme—Saturday Night Fever and American Graffiti! I always felt “American Graffiti” would make a great double feature with “Dazed and Confused”!

Oh, and the way Linklater uses the extended intro to Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" makes this one of my favorite opening credit sequences.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Criterion Thoughts—21 Days (1940) ***

NR, 72 min.
Director: Basil Dean
Writers: Basil Dean, Graham Greene, John Galsworthy (short story “First and the Last”)
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Leslie Banks, Vivian Leigh, Francis L. Sullivan, David Thorne, Hay Petrie

What does it mean that I can’t even figure out which collection the first film in my Criterion Thoughts series comes from? Criterion Thoughts will feature films from the premiere DVD and BluRay series of films released under the Criterion Collection banner. This first film comes from their films featured on Hulu Plus and certainly seems to fit well into the Criterion Collection. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which collection you need to buy to get it. I’m guessing it was featured in one of their Eclipse Series.

“21 Days” was released in the U.S. as “21 Days Together” after sitting on the shelf for 2 years until star Vivian Leigh’s popularity exploded due to her success as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind”. It also features one of the earliest collaborations between the husband and wife acting team of Laurence Olivier and Leigh. In fact, this British film is filled with elite pedigree of the early British film scene. The film also stars the fine character actor Leslie Banks as the third lead. It was Basil Dean’s final directorial effort after 15 films beginning with 1929’s “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”. Dean would continue to produce films for another decade. Dean co-wrote the screenplay with Graham Greene, perhaps the greatest British crime writer of all time.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

When I was about six-years-old our family adopted a new dog named Blue. Blue’s previous owner seemed a strange man. He claimed blue was the dog’s favorite color and that “Star Trek” was his favorite show. I don’t believe I’d ever heard of a dog having a favorite television show before. In fact, dogs hardly seem to even notice the TV in my experience. But hey! We were open-minded people. On his first night with us, Blue was a nervous wreck, so at 7 p.m., when syndicated shows began in our area, we turned the TV to “Star Trek” to see if the dog responded. The dog didn’t even notice the television was on, but “Star Trek” somehow became one of the shows that ended up playing in our house on a regular basis. And no, that dog never sat down and watched with us.

We were never what would be described as Trekkies, or Trekkers, as it were. We just kind of watched it if we happened to stumble upon it while flipping through the channels. I remember when it switched from early evening syndication to late afternoon. The release of the first movie was kind of a big deal for my brother and I. We were disappointed with its slow pace like so many others—although later in life, I would come to appreciate what Robert Wise was striving to achieve.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Each year I struggle with the notion of even doing a predictions list. It’s true that the Academy Awards is one of the most predictable awards show out there, mostly due to the fact that it comes at the very end of awards season, after everybody else has already handed out their awards, including some entities that make up the majority of the 6000+ voting membership of the Academy. With the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, the Writer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild and the British Academy of Film all posting their favorites of the year in the week’s leading up to the Academy’s award ceremony, it becomes pretty clear who will win what when all is said and done.

The Academy spends a good deal of time trying to fight its own predictability by changing their awards dates and their voting dates, and frequently changing voting rules and even employing such convoluted rules that most of the Academy voting membership don’t necessarily know how it all works; but as long as they insist on being the last of the bunch, this is a problem they will likely never resolve. That being said there are often a couple of surprises to be had here and there. Those who are good at this are good at identifying where the loop holes in the voting rules and good at ignoring some of the trusted patterns. I am not good at this. I pretty much stick with what I’ve seen throughout the awards process. So… what’s the point for me? To go on record with my understanding of the industry, I guess. So, with mere hours to go before the ceremony, here are my two cents, which are probably worth just about that much.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Louie, season 3 (2012) ****

TV-MA, 13 21-min. episodes
Creator: Louis C.K.
Directors: Louis C.K., Liz Plonka
Writers: Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon
Starring: Louis C.K.
Guest starring: Gaby Hoffman, Susan Kalechi Watson, Gary Wilmes, Melissa Leo, Allan Havey, Hadley Delaney, Ursula Parker, Larisa Polonsky, Miguel Gomez, Parker Posey, Maria Bamford, Casey Seimaszko, Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron, Maria Dizzia, Michael C. Creighton, F. Murray Abraham, Rick Crom, Nick Di Paolo, Jim Norton, William Stephenson, Chloë Sevigny, Roderick Hill, Yul Vazquez, Jay Leno, Garry Marshall, Edward Gelbinovich, David Lynch, Chris Rock, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jerry Seinfeld, Todd Barry, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler

I know, I know, I know. I’m way behind here. The amazing thing is that I love this series and I started it just about two weeks after the first episode of the first season premiered, so I’ve been going through it very slowly.  This is, however, one of the best shows on television. Here’s why:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—And the Oscar Goes To… (2014) ***

TV-MA, 95 min.
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Writers: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Sharron Wood
Featuring: Ben Burtt, Annette Benning, Ellen Burstyn, Cher, George Clooney, Billy Crystal, Benicio del Toro, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Hudson, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Janusz Kaminski, Kathleen Kennedy, Ben Kingsley, Liza Minnelli, Helen Mirren, Ve Neill, Robert Osborne, Jason Reitman, Phil Alden Robinson, Steven Spielberg, Bruce Vilanch, Jon Voight
Narrator: Anjelica Huston

Oscar fever is starting to catch for me. I feel like I’m a dying breed, however, as more and more of my peers seem to have grown bitter and critical of the Oscars. And yet, somehow each of them will find themselves tweeting their snide comments live during the Oscar ceremony this Sunday night.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Constantine, season 1 (2014-2015) ***

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Developer: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer

Directors: Romeo Tirone, Neil Marshall, John Badham, Nick Gomez, T.J. Scott, Steve Shill, John F. Showalter, David Boyd, Mary Harron, Sam Hill, Thomas J. Wright

Writers: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer, Sneha Koorse, Brian Anthony, Christine Boylan, Jerry Siegel, Mark Verheiden, Cameron Walsh, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Carly Wray, Davita Scarlett, Jamie Delano (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Garth Ennis (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Alan Moore (characters/graphic novel “Swamp Thing”)

Starring: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Angélica Celaya, Charles Halford

Guest starring: Michael James Shaw, Mann Alfonso, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Davies, Claire van der Boom, Emmett J. Scanlon, David A. Gregory, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Margolis, James Le Gross, William Mapother

NBC very quietly entered the growing market of television series based on comic books this year with one of DC’s more obscure characters, the dark arts magician John Constantine. Although Constantine may not be as well known as many of DC’s tight-wearing superheroes, he’s long been popular with the more mature readers of the company’s Vertigo line of adult-targeted comic books. When DC revamped their entire lineup a few years ago Constantine jumped to the company’s regular line of superheroes, captaining the supernatural-based supergroup “Justice League Dark” and headlining his own title “Constantine”.