Saturday, January 27, 2007

Music and Movies

An interesting story that came to my attention this morning: Wildly popular hip-hop/ghettotech producer Disco D., who produced tracks for acts as Diverse as 50 Cent and Spank Rock, apparently committed suicide this past week. The URB Magazine story is here. The video for "Ski Mask Way" is on Youtube here. The video's interesting for two reasons: 1) Disco D's beat really is superb. Like the New York sunrise at the beginning of the video, the beat is lethargic and kinetic, peaceful and ominous at once. I'd love to hear, say, the Beatnuts over it, as opposed to Mr. Peanut Butter Mouth aka Fiddy. 2) Speaking of Mumbles, this video's pretty much a case in itself against the music I love so much. It literally makes me sick to this Conneticut-ass millionaire glorifying a stick-up kid lifestyle that he's not even remotely connected to, except in advertisements for ugly-ass Reeboks. You've got to have some personal sense of responsibility in life, and I'd personally like to slap the dude that took a paycheck to create this video, right in his film school-ass face. I mean, I know there are people out there actually living this life because it seems like the only way to keep the lights on and food in the fridge.


This morning I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis, a wonderful little series of vignettes about the life of St. Francis and his followers, who gave up everything they had to the poor and lived in poverty, walking the land and praising Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the way the film portrayed Francis and his band of followers as proto-hippies. They call birds their brothers, determine which direction to travel in by spinning until they fall down like little children, and just generally smile at everything they encounter. Like the men it portrays, the film is humble and simple, and lacks any pretense or artsiness that some people may associate with the director (as well as the co-writer, Federico Fellini). I'm kind of on an Italian film kick - I've got Umberto D. on top of the TV right now, and I'm curious about seeing Open City soon.

This last month, with Sara back in Denver, I've really been taking advantage of that Netflix. What continues to wow me is how little of the film canon I actually saw while I was a film student. No matter what ends up becoming of my life as far as a career goes, I think I'm always going to be that dude walking around with a scene from some foreign or classic film looping in his head. I could spend the day shoveling shit, go home to Sara and a movie worth discussing afterwards, and be happy. Lots of thoughts lately about materialism and defining yourself by the things you own or consume, but I keep film on a little pedestal above all of that. Whether it's Season 1 of Miami Vice on DVD or a collection of Stan Brakhage short films, I'm not so much a consumer of visua media as I am consumed by it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Ghost in the Forest, a Mom in the Hospital

On a recent dreary night at home, land-locked by a maelstrom that settled over Shreveport for a few weeks, I took off my pirate gear and watched Hayao Mayazaki/Studio Ghibli's children's film, My Neighor Totoro. When it comes to Mayazaki, I'm no lightweight; Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Nausicaa rank among my favorite animated films. The only Mayazaki film I didn't enjoy was Porco Rosso. I felt prepared to enjoy whatever Totoro would turn out to be. But what it ended up being really knocked the wind out of me. One part classic Mayazaki - complete with spirits who live in the forest, magical creatures that only appear before children, and nature as an object of worship - and one part French New Wave, the movie has a kind of heady, semi-stoned pace that allows for two minute-long extended takes of tadpoles swimming, a snail crawling along a flower's pistil, or a family lying in the shade of a camphor tree. The gorgeous, hand-drawn animation serves well to capture the wind blowing across a field, or the heavy boughs of a tree rising and falling in the breeze.

The two lead characters of the film are a pair of sisters who have moved into the country to a new house, in order to be near the hospital where their mother is recovering from what father calls "a cold," but the viewer can assume must be TB. The girls spend their days exploring the woods, playing in streams, and pondering when their mother may return from the hospital. Bad news comes - mom isn't coming home as soon as was expected. Mei, the youngest daughter, hides from this fact by going deeper into the forest, where she encounters the forest's king, a massive, gerbil-like spirit she calls "Totoro," who becomes her newest neighbor and friend.

That's pretty much the driving plot of the film, but by 25 minutes into it, I could easily have watched Totoro and the two sisters plant seeds and play all day. Roger Ebert called the film "one of the most beloved children's films of all time." I f I had kids, I'd share this wonderful movie with them. The DVD comes with a soundtrack option which allows you to hear the film in English, French, or Japanese, so kids won't be frightened off by the subtitles. A warm, uplifting little film about a family's adjustment to life in the country and life without a mother, it has its sad moments, but is ultimately just an incredible film about family, nature, and imagination.

Sorry for the lack of eloquence or critique in this review - I really just wanted to gush about it! I plan to see Pedro Almodovar's Volver tomorrow night (I already have my tickets!), and promise a more insightful review of that film, which is my #1 most anticipated release from 2006.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

REVIEW: "Fit to Kill" directed by Andy Sidaris

Or: How I Learned to Stop Hating
and Love Chu Chu Malave"
By Christopher Jay

NOTE: This review is dedicated to whatever remains of Russian intelligence. Let it be a small gesture of apology for all past humiliations suffered at the hands of Mr. Kane...if that is even his REAL NAME!

First things first, hats off to Andy and Arlene Sidaris. As a married couple, they created some of the most jaw-droppingly hedonistic B-movies of the 20th century, including such classics as Picasso Trigger, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, The Dallas Connection, and Fit to Kill. Created during the 80's and early 90's, the films are orgies of teased bangs, inconceivably gargantuan breasts, tanlined ass-cheeks, symbiotic moustaches perched beneath aviator sunglasses and bomb-bearing remote control cars. Director Andy Sidaris (his wife Arlene produced) has a book out, a biography, which contains such gems of knowledge as "The family that blows things up together, stays together." Words to live by.

The film's main characters are a group of lazy "secret C.I.A. operatives" who like to swim topless, make coffee topless, fuck, play paintball, and blow shit up with remote-controlled cars. I know how they feel – putting on a shirt can be exhausting. The female agents are all played by aging Playmates and Penthouse Pets. Among them is Julie Strain, a gigantic Amazonian woman who I once met as a teen (I have an autographed photo that probably got me through many a lonely night when I was in short pants). The baddies in the film are mostly communist Chinese midgets who, lest you not notice that they are Communists, have stitched red stars all over their clothing, their weapons, their boats, just fucking anywhere there's not a star. Like all of the Sidaris films, Fit to Kill is shockingly un-PC. When the main Asian bad guy is introduced ("Cheng"), the filmmakers had the gall to actually insert THE SOUND OF A GONG BEING STRUCK as non-diagetic sound. Amazing! So brutally insensitive! You know the foley art guy had to be like "What the fuck, you can't be serious – a GONG?!"

As far as plot goes, fuckin' search me. Mr. Cheng (who was introduced originally as a villain, and somehow re-becomes one towards the end) wishes to recover a stolen diamond, for purposes of giving it to "the Russian people." (How exactly will the Russian people divide it up?) His Robin Hood-like intentions for the gem are thwarted by Mr. Kane, a young, evil, and emaciated multimillionaire with a plan to steal the diamond, for purposes of "humiliating whatever is left of the Russian intelligence." When Mr. Kane takes his shirt off, he looks like something from a UNICEF commercial. As a bad guy, he doesn't really carry much weight. His Chinese wife, Satin, is always trying to make love to him, and he consistently avoids it. There's a pretty poignant scene where she strips down to what God (and plastic surgery) gave her, and he just stares into the distance drinking champagne. Kane's impotence extends to his inner circle. He hires two bumbling henchmen (one of whom is played by a character actor named Chu Chu Malave, greatest name ever) who accidentally blow themselves up with a bomb-laden remote controlled car. His ship captain is a hairy bear of a man who we see entirely too much of. You actually get to see this beauhunk bite a woman on the asscheek. What follows is perhaps the most disturbing implied salad tossing this side of…it is THE most disturbing implied salad tossing I have ever encountered in cinema. I pray that it remains so for many years.

Kane steals the diamond, so that instead of making the Russians feel better, it humiliates them. Things go wrong when the band of insignia-laden Chinese communist midgets board his ship and turn that motherfucker out. Kane attempts to shag ass, but is told by a CIA operative that "If you go into international waters, I'll board you so quick, your head will spin!" Oh, sailor! Meanwhile, everyone fucks everyone. Kane confesses to one of his captors that he has been trying to be straight (as in non-criminal, of course), but he "Can't go straight without a little…cooperation!" Don't I know it – I myself am also trying to be straight, but no one is around to cooperate with.

The film ends with all of the bad guys dying and all of the white – er, I mean, GOOD – people celebrating by fucking some more and drinking some more. You know, if secret CIA operatives really lived like this, there'd probably be a dirty bomb in every third basement. Overall, the production values are standard Sedaris – archival footage is used rampantly (some of those explosions look really familiar), the sound is mixed bizarrely (a doorknob turning is exactly as loud as a gunshot), and the soundtrack is profoundly, skull-poppingly horridly wonderful. It literally sounds like someone switched on a 1986 Casio, hit "Samba Rhythm," and walked out of the room. Perhaps to make topless coffee.


If you feel like doing something to improve the self-confidence of whatever remains of the Russian people, try to fight the urge – it'll just get you a throwing star in the face.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'm one of a long, long list of boys who love the shit out of you.

So, I'm subscribed to this music trading site, as of yesterday. And I've got a long list of crappy CD's to send out to strangers from my collection, right? As in, I am sending 10 out TONIGHT. In theory, I should get back 10 CD's that I want more than I want these. The real pleasure here is that the good folks at leave you a lot of doodle space on the back of the envelope. I have taken to including stickers of Mike Sciosa from the 1988 Donruss MLB trading card boxed set. What? yOU MEAN you DON'T HAVE DOZENS OF THESE STICKERS LYING AROUND? i DO.

I'm not going back and fixing that.

Note: In the image above, Mike Sciosa is saying "Yeah, that Yeah Yeah band is pretty great, eh?" or something. In the "Reminds me of..." section, it reads "Tasty Candy."

As far as I can tell, this is the least profitable method of getting rid of CD's in the history of the world. But I like the idea that I am giving someone somthing they really want for $1. Music industry, please take notice. We are finding ways to work around you.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Random Music Post

I just got the new album by THE BLOW, a Portland, OR-based indie R&B group, and I just had to share my thoughts on it. It's like the love child of Timbaland, Hot Chip, The Sugar Hill Gang, and Futuro Boots. It's AMAZING. If you like '80s synthesizers, indie rock girls, R. Kelly, and R&B hooks that can be at once funny and heartbreakingly endearing, there's no reason you're not listening to this band.

I believe that my favorite thing (other than the bootylicious drum machine rhythms) is the blunt, no-shit attitude of the lead singer, who is a very hilarious, sexy, and strong young woman. I love opening lines like:

"I guess I'm on the long long list/
of girls who love the shit/
out of you."

She sings it over a beat that sounds like someone put The Units and Lil' Jon in a blender. It's that good. It kicks a lot of ass, samples D4L's "Laffy Taffy," and just generally left me slac-jawed and grateful that someone out there is making this music. It's for you, trust me. Here's their Myspace:

This is my first contender for album of the year, even if it came out last year. Damn.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie by Luis Bunuel

As I fight off a particularly tenacious cold, I've been swilling orange juice and robitussin and enjoying some older films I'd been meaning to get around to watching. This morning, I watched Luis Bunuel's surreal comedy "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and, much to my surprise, it completely won me over. I have to admit that this is my first exposure to Bunuel's work (which says a lot about the limited scope of my film history classes as an undergrad), and it was completely unlike what I'd expected. Bunuel is a founding father of surrealist cinema, and I had braced myself for some sort of Roy Andersson-like experience (I've rented "Songs from the Second Floor" three times and have yet to make it through the aimless thing). What I experienced instead was a really joyful film that seemed principally concerned with making the main characters feel like asses (as opposed to the viewers). Consisting mainly of dream sequences and seated dinners during which the characters (three philandering, no-good politicos and their wives) inevitably become involved in some kind of ridiculous skirmish before the food is ever served, there's not much plot to speak of. The viewer's situation is a lovely parallel to that of the characters; none of us are being served anything substantial to consume, but we're all here at the table so we had better find some way to enjoy ourselves.

My favorite moment in the film takes place during one of the dream sequences, when the six main characters descend upon an army lieutenant's home to have dinner (which, of course, is never served). They wander in the open door, take their seats at the table, and wonder aloud where the leuitenant is. One of the lieutenant's walls dispappears, revealing a large, jeering theatre audience. Off-stage, a director shouts lines to the dinner party, who stare at the audience and mumble to themselves in confusion. The moment is hilarious. I have to disagree with reviewers who maintain that the film has no meaning or intention beyond being ridiculous. There were more than a few moments in the film where the situations were simultaneously funny and poignant. I imagine that all of us have found ourselves at some uncomfortable dinner event, wondering what to say, feeling suddenly put upon to perform. We're not supposed to sympathize with these awful characters: they fuck one another's spouses, deal cocaine out of their embassy offices, and treat "common" people like dirt. But in those little moments when we do have sympathy for them, I believe we're forgiving them. Like the title implies "The Discreet Charm of..." puts the viewer in a high enough place to look down at the upturned noses of its characters. And if we just find the characters awful, that's one thing. But if we find them awful and, well, kind of cute in their awfulness, maybe we're all forgiven for our shortcomings.

A notable quirk of the production is that there is no soundtrack at all, no non-diegetic sound. The backdrop is largely the French countryside and an urban French setting, so it's obviously easy on the eyes. Highly recommended to those who don't need a beginning, middle, and end. Definitely don't watch this with Syd Field.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I lost my internet meme virginity.

2006- (Triply)ganked

Five things that 2006 taught me:
1. How much I value my family, especially my brother Jeremy and my girlfriend and best friend of four years, Sara, who I consider my family at this point.
2. That I am capable of forgiving the shortcomings of my friends beyond all of my expected limits, even when doing so may or may not be the wisest thing.
3. That I am still a Hippo.
4. That geographic separation isn't really separation at all. If anything, it seems to create a raging love in me. I guess it's just "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." But maybe revised, to read: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, until it swells to the size of the sun."
5. Asian cinema is where it's fucking AT.

Five personally significant events of 2006:
1. Sara moving to Denver - WHAT UP TO THE PAUL'S VALLEY, KA ACTION FIGURE MUSEUM - I WILL VISIT YOU ONE DAY, YOU BADASS! But seriously, that was probably the one defining moment of 2006.
2. Catching bass on an overcast day, in the middle of Lake Erling with Bill and Jeremy. That day fixed so much that was wrong.
3. The Robinson Film Center failing to open.
4. December with Sara - I know, I'm corny, but man...that was nice.
5. Spending the day with Sara at the Denver Art Museum. Contender for best day of the year.

Five things I want to do in 2007:
1. Open the Robinson Film Center. Please.
2. Release "Get Killed or Die Trying," a record I've been working on for a while.
3. Release "My Cloven Feet," a collection of short stories.
4. Go to the horse races with my grandfather.
5. Snuggle.

Five people I'd like to know better in 2007:

1. Myself
2. My grandfather
3. My brother Jeremy
4. Dan
5. Sara

What did you do in 2006 that you'd never done before?
Completed an internet meme.

Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any promises to myself last year, but I have this year. And honestly, I don't have any choice but to keep them.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Edna Harrell, formerly "Deanie," my first friend at LSMSA, gave birth to a beautiful little girl. My cousin Tamra, who I still think of as a baby, gave birth to her first son, Eli. Good looking out on the name, in my opinion.

Did anyone close to you die?
Not to me personally, but someone close to me lost someone very important to her. The greatest hip-hop producer of all time died.

What countries/States did you visit?
CO, TX, AR, KS...Jesus, did I pass through any other states on the way to Denver? They were all just cornfields, roadside attraction snakefarms, and McDonald's restaurants full of cult members, if I did. I didn't notice, I was pretty busy sulking.

What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?
Motivation. Gratitude. Awareness and thankfulness for all that I have.

What date(s) from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory?
August 9, when Sara moved. Strangely, Saturday December 30th was a weird day that meant a great, great deal to me. I did some things I have been meaning to do, I pushed some roadblocks aside.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Helping Sara reach her goals, really. I felt pretty bad-assed for that.

What was your biggest failure?
See "Five Things to do in 2007"...maybe the biggest failure was allowing myself some pretty self-indulgent, excessive despair in the last quarter of the year. That shit will not do it in '07.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
God, on January 1, 2006, I nearly friggin died and had to go the emergency room because my fever was 105 degrees. That pretty much set the whole tone for the year. Good riddance, ya bastard.

What was the best thing you bought?
Christmas presents for sweet little girls, all of us learning to do Christmas together.

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Sara has been pretty fucking brave and inspiring for about six solid months.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I think when you allow other people to depress you, that's pretty appalling...that being said, GEORGE MOTHERFUCKING BUSH. Gosh, I just feel so much safer now that Sadam Hussein is dead. I don't even lock the doors at night anymore...

Where did most of your money go?
Bills, car repairs, thin air

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Lady Vengeance, Colonel Blimp, art in general, The Host, a new song I made in one day, finally finding an ending to "It All Adds Up," booking Half Nelson, laying tile for a friend in need, catching bass, seeing Damien Hirst artwork in person, snuggling, remembering how to make out

What song will always remind you of 2006?
The Soft Boys - "I Wanna Destroy You"

Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?
C'mon man.
ii. Thinner or fatter?
Phatter. But I am newly motivated to lose ten pounds.
iii. Richer or poorer?
I have more in savings, but less in my pocket than like, EVAR.

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Reading in bed with someone I love.

What do you wish you'd done less of?
Hand-wringing about my job. What will be will be.

How did you spend Christmas?
Next to Sara, being reminded of the value of family. That reminder turned out to be the best gift I got this year.

How did you spend New Year?
Ha ha ha. So, me and Daddy Vidrine were standing out on the rickety wooden porch of the Blue Monkey Tavern, and Daddy tells me his ideal Christmas gift would have been a gigantic, unwieldy firearm with "Momma" stenciled down the barrel. I laughed and tried to call Sara, but couldn't get through. I spent $15 I didn't have on three Jager bombs. The Vidrines played the best show I've seen them play to an absolutely riotous crowd. I filmed the whole thing.

Did you fall in love in 2006?
Oh yes, indeed. I feel like I am always meeting her.

How many one-night stands?
Uh-huh, right. Jesus, internet, grow the fuck up.

What was your favorite TV program?
DALLAS MAVERICKS VS. MIAMI HEAT, Game 7. Talk about a fucking game.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I might, but I'm not actually sure if I hate anyone at all in this world, period. People have their reasons for being awful. Everything has a context. I hate a lot of those contexts, I hate that they exist.

What was the best book you read?
"The Road," Cormac McCarthy

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Such a hard question. I love this one-man band called This Song is a Mess but So Am I, I love Professor Murder for a party soundtrack. I have also been knocking some motherfucking Max Richter at deafening levels, and I love this one song called "Hospital Beds" on the new Cold War Kids album...that shit should have been like "Float On" big as far as indie rock crossovers, but you know, the music industry is shitty. "GER-MANNN HOSPITALS, THE JOOOOYYYY OF MIZZZ-ERRRRR-Y."

Oh, also, one rapper you may not know about who you definitely should is Killer Mike. Political crunk = goodness.

What did you want and get?
Days off. Kisses. A good recipe for lemoncello.

What did you want and not get?
Christmas presents from my family, but that's a 26 year-old wanting that I probably need to get the fuck over already.

What was your favorite film of this year?
"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance"

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I have no idea what I did. I was 26.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Recording those new songs I was supposed to record with Dan in Colorado Springs, but he got the flu.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?
"Too broke to buy clothes." Not shabby chic, just shabby.

What kept you sane?
Love, music, and Schlitz Malt Liquor: The Chris Jay story.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
"Fancy"? Is Park Chan Wook a celebrity? I thought Michael J. Fox nutted up like a player to do that stem cell research ad, and handled being attacked for it very well. I thought Stephen Colbert also displayed cajones the size of Hope, Arkansas watermelons.

What political issue stirred you the most?
Shreveport elected its first black mayor. I voted for him, despite my reneck neighbors stealing my campaign signs.

Who did you miss?
Sara, Dan, Paul, Jesse, Mark, Brad Demarest, President Clinton, Andrea Theriot, Paul Khuene, LSMSA, my grandparents, Les Savy Fav, Sara.

Who was the best new person you met?
Honestly, getting to know Alec has been a blast. I'm gay for him, his movie collection, and his guitar-killing madness. Such a little man, such a huge racket.

A valuable life lesson you learned in 2006:
Hang on to the ones you hold dearest. Pick a moment when you are close to them, physically, and just really take it all in. Take nothing for granted.