Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dead: The Grim Reaper's Greatest Hits

I don't know why but I have always been a big fan of the so-called "Teenage Death Songs." Tunes like "Tell Laura I Love Her" and "Last Kiss" always made me smile with the overwrought delivery and saccharine song lyrics. Years ago there was an album from Rhino Records, Teenage Tragedies, that collected a lot of these song. Unfortunately, this came out during that awkard LP-to-CD transition in the record industry and it quickly went MIA.

Oddly enough, I was thinking of tracking down some of these tunes to make my own compilation when I heard about Dead: The Grim Reaper's Greatest Hits. Here twenty-four songs are collected including the aforementioned along with other classics like "Dead Man's Curve" and "Patches". What was the catch? Were these covers? I'm happy to report that there is no catch. These are original songs by the original artists.

There are some classic death songs here. Better yet, there are some truly amazing songs that I had never heard including the bizarro "Once You Understand" by Think; a droning chorus with an overlay of parental badgering and teenage rebellion that ends with a traumatic drug overdose. Certainly, with only twenty-four songs there are some glaring ommissions such as "Tell Tommy I Miss Him," the answer song to Ray Peterson's dirge.

There's an odd inclusion of Jimmy Cross's "I Want My Baby Back" which crosses from tragedy to parody. It seems like a second volume of pure parody/novelty with that song, "Running Bear" by Johnny Preston, and "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus might be needed. Indeed, I couldn't help but keep thinking of "Transfusion" as that "barking seal" sound effect of tires screaming gets quite a work out in several songs on Dead. While not the be-all end-all of teenage death songs, Dead definitely scratched an itch. I'll probably follow the purchase of this album up with tracking down The Very Best Of Teenage Death Songs and some of the older songs listed on Kerry's Rockin' Home Page.

Monday, January 29, 2007

DDC: Developmentally Disable Cinema

I recently ran across an article on called Top Ten Movie Retards. Now, I'm not claiming to be any kind of a subject matter expert on the developmentally disabled in cinema but it is something of a hobby of mine. I really have to call TheShiznit on some of their choices. One of the characters they chose never got on screen (GARDEN STATE) and one of them is just pretending to be retarded in a film that rips off "South Park" (THE RINGER).

Years ago someone (I think it was Chris Gore) proposed that there be a film festival in Park City, Utah every year called "Tard Dance" where films old and new with developmentally disabled characters. It would have kicked off with the embarassing THE OTHER SISTER (Garry Marshall, 1999) and would have gone from there. I'm not sure if it would have included autism films in the fold (there was a spate there with Michael Lessac's HOUSE OF CARDS and Bruce Beresford's SILENT FALL) in the early '90s. I'm also not sure if it would have covered TV movies as Anjelica Huston's RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER would have been perfect. Mickey Rooney as TV's BILL (Anthony Page, 1981) was a classic as well.

Anyway, TheShiznit is missing out on intentionally exploited, unintentionally funny, and heartbreakingly sincere portrayals of DD characters by overlooking Cuba Gooding Jr's titular RADIO (Michael Tollin, 2003), Debra Winger's Martha Horgan in A DANGEROUS WOMAN (Stephen Gyllenhaal, 1993) and Tom Hulce's Dominick from DOMINICK & EUGENE (Robert M. Young, 1988). They need to redifine their terms a bit better and rethink this list because, as it stands, it's just retarded.

Addendum: While also a grey area, TheShiznit should have given consideration to the badass Downs Syndrome killer, Jimmy Szaragosa (John Talor) in THE SEVENTH SIGN (Carl Schultz, 1988).

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Return to Philadelphia.... Again

When I was in Philadelphia for Goodiscon I was lucky enough to meet Larry Withers. He's making a documentary called DAVID GOODIS: TO A PULP. I got to chatting with him about the article I'm writing on the film and TV adaptations of David Goodis's works. More than chatting, I talking his ear off. Eventually he stopped me and asked if I was going to be around for a while. He wanted to get me on tape for his flick. Alas, I was off to the airport shortly thereafter.

Of Tender Sin Now, I could have someone up here in Detroit shoot me with a digicam and shoot the tape down to him but I don't know anyone who does. Completely self-absorbed and flattered as hell that someone would actually give a shit about what I have to say, I'm going to take off back to Philly the last weekend of February. It won't be a long trip -- I think I'll be gone for 26 hours in total. Oh, the efforts I make to stoke my own ego.

I'm just about done with the rough draft of my Goodis piece. I finally got the episode of Bourbon Street Beat that was based on a Goodis story. I ordered one back in Mid-November that I paid far too much ($40) for. The other one I traded for in early January. Of course I actually got two versions of the same episode on the same day and the one that was a trade was a few hundred times better than the other one.

It feels like I'm missing one thing for every major article I'm penning for the next issue. I went ahead with my Travis McGee piece in Cashiers du Cinemart #14 despite missing a relatively crucial component, a script by Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot. It was about two months after that issue came out that I got a response from Rossio's secretary and she graciously sent me a copy of the script. I'll write about it in the next issue but, gosh, how I hate to be anything less than definitive. That's where my obsessive nature really comes in handy for my readers, I hope.

Speaking of readers, it was quite a nice feeling to get an email from a buddy of mine that actually addressed some of the stuff I had brought on here, on my myspace blog, and on You mean someone actually reads this stuff? According to Google Analytics there are either five people that read this blog or it's simply me hitting this URL when I go to sign up or see if I have feedback. I vote for the latter.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Children of Men: Review

I wasn't sure if the delay of CHILDREN OF MEN from September 2006 to a limited-Xmas/wide January 2007 release was a good thing or not. While release delays are usually a death knell, that kind of push probably meant that the studio behind the film (in this case Universal) felt that the film had a shot at garnering some Academy Award nods. Another thing that really put me on edge about the film was its director, Alfonso Cuaron. I'm one of the few people that wasn't impressed with Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and who felt that HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN was a horrible misstep in an otherwise well-played franchise. And, finally, to hear that a handful of writers took a hack at the screenplay didn't inspire much confidence either. Too many cooks, you know.

Children of Men Poster Despite of my trepidation, I found CHILDREN OF MEN to be a fairly effective dystopian tale of the near future. The film stars a haggard Clive Owen as Theo Faron, a cog in the bureaucrat wheel of a United Kingdom that's tearing itself apart in the wake of a global infertility crisis. Over seventeen years have passed since a woman has successfully conceived a child. The world is in shambles as a reaction to the futility of a future without progeny and England portrays itself as the last bastion of civilization. Yet, not all is hunky-dory in old Blighty.

Faron fills the void once held the child he lost years before with alcohol. His ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), fills it with social activism. She's the leader of the Fishes, a radical group who spout all-too-familiar rhetoric about "the revolution." They chomp at the bit at Britain's ineffectual response to the global crisis and the government's pitiless program of immigrant deportation. But, like most holier-than-thou activists, there's little agreement as to what they can do to about their displeasure coupled with ruthless infighting amongst the group.

Julian goes to Faron with an offer of five thousand pounds in exchange for his help getting official papers for an illegal immigrant (called "Fugees" in the film's parlance) from his cousin, Nigel (Danny Huston), a government bigwig. The immigrant needing help, Kee (a strong performance from Claire-Hope Ashitey) might be the "key" to the future.

Nigel gets short shrift in CHILDREN OF MEN. In P. D. James's original novel, Nigel is his cousin's antagonist. He desperately seeks out the "Kee character" (a combination of the film's Julian and Kee) in order to save his flagging political career. This shift from book to film is typical of the smart decisions made in the adaptation of James's work. The story moves with much more purpose and direction on screen than it did on paper with the only possible item lacking being the upper-crust's disillusioned reaction to the infertility crisis with the creepy baby doll birthday parties and anthropomorphized pets.

Rather than being a fantastical post-apocalyptic tale, CHILDREN OF MEN portrays what could happen with just a nudge from any kind of crisis. The seeds have already been planted. Bombs already go off in streets. Immigrants are already openly despised. Islam is equated with abhorrent radicalism. Idealists already are short-sighted. One of the other clever ideas is to not pin down the exact cause of the infertility. No one in the movie knows. It could be the plumes of smoke and pollution that fill the air, it could be gamma rays, it could be the wrath of some unnamed diety, it could be a food-borne disease, or it could be one of any number of other factors.

Pink Floyd - Pigs on the Wing The soundtrack to CHILDREN OF MEN is particularly interesting. It's highly British and references the "glory days" of the '60s music scene all the way up to more modern fare. That the flying pig from Pink Floyd's Animals is so prominently featured was not my first tip-off that the music in this film tells a story on a different narrative plane. I feel that this topic alone could be a pretty weighty paper for a Sophomore film student somewhere.

CHILDREN OF MEN works best during its long, harrowing single take handheld shots. Cuaron's mix of quasi-documentary style with melodrama makes for interesting viewing and the film's themes make for some good food for thought.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Celebrity" Spotting

I was at a Keego Harbor bar having lunch a few weeks back when I caught sight of Bill "The Mill" Bonds sitting at a nearby table. Not a big deal to most folks but quite a sight for someone that used to be an avid fan of the "Bonds-o-Meter" -- a local newspaper feature that monitored the drunken newsman's bizarre behavior. Witness some of it in the YouTube clip below.

Bonds at the Bar

Is It Just Me Or...

I was hanging out at Borders with Andrea tonight (one of our favorite activities) the latest copy of Digital Video magazine caught my eye. I thought that there was a cover story on one of my favorite books, Flicker by Theodore Roszak inside. Um, no. Just one of those coincidences of artistic inspiration, it seems.

SHOOT 'EM UP (Trailer)

Along with the trailer for SMOKING ACES, this is one of the better previews I've seen recently.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Crank: A Review

One of a handful of action movies that came and went fairly fast in 2006 (THE MARINE, RUNNING SCARED, et cetera), CRANK stood out from the crowd due to its star, Jason Statham. While Statham's not always box office gold (REVOLVER, CHAOS), he's got a loyal following (of which I count myself a member) and undeniable charisma. I consider him one of the best British exports of "tough guy" leading men in recent years along with Clive Owen and Daniel Craig. (I thought for a while that Ewan McGregor was going to be in this group for a while but he's wussing out).

Crank Poster As Chev Chelios, Statham awakes at the out start of the film to learn that he's been poisoned and has one hour to live. Let's not dwell on the fact that he was unconscious when he was poisoned and it's unknown how long he's been out, calling the one hour timeline into question. Unlike D.O.A. (the original or the remake), Chev knows exactly who has set the countdown clock on his life (and even knows some details of the junk running through his veins). It was that scoundrel Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo)! Luckily, Chev doesn't spend his final moments dwelling on the past and assessing his downfall. Rather, he wants to take Cantillo with him for company in the pit of hell.

Chev makes his way to the elusive Cantillo, cutting a swath of destruction across Los Angeles. While he tries cocaine, Red Bull, and "trucker uppers," Chev learns that only epinephrine might keep his heart from seizing up. Along the way the audience learns more about Chev’s life as a professional hit man, his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart), and his plan to reform. We're also treated to some stylistic flourishes and self-reflexive shenanigans from directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor that recall those of the French New Wave. For example, when Chev asks if he’s got the word "cunt" written across his forehead it's superimposed just there.

More than the Nouvelle Vague, CRANK often feels like Neveldine and Taylor took a lot of crib notes from other Stratham vehicles such as Guy Ritchie's SNATH and other methamphetamine-inspired titles such as Jonas Ã…kerlund's SPUN. Despite the name, meth only makes a brief cameo appearance in the film unlike the video game "Robotron" which shows up numerous times. This poor title choice may have added to the movie's brief theatrical run. It might have been better received had it been dubbed "HANDSOME ROB: THE LATER DAYS" or "THE TRANSPORTER 3". I'm just glad that it was far more entertaining than the other D.O.A.-inspired film of 2006, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3.

Short on substance and big on action, CRANK is a great way to to wile away an afternoon. A very enjoyable little romp and a must-see for Statham fans.

Idiocracy: A Review

The last time I caught a movie that was shelved for months for being "just too darn bad" in the opinion of the studio that backed it and actually liked the results was Alex Winter's 1993 film FREAKED (previous to that it was another Alex Winter film, BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE). Otherwise it's been downhill. Still, I was willing to try Mike Judge's IDIOCRACY which was snuck in and quickly ushered out of a handful of theaters last fall. I tried to catch this in one of those theaters while in Toronto without any luck. But I didn't have to wait too long until this hit DVD.

When one can see shit like THREE STRIKES, DRAGONFLY, or SLIVER in theaters, I figured that IDIOCRACY had to be worse than that. With expectations appropriately low, I was pleasently surprised by IDIOCRACY.

Idiocracy Starring the lesser-annoying Wilson brother, Luke, is "Average" Joe Bauers, an soldier flying under the radar who's happiest when sitting on his ass watching TV all day (shades of OFFICE SPACE's Peter Gibbons). Volunteered for a top secret experiment, Joe and civilian Rita (Maya Rudolph) are put into stasis under the assumption that they'll be in a human hybernation for a year. Of course, things go terribly wrong and the pair awake five hundred years in the future.

Due to medical advances that usurp Darwinism, least common denominator entertainment, and rampant breeding by the dregs of humanity, director Mike Judge paints the future as an evolutionary nightmare where the population has been dumbed down to sub-moronic levels. Communication consists of grunts, "huh?"s and a lot of "shut up!"s. The environment is a disaster, the economy is in the shitter, the President of the United States (Terry Alan Crews) is a former wrestler, and the highest rated television program is appropriately titled "Ow! My Balls!" Joe and Rita are trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare where they're misunderstood, ostracized, and persued by the "shoot first never ask questions" police.

Overall, CdC writer Rich Osmond summed up IDIOCRACY best for me when he said, "It felt like a skit that goes on too long." I heartily agree. There are enough ideas here for a ten minute skit or, at most, a half hour short but at 84-minutes there are a lot of dead areas to the film. Luckily, these aren't filled with excruciatingly bad jokes; just a few chuckle-worthy moments where Joe and Rita easily outsmart their stupid contemporaries.

If anything, I would think that our future five hundred years from now could be far more worse than Judge portrays in IDIOCRACY. I can imagine that the English language, if it still exists, will be unrecognizable. Likewise, "Ow! My Balls!" seems fairly sophisticated compared to some of the things I've seen on Fox lately. In short, IDIOCRACY is good for a few smirks but it's not any kind of subversive gem that 20th Century Fox kept from public view.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Closing Up Shop

A number of years ago I got quite a number of videotapes of Nagisa Oshima films. Though they were awful quality they were subtitled and, thus, rare as heck. I got them from Professor William Van Wert, an Oshima fanatic. In return, I helped him track down some of the Oshima films that he couldn't put his hands on: PLEASURES OF THE FLESH, THREE RESURRECTED DRUNKARDS, et cetera. Over the years we struck up a nice friendship and I shared in his love of Oshima as well as the Japanese New Wave film movement of which Oshima was a pioneer.

When Oshima's films started coming out on DVD in Japan I got the bright idea of trying to figure out how to use those old English subtitles and marry them with the beautifully restored DVD images. In a life of too many projects the Oshima marriage went onto the back burner. It resurfaced years later when chatting to another Oshima fan -- let's call him Fred. I told him of my proposed project and, foolishly, he asked if he could make this his own.

Many moons passed and the project started growing whiskers when something lit a fire under Fred's ass. I think it was meeting a native Japanese speaker who agreed to help him out. Fred wasn't happy to just parrot those old English subtitles. He wanted freshly minted and completely accurate English translations. With me feeding him my DVD originals and subtitled VHS tapes as a starting point and his Japanese friend at the ready, Fred gave birth to Japanese New Wave Cinema Classics.

Fred gathered to him a flock of other Oshima fans and scholars which he pared down to a handful when some didn't meet his exacting standards. I was nearly out of the fold despite my "senior status" when I proved my worth as a bootleg film distributor and website developer. I made way for Japanese New Wave Cinema Classics, the website and the phenomena. I started planting seeds across the World Wide Web and boning up on proper site mapping, strict XHTML coding and Search Engine Optimization.

This was around May of 2005 that I thought the ball started rolling. Fred took charge of the group with Napoleonic zeal. When I thought it’d be a good idea to start a Yahoo group to promote the site he sent me pissy emails to tell me that I was inviting the “wrong crowd” to the site. Here I was digging up and inviting David Desser, Maureen Cheryn Turim, Donald Richie, Roland Domenig, et cetera, but he felt threatened that they might catch wind of “his” project and try to do legally snatch up the rights to “his” Oshima films and scoop him. Fred quit that Yahoo group and started his own, hand picking who he would allow to be invited. And, rather than private pissy emails he could humiliate and belittle fellow members of the JNWC group in front of everyone else. It was perfect.

In early 2006 I was unemployed and chomping at the bit for something to do. I decided that this would be the perfect time to secure a domain, learn PHP, and create the long-delayed Japanese New Wave Cinema Classics site ( Now I got to learn what a terrible web designer I was and that I really should just completely copy the Eureka Films site. I mean, literally copy it and paste in our own graphics. I refused. After my public chastisement and some more pissy private emails in which I had to defend my decade in web development and information architecture, I was finally allowed to put together a site that Fred pretty much designed.

Now began the fun part of trying to explain database-driven sites to Fred. He loved the self-important “JNWC” spine numbers of the covers he designed for the DVDs. He also loved to change these “catalog numbers” at the drop of the hat. Thinking that these were set in stone, even if sedimentary stone, I had built the entire site around these numbers as the database keys. Each change of these numbers would throw the entire site into disarray and mean a revamp of the database. This didn’t just happen once. It happened every time I got an email from Fred and every time he wanted to add or remove a future title. Then began the fight over release dates, nomenclature, image resolution, body copy, and more.

If that wasn’t enough, I was put down for my idea of making the site multilingual. Here we were, adding English, French, and occasionally German subtitles to films but not having a French or German version of the site. Even when I managed to find translators on my own and did the work of setting this functionality up it still wasn’t satisfactory, especially when I suggested that we also have the site in Italian and when I found a person who wanted to create Italian subtitles for the films. Apparently Fred felt that the Italians just don’t get Oshima and the subtleties of Japanese cinema. So, fuck the Italians, I guess. It’s only a Romance language. Good thing I didn’t inquire about Spanish.

The one thing that I wanted to talk to Fred about as the day of Japanese New Wave Cinema’s first line of films being available approached was money. I had spent a boatload on DVDs, hosting, a secure transaction server, and more. I knew that Fred would want a slice of the pie if we ever became profitable but didn’t know how big of a slice he wanted. He poo-pooed the idea of talking finance but I told him that I split all money that the site generated with the person who burned and mailed all of the orders we would get. This silent partner had a sweet dubbing set-up and was highly concerned about customer service. “We’ll talk money in the future,” Fred told me.

Nearly a year after the JNWC project got off the ground was the first batch of films ready to go. The site was a success. I found that it got a good number of hits and was highly visible to search engines. You couldn’t google “Japanese New Wave” or “Nagisa Oshima” without getting us pretty high in the rankings. I was happy. I took orders, put them into my automated order system and did the occasional complete revamp of the database and all images that were tied to catalog numbers when Fred would send me updates. He continued to belittle me when I tried to mention the PDF files that we were including with our releases – little did I know that he hadn’t obtained rights to reprint the articles he had collected in these PDFs. Woops. Those same aforementioned Japanese New Wave scholars might get a bit mad if they learned their writing was being ripped off.

Speaking of being ripped off… Fred was absolutely bonkers about peer-to-peer (P2P) sites and eBay sellers “ripping him off” by publicly sharing or selling our bootleg films. He sent death threats to anyone he “caught” sharing or selling. How dare they?

Mentions of the PDFs removed, the site continued on. Adding the second batch of movies in September 2006 was a challenge but it finally happened. Of course, I was on Fred’s bad side when I couldn’t add the DVD-9 versions of “his” releases due to my “limited” technology. Had I known and planned for this, it might have been different. Also, dual layer DVDrs aren’t the most universally accepted format. But, Fred didn’t read or respond to the customer inquiries, I did.

Around the time of this second wave Fred finally asked for some cash. A few hundred dollars to appease his Japanese friend for all of their time he was taking. I’m sure he was probably quite the task master with this translator. I wonder if he talked down to her on her ability to speak Japanese.

I knew that things were going to get very bad very fast when, over New Years, Fred asked for access to all of the sales records of the site. He wanted to run some “statistics.” Uh-oh.

In early January I got a note from Fred saying that he would be quitting the JNWC project at the end of 2007. He was tired of being ripped off by P2P sites, was working too much on the project, and wasn’t happy with the other members of the JNWC group. Also, he didn’t feel that we had made enough profits to legally obtain the rights to these films. I never knew that was a goal.

Things quickly reached a head when Fred then demanded his “fair share” from the website sales. When I reiterated the situation with my silent partner and that he could get half of what I had gotten from the site (a quarter of the profits), he proceeded to call my silent partner “not so bright” and claimed that I was treating him as if he was also “not so bright” especially since I didn’t have the money for him just laying around.

“Please tell me when you will have something to send. And I will wait with sending you finished masters until I have the feeling, that your offer is serious.” So, there were other masters suddenly available unbeknownst to me and they were being held hostage. Had I known that Fred would want this kind of a pay-out I would have been making payments to him all along the way. Money doesn’t stay in my checking or savings account for long as I’m constantly reinvesting it in my various ventures. This didn’t please Fred at all. I suggested that I close the site and start paying Fred out of my regular job’s paychecks for the next few months in order to catch up.

“So, I agree! Take down the site immediately and announce shop closed. I still miss an offer, when and how you will pay me the remaining $! If you sell the program of JNWC on SuperHappyFun, [I] will write a letter to the Association for the Protection of Japanese Rightsholders which took action against YouTube lately. I guess you realized their determination, and I assure you about ours. Of course this would affect your complete program of Japanese pirates. So think twice.” So, blackmail and now threats. Excellent. Fred was reaching new levels.

I suggested to Fred that he start selling those new films on eBay to recoup some of his costs. Obviously it was a booming market since so many “pirates” were selling “his” films on there.

Another email promised, “I want you to put the site offline immediately, or I'll teach you an expensive lesson you won't forget. After your ridiculous posts on various forums (f.e. Karagarga forum) my patience has come to an end. I informed the group members about the true circumstances that led to the end of, and I asked them not to answer any of your posts. So, stop the BS and close down the website immediately.”

And, before I could even respond and after Fred obviously talked to a lawyer I got this: “After you destroyed 1 1/2 years of our work, and after reading your stupid posts, trying to destroy the hard earned good reputation of the JNWC project group I had a consultation with my lawyer today. The results are as follows:

  1. website is your property, and you can do with it like you please. So leave it online or take it offline, we don't care. It's your decision.
  2. For you're the only proprietor of all profits are yours. So, please don't send any money. Otherwise it will be sent back to you immediately. No member of the project group has any financial claims towards you.
  3. Dito: Don't forward any emails anymore. is your company. You should take care of your customers.
  4. [My Japanese friend] signed a receipt, that she has received the amount of $ 500 for translations on behalf of The money has been payed via the Paypal account of [Fred] to facilitate the money transfer, because [my Japanese friend] has no Paypal account.
From now on we'll dedicate our time, skills and collection of precise data to a different goal. You'll have to take the responsibility for everything that follows. Your greed seems to have made you totally blind about the vulnerability of your position.”

That’s the story of how I came to shut down and try to separate myself from Fred. Now that I don’t have to talk to him anymore I find that my life is a lot less stressful. The sad part is that the dream I had of being able to present William Van Wert with a beautiful set of completely remastered Nagisa Oshima films is over. Those other Oshima films that Fred worked on are in his clutches and he won’t let them go. And, unfortunately, during that long stretch when JNWC was forming, Bill passed away at too young of an age. Despite my pleading, there was never a dedication to Bill on those discs. But the site, my work, and my memory are still dedicated to the man who turned me on to Nagisa Oshima and Japanese New Wave Cinema.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Aphex Twin - Come To Daddy

Sitting around on a crappy, cold Sunday afternoon and watching this video. I forgot how much I love it. So damn creepy... and it's got a good beat to dance to, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Call Me Omorosa

When your employer wants to send you to Las Vegas for three days, all expenses paid, that's a good thing, right? Then why am I as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs?

I'm being sent off to Las Vegas from February 7-10 for what my workplace calls "Camp Organic." It's a three-day exercise in team-building and exceptional experiences. It's also said to be something of a "hell week" packed into a few days. It's not interfacing with strangers (co-workers from other offices along with innocent Las Vegas bystanders) that has me spooked. Moreover, it's that I hear you don't get a lot of sleep. Personally, I haven't pulled an all-nighter for over a decade.

At Comcast Cablevision I worked the most bizarre schedule that I've ever had. A few days I came in at five in the morning, others I worked from four in the afternoon to four A.M. Thursdays were my easiest day, working from 1 P.M. to 8 P.M. Some shifts were incredibly intense while others consisted of me simply swapping out tapes that dubbed an hour at a time all night. It was probably a four man job that I accomplished with one other co-worker. It was murder on my social life but was great for going a little nutty and writing and photocopying Cashiers du Cinemart during the wee hours.

The way I'm trying to psyche myself up for Camp Organic is by thinking about all of those challenges the dimwits on "The Apprentice" deal with week after week. I've been a regular viewer of that show since its second season (I even watched the Martha Stewart version) and I often found myself yelling at the television screen about their incompetence and lack of vision. I also would roll my eyes when people bailed during crunch time. I don't want to be one of those lamewads. While everyone else will be participating in Camp Organic, I'll be playing my own personal game of The Apprentice. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bad Advertiser, Bad!

I was home sick today; felt very odd as I was out of work at this time a year ago. I found myself going back into my regular pattern of watching the various "Star Trek" incarnations on Spike TV over the afternoon. This exposed me to two sets of commercials that used to get my goat and just continue to do so. - So far I've seen three vehix commercials that go along these lines: two employees pitch their ideas to their dour boss. The first employee has crazy ideas of making their customers' computer more like a car; fuzzy dice on their monitor, a wheel-like mouse, et cetera. The second simply pitches "Vehix TV" which is full motion streaming video on Mind you, there are three spots here. And each time that second guy pitches the same idea. What is the problem here? Does his boss not like it? Is it too costly to implement? Does he have a dearth of creativity? Something is horribly awry here. That first guy keeps struggling to come up with innovations but that second guy just keeps kicking back and tossing out the same thing.

Travelocity - The "Travelling Gnome" spots make absolutely no sense to me. Yes, I know about the old prank but I'm talking about the spots themselves. We're presented with two "travel myths" which the gnome is determined to dispel. The first myth is always very business-like and ties into current specials that Travelocity wants to highlight. The second one usually has something to do with gnomes and their ability to travel. During the second myth we learn that the gnome is completely deluded and altogether ignorant. This is the part that causes me undo consternation. If the gnome is so wrong in that second myth, shouldn't the viewer then assume that he was wrong on the first one? Why should we believe an incompitent spokesperson? I know that these second scnarios are supposed to be comical for Travelocity but they call into doubt the entire commercial. At least a Joe Isuzu lied about everything and didn't tell the truth when it was convenient.

Yes, I know that this is all much ado about nothing but these kind of things bother the heck out of me.

Old Spice Commercial

Featuring man among men, Bruce Campbell.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lawyer Needed

I've never needed the services of a lawyer before but I'm finally ready to employ one. No, luckily, I'm not in trouble. Someone else may be but I need to check. And, if they're not in trouble, at least they're being a pain in my ass; a burr under my butt that I'd like a lawyer to pluck. I just don't know how to go about finding legal help without flipping open the phone book.

A little background on my situation: the company I used to work for did some kind of Three Card Monty with their stock options a few years back. They did a "recapitalization" and promised cash for a portion of our old options. "Okay, whatever, I'll be here forever so I'll try to do what's best for the company and just take the minimum water from the well that's required," I thought to myself, not knowing that I'd be gone a few months later. I was told that we'd get a slight payout, a pittance, and that the bulk of our money would go into an escrow account to be released in November 2006.

March of 2006 I got a call from the COO from the company telling me that I somehow owed them $10K due to a "foul up" by their payroll company. He claimed that the $10K was owed for taxes on the cash in escrow. "Pay first, payout later," was the line he was trying to sell me. Why I owed so much and how this was my responsibility eluded me. "Frankly," I said recalling that he hadn't had the guts or respect to fire me himself and sent a lackey to do it a few months prior, "I don't trust you. I want a clear and concise break down on why these monies are owed."

Days turned to weeks and April 15th loomed larger before I got a letter with a single Excel Spreadsheet line of thought as my "clear, concise break down." Not even my accountant could make it out. He pretty much told me to just leave well enough alone and that things would either come to a head or straighten themselves out come November.

Fall was quickly turning to winter and Christmas was coming up when I realized that I had gone all November without getting either a threatening message or massive check. So, where was this promised "escrow money"? Thus began my series of emails and phone calls to the CFO of my old employer. These went unreturned. Just before the New Year I got a letter that explained how I owed a little less than $10K and that the money was still in escrow (with no date of it coming out in sight).

This leaves me with no paperwork on the stock options (they kept it all and I didn't make copies -- oh, what a trustworthy fool I was), a few vague letters, and a real hankering to get a lawyer on their case to sort this matter out in my favor. So, do I call Sam Bernstein or is there a better way of picking a lawyer than to see who's shilling during the 2 AM re-runs of "Iron Sides" ? I imagine I need a Contract of Fiscal specialist rather than an ambulance chaser. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Back to Detroit

I'm back in an airport patiently awaiting my flight back to Detroit. So far it's on time but we can only hope that NWA keeps up their end of this air travel bargain. The airport looks virtually empty, at least this part of the terminal. I'm sure a walk over a few yards would find clusters of folks grouped around TVs at the terminal pub watching the Philadelphia Eagles. These Philly people seem to take their football rather seriously.

Any and all fears I had of this being a geekfest have been laid to rest. Yesterday I had a wonderful time at the Society Hill Playhouse attending all of the various programs. Highlights included a crusty boxer and younger boxing fan who talked of Goodis's apparent love of the sport. It was amazing to hear these guys rattle off the stats and names of boxing matches and boxers from days gone by. Also present was an old pool player, "Dutch" Silver. He was the definition of "a character." He looked rather frail sitting up at the front of the cabaret but spoke with a booming, Philly-accented voice about teaching Goodis how to play pool. He had a Henny Youngman wit and wasn't afraid to use it. "When I was sixteen my doctor told me not to go back to work until I heard from him. Well, he died the next day and I've been a bum ever since."

Today the group's numbers had dwindled to just a handful of folks who met up at the Samuel Paley library at Temple to look at the David Goodis archives. These aren't exactly what I had hoped they would be but I hope to contribute to them in any way I possibly can. We were treated to a nice lunch and shown a copy of an episode of the Showtime series "Fallen Angels" by screenwriter Howard A. Rodman. It was a treat to hear the backstory behind "Fallen Angels" and the production of this episode.

I got a ride back to the airport from festival organizer Lou Boxer and pummelled Rodman the entire way here with questions about his gigs (and near gigs) working with Steven Soderberg and David Lynch. I'll admit that I fawned over the guy, probably too much. I've agreed to send him a few issues of Cashiers du Cinemart. I just hope he doesn't take offense to my unkind words about TAkEDOWN (HACKERS 2).

I found today on the bus ride to the library that three out of five David Goodis fans are Jean-Pierre Melville fans as well. At least three out of the five of us that were on the bus. I'll be sharing the wealth with some folks in the coming weeks as they'd never heard of TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN or MAGNET OF DOOM, though I'll admit that I butchered their French titles.

All in all, it was a fantastic opportunity to interface with some fellow Goodis fans of all stripes and I think it will help me get some closure for the piece I've been penning (and mulling over) for the last few years. I have two more adaptations of Goodis work to track down -- an episode of the TV show "Bourbon Street Beat" and of the show "The Edge" -- and then I'll be able to finally put this beast to bed.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Goober & the Peas - Hot Women (Cold Beer)

How many years did I see Goober in the Metro Times or Orbit Magazine? Still, I never caught 'em even though I tapped my toe to this tune when I heard it on 89X. Way better than the Polish Muslims.

Good News from Goodiscon

Finally made it into Phily. I'm having bad luck getting to this town via Northwest Airlines ("NWA fucking up the program" as Ice Cube would say). Seems that each time I try to get here I actually leave at the time that the flight was scheduled to arrive. Good thing I padded my timetable a bit.

The good news on Goodiscon (Day 1) is that the agenda is far more packed than the agenda lead me to believe. I was kind of afraid that I was coming down for three little "events." No, tomorrow is packed full of stuff starting at 9 AM and going until 5 PM. Some of the stuff sounds like it might be kind of cheesy (a city official recognizing one of Philadelphia's favorite sons -- perhaps declaring "David Goodis Day"?) but, for the most part, it seems spot on.

There's a nifty program booklet (I should have asked if I could contribute), a tote with some paperback cover reproductions, and they even had hor'dourves and a free drink waiting when I arrived. Muy bueno. I chatted with a few fellows, including Duane Swierczynski, author of a few pulp novels (The Blonde and The Wheelman) and editor of the Philly City Paper.

There were about two dozen folks at the Society Hill Playhouse. We were situated in the "Red Room", a cozy cabaret. There's a table touting books from some of the authors involved in conference including some new paperback reprints of Goodis's work that I had not seen before. I finally got a chance to thumb through the new reprint of Black Friday to see what (and how many) of Goodis's short stories are in there. Looks like a bunch. I'll probably pick this up.

I "discovered" South Street on my way to the theater tonight. It's a pretty hip little area -- lots of bars, coffee shops, record stores, et cetera. Walking down it reminded me of walking down Yonge Street in Toronto. I stopped off at a comic store where I wished I had Mike Thompson to guide me in the ways of the force and tell me which books, if any, I needed to read. This was a very nicely stocked place (Atomic City Comics) and I picked up probably too many books. Got some Bizarro comix that I'd not seen before along with an interesting-looking Superman book. Why is it that I couldn't stand D.C. comix when I was a kid but now they make up half, if not more, of my preferences?

I'm planning on making South Street my preferred route tomorrow to and fro. I felt just like Peter Riegert tonight as I crossed Delancey -- wrong city, I know. With so much exotic cuisine along my path, I hope that something is open for breakfast on the way other than Starbucks.

P.S. I can't believe that it's January 5th and too warm to wear a jacket while walking around at 10 o'clock at night. I think that President Gore might be on to something...

Geeky Weekend

I'm sitting in Metro Airport where I'm waiting for my flight to Philadelphia. It's been delayed for over an hour and I'm not quite sure why. Those loudspeakers are so easy to hear, aren't they?

All week at work I've been asked what I'm up to this weekend; why I would take Friday off on this crucial Press Weekend of the North American International Auto Show. The best I can come up with is, "I'm going to a writer's conference." That sounds a lot better than, "I'm going down to Philly to celebrate an obscure pulp writer and to sit around discussing him with a few dozen other ardent fans."

Though the book I'm reading currently, Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine, is very entertaining, I can only take so much in one sitting. I love work stories and I love smut and this memoir by Allan MacDonell combines the best of both worlds. Please don't confuse this book for an X-Man comic title. I'm certain that there has to be an X-Man book named that.

Still not what the agenda of Goodiscon is going to be like. I'm excited to meet Adrian Wootton, I've been a fan of his for a while. Took a lot for me to get a Xeroxed copy of his "For Goodis' Sake!"

I'm also looking forward to seeing Temple University. I only wish that my friend Bill Van Wert were still around that I could meet up with him. That was where he taught for years. How I wish that he was still around to see the work we have done with Japanese New Wave Cinema Classics. He was the guy that got me into Nagisa Oshima and hooked me up with many of the films that I cherish today.

Back to my book and the hope that my flight will leave soon.