Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, February 09, 2007
      ( 2/09/2007 01:48:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – Just a simple sedate Kyan profile (giving the illusion that the pup's more sensible than he actually is):

THE USUAL NOTE: For more companion animals, check out Modulator's "Friday Ark." And if you wanna see some more dogg blogging (and who doesn't?), there's the weekly "Carnival of the Dogs" at Mickey's Musings.
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      ( 2/09/2007 01:04:00 PM ) Bill S.  

PLUS-SIZED EE-ROTICA DEPT. – Speaking of full-figured glamour, I haven't noted yet that my reprobate alter ego Wilson Barbers has started posting scans of Ned Sonntag BBW men's mag strips from the mid-nineties. The third in what promises to eventually be a full-fledged web page of strips has appeared on his blog today, so those with a tolerance for unapologetic comic sexism and/or a healthy dose of BBW Lust are directed hence.

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      ( 2/09/2007 09:03:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE RULE OF FIVE – Shelving some manga pb.s, I found myself taking note of those series which I've sampled than stopped buying – and the ones I've continued reading. For me, there appear to be two significant stopping points. First comes with titles that I decide are clearly not for me (a good early example, Happy Mania); those I usually stop reading after only one or two volumes. Second are the series titles that I kinda like, that have the potential of kicking into something that I really enjoy – like a teevee series with potential that you follow for several weeks to see if you wanna invest the whole season it. With these, volume five appears to be the make-or-break one.

This principle obviously can’t work with shorter limited run series like Uzumaki or R.O.D. (finished the third volume in this four-book series this week – and I have to note that the more extended story which began in book two is much more layered and interesting than what we got in the premiere volume), but it’s held for such unabashed entertainments like Kindaichi Case Files, Black Cat (which has grown much more engagingly sci-fi as it’s progressed: cloned dinosaurs in volume four!) and (yup) Naruto. I'm up to the twenties with Iron Wok Jan!, though that book's change in publishers created a two-book gap in the series that I still need to fill in. But there are other titles on the shelves that appear to’ve stalled at Book Five (G.T.O. is one such). Their spines seem to speak in little Cindy Lou Who voices, pitifully asking, “Why, Bill, why? Don’t you wanna know what happens next?” – as their unlistening owner heads out to Borders to see what fresh manga series just might pique his interest . . .
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Thursday, February 08, 2007
      ( 2/08/2007 10:00:00 PM ) Bill S.  

ANNA NICOLE – So I return home this evening to learn that Anna Nicole Smith has died suddenly, and while news of her passing is by no means surprising, a part of me can’t help feeling crappy about it all. To someone with an avid interest in both size acceptance and pop culture, the early modeling career of Anna Nicole was somewhat bracing. In a world that idealized Kate Moss waifishness, she stood for a different body type. Even if her retro curves were as manufactured as the planes of any anorexic model, they nonetheless hinted at the possibility of greater variety – of a world where standards of beauty didn't cruelly and inexorably cut off at size four. It all turned sour, of course, and the Anna who once so assertively stood as a standard for full-sized beauty quickly turned into a Dennis Miller punch line, a drugged-out exemplar of the outta-control fat stereotype. But for a few short years, the woman was something else . . .
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
      ( 2/07/2007 03:49:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"TERRY'S NOT A BIT LIKE YOU!" – For this week's mid-week music vid, let's hit the Wayback Machine to the glory days of Stiff Records – with Kirsty Maccoll's "Terry":

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007
      ( 2/06/2007 11:27:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LAY DOWN MY VISIONARY EYES" – To those of us who've been waiting for folk-pop savant Lindsey Buckingham to release his own solo Smile, a beautifully willful blend of doleful harmonies and clever pop hooks from start to finish – the elpee that Go Insane once teasingly promised he'd eventually produce – well, it looks like we're gonna be holding on a little longer. Under the Skin (Reprise), Buckingham’s first solo outing in ten years (with a side stop in between for that Fleetwood Mac reunion) is another good-but-not-astounding solo outing that takes at least one track to hold you, keeps your attention most of the way, then starts to peter out near the end. If it's not the dense pop masterwork we all hope for, well, at least it continues to hold out the promise.

In terms of its overall sound, the disc is aggressively spare. The Lindsey B. who brought in the USC Trojan Marching Band to play "Tusk" is nowhere to be heard. Much of Skin is entirely self-played (though two of his mates from Mac show up for a coupla tracks): Lindsey with his ever-busy acoustic guitar plus plenty of his echoey multi-tracked vocals. The prime tone is one of druggy late-night contemplation, which suits a cover like the Rolling Stones' "I Am Waiting" (from '66) perfectly. To my ears, the closer we get to Mac (e.g., "Down on Rodeo," a countrified lament that could read like a eulogy for his old band), the more dynamic the album sounds.

Still, some of Buckingham's more subdued tracks can be sweetly addictive. "Show You How" recalls the folkie vibe of "Catch the Wind" Donovan with its intro, then builds to a slightly off-kilter harmony chorus; title track "Under the Skin" uses a Latin rhythm to sleepily sexy effect; while "Cast Away Dreams" is just a plain lovely wistful pop tune. "It Was You" even contains a sneaky sonic allusion to John Lennon's primal scream Plastic Ono Band disc – perhaps the greatest of the stripped down rock exercises.

Once our man starts meandering, though – as in the thoroughly unmemorable "Shut Us Down" – all you can hear is hyper-busy fingering in the pursuit of some whispery secret we're never told. By the time you arrive at the equally aimless finish, "Flying Down Juniper," the overriding impression is of an artist lost in his production sound – one whose introspective impulses have overpowered his pop smarts, bound 'em with electrical tape and shoved 'em into a basement cabinet.

To be sure, the results of all this home-studio knob twiddling are not unpleasant. (I played this album driving my wife home from hospital surgery last week, and it made for perfect background noise.) But in the end, the full Skin still comes off more solipsistic than audience-friendly. Like the hero of that Stones song, we hopeful fans are still kept waiting . . .
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Monday, February 05, 2007
      ( 2/05/2007 06:28:00 PM ) Bill S.  

CHOW HOUND – "You must really really really really really like your gravy!" – Butch, the Kroger cashier upon noting that I've ventured out in four degree weather to buy a jar of Heinz Savory Beef Gravy. Hey, it's not a hot beef sandwich without gravy!
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      ( 2/05/2007 01:15:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"PATSIES. THE WORLD'S FULL OF 'EM!" – Gotta admit that the thought of Buena Vista being the source of DVD reissues from the long and checkered career of director/producer Roger Corman has me more than a little flummoxed – even if the packagers attempt to justify it by labeling him the "Reigning King of Independent Film" (as opposed to "Mister Low-Budget"). Yeah, I know that BV is so much more than Disney these days, but seeing an ad for the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean flick alongside a collage of Cormania that includes such gems as Death Race 2000 (budgetary excess versus brilliance on a tight purse) remains decidedly strange. Still, if it results in the rescue of a picture like The Cry Baby Killer from the blurry netherworld of the Dollar Tree cheapie DVD shelves, I can't help but applaud BV's acquisition of a good part of the Corman Library.

Initially released in 1958, Cry Baby Killer is best-known as Jack Nicholson's debut film. In it, he plays Jimmy Wallace (you know at heart this is a good kid 'cuz his name is Jimmy), who we first see getting beaten up in a dark alley by a bunch of young punks. Leader of said punks is an oldish looking youth named Manny Cole (durable low-budget actor Brett Halsey) who has recently stolen Jimmy's girl Carole (Carolyn Mitchell). "When the Mannys of the world take over," one of Cole's young henchpunks states, "the Jimmy Wallaces get lost." Except Jimmy is too stubborn to know he's supposed to get lost. Bringing along his useless football player buddy, he follows Manny and his crew to Klix Drive-In, a seedy hang-out for would-be juvenile delinquents. "Hate to see clean-looking kids go into that place," uniformed copper Glen Gannon (John Shay) notes, in between half-assedly flirting with seen-it-all waitress Julie (Lynn Cartwright), and we quickly learn why.

Inside the dump, smarmy Manny attempts to spike the spellbound Carole's soda pop, so he can get her home and take advantage of her young nubile self. But before Carole's virtue is forever compromised, Jimmy shows to challenge Manny to a man-to-man fight. They Take It Outside to a place away from the copper Gannon’s eyes, and a scuffle ensues wherein Jimmy grabs a gun from one of Manny's toadies. Both Manny and the toady get shot; Officer Glen arrives on the scene; and poor panicking Jimmy grabs a mother and her baby into a convenient storeroom where he holds them – plus a Negro cook named Sam (Smoki Whitfield) – hostage.

All of this takes place in the flick's first fifteen minutes. The rest of the 61-minute b-&-w feature is devoted to a stand-off 'tween Jimmy and the police with periodic padding dialog by most of the grown-ups about the Trouble with Kids Today. (Scriptwriter/character actor Leo Gordon gets off the best line as a member of the bystanding mob: "Teenagers," he sneers. "Never had 'em when I was a kid!") Jimmy's parents arrive so that Mom can call blond Carole a cheap hussy; good-guy cop Glen continues to flirt with waitress Julie; and hard-nosed police lieutenant Porter (Harry Lauter) weighs the advantages of using tear gas on a room where one of the hostages is an infant. In the background, teevee cameras for station KQQQ and a hot-dog vendor show up to take part in the action – like some low-budget version of Billy Wilder's The Big Carnival.

Young Nicholson's a pleasure to watch in his storeroom-bound scenes: growing more jittery as the night progresses, bouncing off of his frightened captives. "I don't know what to do," he moans at one point, and you can hear the sound of a thousand Method Acting workshops in that single exclamation. If at times, there's a brace more braininess behind those eyes than his character is allowed to actually demonstrate, well, that's partly screen inexperience and partly because we know just how smart Nicholson'll ultimately prove to be. He proves much more comfortable in this flick than he'll be in later Corman period horrorflix The Raven or The Terror.

The movie's stand-off ends anti-climactically – despite a ten-minute countdown sequence where director Jus Addis regularly gives us shots of Lt. Porter's Bulova – with blond Carole delivering a bullhorn speech ("Maybe it's all my fault," she sez, or, "maybe it's everybody’s fault!") meant to tie things up and lure Jimmy out of that storeroom. Once the credits roll, however, we realize that its title is a cheat: nobody was killed. Manny and Al have been taken to the hospital, never to be heard from again, while Jimmy's three hostages all make it out okay: mother and child back in the loving arms of their worried husband, Sam to be inexplicably glared at by Lt. Porter. According to Ed Naha's The Films of Roger Corman, Gordon's full original script was "de-written" by one of Corman's assistants, so perhaps the first draft painted Nicholson's Jimmy as a teary-eyed killer for real. Would've been more interesting if it had.

Whatever an intentional or haphazard fraud, the title still inspires a nifty period theme song: a bongo-heavy faux roll-'n'-roll lament by Dick Kallman ("Sweat was pouring from off his brow/Wasn't any hope for him no-how!"), perhaps best known for later playing record executive Little Louie Groovy on the Batman series.

All told, Cry Baby Killer remains pretty lightweight, even by 50's drive-in standards. But the movie goes by so quickly, you don't really mind. Buena Vista's DVD is being packaged as a "Back-to-Back Jack Edition," featuring a colorized version of 1960's Little Shop of Horrors as a bonus feature. This, too, is a bit of a con, of course, since Nicholson's part in that notorious quickie horror comedy is the short-but-memorable role as a masochistic dental patient (who'd later be assayed by Bill Murray in Frank Oz's movie musical version). Though more than one movie buff has decried the use of colorization on this feature, in a way this bankrupt technique adds to the general tattiness of a film that legendarily was shot by Corman in two days.

At least Shop was actually directed by Corman, instead of Addis, who's mainly known for his workmanship in series television (did a few Twilight Zones and Alfred Hitchcocks). While I know that Corman brought a lotta great directors into the biz – along with young-&-cheap thespians like Nicholson – what I'd really like to see on remastered DVD are more of his own early directorial efforts. Many of Corman's best directing jobs have already been released on DVD, of course (often as part of MGM's "Midnite Movies" series), but the man was so prolific that you just know there are some unreleased low-budget gems out there waiting to be polished up and repackaged. How about a good copy of The Terror? You wouldn't even need to colorize it!

(Many thanx to The Corman Cult for providing a copy of this disc.)
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Sunday, February 04, 2007
      ( 2/04/2007 10:33:00 PM ) Bill S.  

MY ONLY SUPER BOWL RELATED POST (WITH A CAMEO APPEARANCE BY ALANIS MORISSETTE AS GOD) – A dollop of network teevee Irony: CBS following a Super Bowl Post-Game Show (wherein Tony Dungy heartily thanks God Almighty for his team's victory) with an episode of Criminal Minds (where tonight's serial killer is a religious whack job with MPD who's fixated on the Book of Revelation). Works for me . . .
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      ( 2/04/2007 09:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – Dusty voices his pleasure over the fact that Mom has returned from the hospital (Kyan standing by in agreement):

THE USUAL NOTE: For more companion animals, check out Modulator's "Friday Ark." And if you wanna see some more dogg blogging (and who doesn't?), there's the weekly "Carnival of the Dogs" at Mickey's Musings.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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