Friday, July 30, 2010


How did this happen, America?  We have been lazy, we have been indifferent, we have failed to pay attention.  And during this time, there have been forces, pernicious forces within our own borders, that have managed to do what bin Laden himself couldn't do: They've given Marc Cohn the highest-charting album of his career.

Did we learn nothing from the nineties?  Though his debut album charted modestly back in '91, its debut single, the truly awful Walking In Memphis, acted like a bland, piano-driven pod placed under the nation's collective bed, and the next morning we woke up to a world that just wasn't quite the same.

Oh, we still went to doctor's offices, sat in line waiting for driver's licenses and shopped at mid-price retail chains.  But suddenly all these unexciting yet essentially painless activities were constantly accompanied by a piano bar keyboard riff and a nondescript voice straining to sound scruffy and world-weary.  Incredibly trite lyrics--referencing Elvis, W.C. Handy and Al Green, which conjure Memphis about as evocatively as mentioning the Empire State Building and Central Park when discussing New York--filled the air, and as much as we tried to ignore the problem, it never went away.  Walking In Memphis was exactly the sort of personality-free song that would continue to be played in public areas for years and years.

As dreadful as a Michael Buble or a Jason Mraz might be, they've at least tied up the kind of "light listening" music services favored by restaurants and reception areas, and it was easy to become complacent, to think, "Well, at least we won't have to worry about hearing that Walking In Memphis guy anymore."  But we were wrong to think that, very, very wrong.  Despite having been shot in the head in 2005--bullets killed John Lennon, but they only made Marc Cohn stronger!--it seems he can't be stopped.  His new covers album, Listening Booth: 1970 (and, by the way, is there anything less creative than an album of cover songs?), drags Van Morrison and Alex Chilton down to his level, but far more ominously, it features a version of Bread's Make It With You.  Imagine the horror: an already lugubrious, desperately uninteresting David Gates ballad as run through the Marc Cohn blanderizer.  It would be formless aural mass, a musical version of The Nothing from The Neverending Story, sweeping away all memories of joy, or pain, or any human emotion whatsoever.

It happened before, America.  We survived it once, but we were stronger then.  Will we be able to survive it again?

Monday, July 26, 2010


According to today's New York Times, the marketeers at Screenvision announced plans last week to upgrade the "preshow experience" in movie theaters that subscribe to their service.  The preshow, for those of you dwelling in blissful ignorance, consists of banner ads, mindless trivia challenges, various interstitials and grotesquely overproduced PSAs, like those National Guard ads featuring Kid Rock and Three Doors Down.  (At least, I think it was Three Doors Down.  Either them or Nickelback.  Some shitty band or other.  Like I would know; those ads were so bad they'd inevitably make me flee to the lobby until they were over.)

I doubt there's a filmgoer on the planet who actually enjoys sitting through these things, but Screenvision believes negative reactions from audiences can be turned around by throwing even more shit onscreen before the movie starts.  Their new "advertainment" block--and incidentally, every time someone uses the word "advertainment", an angel is cast into hell--will consist of sponsored Nascar footage, video clips of Timbaland apparently just hanging out and talking to us and a so-far-unspecified use of Paula Abdul.

You can understand why the folks at Screenvision spend their time dreaming up nonsense like this--it's their job, after all.  And they allegedly have the numbers to prove it: The Times cites a Nielsen study claiming in-theater advertising was one of the few aspects of the ad world to show growth in 2009.

That's presumably due to the fact that theater owners are faced with dwindling attendance a smaller slice of the box-office take, thanks to increasingly outrageous demands from distributors.  But what the numbers don't take into account is how many potential filmgoers actually stay away precisely because of the preshow spectacle. 

Even if you only get to the theater ten minutes before showtime, you're still bombarded with ads that whole time, followed by an endless onslaught of trailers.  By the time the movie itself starts, you've already spent a full half-hour or so sitting in the dark watching images on a screen, and exhaustion has set in.  If there's a movie I'm on the fence about seeing, I usually decide to wait for the DVD, mostly because the moviegoing experience is so actively unpleasant these days, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

People know when they are being treated like chimps in a Skinner box, and they resent it.  All the advertainment in the world can't change that.

Friday, July 23, 2010


1) Another Random Thoughts post, another Larry King quote, only this one is entirely made up.  (Seriously, would YOU want to spend any more time than necessary browsing the USA Today archives, looking for relevant King-isms?)  I'm imagining Larry barking this line at his clinically-depressed wife, her entire body trembling as she shuffles off to fulfill yet another of Larry's demands, as he languishes by the pool, his tiny Speedos held in place by suspenders.

Right.  Let's move along, shall we, and never envision this scenario again...

2) Long-time readers (Are there any of you out there?  Hello?) may remember when this space was largely devoted to my misadventures in the dating world.  Whether it involved one-off encounters with would-be actors and hardcore masochists or enraptured odes to long-term relationships that died on the vine, I willingly spilled my guts here.

Hasn't been much of that lately, has there?  While I'd like to say it's because I've decided to keep my private life private, the sad fact is, there is no private life.  I had a particularly bad date a month or two ago, but aside from the former meth-head aspect, it wasn't interesting enough to recount here. 

Beyond that, upkeep on the house (which mostly consists of pulling crap out of the gutters and mowing the lawn, like, once a week) and playtime with the puppy keep me occupied.  Other than messy physical desires, I'm not missing being in a relationship at all.  But hey, that's what hookers are for!

3) Kidding about the hookers.  That was obvious, right?  Because you never know.  People have a bad tendency to key into the literal meaning of words without understanding tone and intent, and...*sighs*  This could turn into a lengthy screed about Obama and Fox News, you know.  And bear in mind, whenever talk turns to politics around here, Star Wars metaphors will be deployed, and no one wants that.  Though that reminds me...

4) ...I've been having a lot of Star Wars-based dreams lately.  You might think, "Well yeah, what's unusual about that, you go on about it all the time," but the thing is, I don't, really.  Sure, I like Star Wars, but I wouldn't say I'm really into it.  I've never read any of the zillions of tie-in novels or comic books, for instance.  And even back in '77, the double-LP soundtrack for the original (which was NOT then called A New Hope, thank you very much) came with a cool poster of the rebels attacking the Death Star...but I never even put it up on my wall.  I had posters from the '76 King Kong, and don't even ask me about my obsession at the age of 10 with Planet Of The Apes, but by the time I turned 12, the notion of displaying a poster from a movie I liked just seemed kind of geeky.  Just because I saw it five times that summer (no small feat when you live on a farm and the only theater in Iowa playing it was over an hour's drive away, which means convincing everyone in your family to take you at least once) doesn't mean that it changed my life or anything.  By that fall, I'd moved on to other obsessions.  When The Empire Strikes Back came out, I was barely interested in seeing it.

Of course, once I did see it...

5) Who am I kidding?  Ladies and germs, the greatest fucking piece of music ever written:

6) Finally, as all these posts end, with a critter update: Neurotic cats and exuberant puppies really don't mix.  But when they do, the results are very entertaining. 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Had a video clip I intended to paste in here, so I went to YouTube to find it.  The home page popped up, with a little sidebar promo for Katy Perry: The YouTube Interview, during which "Lisa Nova will ask Katy your questions."

Wait a second.  I could have submitted questions for Katy Perry?  Dear God, why was I not told?  My life now is incomplete.  A minor, soon-to-be-forgotten celebrity might have acknowledged my existence by answering a question submitted by me.  Me!  Just an average fella, rubbing elbows, via question-asking surrogate Lisa Nova, with an artist whose work I've long avoided.

Yet my opportunity passed.  My question for Katy--"Why have I heard of you, exactly?"--will remain forever unanswered.  An almost unbearable melancholy descends, and I weep silently.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Silly interweb dust-ups are a dime a dozen, and this one is so ridiculously trivial it's barely worth going into--and why should I bother, since Dennis Cozzalio does such a fine job of breaking it down?--but in brief, New York film critic David Edelstein wrote a mildly negative review of Christopher Nolan's new film Inception, and a lot of fanboys are pissed off.

The back story is, Edelstein was one of the first major critics to pan Nolan's The Dark Knight two years ago, and since many comic book fans were convinced that movie would somehow legitimize their geekiest obsessions, they felt as though they had been personally attacked.  And though most of them haven't seen Inception yet--it opens tomorrow--they still feel some sort of gratitude to Nolan, as though he validated their lives.

Which is just kind of pathetic, and many of Nolan's defenders are doing him no favors (the word they're tossing around most frequently to describe Inception is "Kubrickian", which is utterly senseless on many levels), but the thing is, I kind of understand their enthusiasm.  Whatever else can be said about The Dark Knight, it remains one of the few big blockbusters in recent movie history to be any good at all.  It was well-written (if a bit self-important), mostly well-directed and perfectly cast down to the smallest roles.  It understood what it wanted to be, and set out to do it.

That wouldn't seem like such a big deal, but dear God, have you tried going to a movie lately?  Expectations couldn't be high, from either audiences or the filmmakers themselves, for a remake of a thirty-year-old sword and sorcery epic (Clash Of The Titans) or an adaptation of a mostly forgotten TV show (The A-Team) or a disposable romantic comedy (Knight And Day), yet time and again, audiences are expected to sit through things that fail to display even a baseline competence. 

Most people aren't looking for life-altering experiences when they go out for a night at the movies, but they expect to be entertained.  Inception may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't look like a thousand other movies, and it's understandable that audiences may have unreasonable expectations for it.  In the middle of a drought, even a single drop of rain refreshes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's odd, in a way, that I have no desire to use this space to explore my feelings about the life and art of Harvey Pekar, who died yesterday at the age of 70.  Odd because I probably wouldn't be writing if I hadn't picked up an issue of American Splendor back in '84, and realized...

No.  I'll stop now.  Even though this space is relentlessly personal, even though I try to be honest about everything that passes through my life--something I learned from Pekar--I just don't feel like sharing my feelings right now.  A decent obit can be found here, and a good appreciation of the man's life and work can be found here.  Then pick up some of the American Splendor anthologies and a copy of Our Cancer Year.

And then go on and live the rest of your life, because it's what Harvey would want you to do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Even though I've been in a surprisingly good mood lately, I started out this morning working on a piece intended for this site that was another of my occasional sojourns into fiction writing, a story of a misunderstanding between a married couple that started to spin into some darker areas than I intended, and I wound up abandoning it, at least for now.

So I went out and did stuff instead, and now that I've returned, it seems the weekend is winding down.  What better way to prepare for the coming drudgery of the working week than to relax and have a few laughs?  Here are a few of the things that make me laugh the most.

I'm not a big fan of the movie Ghostbusters; I saw it on its opening weekend in 1984, found it moderately amusing, have never felt the need to revisit it. does feature one of the best one-liners in movie history, perfectly set-up, growing plausibly out of the situation at hand and expertly delivered by Bill Murray, truly a comedic god among men.

Sure, his presence in a movie now is often cringe-inducing (and his new one, Little Fockers, looks truly unbearable), but there was a time when Ben Stiller was not just funny, but downright inspired.  Any number of clips from The Ben Stiller Show could prove my point, but we'll let Tito Gallegos stand as a perfect example.

That brief snippet of American Pie at the end of that segment segues nicely to this.  I could pick any Weird Al bit at random, and in fact, this particular number isn't even all that funny, more like a snarky telling of the actual storyline of The Phantom Menace ("some ships exploded and some pilots fried") than a full-blown parody.  I'm just including it because I love the damned thing so much, and you have no idea how often I find myself singing this one.  No, seriously--you have no idea.

Finally, Mike and the Bots offer a thorough take-down of a terrifying social engineering short from the 1950s.  Is Mystery Science Theater 3000 the greatest thing in the history of the world?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Milos Forman's 1981 film adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is remembered these days, if it is thought of at all, for James Cagney's final big screen performance, for Randy Newman's beautiful score and for Elizabeth McGovern's nudity.  It was an expensive, lavishly mounted production, but largely miscalculated, with overcast English settings failing to convince as early-twentieth century New York, a dull performance by Howard Rollins in a key part, and good actors (Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen, Donald O'Connor, Kenneth McMillin) given too little time to make an impression.  Individual scenes are lovely, and Newman's music gives it a sense of melancholy it might otherwise lack, but one can't help but imagine while watching it what the film's original director, Robert Altman, would have brought to it.

So why am I bringing it up at all?  I stumbled across the original teaser trailer for it on YouTube, and...well, just take a look.

Consider what we are shown on screen: Raucous parties, dancing, shootings, explosions, savage beatings, passionate embraces.  But what do we hear?  Soft music, and a cool, detached narration, describing not so much the film as the era in which its set.  It's a distinct tone this trailer has, and in its chilly reserve it is truer to the spirit of Doctorow's novel than the film itself.

That's the thing: this is an advertisement undeniably unique to this particular movie.  Clearly, if Ragtime had been produced today (not that it's possible to imagine anyone funding such an expensive white elephant now), the trailer would play up the action-oriented elements (and possibly the sex), and every explosion would be presented in teeth-rattling THX sound.  There'd be some onscreen crawl, shock cuts--it would make this particular movie look like every other movie.

And some generic source music borrowed from a hundred other trailers.  That would be a necessity, though, since the final score for the film probably wouldn't be completed yet.  That's one of the most amazing thing about this preview: Like most trailers of the era, the music featured is actually used in the movie itself.  This was a teaser, likely released to theaters a few months in advance of the picture's release, yet the movie was already substantially completed, with its musical score already in place.  In the case of Ragtime, there was almost certainly still a lot of fine-tuning going on in the editing room--the final cut still feels incomplete--but it wasn't still being tweaked by CGI monkeys mere days before release, like almost everything made these days, major studio pictures and indies alike. 

Ragtime isn't a great movie, but this trailer gives you every reason to believe it might be.  It's a sad reminder of the days when movies were sold individually, on their own merits, instead of generic product.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


If you've ever lived in a medium-sized town, big enough to have its own paper but which only publishes once a week, you've probably seen a headline in that very paper detailing the semi-lavish wedding of some city official or other, like the comptroller, and it's presented as if it's some big deal, like this is somebody you should know, instead of the guy whose office you walk past when you go down to pay the water bill.

You might say Jonathon Schaech is the small town comptroller of celebrities.  His only legit claim to fame is as the second lead in That Thing You Do!, a good movie that is let down by a surfeit of blandly likeable, utterly indistinguishable leads.  Basically, the only way to describe Schaech is as "The guy from That Thing You Do! that didn't have Liv Tyler as his girlfriend," and even then, the response may be, "Oh, you mean Steve Zahn?" and you'd have to say, "No, the other guy."

Anyway, the point is, Schaech got married recently, a fact that many entertainment-based websites apparently found notable enough to report.  This is the state of celebrity journalism: If you've ever been in front of a camera at any point in your life, you're somehow inherently interesting.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


In honor of the Fourth of July, a celebration of the work of a great American artist, Sam Peckinpah.  This is an odd, sweet little musical number that appears out of nowhere in his oddball 1970 near-masterpiece The Ballad Of Cable Hogue.  I say "near-masterpiece" because it is a mostly beautiful, deeply moving film for the most part, but it has some amazingly misjudged sequences that unfortunately undercut the elegiac tone Peckinpah was clearly going for.  You can see some of that at the end of this sequence, with the goofy sped-up slapstick that looks like something off of Gilligan's Island.

Though in this case, that particular sequence involves naked Stella Stevens, and...Who am I trying to kid?  Peckinpah is one of my absolute heroes, but let's be honest: the only reason I'm posting this is because of the sweet, sweet Stella footage.  What can I say?  Seeing her on the big screen forever altered my eight-year-old self. Never before had I performed the flag salute, or let my bombs burst in midair, or felt my oceans white with foam.  Dear God, how I longed to explore her purple mountain majesties, as well as her fruited plain. And...well, I'll just stop now.  Except to note that the sight of the Mississippi-born Stevens in all her glory makes me truly want to say, "God Bless America!"

Friday, July 02, 2010


We'd seen the movie he wanted to see (The Last Airbender), and he'd accompanied me as I went shopping for things I needed.  Now Paul figured it was his turn again: "I'm thirsty.  Can't we go get something to drink?"

"How about ice cream?" I suggested.

"No.  I'm thirsty.  Drink.  Pop.  I'll even call it soda, if it makes you happy."

"Why not ice cream?"

"Thirsty.  Meesa no want ice cream."

"'Meesa?'  Are you turning into Jar-Jar?"

"Only when meesa thirsty.  And meesa no want ice cream."

"Well, what about me?" I asked with mock indignity.  "What about what I want?"

"That doesn't sound like something you'd say.  That sounds like something a selfish person would say."

"Maybe I'm selfish."

He looked at me with one of his patented "get real" expressions.

"What?" I asked.  "I can be selfish."

"No you can't."

"How do you know?"

He rolled his eyes.  "Look at all the stuff you do for me.  You're always buying me stuff, taking me places.  It's never about what you want.  You never even think of yourself."

I laughed.  "That's what every girl I've ever dated said to me, right before they dumped me."

He laughed, too, then stopped.  "Wait.  Those are all good things.  Why would they dump you if you're a good person?"

"Well, it's, 'These are all the good things about you, and I really care about you, but I just don't feel that way about you.'  Then they'll say, 'But we can still be friends.'"

"Did my mom say all that to you?"

"More or less."

"But you're still friends with her."

"Yeah, well.  I'm still friends with you, too."

"That's because you're a good person.  Even my mom knows that."  He paused.  "Even if she did rip out your heart."

I laughed, and we kept driving around.