Monday, November 09, 2015

Chiller's Psycho marathon

As a cable network, Chiller deserves credit for being one of the few that has stayed true to its theme, even if its steady menu of direct-to-DVD caliber movies grows tiresome. The channel is getting well outside that box on Thursday, however, with a lovely Psycho marathon that will include not only the original Hitchcock masterpiece but also Gus Van Sant's 1998 scene-for-scene remake (with the addition of bizarre flashes of cows) and the sequels — Psycho II, Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Even though the sequels are not particularly well-regarded films, it surprises me how rarely (pretty much never that I can recall) they show up on TV, given the endless hours of airtime filled by C-level movies. These nuggets should be of at least passing interest to fans of horror and Hitchcock. Psycho II (1983), a moderate success, offers Vera Miles and Meg Tilly in the cast; Psycho III (1986) is directed by Anthony Perkins; and the made-for-cable prequel Psycho IV (1990, Showtime) could be considered an extra rare treat: It wasn't even available from Netflix on disc when I still subscribed a couple years ago.

Each year, I anticipate the arrival of October and what few surprises the cable channels might have in store for us in terms of fun old (and by "old" I mostly mean 1980s) horror movies. And, each year, I'm disappointed when AMC's Fearfest trots out the same dozen movies it has shown for the last 10 years. Take note, AMC — Chiller is schooling you with this marathon.

(The Psycho-fest begins at 11:30 a.m. central. Bonus: If you really want to make a day of it, David Fincher's The Game and Hitch's The Birds precede the marathon. Go, Chiller!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A farewell to David Letterman in late night TV

I was nine years old when David Letterman's Late Night premiered on NBC, and I think he was really hitting his stride around the same time I was becoming aware of the world and getting interested in television.

I fondly remember staying up late on summer nights when school was out after my parents went to bed around 1985 to watch television, perching myself right in front of the living room's wood-cabinet 25-inch Zenith in the dark with the volume turned up just loud enough so as not to awake the parents but also to be audible above the steady hum of the wall-unit air conditioner. Carson was fun, but Letterman was something else entirely; I immediately felt a connection to his sardonic and self-deprecating style. And who wouldn't love watching people throw watermelons and televisions off the roof of a steep New York building?

In later years, we also have Letterman to thank for fine Late Late Shows with Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson (Ferguson had the best late night show of the last 10 years, hands down). It's hard to believe there won't be any Dave in late night after tonight, and it feels like a piece of my life is going away.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Is it too late to tell you my favorite album of 2014?

I shouldn't let another month slip by without some mention of my favorite music from last year — something I've done here more often than not for the last decade. Pulling a bit of an upset over La Roux's sophomore effort, Information Society's _hello world emerged as my favorite of 2014. 

The '80s survivors' self-titled 1988 major-label debut is one of the best synthpop albums ever released. Much of it is melancholy sentiment mixed with contemporary dance grooves, which is the recipe for many of my favorite songs. A handful of other albums followed over the years, but there were no more big hits like "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" and "Walking Away." _hello world is the first album in many years with the full involvement of all three key players — Paul Robb, Kurt Larson and James Cassidy — and the result is their best album since the debut. Except for the Star Trek samples, all of the familiar elements are in place, not least of which is their ability to craft sweeping pop hooks, although fans of '90s album Don't Be Afraid may find some nods to its darker sound here (the aggressive and irresistible stomper "Where Were You?" being a prime example). Other highlights include first single "Land of the Blind," which gleefully references "What's on Your Mind;" second single "Get Back," a steamroller somewhat of a piece with "Where Were You?" that is even better in the form of the DeathProof Remix; and an excellent cover of Devo's wry "Beautiful World" with Devo's Gerald Casale contributing vocals.

While InfoSoc's songwriting has particularly shone in past synth ballads like "Repetition" and "Fire Tonight," this album's closing ballad, "Tommorow the World," doesn't quite equal those peaks. But, most of the way, there's an energy in these songs that is perhaps unexpected at this late date and simply … pure.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A farewell to the great Ruth Rendell

Certain people, it sometimes seems, will always be there. Never in your life will there be a time when they do not live, do not exist. They will just always be. For me, Ruth Rendell, a brilliant British mystery writer, was one of those people. So, I was devastated to learn she died May 2 at age 85 after suffering a stroke in January.

Circa 1994, maybe 1993, an acquaintance, apropos of nothing, gave me a paperback copy of her ’93 novel The Crocodile Bird. I’d never heard of her, but it looked interesting, and I gave it a read. It was amazing … amazing in that special kind of way that really gets inside your head and plants the seed of obsession with its creator. I began to gobble them up and was dazzled by her ability to get inside the heads of messed up people. As many have said before, a Rendell novel isn’t simply a whodunit, it’s a whydunit — an examination of how a particular person became sufficiently unhinged to kill. And she had a way of making us see a hint of ourselves in those damaged individuals. This, combined with her deadpan wit and laser-sharp literary (but not stuffy) prose, gradually made her my favorite fiction writer, and it gave her the reputation of elevating the mystery genre.


Rendell, as devotees know, came in three flavors — the Inspector Wexford mysteries (in the U.K., these were the subject of a popular and long-running TV series), the standalone novels of psychological suspense, and the pseudonymous Barbara Vine novels. My favorites were the standalone novels of psychological suspense, with A Sight for Sore Eyes, 13 Steps Down and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me being outstanding examples from the later years. With a few, like 13 Steps Down, she even slipped in an effectively chilly hint of horror. When it comes to the Vines, my favorites — No Night Is too Long and The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy — are not the ones usually named.

Among my treasured possessions are a first-edition copy of her first novel, From Doon with Death (1964, The Crime Club), snagged from the local library discards (a bonus of getting to know some of the staff), and a couple of signed copies of other novels. 

If I could have three wishes, one of them would be tea with Baroness Rendell of Babergh. We share things in common, such as working as journalists and a certain world view. I would give anything to hear her war stories.

I can take some solace in knowing that I haven’t yet read at least half of her stunning output of more than 70 books, if you count the Vines and the short story collections, but there is no real comfort to be found in losing an idol.

Related posts //

13 Steps Down
The Water's Lovely
Make Death Love Me
The Minotaur

Monday, September 01, 2014

Erasure's The Violet Flame artwork and buzz

When I first saw the regular edition artwork for Erasure's new album The Violet Flame, which is due out in a few weeks, I thought they'd finally jumped the shark for good in terms of cover art. But it's amazing what a change in color scheme can do … the black and gold motif of the limited edition box transforms the combination of skeleton and vintage English wallpaper into something rather stunning. I'm looking forward to one of those arriving in the mail with its exclusive disc of the entire album remixed and other goodies.

I was really excited to hear that the duo worked with producer Richard X on this one. Although first single "Elevation" is a rather subtle number that doesn't stir a great deal of excitement, my feeling is this album has got to be better than its predecessor, Tomorrow's World, which was a slight and disappointing effort after such a long wait from the release of Light at the End of the World.

Erasure is doing a Pledge Music campaign for The Violet Flame, but it's been disappointing in terms of extras, with little more than a download of the album art being offered to pledgers.

Seeing Elton for the second time (Tupelo concert, March 19, 2014)

[Five months later, I've managed to finish my thoughts on seeing Elton John in concert again … ]

It was a weeknight and a work day, and I really wasn't feeling up for it. We arrived to the packed venue later than we should have and eased into our seats barely 15 minutes before Elton John took the stage. What followed was an Elton '70s fest, as you'd expect with this tour focusing on the anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Although the '70s is not my forte, I was surprised by how many of the songs I couldn't identify. I was born in the '70s but grew up in the '80s, so I'm drawn more to Elton's later body of work, which barely gets a tip of the hat in the legend's current tour. I'd rather hear "I Don't Wanna Go on With You Like That" or "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" than "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" — so sue me. The highlight for me was his defiant early '80s anthem "I'm Still Standing." The only thing that would have been better would have been Elton breaking out "Too Low for Zero" with an extended keyboard solo in that wonderfully synthy bridge.

The songs:

Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding // Had no idea what this was, but the lengthy instrumental bit made for a nice moody opening.

Bennie and the Jets

Candle in the Wind // You’d think Elton and piano alone on this one, but the band joined in.

Grey Seal

Levon // My first real exposure to this song was when Bon Jovi massacred it on the 1991 Two Rooms tribute, and thus I can’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

Tiny Dancer

Holiday Inn // John talked about this one being inspired by touring small towns that all looked rather the same.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Believe // One of only two nods to the 90s. Certainly a better choice than those Lion King songs.

Philadelphia Freedom

Roy Rogers

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road // Inspired me to put this song in my current playlist, cause this boy's too young to sing the bluuuuuuuueeeees.

Rocket Man

Hey Ahab

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues // Without the harmonica, sadly, but glad it made the set.

The One // This was the single instance when the band left the stage, putting the focus solely on John and the piano.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Sad Songs (Say So Much) // An 80s gem that perked me up.

All the Girls Love Alice

Home Again // The only nod to anything post-2000.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me // Yep, I learned this one via the George Michael duet.

I'm Still Standing

The Bitch Is Back

Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll)

Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting


Your Song

Crocodile Rock // What, no "Healing Hands"?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Netflix is out to lunch

If, as a business such as Netflix, I did not provide Raiders of the Lost Ark on Blu-Ray, I would throw in the towel and write a letter of apology to customers.