Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Art of the Cover - in D minor

The cover. It is an artform that has been around since Timmy and his garage band decided to start playing Led Zepplin songs in his parents' basement with the goal of loosening the panties of the neighborhood girls. Even though most of the work writing the songs was already done by rock gods in leather pants, Timmy and his band sounded like utter crap and the neighborhood girls left their concert to get drunk at the football field with the jocks. Any music enthusiast worth their salt knows how those girls felt.

My big little sister's eyes flash red anytime you mention Jaime Cullum's cover of Radiohead's "High and Dry." The Manfriend gnashes his teeth and snarls at the thought of The Used and My Chemical Romance laying their lily white fingers on Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure," and you better clear the room if anyone mentions The Wallflowers and "Heroes." Sometimes the songs we love are raped by other musicians, and that is a hard truth we will have to learn to accept. The best thing to do is to just bury your head in a pillow and scream "Go away!" until you can't hear the desecration anymore.

But sometimes, just once in a while, a musician will cover one of your favorite songs and IT'S JUST AS GOOD, HOW CAN THIS BE? Or better yet, a musician will take a SHITASTIC song and make it AWESOME. Oh, didn't we all revel in being able to sing along to "Hit Me Baby One More Time" without a quern of guilt around our necks because Scottish band Travis made it deliciously guilt-free? This is what we're here to celebrate: some of the most excellent of excellent covers.

Requirements for a Great Cover
The song is still listenable: If you can't stand to listen to the song, whether it's a cover or not, it isn't great on any level.
The Musician injects some of their distinct flavor into the song: Anyone (who isn't tone-deaf) can sing a song just like the original singer. That's BORING. It may sound competent, but there isn't anything new there, so who the hell cares?
Some of the best covers turn the song upside down, imbue it with new meaning, or are pulled from completely opposite genres: I have a treat for you a little later.

So, here are some of my favorites. What are some of yours?

The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon) and Yann Tiersen cover David Bowie's "Life on Mars"

Matthew Good Band covers Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence

Talking Heads cover Al Green's "Take Me to the River"

David Byrne covers Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody"

The Flaming Lips cover Madonna's "Borderline"

Madonna's cover of Eddie Cooley and John Davenport (Otis Blackwell)'s "Fever," made famous by Ms. Peggy Lee

The Gourds cover Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice"

Owen Pallett (also known as Final Fantasy)'s cover of Mariah Carey's "Fantasy"

Travis Morisson's cover of Ludacris' "What's Your Fantasy?"

Louis Armstrong covers Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose"

Ewan McGregor and Jacek Koman cover The Police's "Roxanne"

The Fugees cover Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song"

The Dead Kennedys cover Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas"

Nouvelle Vague's cover of The Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk to Fuck"

David Bowie's cover of The Pixies' "Cactus"

William Shatner's cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man"

Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Iron and Wine's cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights"

Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"

Very nearly every Violent Femmes cover they have done

'Til next time, keep the turntable spinning.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Filmatic Explosion Monday

Oh my crap kids, some exciting things have been percolating in the cinematic world while I wasn't looking! And here I thought that all I had to look forward to was the next Harry Potter movie!

I went onto Trailer Addict to see what was new and ended up spending an hour watching trailers. I literally had to tear myself away and go for a walk around the house to be able to sit down and write this review. Golly!

First up, Disney, for the first time in, what, 10 years? is making an actual animated movie, with only limited use of computers! And look at them act like it ain't even a thing that they took what looked like an indefinite hiatus from an artform they helped pioneer, not to mention that their core audience has no idea about The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and has only heard rumors about The Lion King late at night while they were tucked into bed and the grownups were talking down the hallway.

To be honest, I'm not completely in love with this, BUT, I am intrigued by the bayou setting, the voodoo doctor villain, and the sweet little animated touches that make me sigh wistfully for Disney days long lost to economics (note the gator playing various instruments; how much did you love The Rescuers? Possibly not as much as me.) And really, aren't we just slightly excited that SOMEONE at Disney noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of animating going on and decided to do something about it?

The Princess and the Frog Dec. 25, 2009

However, it pretty much looks like drunk mimes with broken legs in comparison to the holy grail of computer animation's newest project.

Up May 29, 2009

Now, if you're like me, you often find yourself wondering over a hot skillet full of scrambled eggs and sausage, "I wonder what Michael Keaton is up to?" Then you pour your orange juice and chuckle over several of the scenes in Beetlejuice and sigh wistfully over how Batman should have totally hooked up with Catwoman on a more permanent basis, all the while blocking out anything to do with Jack Frost or White Noise.

Good news everybody! Mr. Keaton is back on the playing field in the upcoming college version of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Post Grad, and this gorgeous little gem. Honestly, I could sit and listen to Kelly Macdonald's accent for DAYS, and it's been a while since the newsboy hat looked so...appropriate.

The Merry Gentleman May 1, 2009
Starring Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes
Directed by Michael Keaton(!)

A little bit ago, I was somehow directed to a gay film site, and ran across this little gem. We probably won't see this ever, at least not until we have a drunken Ladies Night double-feature pairing this with Twilight, but I'm intrigued with this well-shot and well-costumed film that is "a nice-looking but self-conscious trifle that captures only glimpses of its subject's genius" (Brian Juergens, Though for the life of me, I couldn't get the phrase "I doubt your commitment to the sparkle motion" out of my head.

Little Ashes May 8, 2009
Starring Javier Beltran, Robert Pattinson, Matthew McNulty
Directed by Paul Morrison

On the international front, these two films look directly up my beloved film teacher's alley.

Revanche tells the tragic tale of an ex-con working as an assistant in a brothel in Vienna who decides that robbing a bank is the best way to escape poverty with his Ukranian hooker girlfriend, crossing paths with a cop and his rural housewife. It was nominated for an Oscar this year, but I pretty much ignored the Oscars because they regularly piss me off.
Daily language lesson: revanche is French for "revenge." The more you know!

Revanche May 1, 2009
Starring Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust
Written and directed by Götz Spielmann

Out of the UK is Helen:
An 18 year old girl called Joy has gone missing. Another girl called Helen is a few weeks away from leaving her care home. Helen is asked to play Joy in a police reconstruction that will retrace her last known movements. Joy had everything. A loving family, a boyfriend, a bright future. Helen, parentless, has lived in institutions all her life and has never been close to anyone. Gradually Helen begins to immerse herself into the role, visiting the people and places that Joy knew; quietly and carefully insinuating her way into the lost girl's life. But is Helen trying to find out what happened to Joy that day, or is she searching for her own identity? (

I'm interested to see this, however, the review on said that it doesn't live up to its promise. But you know, people have different standards.

Helen May 1, 2009
Starring Annie Townsend
Written and directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy

Some interesting documentaries I came across:

The Garden chronicles the fight between inner-city LA residents fighting a corrupt city official to keep their community garden open. This looks really good, and I already want to know how the conflict resolves.

The Garden May 1, 2009

The Transcendent Man introduces the life and philosophy of Ray Kurzweil, a genius multi-millionaire who predicts that man will one day merge with machines to complete the next evolutionary step. He walks the line between brilliant and crazy, and I suppose one could really see it either way. And yes, William Shatner, we want you to live forever, too.

The Transcendent Man May 1, 2009

Speaking of crazy futuristic conceptions, this movie looks SO GOOD. I'm not going to spoil it for you, just watch the trailer.

District 9 August 14, 2009
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp

All right, now, if you're still with me, listen hard. Even if you haven't watched any of the other trailers I put on here, WATCH THIS ONE. I broke out into the girliest squeals, THE GIRLIEST OF SQUEEKING AND SQUALLING, watching this trailer. I just about fainted from all the things that I love that are in this movie.
1.) DANIEL DAY-LEWIS. Oh my god. I love him so hard.
2.) The director of Chicago. Don't know if I mentioned HOW MUCH I LOVE CHICAGO, but BOY HOWDY, DO I.
3.) Dancing, singing, SPECTACLE (not the kind you put on your nose to see clearly)
4.) Dame Judy Dench. She's so awesome, and so British, and she is Ian McKellen's favorite fag-hag.

Goddamn, this looks so good, I might have peed a little.
A vibrant and provocative musical that follows the life of world famous film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he reaches a creative and personal crisis of epic proportion, while balancing the numerous women in his life including his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his film star muse (Nicole Kidman), his confidant and costume designer (Judi Dench), an American fashion journalist (Kate Hudson), the whore from his youth (Fergie) and his mother (Sophia Loren). The film is directed by Rob Marshall (CHICAGO). The original 1982 Broadway production of Nine, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. (

I...I really enjoy musicals.

Nine November 25, 2009
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Judy Dench, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson
Directed by Rob Marshall

Oh...oh man...I-I'm gonna need a minute.

'Til next time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Renee and Darren

My good pal Jeremy as Captain Marvel for FREE COMIC BOOK DAY. He only made my sister stay up until 9 am to finish the costume.

Behold! The power of SPANDEX!

The sad thing? HE DID NOT GET THAT ADORABLE BARMAID'S NUMBER. Jeremy, have we taught you nothing in the years that we've known each other? You ALWAYS get the cute barmaid's number! No excuses!

And yes, we are the kind of adults that like to occasionally play dress-up, usually when it is specifically called for, though I wouldn't put it past Jeremy to just one day show up at the mall dressed like this and shop for shoes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My life, my love, and my lady is COMICS

Hey kids, sorry for the lack of posting. I'm secretly hoping that you're still working through that huge vampire movies list I had a while ago and you haven't noticed how slack I'm being. If you have noticed, pretend that you've been struck down with a severe case of amnesia, and you're navigating through the lies and government conspiracies to find your true identity and how that mysterious drowned lady ended up in your living room.

A while ago I promised some webcomics and Against Me!, and I totally blanked on that promise, and for that I am truly sorry. I got swept up in the excitement of comics, a thing that gets me SO EXCITED, I will ramble on and on, and I better not be driving because I may just go right off the road into a ditch, and then where will we be? Dead without comics. TRAGIC.

So, here's something you may not know about me. My love for comics extends into the wonderful world of WEBCOMICS, comics on the web. The INTAR-WEB. The fantastic thing is that these webcomics are FREE, and are very often done by folks with so much talent that I would rollerblade across the country to be able to do what they do. And I hate rollerblading (murder on my poor ankles).

As a kid, my favorite part of the day was sitting down with the entertainment section of the newspaper and lightly chuckling to myself as I read Garfield, Zits, Foxtrot, Dilbert, etc. (but never Family Circus. Family Circus is never funny, not ever.) and then performing mental seppuku while filling out the crossword puzzle.
As a side note, the dudes that come up with the crossword puzzles are total dicks. One day, the puzzle is a little difficult, but you manage to fill the whole thing out without asking someone else for help, looking it up in the thesaurus, or dialing that hotline for the answers. Then the next day you're lucky if you can answer 3 across and 27 down. Dicks I say. Filling me with the hope that I'm not a complete idiot, and then rubbing it in my face that I am indeed that stupid. But I digress.
Then one day I realized that Odie has disappeared, Jeremy is a total jerkwad to his parents, Paige is probably still in the 8th grade because her face is glued to her textbook with a healthy smear of drool, and Dilbert should have killed himself a long time ago. What used to be really funny or at least interesting to look at was no longer worth the effort to move my eyes down the page.

I went to college and discovered high-speed ethernet and WEBCOMICS. Here were artists that were actually clever and interesting, uncensored and intelligent. HOLY COW FOLKS, this must have been what the Renaissance felt like.

There are literally hundreds of webcomics out there, and, chances are, there's at least a healthy handful that will capture your heart like they have mine. These guys work their talented behinds off to provide their audience with awesome things, usually forgoing sleep and a social life in order to do it. Many actually make this their living (just barely), but even more do this AND a "real" job. It ain't easy, but they make it work.

So, I'd like to highlight some lesser known, but still ultimately awesome folks who make my day brighter. I tip my hat to thee, ladies and gentlemen. (Yes, I'm actually wearing a hat at this moment, you can't see me tipping it, but I assure you I am.)

by Rosemary Mosco

Rosemary has both short, one-panel-ish comics, as well as longer comics, and they are both adorable and amusing drawings about nature. She doesn't have a whole lot available, but what she does have is just lovely.

by Kate Beaton

Oh my, I have such a lady-boner for this awesome chick. You know what's awesome? Learning about history, and laughing about it. I wish I could give this wonderful Canadian all my monies and be surrounded by her comics all the time. Not only are her history comics great, but she also has a kick-ass series "Conversations with My Younger Self" where modern day Kate chats with her potato-shaped kid-self. I can't wait until I can take an extended vacation up north and get to know these folks, because apparently they all live hundreds of miles away from me, but hang out with each other on the weekends ALL THE TIME.

and the comic that set the internet alight with Star Trek nerdiness...

by Sylvan Migdal (may or may not be a pseudonym)

I haven't had a chance to check out her other works, but "Curvy" has me eagerly awaiting her weekly updates. The art reminds me of old-school underground zines, and is both wacky and demonstrates excellent draftsmanship. The storyline involves an other-dimension princess, unwanted marriage, minions, a candy land, and hostile invasions. I will warn you, however, this comic has graphic-ness: cursing, boobs, and sexins. If that's something that makes you uncomfortable, that's okay, just keep walking.

Woot! Comics!

So, Against Me!. I really enjoy this band; they bring the energy and song stylings of good ol' fashioned punk (political and brutally honest, with singing so hard it hurts your vocal chords to listen to), but actually have command over their instruments and vocals. I find this hard to find, so I was excited to get to see them in concert. And guess what? They sound just as good live as they do on the records! Wahoo!

I don't think I'm as into their early work as most of their fans are, but there are a few gems from each of the albums that completely rock my socks off and which give a preview of the really bitchin' albums still to come. An old street kid I know says that they've sold out since they were signed onto a major label, but I find that their sound has matured and they're willing to try new things. In fact, their new album is very nearly an excellent dance record. Give it a listen, and see if you like.

Some of my favorite songs:
Scream Until You're Coughing Up Blood from Reinventing Axl Rose
Cliché Guevara from As the Eternal Cowboy
Miami from Searching for a Former Clarity
Don't Lose Touch from Searching for a Formal Clarity
From Her Lips To God's Ears (The Energizer) from Searching for a Formal Clarity
Pretty much the newest album, New Wave, in its entirety

Hot dog. I think it's my bedtime.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oh, the geekiness. Here it is for you.

Holy cow, guys. Or maybe it's just one guy. I don't actually know who reads this thing. But for reals, I'm overdue for a post! Things got a little out of hand with the passing of Other Cat, the race to complete costumes for FREE COMIC BOOK DAY (oh man oh man oh man), and my sister being almost completely sleep deprived and missing final exam times.

So, in honor of FREE COMIC BOOK DAY, here are some of my most favorite comics:

Hellboy, and by extension, B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) by Mike Mignola, illustrated by various artists

It's probably not healthy how much I love the Hellboy series, but how is it my fault that Mignola married my most favorite things (folklore and fairy tales, World War Two, ghosts, trenchcoats, and traveling) and then illustrated it in the way that I would sacrifice thirteen babies under the harvest moon to be able to do?

The Hellboy story is actually pretty long and complicated, but the general gist is that Hellboy is a demon summoned into this world by Rasputin during the dying days of World War II for the purpose of bringing about Armageddon and releasing a Lovecraftian beast that will devour the world, but this purpose is botched, and Hellboy is instead raised by Ally-leaning Trevor Bruttenholm. Hellboy's now a good guy in demon form, battling various malignant supernatural forces that crop up across the world (Baba Yaga, imps, goddesses, evil mermaids, ghosts, etc.), as well as keeping his destiny as the world-destroyer at bay. Being that it is long and involved, start at the beginning and support your local comics store!

Available in trade paperbacks:
Vol. 1- Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
Vol. 2- Hellboy: Wake the Devil
Vol. 3- Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others
Vol. 4- Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom
Vol. 5- Hellboy: Conqueror Worm
Vol. 6- Hellboy: Strange Places
Vol. 7- Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others
Vol. 8- Hellboy: Darkness Calls

The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Tim Sale

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are the dream-team for Batman comics, and sit on Mt. Olympus with a handful of other writers and artists who reinvent/revitalize an aging franchise. If you're paying attention, you'll see elements of their stories borrowed by the latest Batman movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, in addition to fellow Olympian Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. (I'm name-dropping like it's hot, just to get you good and interested.)

The Long Halloween revolves around a holiday-themed murderer who is bumping off members of the elite mafia families in Gotham City. The reader watches as Batman, Gordon, Harvey Dent, and the mafia heads try to figure out who is responsible and how to stop them (and mulling over the moral questions of whether someone killing off criminals is a negative or not, and the power struggle between the mafias and the "freak" criminals). Each chapter is a different month with a different holiday, and occasionally introduces another classic Batman villain (Catwoman, the Joker, Solomon Grundy, the Penguine, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, the Riddler, and of course, Two Face). Excellent writing, and Tim Sale's cover art is some of the best in the business (I have the first issue framed on my wall).
Companion pieces:
Frank Miller's Batman: Year One
Loeb and Sale's Catwoman: When in Rome, which parallels The Long Halloween
Loeb and Sale's Batman: Dark Victory, a sequel to The Long Halloween

Mouse Guard by David Petersen

Pros: The art is so good, SO GOOD. And MICE. In CLOAKS. With DAGGERS.
Cons: David Petersen is a busy fellow, so the issues are slow to come out. But anyone who's been collecting comics for a time is used to the waiting game.

This fellow adorns my long box (a long box that holds your individual issues of comics).
Available in paperback and/or hardcover:
Series 1: Fall 1152

Coming soon...
Series 2: Winter 1152 (last issue is out, collected volume due out this summer)
Series 3: Black Axe 1099-1116

Chicanos by Carlos Trillo, illustrated by Eduardo Risso

I have a special fondness for this comic; the main character Alejandrina Jalisco, Private Detective, is the quintessential tragi-comedic character. This squat, ginorma-boobed, buck-toothed mexicana with bright black bird-like eyes tries to scrape by and do the right thing, which usually lands her in the middle of trouble, and instead of a fee, she usually collects an ass-whooping instead. But despite being constantly shat on, she goes on. You feel terrible for her, but I find I'm a bit uplifted by her plucky spirit. The writing blends detective noir with hard-hitting commentary on rascism and the "American Dream" (which may or may not be American), and some occasional magical realism. With the art stylings of Risso (100 Bullets) which is both noir and Frank Miller-esque (but more eloquent), I find this book a delight on all levels.

Now, a warning: the books available for purchase have been translated from their native language (Trillo is Argentinian). I didn't notice while I was reading, but my friends who have read the volumes did. I think it's still pretty awesome.

I'll have to cut this short, you know, FREE COMIC BOOK DAY and all, but I'll try to get some more of these out in a responsible manner.