Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cleopatra and the fairy are ready

But is there dad ready to venture out into WINTRY temperatures to take them trick-or-treating? That seems to the pertinent question.
Temperatures are forecast to plummet after sunset tonight -- dipping into the 20s an upper teens.
The girls are preparing for Halloween -- Annika as Cleopatra and Kerstin as a fairy -- with pants and shirts underneath their costumes. In a half hour, we hit the pavement for a trick-or-treating extravaganza.
The girls are listening to Madonna as they apply makeup and otherwise ready themselves for what must be the biggest night of the year for kids. Or candy lovers. I place myself in that latter category and --
Gotta go -- the pizza just arrived.
Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

KGO, the Blazers and the sweet air of FREEDOM

The air just tastes sweeter when you are on vacation. Did you ever notice that?
I am noticing that phenomenon today, the first day of a week's vacation.
My mom and step-dad are visiting from Reno, Nev. Yesterday we toured nearby Galena, Ill. Today, they will be eating lunch at the girls' school.
I have spent my morning with no work commitments listening to KGO radio live online, tracing the routes of the Bay Area's worst morning traffic tie-ups on a map with my finger.
I have also been reading Oregonian newspaper staff blogs about the Portland Trail Blazers.
It is certainly not fashionable to admit, but the Blazers are my favorite NBA team -- five-and-a-half years of living in NBA-obsessed Oregon helped push my over the edge into Blazermania.
Portland opens the season Wednesday in Seattle. This year's Blazer team is young but holds much promise... Brandon Roy is tabbed by many "experts" to be this year's Rookie of the Year.
One of the top players in the preseason has been Ime Udoka. The Portland State product has averaged 13.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four preseason games.
The Blazers will probably still finish in last place this year, but watching them improve will be fun. Next season? Look out!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Memorize this book and win ALL pub quizzes

My sister purchased the Sky Sports Football Yearbook for me during a recent trip to London, and my mom just delivered it to me after arriving for an Iowa visit from Reno, Nev.
Formerly known as "Rothman's Football Yearbook," this hefty tome features 1,056 pages stuffed with facts about every association football club in Britain. Oddly enough, my sister purchased the 1996-97 edition of the book a decade ago.
Then, as now, I have buried my nose in the book and I am filling every available bit of brain space with IMPORTANT FACTS.
For instance...
Did you know? Shortly after signing as a Bolton Wanderers professional, Eric Bell scored three goals for the reserves on Christmas Eve 1949 at Preston North End, but had the misfortune to break his leg there on Easter Saturday, missing the FA's tour to the West Indies.
Did you know? Northampton Town were formed in 1897 by school teachers connected with the Northampton and District Elementary Schools' Association.
Did you know? When Tottenham Hotspur signed former Barking amateur winger Les Miller from Sochaux in September 1936, he became the first player to be signed by an English club having played professionally in France.
The book goes on and on with important facts such as these, and as I read and remember them, I am also clearing my mind of more mundane items such as birthday dates, anniversaries, children's names, etc.
In fact, by the end of my current week's vacation, I should have the entire book down pat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I can't quit watching "Stray Dog"

I have been watching Akira Kurosawa's 1949 crime drama "Nora Inu (Stray Dog)" the past couple days on DVD. I am quickly becoming obsessed with it.
Critics consider "Stray Dog" Kurosawa's first masterpiece. I consider it the ULTIMATE JAPANESE FILM SNOB PICTURE.
Here's why:
1) Crime films rule. The genre can accommodate everything from B-movie noirs such as "Gun Crazy" to Nouvelle Vague touchstones "A Bout de Souffle." In this particular crime film, a rookie cop has his pistol stolen -- it is subsequently used in a spate of robberies -- and must delve into the occupied Tokyo underworld to find it.
2) The second-unit director shines. "Stray Dog" is notable for a montage of black markets, brothels and opium dens. Kurosawa's second-unit director Ishiro Honda shot those scenes using a hidden camera to pass through the dens of iniquity. Honda later became famous for helming the "Gojira (Godzilla)" films.
3) Japanese cinema stalwarts make their first big impression in "Stray Dog." Toshiro Mifune stars as the rookie cop. Isao Kimura plays the former soldier turned thief. He later starred as Katsuhiro in "Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai)." Minoru Chiaki has a small role as a theatre operator on a frighteningly hot day. He played Heihachi in "Shichinin no Samurai." Even Kokuten Kodo plays a bit part in "Stray Dog." Japanese film lovers know him as the old man in the mill on "Shichinin no Samurai" and as the old man on the hill (note the difference) in "Gojira" who is convinced a giant monster lives in the sea.
Watching "Stray Dog" is like playing spot-the-celebrated-Japanese-character-actor.
There are many more reasons to watch "Stray Dog." I haven't even mentioned Takashi Shimura's excellent acting as the mentoring veteran cop or Keiko Awaji's screen debut as the sexpot dancer who holds the key to the mystery.
Get "Stray Dog" soon at your local DVD rental emporium or off of NetFlix. That's my message to you.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Question says: "Get well soon"

An extended member of the ROUTE 1 family of blog readers recently experienced a frightening hospitalization.
This week, ROUTE 1 asks the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What would be a good "get well" song for this person to hear?"
Rick T. -- "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," I believe by Gale Garnet.
Kerstin H. -- "Angels Among Us"
Scout S. -- I made a whole playlist of get well songs, and the list included "Recovery Room" by the Jealous Sound, "Cancer for the Cure" by Eels, *two* songs called "Good Things" (one by Kathleen Edwards, one by Rival Schools), "I Guess I'm Healed" by Division of Laura Lee and "Kisses and Pills" by Creeper Lagoon.
Mike M. -- "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground:
"I'm steppin' tall, y'all, and just like Humpty Dumpty you're gonna fall when the stereos pump me. I like to rhyme, I like my beats funky, I'm spunky. I like my oatmeal lumpy."
Annika H. -- "Angels Among Us."
Mike D. -- How about a humorous novelty song like Ray Stevens' "The Streak" to cheer up this person? After all, those hospital gowns are pretty revealing.
Inger H. -- Josh Rouse's "Love Vibration." It's an upbeat, poppy, early 60s-like song that carries a groovier vibe than it would have carried back then, yet the "feel-good-lovefest" sentiment is all there."
Erik H. -- I know, I know... In all likelihood it is a song about making a drug connection. However, on the surface level, at least, The Fall's cover of "Mr. Pharmacist" does sound like an ill person asking his druggist for help:
"Mr. Pharmacist, can you help me out today, in your usual, lovely way?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Shinjo celebrates

Tsuyoshi Shinjo and the rest of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters claimed their first Japan Series title in 44 years tonight, beating the Chunichi Dragons, 4-1, at the Sapporo Dome.
Series MVP Atsunori Inaba homered in the eighth and Fighters' ace Yu Darvish out-dueled his counterpart from Nagoya, Kenshin Kawakami.
Trey Hillman made history, becoming the second gaijin manager to win the championship in as many years, after Bobby Valentine led the Chiba Lotte Marines to the title last year.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees are apparently the frontrunners to sign Lions' star righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic.
Now you are all caught up in the latest news from Japanese baseball!

Happy Thursday with the Happy Hate Me Nots

I don't know why I have been in such a mood for punk rock lately.
Perhaps it is because I am off work next week -- my mom and step-dad come to town -- and I am feeling rambunctious.
Yeah, that's probably why.
Today I listened to Sydney's HAPPY HATE ME NOTS really loud.
No, make that REALLY LOUD.
Too loud, probably.
The band emerged in 1984 out of the ashes of punk band Positive Hatred.
Singer/guitarist Paul Berwick and lead guitarist Tim McKay formed the wonderfully named Happy Hate Me Nots and played high-energy punk-pop in the style of The Jam.
The band released a full-length album in 1988 and might have found American success through the San Francisco-based label Rough Trade. Record label politics were not in their favor, apparently, and the band got lost in a label reshuffling.
They were thus never able to tour the States, which probably fatally slowed their momentum. Too bad: I read that they performed a killer version of Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself."
I believe they have reformed, but most American-based music news sources seem oblivious to the Happy Hate Me Nots.
Here is the *EXTENT* of the All Music Guide biography of the band:
"This band made upbeat pop music from 1987 to 1988."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Punk rock, Gojira and Akira Ifukube

I cleared my head after a particularly long day at work with a 45-minute walk while listening to some vintage UK punk rock, followed by watching Ishiro Honda's original "Gojira (Godzilla)" on DVD.
I walked down to the Mississippi River while listening to songs such as "George Davis is Innocent" by Sham 69, "London Girls" by The Vibrators and "Still Life" by Alternative TV.
Then I watched Honda's haunting parable about the horrors of war.
Much is made of Eiji Tsuburaya's groundbreaking special effects, and rightly so.
Tonight, though, I concentrated on the effective use of Akira Ifukube's strident score (when you watch movies enough times, you can begin to concentrate on aspects such as the score).
Ifukube, who passed away earlier this year, scored almost all of the subsequent Godzilla films, as well as many of the "Zatoichi" films about the blind swordsman.
However, I don't think he ever composed music as compelling as that used in 1954's "Gojira."
It's effect -- like a splash of cold water in the face -- mirrored that of the punk rock I heard earlier.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Who killed Nice Guy Eddie!?!?!

I watched "Reservoir Dogs" on DVD last night after the rest of the clan went to bed.
Quentin Tarantino's debut feature ends famously, as Joe shoots Mr. Orange, Mr. White shoots Joe and Nice Guy Eddie shoots Mr. White.
That leaves just one unsolved riddle:
Who killed Nice Guy Eddie?
That question has vexed movie lovers since the film's 1991 debut.
I have watched "Reservoir Dogs" probably seven times now and the final scene has always left me scratching my head: Four dead guys but only three shooters. Something's not right!
As related in a special-edition DVD documentary and retold in "The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies," Harvey Keitel (Mr. White) was meant to turn and fire upon Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie) after being shot himself.
Filmmakers routinely use a special-effects device called a squib during shootouts. With a squib, a 9V battery triggers a small explosive charge that causes a fake-blood-filled bag to burst. It produces the gunshot and splattered blood effects so beloved by such directors as Sam Peckinpah.
During the famous stand-off scene in "Reservoir Dogs," Penn's squib went off too soon and he fell backwards, covered in fake blood.
Tarantino liked the take and decided to keep it, reportedly telling the cast and crew that he enjoyed the sense of mystery about who killed Nice Guy Eddie.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"Golden Age" Green Lantern: Pros and Cons

I am working a later-than-usual shift today, so this morning I have time to listen to some late 1960s British psychedelic music (Kaleidoscope, The Attack, etc.) while considering the PROS and CONS of being the "Golden Age" comic-book hero, GREEN LANTERN.
PRO: Magic ring enables human flight.
CON: Must touch ring to magic lantern every 24 hours or lose power.
PRO: Can walk through walls.
CON: Goofy yet unfunny sidekick Doiby Dickles with stereotypical Brooklyn accent.
PRO: Bela Lagosi-style Dracula cape.
CON: Bela Lagosi-style Dracula cape.
PRO: Survived train-and-bridge explosion.
CON: Must recite hokey oath -- "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight... etc." -- on a daily basis.
PRO: Cuts dashing figure with blond hair, green mask.
CON: "Unique" green, red and yellow color scheme.
PRO: Romantically charged battles with villainess Molly Mayne, a.k.a. The Harlequin (see her here).
CON: Eventually upstaged by canine sidekick, Streak the Wonder Dog (see him here).

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Osaka demolished, Japan Series knotted

Annika and I watched one of my childhood favorites on DVD this morning: "Gamera Tai Daimaju Jaiga (Gamera versus Jiger a.k.a. Gamera versus Monster X)."
It features a pair of kids who hijack a mini-submarine and pilot the craft on a "Fantastic Voyage"-style trip into the organs of a giant, fire-breathing turtle.
They just don't make movies like that anymore!
"Gamera Tai Daimaju Jaiga" differs from most kaiju-eiga (Japanese monster movies) in that the monsters spare Tokyo and destroy Osaka instead.
Good, clean family fun.
This evening, just up the road in Nagoya, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters knotted the best-of-seven Japan Series at a game apiece after beating the host Chunichi Dragons, 5-2. Makoto Kaneko's two-run single in the seventh inning sparked the Fighters to the win.
Rookie pitcher Tomoya Yagi, 22, picked up the victory for "the Hammies." He opposed veteran Chunichi starter Masahiro Yamamoto, who debuted in Japanese baseball the year Yagi was born.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Three songs that rang my bell today

Route 1 reader and Red Faber biographer Brian C. lent me a CD today -- "The British are Coming, Vol. 1."
I popped it in when I got home from my rare Saturday at work.
The first song that really jumped out at me and grabbed me was "Catch the Wind," Donovan's 1965 gem that reached No. 4 in the UK.
Oh, what a beautiful song. It's the type of song I would want played at my funeral, if you will excuse my being a bit morbid.
The second song that caught my ear and dragged me to the liner notes was "Here Comes My Baby," The Tremeloes' 1967 cover of the Cat Stevens' tune that reached also reached No. 4 in the UK.
Film fans would recognize the original: It's one of the songs on the brilliant "Rushmore" soundtrack.
The third song that resonated was the Leitch kid again: Donovan's "Colours."
It's another jaw-droppingly beautiful song. In fact, I think my singing coworker Matt includes this song in his folk-rock repertoire.
If he doesn't, I believe I will have to force him to include it. At all costs.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sure, we should have Hilary Duff cover "Our Lips are Sealed"

Ahhh... Bad decisions... They seem to be rife in the music business. This week, ROUTE 1 celebrates the greatest bone-headed moves in music by asking the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
What is the worst idea EVER in the history of music?
Mike M. -- "4'33" is a musical work by avant-garde composer John Cage, often described as "four-and-a-half minutes of silence."
Ken B. -- The Spice Girls.
Rick T. -- Coming up with the phrase "Country Rock." It's either country or it's rock.
Inger H. -- European pop music. I still cannot quite comprehend how western cultures with so much similarity in terms of culture and shared history cannot get pop music the way the French and other European countries do. They had the Enlightenment, didn't they? They had a 60s youth rebellion, didn't they? What the heck? England gets it, boy, how they get it. What's up, France? Too uptight to shake your booty?
Brian C. -- The eight-track tape.
Dave B. -- The New Kids on the Block and the inception of boy bands. Because some clown thought it would be cool to put five teenage boys on stage to sing and dance for teenage girls, I now have to listen to that crap for the next 10 years.
Steve M. -- Atonal music? Lip synching? Ashlee Simpson?
Mike D. -- Sampling is a cheap way for lackluster artists to make a quick buck. Steal someone else's melody, add a few meaningless rap lines of your own and suddenly you're a Sugar Daddy.
Erik H. -- I applaud blue-eyed British soul singer Paul Young for "Everytime You Go Away" (my mom's theme song when my sister spent a year in the UK as an exchange student) and his cover of the Marvin Gaye gem "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)." Those are fine songs, reinterpreted for the hipsters of the mid-80s.
So... Why did he have to cover Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart?"
Released on the "No Parlez" album of 1983, Young's version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" came altogether too soon after the 1980 death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Young could croon his way through any song, but this tune is just not *ANY* song.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Meet me at the Nagoya Dome

I'm not really heading to Nagoya, unfortunately. I wish!
Saturday marks the opening of the 2007 JAPAN SERIES, and the match-up is every bit as intriguing as anything Major League Baseball can provide.
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters feature a gaijin manager, American Trey Hillman, and a former Japanese big-leaguer, outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who will retire after the series. "The Spaceman," as he is called, played for the New York Mets and my BELOVED SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS over here.
Americans have accused Japanese baseball of lacking personality. Not Shinjo!
He insists that his name be displayed in only romaji characters (i.e. not Japanese), he takes the field on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and he wears a Halloween-style face mask during warm-ups. Shinjo is a true original in any country.
When the Fighters moved to Sapporo in 2003, Hokkaido fans gave the team scant attention. That definitely changed this year, when the Fighters won the Pacific League.
Now, the Fighters aim to become the first Japan Series champion crowned from the northern Island of Hokkaido in the 56-year history of Japan's two-league pro baseball system.
Their opponents and the hosts for the series opener, the Nagoya-based Chunichi Dragons, aim to make history of their own.
The Dragons have not won a Japan Series since 1954 -- the longest drought among existing teams. That year, ace Shigeru Sugishita pitched the Dragons to a four-games-to-three victory over the Nishitetsu Lions.
Who will win Japan's biggest baseball prize this year? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Down at the Twisted Wheel with The Fi-Dels

One of the reasons I love "Northern Soul" -- the mostly American, danceable, Sixties-era R&B music favored by DJs at British venues such as Manchester's Twisted Wheel (pictured) -- is the chance to discover "lost classics."
The competitive DJs at the clubs searched wide and far for *DIFFERENT* American singles to play and found songs that should have been HUGE but fell through the cracks of mainstream music instead.
Today's case in point: "Try a Little Harder" by The Fi-Dels.
Released by a rather obscure Los Angeles label, Keymen Records, "Try a Little Harder" sounds like it should be as well known as anything on Motown.
The song got lost in the shuffle amid all of the soul releases of the 1960s, so I only heard it thanks to a recent import CD from Britain.
I am so glad I rediscovered this song for myself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Everybody just cool it!"

I work the night shift, so this morning I watched "Gimme Shelter" on DVD.
This film is almost assuredly the greatest rock documentary ever made, if for no other reason than it shows the subject matter taking on landmark importance.
Viewers see the promise of the 1960s evaporate at Altamont, the 1969 free concert by The Rolling Stones that concluded with 850 injured, two killed in a hit-and-run accident, another drowned and an 18-year-old black man knifed to death by a member of the Hells Angels.
Film directors David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin devised a novel and I think wholly effective approach to "Gimme Shelter."
They sit the Stones in front of the editing table, so viewers can see Mick Jagger's somber reaction as the film spools before him.
Early on, viewers hear of the Altamont tragedy. This knowledge flavors the entire picture: From legendary San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli's conference calls to Gram Parsons singing "Six Days on the Road," we know it all ends in tremendous pain.

Monday, October 16, 2006

My lunch date with the second graders

I ate lunch with 7-year-old Annika and her second-grade classmates today, my fourth and final day of a long weekend.
I arrived early, so I sat with Annika while she played Battleship with her classmate DaShawn.
It was a truly brutal battle, with the pair mercilessly sinking each other's ships. I wanted to point out that the game is actually much more challenging if you *DON'T* peek over at your opponent's grid, but they were on such a roll I did not want to spoil the fun.
After I complimented DaShawn on his elegant taste in wearing a SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS hoodie, he became my best friend in the classroom.
He explained that he moved here from Chicago and that Tyrrell was his cousin and that he *ALWAYS* selects the Garfield chocolate milk from the case as the class walks into the lunchroom.
The class lined up and I felt a little self conscious, as I completely towered over the second-grade students.
DaShawn walked into the lunchroom with Annika and me and even retrieved a Garfield chocolate milk from the case for me.
We ate chicken patties on a bun, which is apparently one of the truly gourmet items at Marshall Elementary School.
Annika happily but quietly plunged her carrots into her ranch dressing -- I think she must have been so pleased for me to sit there with her.
DaShawn chattered away, pointing out Tyrrell ("Who? Oh yeah... your cousin") and even offering me some of the CHOCOLATE LUCKY CHARMS marshmallows he brought from home to augment his school lunch.
Annika watched in a mixture of horror and admiration as the two boys opposite us caused mayonnaise packets to burst onto their hands and clothing.
While the teachers rushed over to diffuse that troublesome situation, I munched marshmallows with DaShawn, put my arm around Annika, and wondered why I waited this long to schedule a lunch date with the second graders.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An unashamedly lazy day

Everybody needs an unashamedly lazy day once in a while.
I'm enjoying mine today.
I have only really watched a soccer match (visiting Bolton defeated Newcastle, 2-1, to move up to third place in the Premier League), read some of the essays in the Pauline Kael compendium "For Keeps" (including Kael's review of the Tom Laughlin cult classic film "Billy Jack") and napped.
I can afford such a limited agenda because I am in the midst of a rare four-day weekend. Tomorrow I promise to be much busier... I plan on watching movies all day!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thanks for everything, Tower Records

In case you haven't heard, a federal bankruptcy judge recently approved the sale of financially troubled, 46-year-old music retailer Tower Records to a liquidator, who plans to close all 89 stores in 20 states.
Blame it on the Wal-Marts of the world. Blame it on Amazon.com and iTunes and anything else that keeps people from walking into a record store.
I don't care who gets blamed. I just think it's a tragedy.
I wouldn't be the music fan(atic) I am today if it weren't for Tower Records.
The year is 1981.
An impressionable teenager has relocated to Phoenix, Ariz. to begin his freshman year at high school. He lives with his jazz-adoring father, who introduces him to a Tower Records store at Christown Mall, 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road (Christown is now supposedly called "Phoenix Spectrum Mall" for some dumb reason, but that's another story).
I began making selective purchases at the place, returning with LPs and 45s in that distinctive yellow bag with red "TOWER RECORDS" lettering.
Tower Records' huge selection enabled me to experiment in music and cultivate a growing Anglophilia. I made many purchases of UK punk rock. I bought my first XTC records there. I even argued with a store clerk once about the merits of German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. Dumb clerk. I have been proven CORRECT!
This sounds stupid, but sometimes at night I dream about living in Phoenix and I have even dreamt about the Christown Mall Tower Records (and then I wake up to discover I *DID NOT* make that ultracool purchase I just made in my subconscious, and the music geek in me is REALLY disappointed).
If every Kentucky Fried Chicken or Burger King or JC Penney closed tomorrow, I wouldn't bat an eyelash.
Tower Records closes down, and bit of who I am starts to fade as well.

Friday, October 13, 2006

FQ pumps up the VOLUME

This week, ROUTE 1 turns up the vol....
Dave B. -- "My Own Worst Enemy" by Lit.
Rick T. -- A song called "I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore" by Charlie Pride. The beat, the steel guitar, everything about the song makes you want to tap your toes!
Mike D. -- On Monday night I was returning from grocery shopping with my two young sons in the van. As I flipped through the radio stations, my 4-year-old said "this is a good song." So I proceeded to crank up the volume on "Whenever I Call You Friend" by Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks. It's far from being a head-banging tune, but we had a nice sing-along on the ride home.
Mike M. -- "American Music" by Violent Femmes.
Ellen B. -- Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back!"
Eileen M. -- Fort Minor's "Remember the Name."
Erik H. -- I was driving home one night under dark clouds after a largely frustrating day. I had scrolled to Saxon on the iPod and I heard the opening to the dramatic classic "747 (Strangers in the Night)" from the "Wheels of Steel" album.
As I attempted to sing along -- "There's a 747 going into the night, There's no power -- they don't know why, They've no fuel -- they've got to land soon, They can't land by the light of the moon" and "We were strangers in the night, Both on separate flights, Strangers in the night, Going nowhere" -- I realized that I had no idea what they were singing about. Was it a love song? Was it a disaster song? Why weren't Saxon singing about trains and motorcycles like they usually do?
I remedied this state of confusion in the only way I knew how... I CRANKED UP THE VOLUME.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shock to the system

The first snowfall of the season -- even a dusting such as today's -- always comes as such a shock to my system.
I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes this morning, with British punk rock blaring, and watched the swirling snowflakes outside the window.
Snow already?
Now, I am watching Ko Nakahira's classic "Kurutta Kajitsu (Crazed Fruit)" on DVD and thinking how this 1956 film must have seemed like a shock to Japan's system.
The teenagers in the film dismiss what their teachers say and instead accept boredom as their credo.
Although their rejection of Japanese society seems so tame these days (they water-ski instead of looking for summer jobs, oh my!), at the time it must have seemed as shocking as the punk rock I heard while doing the dishes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Turn up the volume as the temperatures dip

There's something about rain showers and snow flurries that make me crank up the volume.
I have dialed up Def Leppard and Saxon on the iPod today, and as the weather worsens, the guitars become louder.
I have a big soft spot for both these bands, as they hail from the same part of England as my favorite soccer team (I know, I know... but at least it's *SOME* kind of reasoning).
Def Leppard and Sheffield Wednesday share the same home town, while Saxon come from just down the road in Barnsley.
During the rush of the NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL (NWOBHM), while Iron Maiden and the like were going on about demons and such, Def Leppard and Saxon were singing about motorcycles, trains and girls -- subject matter more to my liking.
Today, I'm taking a break from the usual soul and reggae tunes to rock a little harder. Perhaps in defiance of weather a full 40 degrees colder than last week.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"In a way, he's such a clueless dork, he's almost kind of cool."

Why do we own certain films on DVD?
One of the reasons is because we can return to them when the mood strikes.
I was in the mood for Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World" last night.
Another reason to own films on DVD? Repeated viewings of great films reveals layers of meaning, just like repeated readings of literature.
Last night, I concentrated on watching the relationship develop between Enid (Thora Birch) and Seymour (the fantastic Steve Buscemi).
Seymour's lines reveal a man unhappy with his place in the world:
"You think it's healthy to obsessively collect things? You can't relate to other people, so you fill your life with stuff."
Yet, even as he speaks these words, he is relating to Enid and her loneliness and the crumbling relationship she has with Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson).
It was enlightening, focusing on the development of two characters' relationship.
Next time I watch "Ghost World," perhaps I'll focus on the relationship between shirtless Doug and the owner of the Sidewinder...
Doug: "It's called America, dude. Learn the rules."
Sidewinder owner: "'Learn the rules?' No, YOU learn the rules. We Greeks invented democracy."
Doug: "You also invented homos."
Sidewinder owner: "F*** you!"
Doug: "You wish. You gotta buy me dinner first."

Monday, October 09, 2006

I'm (not) with the band

If I started a pop band, I would want it to be just like Belle and Sebastian.
Here's why:
1) They craft uncannily catchy tunes.
2) They pen impossibly witty lyrics about school track teams and girls that wear boys' sweaters.
3) When they started the band, they had the sheer audacity to photograph their friends and issue those images during their initial publicity efforts.
For example, the Belle and Sebastian photo pictured features young Alex Kapranos, the future Franz Ferdinand leader. He wasn't in Belle and Sebastian. He just looked good next to a bicycle in Glasgow.
I think this unique approach to publicity photos served a pair of purposes:
1) It allowed the band to forge an early musical identity while enjoying peaceful anonymity.
2) It made then unassailably cool.
That would work for me if I started a pop band.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wyland, Orange Juice and... Gappa?

Internationally known marine-life artist Wyland (no first name necessary) visited Dubuque today. I covered his appearance at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium for my newspaper employers, the Telegraph Herald.
Wyland led about three dozen children in a mural-painting project. It was great to see: An artist prompting kids to show their appreciation of nature through art.
I listened to the great Scottish band Orange Juice as I walked to my assignment and while driving around today.
The buoyant sounds of Edwyn Collins and the lads helped me celebrate Scotland's fabulous, 1-0 soccer victory over France in Euro 2008 qualifiers yesterday.
When I got home, I watched Haruyasu Noguchi's kaiju-eiga film "Daikyogu Gappa" on DVD. Nothing like relaxing to a 1967 Japanese monster movie, I always say.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Forget the giant turtle, that's Alan Oppenheimer!

This morning I had the TV all to myself, so I watched "Gammera The Invincible."
In the early days of Japan's kaiju eiga (monster movie) production, American film distributors would take the original Japanese films and tack on specially filmed scenes with U.S. actors. These scenes almost always provide additional expository information, I guess because the American distributors thought domestic audiences would have trouble following the "complex" plotting of the Japanese films: Jet with atom bombs crashes in arctic, explosion awakens sleeping giant turtle, angry giant turtle attacks Japan.
Hmmm... Perhaps that plot seemed more complex 40 years or so ago.
"Gammera The Invincible" is the Americanized version of "Daikaiju Gamera" (note the unexplained difference in spelling) the 1965 classic from Daiei Film Studios.
I have watched enough Japanese cinema to recognize familiar faces, so I was not surprised to see Bokuzen Hidari -- Yohei from "Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai)" -- in "Gammera the Invincible" portraying an old man taken aback by the vision of a giant turtle flying around. I would remember Hidari's bushy eyebrows anywhere!
However, I was surprised to see veteran American character actor Alan Oppenheimer as Dr. Contrare, an expert used in the Americanized scenes to explain the likelihood that a slumbering, giant turtle could be awakened to terrorize Japan.
Oppenheimer is one of those actors who has appeared in COUNTLESS American television shows -- everything from "Get Smart" to "Gilmore Girls."
Judging from his entry in the Internet Movie Database, Oppenheimer NEVER takes a vacation. He is on television almost continuously in a variety of roles.
What's more, Oppenheimer has provided hundreds of cartoon voices for 40 years, portraying Mighty Mouse, Skeletor and Ming the Merciless.
Apart from the giant flying turtle, Oppenheimer might be the most famous star of "Gammera The Invincible," much to my surprise.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Duck tails and car fins

ROUTE 1 feels a little nostalgic with this week's FRIDAY QUESTION: What is your favorite FIFTIES song?
Annika H. -- "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets. "One, two three o'clock, four o'clock rock!"
Mike M. -- If I had to pick just one, "I've Got a Woman" by Ray Charles, 1954. But I also like Hank Williams and Chuck Berry. Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday were still around in the 1950s. I really like Dinah Washington's rendition of "All of Me" from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It's on the DVD "Jazz on a Summer's Day" and you can watch and listen to the song on YouTube.
Dave B. -- Johnny Horton's "1814 (The Battle of New Orleans)".
Mike D. -- When I think of the Fifties, I think of Danny and the Junior's "At the Hop." It's a short and simple song, but what's more fifty-ish than a sock hop?
Erik H. -- Dwight "Whitey" Pullen's "Sunglasses After Dark" didn't chart at the time of its 1958 release, but has come to signify the epitome of 1950s' cool during the following decades. Battling cancer, Pullen eased out of the recording business by 1960. He briefly hosted a television show in my dad's hometown, Medford, Ore. before passing away in Los Angeles in 1961, age 31.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Gangsters, gangsters and more gangsters

I have been immersed in a great book lately.
Lloyd Hughes' "The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies" includes just about anything anyone would need to know about mob films.
It opens with a history of organized crime, then details the developments of gangster cinema.
The book explains the use of various gangster movie archetypes and explores the sometimes wacky and almost always violent gangster films from all corners of the globe.
The book helpfully offers full reviews on what Hughes considers the 50 essential gangster films, from "A Bout de Souffle" to "You Only Live Once."
I have seen about one-third of the films Hughes selected and we own eight of them on DVD.
Rough Guide also publishes guides to horror, comedy and science fiction films. After I have fully digested the gangster movie book, perhaps I'll have to give those titles a try.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Forecast calls for "Bunnymen"

After three days of spectacularly unseasonable, warm weather, I was as surprised as anyone to wake up today to the norm -- OVERCAST, COLD and DAMP.
That type of weather always makes me want to hear Echo & The Bunnymen.
Liverpool's prime mopers provided an indelible soundtrack to my college days, whereupon an Arizona high school student suddenly found himself in the alien land of Iowa, where white flakes fell to the ground and a chill wind caused the breath to come out as fog.
Or something like that.
I never really could get the hang of winter, and so I would walk the tunnels connecting the college buildings wearing a massive BLACK COAT and listening to Echo & The Bunnymen, pretending to be cool. That tactic served as my most effective coping mechanism.
"I see you've got the blues, in your alligator shoes. Me, I'm all smiles -- I've got my crocodiles."

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Gun Crazy" and *THAT* shot

Joseph H. Lewis meant to make an anonymous B-movie. Instead, he made a masterpiece.
His 1949 film noir "Gun Crazy" is an acknowledged classic -- listed among the top American films by Filmsite.org (located here) and included among the 50 most essential films in "The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies," which I have been reading religiously for days now.
Tonight I watched "Gun Crazy" and -- like the French Nouvelle Vague directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut -- I marveled at THE LONG SHOT.
Lewis placed a camera in the back seat of a car and for three minutes and 20 seconds and with one continuous shot, we seem to be passengers as stick-up couple Bart (John Dall) and Laurie (Peggy Cummins) drive to a bank, find a place to park, rob the bank and make their getaway.
It looks like we are with them!
Today, in the age of the Steadicam, such continuous shots are commonplace. Lewis' innovation was UNHEARD OF in 1949.
Lewis' long shot made the film studies' textbooks. His film lives on through the ages, because of his innovation, the acting prowess of Dall and Cummins and the great story.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Burglars: Please don't read this!

As we left the house this morning to walk to her CCD religious education class, Annika said:
"I hope you have your key, because I locked the door!"
Oh, I had a key alright. I had the dead-bolt key. I did not, however, have the key for the lock she used.
I had left the front door unlocked, as we were expecting an electrician to arrive this morning to complete a rewiring task. When we reached the sidewalk, Annika realized she had forgotten her CCD folder and she dashed back into the house to retrieve it... and to lock the door on her way back outside.
I remained calm as we walked to the neighborhood church. I began to fret on my walk back home.
My wife is a couple hundred miles away this weekend and the cats don't yet know how to unlock the door, so unless I fancied spending ALL DAY outside, I needed to break into my own house.
I tried my key in the obviously futile hope that it WAS the correct key. It wasn't, of course. I tried unhooking the chain lock on the back door without success.
I had to try opening a window.
While I was casing my own house, the electrician pulled up in his truck.
Do you know how embarrassing it is explaining to an electrician that you are locked out of your own house? In a word? VERY!
He left, promising to come back Tuesday, and I turned my attention to the various windows. About 25 minutes later, I succeeded in identifying the weak link in our home's defenses -- the one window an amateur intruder can open.
Unfortunately, a table laden with candles, photo frames and even a lamp blocked my path. While holding the window open with one hand, I cleared items off the table with the other. Then, I had to haul myself into the house by gripping the table with one hand and holding open the window with the other.
That is the moment when I:
1) Cut my finger.
2) Scared the BEEJEZUS out of our cats.
They remain in hiding, actually, convinced that my EVIL TWIN has initiated a daring, deadly raid to maim and pillage.
Actually, I believe the electrician thinks that, too.