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Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK GO-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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serafinaSOUNDTRACK: JACKIE EVANCHO-Tiny Desk Concert #130 (May 23, 2011).

jackieI’d never heard of Jackie Evancho, even though she apparently was viral for a while.  Jackie was (at the time of this taping) 11 years old.  And she has an amazing operatic voice.  Not like, oooh, the 11 year old can sing, but like holy cow, that voice comes out of an 11 year old?

Her voice is beautiful in the audio format, but you really have to watch that voice come out of this adorable little girl (while she sings Handel’s “Ombra Mai Fu”) for it to really blow your mind.  Especially when she giggles at the end.

For what I am sure are licensing reasons, there is only one video available, but there are three songs available to download.  “Lovers” comes from The House of Flying Daggers (one of her favorite movies).  If you have watched her sing, it is staggering to imagine her singing this song (which is intensely grown up).

The third song is Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and she sounds so much more “mature” than McLachlan’s more passionate version.  It is uncanny to watch this girl sing.

[READ: December 6, 2015] Serafina and the Black Cloak

I saw this book reviewed and it was talked about as being the next big franchise for Disney.  Since our library had it in I thought I’d read it before it took off.

To my knowledge it hasn’t taken off yet, but I’m glad I’m ahead of the curve.

This book has many dark elements including a very violent, scary opening that I feel makes this an unlikely children’s book series.  Maybe tweens, but certainly not for young readers.

I brought the book for Sarah because it is set in Biltmore Estate (Sarah’s mom had just visited there and Sarah would like to go).  I think she was intrigued until I read the next paragraph which talked about a lot of supernatural elements (she was intrigued for different reasons then).

So Serafina is the daughter of the man who works on the “Edison machine” in the basement of Biltmore.  He doesn’t want the Vabnderbilts’ to know he lives there and doesn’t want them to know about Serafina at all.  All Serafina knows is that her mother is dead and her pa is all she has left.  So he hides her and tells her she is the CRC, the house’s chief rat catcher.  Despite her living conditions, she doesn’t feel any ill will towards the Vanderbilts.  She has never really interacted with them so she has no opinion of them.  She just thinks they are fascinating.

Serafina has very keen senses, especially in the dark–she can catch mice an rats like no ones business and she thinks that everyone else is loud and clumsy.  She also has amber eyes and only four toes and she is able to move her body into uncannily small spaces.

Her father, protective of her and of his livelihood, tells her to never go out except at night.  And she must also never go into the forest which is magical and dangerous. But Serafina is constantly drawn to the forest,

Then one night she hears someone walking around and a little girl scream.  The man is in a black cloak and she watches as he grabs the girl, says she won’t be hurt and then proceeds try to…do something to her.  Serafina tries to help, but she is thwarted and soon the little girl  screams and is gone.

She tries to tell her pa but he doesn’t believe her–he doesn’t want to hear anything about supernatural nonsense.  He even gets mad that she was out and about.  Finally when word gets out that the girl is missing, the house organizes a search party and Serafina runs into a boy, Braeden (a terribly unlikely name for the time, I must say).  Braeden is the nephew of the Vanderbilts.  Braden is an orphan , and his aunt and uncle have taken him in.  But he is a loner and spends more time with his horses and dog.  He is intrigued by Serafina because she is obviously a loner too.

They wind up going on a coach ride together only to get trapped in the woods.  That’s when Braeden believes what Serafina has seen (because he has seen it too).  And they know they have to capture this man in the black cloak.

But how can the two people who aren’t even supposed to talk to each other work together on such a thing.  And who can the evil person be?  An outsider or one of his uncle’s friends?

The mystery wasn’t set up as a mystery–we learn who we think is the bad guy about half way through the book.  But there’s still the matter of catching him.  And then learning the secret of the cloak.  And the secret of the forest.

I also enjoyed the part about the catamount.  I have a personal funny story about catamounts and have never seen them in a story before.  I’ve also never heard of them as having mystical powers (or that the name was derives from Cat-a-mountains) either.  Which was cool.

Although there were elements of this story that were kind of samey to other stories like this, there was much originality.  And by the end of the story I was totally hooked.

And best of all, the ending feels like an ending, not a set up for a part 2.  I can’t quite imagine how they will make a series out of it, but I’ll certainly read book two if it comes out.

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houseSOUNDTRACK: LAURA VEIRS-Tiny Desk Concert #49 (March 1, 2010).

lauraI have decided to contradict myself.  I simply cannot keep up with the regular release of Tiny Desk Concerts (sometimes 3 a week), so I’m going to focus on these older recordings for a while and occasionally devote a week or two to new ones.  we’ll see how that works out.

I only know Laura Veirs’ name, but not really anything she’s done.  So I wasn’t really sure what her “solo” work would sound like.  Well, she has a delightful voice and she writes really pretty songs.

She also offers one of the most dramatic screw ups I’ve seen in a live performance. She opens her song “Carol Kaye” with this lovely melody–just her and her guitar.  And then after about a minute, her band comes in with a beautiful harmony–in the wrong key!  The introduction of their voices is so dramatic (to go from her gentle voice to this huge chorus) was really amazing.  So much so that I didn’t quite realize they were in the wrong key at first.  Turns out that Laura put her capo on the wrong fret and it wasn’t until the keyboardist played the right note that they all sounded off.  And his mouth drops opens as he stares at Laura.  She laughs and says “you looked like this terrified Muppet.”

They play the song again, this time perfectly–and the harmonies are truly lovely.  As is the violin that swirls throughout the song.

“When You Give Your Heart” is another lovely song in which Viers’ voice and the violin play the same lilting melody.

“Sun is King” has some more lovely (that’s the word to describe her, clearly) harmonies–she has picked a tremendous backing band.  And they sound great in this small setting.

It’s hard to believe that the whole set (miscue and all) is only ten minutes long.

[READ: May 1, 2015] House of Leaves

I read this book when it came out in 2000.  I had the “2 Color” edition which the t.p,. verso explains has as features: “either house appears in blue or struck passages and the word minotaur appear in red (I had the blue version).  No Braille.  Color or black & white plates.”

The Full Color edition (which is the same price, amazingly) differs in this way:

  • The word house in blue, minotaur and all struck passages in red
  • The only struck line in Chapter XXI appears in purple
  • XXXXXX and color plates

So basically the full color edition isn’t really that big a deal although the three or four full color plates are much nicer.

Why do I have both?  Well, I bought the two color when it came out and then I won a free book at the library and there was this full color edition, so I brought it home.  I was amused to find that the previous owner had deciphered a clue in the back of the book (the first letters of sentences spell out a secret message).  She (it looks like woman’s handwriting) wrote out the secret message, which I appreciated as I didn’t feel like figuring it out.

ANYWAY.

This book had a huge impact on me when I read it.  Although I forgot a lot of the details, the overwhelming effect of the book has stayed with me an I never forgot the central conceit of a house that opened secret passages and expanded or contracted at will.  For, make no mistake about all of the accolades, this is a horror story.  One accolade, from Bret Easton Ellis: “One can imagine Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard. Stephen King and David Foster Wallace bowing at Danielewski’s feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter awe.” [Ellis will not be bowing apparently, and actually I can’t imagine Pynchon bowing before anyone].  It’s a very cool horror story with all kind of textual experimentation and twists and turns, but it’s still a pretty damned scary story.

The experiments are many and varied and they begin right from the start, as the title page lists Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves by Zampanò with an introduction and notes by Johnny Truant. The forward from the editors notes: “The first edition of House of Leaves was privately distributed and did not contain Chapter 21, Appendix II, Appendix III or the index.

This is all nonsense of course. (more…)

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writeSOUNDTRACK: THE MINIONS-“Banana” (2014).

Ibanan really enjoyed both Despicable Me movies, and the minions crack me up.  So how did I not know that bananas are a big deal for them?  At Universal Studios, bananas are a huge part of the Minion gear that they sell, but I had no idea why.  When we watched Despicable Me recently, I saw them fighting over a banana, but it seemed like a minor thing.

Well, anyhow, the minions have done a cover of “Barbara Ann” as… well, you get the point.

And man, is it irritating, especially in the two hour version I present you with below.

I honestly can’t wait for the next movie though.

[READ: November 9, 2014] Write This Book

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while.  I didn’t want to read it until I finished the Secret series.  And since I did, I decided to read this right away.  (You don’t need to read the Secret series to enjoy this book–especially for the h ow-to elements which are outstanding whether you know his work or not)

I wasn’t really sure how this would work–there was an excerpt at the back of the You Have to Stop This paperback.  He sets up the story for us and has us finish it, was it just going to be blank pages?  No, it is not.

Indeed, it is a very clever book because it accomplishes two things very well.

1) It creates a simple yet compelling mystery (with Bosch’s typical flair for twisting things around on their heads) and

2) It teaches young writers a ton about how to write.  In fact, I hope Clark reads this soon, because I think it will really help him with his storytelling. (more…)

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how you dieSOUNDTRACK: DIARRHEA PLANET-“Lite Dream” Live on KEXP (2014).

dpHow to pass up a band with a name like this?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Who would even want to say their name?

The name conjures images, no, let’s not go there.  The name conjures music that is just abrasive and rude–ten second punks songs.  But in reality, their music is pretty traditional old school heavy metal.  They have 4 lead guitarists after all! (There’s 6 guys in the band altogether, surprisingly, there’s no women).   One of the lead guitarists even plays with his teeth (for a few seconds).

This song is about heavy metal, although I’m not sure what about it.  There’s some big riffs, solos galore.  There’s even a classic 80s style dual lead guitar solo.  There’s big loud drums.  There’s feedback.  It’s everything you think of as heavy metal, with a seeming wink and nod thrown in.

This is basically a goofy feel good band, playing fast heavy metal.  Shame about the band name, though, really.

Watch it all here.

[READ: spring and summer 2014] This is How You Die

It is quite disconcerting to open a Christmas present from your wife and have the first thing you see be the words “This is How You Die.”  To then look at her confusedly and try to interpret the look of excited delight on her face as she wonders why you’re not excited.  Then she explains that it is a sequel to the interesting collection Machine of Death that you both had read several years ago (but which I evidently never posted about).  Sighs of relief and then Christmas can proceed with more merriment.

So over the course of the new year I read these stories and I enjoyed most of them quite a lot.

The premise of the book is that there is a Machine of Death.  This machine states how you will die, but it does not give you a time, place or real definition of what it means by hope you will die.  Statements seem obvious but may in fact be different in some twisted way.  As it says on the back of the book, OLD AGE could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by an elderly bedridden man in a botched home invasion.  The book revels in the irony that you can know how it’s going to happen , but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The way the machine works is that you insert your finger, it takes a blood sample and gives you a card with the way you die printed on it.  No matter how many times you do it you will get the same result.  These are the guidelines, and each author made a story with just that set up.

Pretty cool right?  The first collection was really great.  And so is this collection, done by writers and cartoonists that I had never heard of before.  There are 34 stories and 12 comic strips (it’s a hefty collection).  Because each story is basically about how a person dies, I had to think about how best to review the book–without giving away any twists.  So I think the title and a very brief plot will have to suffice.

There’s even a funny promo video for the book (at the end of the post). (more…)

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