Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Phenomenon


In 2004, Swedish reporter Stieg Larsson died of a massive heart attack. He was 50 years old. In his lifetime  he was primarily known for reporting on violent fringe Nazi groups operating in Sweden for the news magazine EXPO, which he had founded.

When he died, he left behind three completed novels, remnants of a fourth, and outlines for two additional books, all part of a mystery series about magazine editor/reporter Mikal Blomkvist and his enigmatic research assistant Lisbeth Salander.

A year after his death, his first book Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) was published in Sweden and became a runaway hit. The book was translated into English and re-titled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  The book dealt with the middle aged reporter Blomkvist and the youthful punk rocker Salander working to solve a forty-year-old mystery. The book was aptly described by one reviewer as a cross between the films of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lamb.

The years that followed saw the publication of his second book Flickan Som Lekte Med Elden (literally, The Girl Who Played With Fire) and  his third book Luftslottet Som Sprängdes (The Air-Castle That Exploded) which was published in English as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. All three were best sellers.

Earlier this year, it was announced that American film maker David Fincher would make the first of three movies based on the trilogy for Sony Films, as the follow-up to his movie, The Social Network. The film is set to star Daniel Craig (famous for being the latest James Bond) and Rooney Mara (who appeared in Fincher’s The Social Network.)

While audiences wait for the 2011 release of the American version, they might want to check out the Swedish versions which have already been completed. The first two movies are already on DVD and the third is currently showing in select art house venues.

The movies star Micheal Nyqvist as Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Salander -the titular "girl with the dragon tattoo."  Nyqvist looks alot like Daniel Craig and is believable in his role as an investigative journalist who may have gotten more than he bargained for. But the stand out here is Rapace who brings both a sense of menace and vulnerability to her role as the pierced and tattooed Salander.

As with the Swedish import Let the Right One In which was remade by American film makers and released last month as Let Me In,  its a shame that there isn't a larger American audience for these hits of world cinema. Each one of these films represent compelling story telling and unique visions by top notch filmmakers, and one of a kind performances by appealing, charismatic actors. What's more, most DVD copies feature both subtitled and English audio (for those who don't like reading their dialogue.)

While the casual movie viewer waits till 2011 to see the first of the American adaptations, I would highly recommend the Swedish originals to more discerning viewers -or at least two those who are ahead of the curve of the next big thing. 


Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Time at the Speakeasy

This seems to be a summer of endings for me. My favorite show, LOST, concluded its six year run; my old high school closed its doors to high school students (and will reopen in August as a Junior High for eight and ninth graders) and my pal Derek (a.k.a. Flint) ended the run of his message board on Buzznet, “Flint’s Speakeasy.”

I should point out here that Derek’s last name isn’t Flint (unlike the action espionage character of the 60’s) and that his home in Wichita is close to the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas. Flint is his onscreen handle, so I’ll respect that and won’t “out” him here. God knows what irate powers-that-be or lovelorn damsel, this radical thinker and renaissance man may have crossed paths with and would like this information to track him down. So here, he’ll just be “Flint.”

I met Flint several years ago on the Retrocrush message board. Under the helm of Robert Berry, Retrocrush was and is a hilarious and illuminating Pop Culture site, with a message board for visitors to discuss their favorite topics. Where as Berry’s writing style and pod cast commentary had the fun and friendly feel of Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters magazine, the message board and its moderators were a different story.

In what could only be described as West Coast Hip meets Middle American Amiability…and then has a knife fight, the message board imploded over time, and Berry moved it to Buzznet, a free social expression website, that would never catch on in the manner of MySpace or Facebook.

Shortly thereafter, Flint started his own message board, “Flint’s Speakeasy” on Buzznet as well. In literary terms, think of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” The Speakeasy offered a calmer, more humane alternative to discussing pop culture and our everyday lives, much in the same way that Mother Abigail’s settlement in Boulder offered an alternative to meeting up with Randall Flagg in Las Vegas!

Within a few months, the Retrocrush board went dormant, and all the action was over at Flint’s…only minus the acerbic and often profane responses of the old Retrocrush crew who enjoyed having a laugh at other’s expense.

On Flints board ,we continued our discussion of movies, music, television and art, but also we were much freer to discuss what was going on in our lives, even if we identified ourselves through on-line handles like Varooka, Chuckie, Keb Mo‘s Girl, Bob Wong, Flash, Oliver’s Army, SeaStar, STVJ and Senor Servo. In time, my wife Jacqui came on board with the handle Restless Mind.

Varooka became a mom for the first time and we threw her an on-line shower; Chuckie and Keb became grandparents; Flash became a great uncle. BobWong (a mother from northern California) kept us posted as her children grew into adolescents. We marveled at the artwork of STVJ from Arkanasas and pictures of the house he was building with his brother-in-law. We encouraged Senor Servo after being mugged in his community in Miami Beach; Amanda Sparks and Cash Flagg (who met at Retrocrush) when their YouTube Vlogs were being harassed on-line by former Retrocrushers and SeaStar, a devoted chef who was always far more concerned with feeding her diners quality food than her employers seemed to be.

We were as tight as any on-line community could be, but over time, life happens. Jobs, responsibilities and lifestyles change. And the net changes too.

When the Speakeasy began, Facebook was a social networking site for college kids. Now its open to your grandmother, long lost relatives, former co-workers and your very first crush in first grade. You can reconnect with nearly anyone you’ve ever known in life (if you can find them and if they accept your friendship request.)

SO the numbers dwindled at the Speakeasy, down to four die-hard posters: Chuckie, BobWong., STVJ, SeaStar and Flint himself, regularly contributing, with us former stalwarts only checking in from time to time. Even if we weren’t posting with the same regularity that we once did, it was reassuring knowing where we could always go to find good conversations, with good friends.

Ultimately it was Buzznet who pulled the final trigger when it reconfigured its service and turned it into a confusing Facebook wannabe, and the message boards ended up on its old server, and only visible with Google searches. Flint pulled the plug on the 18th of this month, nearly three years to the date the site first went up. For as deep as the connections went with everyone on the message board, I’m shocked that it has only been 3 years.

During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting Flint three times: twice here in Kansas City and once on his home turf in Wichita. He’s a thoughtful friendly and funny guy who is a talented artist, passionate about his work. For the last three years, he has been the glue that held the Speakeasy community together. He's one of the truly good guys in life. I wish him all the best.

To Flint and all my fellow barflies -I salute you. And I hope to find you here, once more.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Post #4 10 Reasons Why Singers Should Not Act

Regardless of how self-congratulatory the movie industry is at Oscar time, gloating at their ability to create art that touches, informs, and effects the way the masses think, the bottom line is...the bottom line. Movies are made to make money. Period.

SO what better way to assure your movie will make money than by casting a singer who already has a fan base? Hollywood has had the same idea since the beginning, when they cast Al Jolson in the first talking movie, "The Jazz Singer." Spurred on by its success, this concept has become a perennial favorite, though sadly, more times than not these movies bomb.

For every "Hard Day's Night" "Lady Sings the Blues" "Eight Mile" or "Cadillac Records" which brings critical and popular acclaim , there are many more that are not just off the mark, but hysterically BAD!!!!!! Let's check out a few....

Fastest Guitar Alive
Fastest Guitar Alive stars the late great Roy Orbison, as a guy with the enviable position of having a gun built into his guitar. Who hasn't wanted one of those at one time or another! Roy, minus his trademark shades, reads his lines like a knock off Elvis. Just a very sad vehicle for one of pop music's most poignant balladeers.
click here for video clip

Pure Country
In my mind, a better title would have been "Pure Sh*t." George Straight has the acting range of a walking coma victim in this turkey about a successful country singer who leaves fame behind to get back to his roots. Yup, its awful.
click here for video clip

The Jazz Singer
There is so much wrong with this film I don't know where to start, but when Lucy Arnaz is the "hot chick" in it...whew, you know you have problems!

But as wrong as this movie is, perhaps the wrongest scene is this one, where Neil Diamond slaps on black face (in an excruciating homage to Jolson) to try and "pass" for black in a black club. That in itself is uncomfortable beyond belief, until the movie becomes even more insulting to people of color by suggesting that black audiences will beat the ever loving crap out of white performers who try to infiltrate their scene. Watch here as Diamond starts a race riot in a black club.
click here for video clip

Cool as Ice
In regards to my last entry, if there had ever been a time when a Black audience would have beaten the ever loving crap out of a white performer trying to infiltrate their scene, I wish it would have been with Rob Van Winkle's debut, whenever it was he first started doing his Vanilla Ice shtick. I would have paid money to see that. Perhaps that would have spared us this obnoxious abomination.
click here for clip

Alice's Restaurant
Arlo Guthrie once said, "I only made one movie...because I saw it..." And that one movie would be this one, Alice's Restaurant, an awkward foray into the hippie anti-war movement of the 1960's. Like Orbison, this is a waste of Guthrie's considerable talent and humor. And I gotta say, seeing one of my heroes wandering about in his jockeys is just too unsettling, even for a free-thinking liberal like me.
click here for clip

Sgt Pepper
As bad as the aforementioned movies have been, when they were over, they were forgotten, and their stars went back to their musical careers, relatively unscathed. So when a movie can sink the career of not one act but two....well that's a fustercluck of the highest magnitude! Peter Frampton and The BeeGee's were two of the most successful recording acts of the 1970's. Frampton Comes Alive and the BeeGee's soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever both broke sales records that had been set several decades before. And yet, when the dust had cleared from this gawd-awful rock opera fantasy based on Beatles classics, these guys were has-beens.

I can't tell if Frampton is crying in this clip or auditioning for a Visene commercial.
click here for clip

You may be asking yourself the logical question, "if singers can't act, can actors sing?" Well not if you're Jack Nicholson and Oliver Reed! Check out this clip from Tommy, where Nicholson single-handedly ruins the Who classic, "Go To The Mirror" and Oliver Reed chimes in towards the last, just because its not awful enough hearing Nicholson screw up one of the Pete Townsehend's greatest melodies alone!
click here for clip

Monster Dog
Poor Alice Cooper. Back in the 80's when this film was shot in Mexico and released directly to VHS, he couldn't get arrested. Keep in mind, he had a song in Sgt it may have been part of that curse too. Here, Alice is the title character in Monster Dog...sort of a "were-dog" story. Lon Chaney -he ain't. The only thing less convincing that the cheesy special effects, is his acting. Yet another hero gone down in flames....
click here for clip

Beer for my Horses
What can I say about Toby Keith, other than the only character I can imagine him playing convincingly might be Bluto in a live action Popeye movie. Taking the same formula as most of his crappy videos, Toby stacks the deck to show he's the alpha male by hiring a Country comic, Rodney Carrington as the goofy but lovable sidekick with a gun. Its a waste of Carrington's comedic talent, and even a bigger waste of the audience's time.
click here for clip

Anything with Elvis
No, "Anything with Elvis" isn't the name of a some little known movie starring the one time King of Rock and Roll, I'm talking about every movie he ever did! There I said it! Who wants to take me on? How did the man who defined rockin' coolness for generations to come turn into the greatest crapfest perpetrator of all time? The following clip is so bad, it actually makes me want to join PETA.
click here for clip

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Post #3 The Long Awaited Third Installment

I decided tonight I should start blogging. As fate would have it, I came to this site to sign up and learned to my surprise that I already had a blog going. My short term memory isn't what it used to be. I don't recall what I had for dinner last night -let alone what I was up to 37 months ago, which is when my last installment appeared. Friends and acquaintances have actually asked me if I had a blog, and I told them "no" forgetting what I had done back in 2006!

So...picking up where I left off...I plan on updating weekly from here on out and writing about whatever the hell enters my mind...which is normally music related.

There's a good reason why music is such a big deal to me. I grew up in a home where music was a big deal to my parents, and growing up, the Hi Fi (a stereo with only ONE speaker, for all you post-baby boomers out there) was being played as often as the TV. Both of my parents had phenomenal record collections.

My mom collected 45s as a young woman and had all the basics in her collection: Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Chubby Checkers, Chuck Berry, as well as novelty records like "The Witch Doctor" "Purple People Eater" "Beep Beep" and the Lawrence Welk parody, "Wonderful, Wonderful."

My dad had eclectic tastes ranging from classical recordings, to German beer drinking songs, to folk albums by The Chad Mitchell Trio -singing about the New Frontier.

The Hi-Fi resided in the basement of my childhood home, a part of the house that for whatever reason creeped me out as a small boy. Also in the basement was the washer and dryer, so my mom spent a lot of her days down there, folding and ironing clothes. As a toddler, I was always with her.

Perhaps what bothered me most about the basement was how quiet it seemed in comparison to the upstairs. It was the kind of eerie suspenseful silence that is usually the harbinger of something bad in a horror movie.

When my mom would pick out a stack of 45's and drop them on the spindle, it felt akin to lighting a furnace in a cold house. Music would flow through the massive speaker on the front of the blond cabinet, transforming the creepy silence into a sea of happy sound. Music seemed like a guardian angel against the encroaching quiet, warding off invisible agents of doom circling overhead. It seemed as if nothing bad could ever happen when music was playing.

And nothing bad ever did.

As I grew into adolescence, I began collecting music, as well as playing it on a guitar. Somehow, music seemed to define who you were and what you were all about. Those who aspired to Bad-Ass-ity listened to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Alice Cooper. Those who wanted an "in" with the girls at dances, would listen to Soul music (which is what everyone danced to, and lord knows girls want to dance.) If you were a late bloomer in the 8th grade who was occasionally dwarfed by kids three years your junior...well you listened to any damned thing you wanted to, because all the music in the world wasn't going to win you any fights or get you anywhere with anyone on the dance floor.

So I had pretty eclectic tastes!

As my teen years turned to young adult years, music became the center of my social life. I attended concerts with family and friends, and the act of taking in a music show with those who were close to you became a kind of secular communion.

Meanwhile I gravitated to others who played guitar, and had friends I jammed with and played with in church groups. I met my wife Jacqui, playing guitar in a folk choir that we were both apart of. It's been 30 years since we met, and in the meantime, we've listened to a lot of music together, seen a lot of shows and raised three kids who are equally enamored by music.

Music has always been more to me than just an idle form of entertainment. It's a tether that keeps me connected to those I love. Its a symbol of individuality. Its a magic charm that wards off evil spirits.

And it's what my blog is about.