Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tryin' to Get The Feeling

If I find any more good music this summer my ears are going to bleed, followed by the explosion of my head.

The latest tunes spinning here at the Morgue are from the UK band The Feeling, and their debut album "Twelve Stops and Home".

Here are some guys that credit Supertramp, Queen, E.L.O., The Beatles, The Beach Boys, ABBA, Jellyfish and The Carpenters as their primary influences. The band recently did a super quick North American mini-tour (three shows - LA, NY & Toronto) and none other than Richard Carpenter himself showed up at the Left Coast gig. Words from Ciaran Jeremiah (keyboards & vocals) on The Feeling's blog:

Were there any highlights from the shows?

Well, the LA show was particularly crazy cos Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters came to it. We had dinner with him beforehand as well. It was quite, quite mad.

Presumably he's a bit of a hero of the band.

Yes, absolutely. I think especially to Dan, in terms of songwriting. So, yeah, it was literally meeting one of our heros. He's a good friend of one of the top people at our label over there, so that's how that came about.

And he lived up to the dream?

Yeah, he was an extremely nice man, with all manner of stories to tell. In fact, the last time he'd been to see a gig at the Troubadour was 1971 when he saw Neil Diamond!

It's particularly noteworthy that the band cites Jellyfish as an influence - they don't fit in with the others in that list as hailing from a more "classic" era. Jellyfish arrived in the early '90s and recorded only two (stellar) albums ("Bellybutton" & "Spilt Milk") before disbanding. The 'Fish were out of place and time - back then the grunge scene was exploding and the sound all the kids craved was the absolute flip-side of the overproduced power pop Jellyfish delivered.

If The Feeling sound like anyone, it's Jellyfish and that is most certainly a triumph. Like Big Star before them, Jellyfish are a gorgeous "we only ever recorded a handful of tunes...but they stand the test of time" band. Hopefully the same fate doesn't befall The Feeling.

If you're in the States, pick up the CD from Not Lame records out of Colorado - click here for a direct link to order The Feeling's "Twelve Stops and Home"; they've currently got it for a very nice price and I vouch for their reputability.

While you're at it, go ahead and order a Jellyfish CD from Not Lame. I recommend "Spilt Milk" but "Bellybutton" is great, too - or just pick up their "Best of" which features a few rare goodies such as swank live covers of McCartney's Let 'Em In & Badfinger's No Matter What as well as a studio cover of Harry Nilsson's Think About Your Troubles. Check out this video for Jellyfish's New Mistake - the vid quality is a bit fuzzy, but the sound is real nice.

Wait a minute...was this entry supposed to be about The Feeling? Did I allow my 16-year love affair with the boys from San Fran to take precedence? Did I mention my disgust with a review of "Twelve Stops" that pompously claimed the album had no merit as the reviewer felt he might as well have listened to his old Supertramp records? Does it matter to you that The Feeling's bassist, Richard Jones, is married to the lovely Sophie Ellis Bextor? 'Cause it did to me - I love me some Sophie! She's sexy, classy, freely admits that "Music Gets the Best of Me", and is even willing to commit "Murder on the Dancefloor". I know this thing between Sophie and me is the real deal, 'cuz "If This Ain't Love, Why Does It Feel So Good?"

Saved the best for last? Maybe. Here's the video for The Feeling's first single, Sewn:

And here's the latest single, Never Be Lonely :

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rue Morgue Magazine

Here's an entry I've been meaning to do for a while now, but just simply haven't.

Some time ago, somewhere (either on this blog or his) that little round-headed boy pointed out that he saw a magazine with the same name as this blog. He wasn't doing it to be snooty or obnoxious or any such thing - it was just very matter-of-fact. I replied "Yes! It was that mag that inspired the name, only it was Rue not Rued". But afterwards I too wondered why, in the back of my head, it seemed even to me that perhaps it was Rued - although I knew it wasn't.

"Go forth and Google", a little round-headed voice told me. Hopefully you can see from their logo how A) I was inspired to rename the blog & 2) round-headed boy got it wrong...and it must be mentioned that I've never accused Chuck of being "wrong" about anything.

On both counts, the crescent moon between the two words looks very much like a "D". (I would like to point out the absence of a "The" in their name.) Oh how I'd love to credit - as Humbert Humbert referred to him - "the divine Edgar", but it pathetically took a trip to a chain book store rather than a simple browsing of my bookshelf.

It was certainly not my intention then or now to infringe on or take advantage of the magazine's popularity. I readily admit that seeing the cover at Borders is what inspired the name "The Rued Morgue". But I mean come last name is Ruediger and I dress in black like 95% of the time. I write about weird stuff; sometimes horror flicks, but certainly they're not a fixation of mine. My lord - the one movie I've thus far made is Ravenswan! "The Rued Morgue" is an ideal title for a blog belonging to me (and on numerous levels, too).

I've never owned an issue of the magazine, but there's nothing that leads me to believe it's anything less than a high quality, respectable publication which covers the horror genre in an in-depth and informative manner (certainly moreso than this ragtag operation can offer). I urge you to subscribe to and/or find out more about them by clicking on the Rue Morgue website right here.

I haven't subscribed to or purchased any magazine on a regular basis for years now. I used to buy Starlog as a kid and still check it out occasionally for Joe Nazzaro's articles. Entertainment Weekly can be a hoot depending on how much I've had to drink. Film Threat used to rock, but I haven't read it in ages. Maxim is great fun! It nearly broke my heart to sell over ten years worth of Doctor Who Magazine on eBay for just a little over a hundred bucks...but what the hell was I going to do with them?

Obviously the whole point of this entry was to "disclaim". If you, websurfer, end up on this blog, you've reached a place that's got nothing to do with Rue Morgue magazine (although I think I'm within my rights to point out that at the time of writing, the subscription rate is substantially less).

Of course, in creating this entry I've in turn created a Catch-22 by writing words that will lead even more web searches in this direction - searches that are entirely wrong and unjustified. If a Rue Morgue editor ends up here, I wrote and directed a bizarre Poe-inspired, drug-addled revenge-love story of a film that would adore your coverage[1] (and please don't ask me to change the blog's name as my last name is Ruediger, and well, heck - do I hafta explain it any further?).

Currently feeling a bit damned if I do and damned if I don't.

[1] If you've no interest in my flick, I'd love to freelance for your rockin' mag. We can even cRoss promote!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

David Maloney & Jack Warden

I don't generally get too bummed by celebrity deaths and maybe that's because I'm very picky about the celebs who "work" for me. Even my recent Syd Barrett tribute was somewhat removed and cold (or at least I felt it was).

The big one today - the one you'll read about all over the place - is Jack Warden. There isn't a whole lot I can say about Warden that Round-Headed Boy didn't already eloquently cover at his place. Stop in and check out what he has to say about Jack's performance in Shampoo.

Were I to write something extensive on Warden, I too would zero in on Shampoo and how Warden's Lester - almost against all logic - is the heart and soul of this film that's so near and dear to me. Jeanne turned me on to it early in our relationship - prior to that I was turned off by the title; boy was I missing out. If you're going to rent a flick tonight and you've never seen Shampoo, there isn't a more appropriate time to check it out. Hell - even if you have seen it, watch it again. I know that's what I'm gonna do. By the way - IMDB's "6.2" rating is a perfect example of how fucked IMDB users are. Shampoo is a solid 10.

The other noteworthy passing that hit the news today was David Maloney, who died on the 18th. Who? Exactly! Maloney not only directed numerous classic Doctor Who stories but was also the producer of the first three seasons of Blake's 7 (that's noteworthy as the fourth and final season was largely terrible). Lest you think my geekdom has perhaps gone too far, I wouldn't make mention of this had I not once met the guy.

I was headed to a convention in Chicago in the late '90s, saw his name on the guest list, and frankly at that point I hadn't spent much energy cataloguing which Who directors did what stories. Out of curiosity (or perhaps just wanting to be a know-it-all) I looked up his Who directorial resume: The Mind Robber, The War Games, Genesis of the Daleks, Planet of Evil, The Deadly Assassin, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

That's some fucking seriously important Doctor Who. Each of those is a bona fide classic and each for very different reasons - reasons I'm not going to go into. If you're a classic Who fan you already know why, and if you're not the minutiae won't matter to you.

Probably the least "important" of those is Planet of Evil, and yet of the bunch it's the most important to me: Planet of Evil is the first Doctor Who story I ever viewed and it transfixed me (as you can well imagine). Hell, I'm sitting here typing about it over 20 years after that viewing.

So I'm at this con, and realizing Maloney's track record I was excited to go to one of the panels on which he was speaking. Afterwards I went up to him for some chat, and then...

...I wish I could sit here and tell you verbatim what he and I said to one another, but unfortunately it's just simply lost. I know I rattled off that list, and I know I said words to the effect of "that's some fucking seriously important Doctor Who" - although I didn't say fucking. I told him that he possessed a manner of storytelling that I only wished current TV directors had.

And I know he paused, and looked deep into my face and said something along the lines of...crap - - I don't remember what he said, and now he's dead and I'm pissed at myself for not remembering.

I could see in his eyes that he was touched and flattered and maybe - hopefully - my recollection of that vibe is more important than the words we exchanged.

The Mind Robber, Genesis of the Daleks & The Talons of Weng-Chiang are all available on DVD and highly recommended.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Vader Sessions

Deserves an entry of its own:

"Deserves got nuttin' to do with it." - Clint, Unforgiven

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Popera - A Tribute to Jim Steinman

And the hits just keep on a comin'. For a guy reluctant to delve into music coverage, I've been on a roll as of late.

The Barry Manilow talkback led to that little round-headed boy & I's mutual recognition of the power of the perfect pop song, and one songwriter who's crafted some powerful doozies in that arena is Jim Steinman.

Steinman writes not just simple pop music - he crafts popera. His best known works have been variations on the same...but it's a fantastic kind of same - he begins quietly and ends huge. His works typically end so big, it sounds as if they were created exclusively for Broadway musicals. They're over the top, frequently the definition of cheese, and stuff I've listened to repeatedly from teenager onward.

You no doubt know him best as the guy who wrote all the music for Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" - and to be fair to Steinman, there likely wouldn't have been a Meat Loaf without him. It takes vision to look at & hear the voice of a guy like Marvin Lee Aday and say to yourself, "I'm gonna make this guy a star". But I digress; I've not come here to bag on Meat - the guy rocks, but without Jim he likely never would have.

As I was unable to find a decent video for my favorite Meat Loaf tune, "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth", you'll have to make due with this video for "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad". The girl I "loved" in junior high adored "Bat Out of Hell" and played it over and over...but she treated me pretty shoddily, so I now think of her when I listen to this song about a girl who's willing to fuck this guy but ultimately have no respect for him. In the end it screws him up so badly that he starts treating other women the way he was treated. With Steinman, it's often about the pain.

Lest it be thought that Jim's greatest hit was the Loaf, that's not even remotely the case.

Steinman wrote the greatest popera tune ever recorded - Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart". I mean really, this is just quite simply "where it's at". I didn't try to find the original vid, as I first came across this outstanding fan made video, set to imagery from Coppola's Dracula, that more or less sums up the whole affair. The vids cheesitude cannot be denied...but that's part of the beauty of Jim Steinman's music. The man is totally unafraid to go down the road that most songwriters fear to tread - the road that may risk utter embarrassment. I love that about him, and it would appear that, over the years, many others have as well. (He later did "Holding Out for a Hero" with Tyler for the Footloose soundtrack.)

When "Total Eclipse" was burning up the charts in '83, Steinman also wrote "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" for Air Supply, and it was one of their last hits. Here's the music video which, quite frankly, is an atrocity of mammoth proportions. I shouldn't even link to it as I'm sure the Morgue will lose readership in doing so - but what the hell? Anyone visiting a site named after a place to keep dead bodies must surely have a masochistic side. The song is incredible (despite the horrific vid) and it did my heart good to see it used in a major action scene in the Brangelina vehicle Mr. and Mrs. Smith, wherein Brad confessed to Angelina, "I like Air Supply!", and then sang along to the Aussie duo. Like Mr. Smith, I too like Air Supply, and not just the Steinman tune either.

Due to Steinman's success with Bonnie & the Supply, bigger artists began taking notice, and in '84 Manilow himself & no less than Barbra Streisand covered Jim Steinman tunes. Barry took on "Read 'Em and Weep" (previously done by Meat Loaf on his lesser known Steinman collaboration, 1981's "Dead Ringer"), while Barbra tackled "Left in the Dark" from Steinman's only solo effort, "Bad for Good" (artwork above), also from '81. Both covers are great, but both videos wallow in schmaltz (go on - click the above know you wanna). There's a trend developing here, and it's due entirely to 1980s music video production.

You can't be such a major visible success without the eventual beckoning of Hollywood, and in 1984 Jim also wrote two numbers for Walter Hill's "rock & roll fable" Streets of Fire. In the movie the tunes appear to be sung by a young Diane Lane, but in reality were performed a lady named Holly Sherwood. "Nowhere Fast" and "Tonight is What It Means to Be Young" are credited to the fake band Fire, Inc. and, Bonnie's "Total Eclipse" aside, may well be the peak of Steinman's talents. (I love how Wikipedia frequently describes his music as "Wagnerian".)

In '93 Jim once again collaborated with Mr. Loaf on "Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell", which, despite being a massive success and selling about a bazillion copies, pretty much sucked. Though I'll give 'em both credit for knowing exactly which buttons to push in order to bamboozle a gullible public. The album's biggest hit was "I'd Do Anything for Love (but I Won't Do That)", and its overplayed video was directed by a young Michael Bay, a fact which in itself confirms its utter suckitude.

If, six months ago when I started the Morgue, someone told me I'd eventually write about Celine Dion, I'd have elected to quit while I was behind. Yet it certainly must be mentioned that "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" is indeed a Jim Steinman creation. Aside from stating the fact, there's not much more to say except perhaps that I'll hang with Barbra, but Celine challenges my tolerance threshold.

Steinman's most recent success was a musical called Dance of the Vampires based on Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers. It was huge in Europe (and was even directed by Polanski), but tanked on Broadway (some of which may have been due to star Michael Crawford's interference, not to mention the lack of Polanski). It even earned the alleged distinction of being the biggest financial flop in the history of Broadway, losing 17 mill and closing after 117 performances.

So I'm left without an end to this piece - even that last paragraph was culled mostly from Wiki tidbits, which makes most of it totally suspect. Steinman's future? A musical version of Batman with Tim Burton? (Sounds weirdly promising.) Meat Loaf's attempting"Bat Out of Hell III" without Steinman. (Why?) It appears Jim's got something in the works called The Dream Engine, which based on the website intrigues the hell out of me.

All I know for sure is that Jim Steinman's music has been something which I've near blindingly adored for over 20 years. Even his solo album, despite his sometimes awkward vocals, somehow manages to work (actually, his voice isn't all that dissimilar to Meat Loaf's). If all he ever churns out from this day forward is crap even I don't like, the man's got my eternal respect for being someone who took the unsellable and sold it, the unmarketable and marketed it, the unsingable and sung it, and the unproducable and produced it. And in the process he created some work that - whether they know it or not - is valuable to most everyone.

That my friends, is talent.

ADDENDUM: Jim Steinman is on Blogspot. There are days when doing all this makes it so worthwhile.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Seer of Visions

It was odd finding out this past Tuesday that Syd Barrett had died, mostly because on that same day Pink Floyd’s live show Pulse finally hit DVD. Many a Floyd fan has waited for this DVD since the format took off. Me? Not so much, as I’m one of the lucky few to own it on laserdisc – most have probably suffered through it on VHS over the years. Luckily, the new DVD’s crammed with so many cool little extras that it makes the LD copy rather obsolete.

"Pulse" was the videotaped result of Floyd’s last tour, for "The Division Bell", back in ’94 – a show I was lucky enough to catch twice; in S.A. (Apr. 3rd – the second date of the tour!) and three weeks later in Dallas. What made the Dallas trip worth the effort was by that leg of the tour they were performing the entirety of "Dark Side of the Moon". You can find this on the second disc of the "Pulse" DVD set.

One of the great moments of the show was "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which is also the number that opens the "Pulse" DVD. It’s a well-known fact that "Shine On" is about Syd Barrett and adding another layer to this is the film that plays on a giant circular screen behind the band. The film, made by visionary Floyd collaborator Storm Thorgerson, plays only over the instrumental sections of the performance, and surreally charts the life of a man from childhood innocence to adult madness and disappointment. On a symbolic level it could be about all of us, but certainly it must also be about Syd Barrett. The film was a highlight of the concert, and it’s now available on the DVD as a separate feature (along with a dozen or so other such screen films) so it can be viewed in all of its beautiful strangeness. The double disc set is well worth buying for these films alone.

Syd's contributions to Pink Floyd were invaluable, but it's not as if anyone has been preparing for the "Second Coming of Syd"; he hadn’t recorded anything in over 30 years. For all intents and purposes, he's been "dead" the entire time I've been a Floyd fan. While knowing about his death was a PF marker of sorts and I feel for whomever remained close to him, it's not the same as if Waters or Gilmour had died. The whole Syd Barrett story is so sad anyway that his death somehow doesn't make it any more tragic - for all I know he felt a massive sense of relief in his final moments. So what am I trying to say? Only that I don’t want to fanboy posture and say “It’s such a shame that Syd Barrett passed away” or whatever. From my standpoint, it’s a far bigger shame that he was unable to share his vision with us over the past 30 years.

According to Wikipedia, Syd spent his later years painting and creating large abstract canvases. Perhaps now that he is gone, someone in a position to do so will see fit to share this work with the public. They may be the final visions of this enigmatic man whom many a Floyd fan would like to understand on a newer, different level.

Click here to see a live performance of Syd and the Floyd playing "Astronomy Domine", the opening track from the first PF album, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn".

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Wishes are sometimes granted.

Last night I stalked Borders with the intention of picking up the DVD release of Pink Floyd’s “Pulse”. Mission accomplished and I’ll be writing about its uber-coolness shortly, what with Syd Barrett dying and all.

What I didn’t intend to pick up – as I didn’t even know it existed – was the CD re-release of 1977’s “Barry Manilow Live”. Fuck you who mocks my love for Manilow ( aggressive), but I’ve waited for this CD for like 15 years. “Live”, which shouldn’t be confused with any other Barry live album, is quite simply the greatest live album ever recorded. Granted, I’ve not heard every single live album ever made, so I proclaim out of ignorance – but what fun would the Morgue be without a little hyperbole from time to time? I’ve owned “Live” on 8-Track (as a kid), cassette (as a teen) and the original hacked-up and shitty sounding CD release (as an adult). Oddly I’ve never owned it on vinyl, which is likely how it’s been owned by most.

“Barry Manilow Live” was his first and only #1 album in the U.S…until his recent release “The Greatest Songs of the Fifties” - weird, but true. In ‘77 it knocked Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” out of the #1 spot (according to the new liner notes; can’t imagine someone made that up). I adore the Mac (probably even more than Barry) and “Rumours” is a masterpiece, but in some strange way that tidbit kinda rocks. Making it all the more rockin' is that “Live” was a double album and double albums aren’t a particularly easy sell, and the fact that it hit # 1 means something. What that something is, I do not know, but I’m typing to find out.

So why, you may ask, is this “the greatest live album ever recorded”? Because it’s the one Manilow recording that takes everything he’s ever been about and pumps it up about 10 notches. When it was recorded, he wasn't quite yet a "star", but "Live" sealed the deal. If you think you know everything about Barry, this recording will change your perceptions. If you think this is an album full of sappy love songs and/or campy production numbers, you are just plain wrong - despite the fact it features both. Most live albums expose artist's weaknesses; this album reveals Barry's strengths. It is pure fucking showmanship.

There isn’t a false note played or an incorrect note sung. The re-release is remastered, rearranged [1] and most importantly, restored. For years the available CD was not only edited to fit on a single disc, but it sounded lousy; it’s telling when one longs for the 8-Track on which he grew up. This not only restores the missing material (all three parts of “Beautiful Music” as well as his amusingly self-deprecating chit-chat with the audience), but it also adds five tunes from the same performances that have never before been released. For the first time I heard a circa-1976 live version of “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again” that blew me the fuck away.

[1] The “rearrangement” might be considered blasphemous to a hardcore fan. Some of the tunes have been moved around to accommodate the flow due to the five new tracks. It’s an improvement on all counts. Ending Disc One with “New York City Rhythm” is inspired and probably even as it should be. How something this perfect has been improved upon is mind-boggling.

Speaking of, I gotta point out that the structure and energy of “Live” directly inspired my play “New York City Rhythms”, which was produced here in S.A. two years ago. It was a Mamma Mia!-esque sort of affair where I took Barry tunes and wrote a (pretty engaging!) story around them. If any budding producers out there reading would assist me in dealing with the legalities of the concept, I maintain that it’d be huge with the proper backing and casting. Check out Laurie Dietrich's flattering piece on the show by clicking here (scroll about halfway down).

If it isn’t already obvious, I worship the tape on which this material was originally recorded. It’s the Barry album that will make you appreciate this guy who you’ve probably never taken seriously. And you know what makes it even more perfect? It doesn’t have bloody “Copacabana” on it; that didn’t come out ‘til ’78’s “Even Now” album. If by revealing that, I’ve ruined any chance of you buying this CD, then you don’t deserve it in the first place.

For years I’ve dealt with people equating/defining Manilow with/by that one song. Sure, it’s a fun little ditty – but it’s also an anomaly. Barry never recorded anything else like that hunk of cheese. He can’t be blamed for riding that wave, but there’s so much more to Manilow than Tony, Lola and Rico and it sucks that most people think of that tune before even “Mandy”.

You know what else? “Mandy” is a great piece of tuneage. You know it is, even if it’s our dirty little secret. I'm sure most Manilow scribblings don't drop as many F-Bombs as this one did...but this is a guy whom I feel I've fought for forever. If just one person reads this and buys the CD, it was worth the fucking effort.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Who 2 Overview

As of this past weekend, Season/Series Two of Doctor Who came to both an end and a beginning. Attempting a non-spoilerific overview of an entire season shouldn't be difficult, however if you want to go into the second season without knowing one person's vaguely constructed opinions, it might be wise to turn away now. On the other hand, it'll be at least 6 months or more before it shows on Sci Fi, and you'll likely have forgotten everything I say by that time anyway. (Links to JPEGS within this piece also contain no spoilers - just some cool, teaser imagery.)

I shall begin with the obvious: How does it stack up against Season One? Using the complex formula below, a calculator and my fingers & toes, I discovered that it’s about equal. (From here on out I'll refer to the seasons as S1 & S2 for brevity's sake.) Now if my ratings below for S1 wildly diverge from your own, there's a good chance you won't see S2 the way I did either.

DW S1 Rankings

Rose: 8/10
The End of the World: 8/10
The Unquiet Dead: 7/10
Aliens of London: 6/10
World War III: 4/10
Dalek: 8/10
The Long Game: 7/10
Father’s Day: 9/10
The Empty Child: 10/10
The Doctor Dances: 10/10
Boom Town: 8/10
Bad Wolf: 8/10
The Parting of the Ways: 10/10

103/130 = 7.9/10

As you can see, S1 came up with an average of 7.9/10. S2, using the same formula, managed to snag 8/10 – clearly a negligible difference. These results rather surprised me. Why then was I so much more critical of S2 as I viewed it over 13 weeks? Last year I was so freakin’ ecstatic over the prospect of having an entire new season of Doctor Who, that I cut it slack right and left. I still cut S1 slack, as it’s not an easy task to relaunch a classic series of this ilk, especially without starting from scratch. What if Battlestar Galactica was not a reimagining but rather a continuation? It must be somewhat easier to begin with a clean slate and only a set of ideas to build on and change for dramatic purposes – this wasn’t so much the case with the new Who. The new series picks up where the old left off and there are certain continuities being adhered to. (You know what? Sometimes it's just fucking easier to end a sentence with a preposition.)

Adding to that, most sci-fi series are designed for niche audiences, which isn’t the case with Who. This is prime time BBC1 television fare, produced to nab big ratings and a huge chunk of the viewing audience (both of which it does). This may not be the best analogy, but Doctor Who is like the current Brit equivalent of Lost. What sort of ratings might new Who nab here in America were it on one of the major networks and given the same sort of publicity and respect as something like Lost?

Mildly irksome was the fact that S2 is structured almost identically to S1 - its peaks and valleys unfold in much the same manner as what came before it. Unlike S1 however, S2 does offer some outstanding fare early on; it isn’t necessarily a case of the latter half being better than the first half - the cream is spread out more evenly. Yet I couldn’t get past a niggling feeling that perhaps S1’s success had gone to Doctor Who’s head and that maybe it wasn’t reaching for greatness, but instead was content to dish out more of the same.

If S2 disappointed me on certain levels, it was because I didn’t want the same – I wanted better. Even though the season often dished up some truly inspired storytelling, S1’s “The Empty Child” two-parter remains the standard by which I measure. Maybe it’s unfair to judge everything against perfection? They didn’t top that story, I’m afraid to report. They came close though – very close – on a handful of occasions.

One great example - unsurprisingly written by “Child’s” Steven Moffat – was “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Ep. 4), a story that’s a sterling example of Doctor Who for a new TV audience. It's not only an emotionally but also a dramatically complex tale. I can honestly admit that it took two viewings for me to begin to "get" it. Perhaps the only real reason it doesn’t rank as high as Moffat’s previous effort is because it’s half as long.

Probably the most comparable story from a dramatic standpoint to “The Empty Child” is “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” (Eps. 8 & 9), which was likely my favorite story of the season. It comes up just a hair shy of being as great as its predecessor and yet it's mesmerizing in its vision, ideas, visuals and also its background score, which is one of the best composer Murray Gold has created.

Russell T Davies wrote the most controversial story of the season, “Love & Monsters” (Ep. 10). Fan opinion all across the internets was divided nearly straight down the line on the story that pushed the limits of what Doctor Who can be; I gave it a solid 10 for having the balls to attempt something so unexpected and succeeding at the same time.

“The Idiot’s Lantern” (Ep. 7) & “Fear Her” (Ep. 11) both disappointed due to the fact that they were basically the exact same story told exactly the same way only with different window dressing – this may not have been so bad if either story had been particularly good in the first place. Both feature pretty cool buildups that are ultimately undone by insanely weak resolutions. These two stories were the low points of the season. All the more inexplicable is that the former is written by Mark Gatiss, who penned last year’s far superior “The Unquiet Dead”, while the latter is by first-time Who writer Matthew Graham, who wrote and created the fabulous series Life on Mars (which will be hitting BBC America later this month).

S2 can’t be talked about without mentioning the return of ex-companion Sarah Jane Smith (once again portrayed by the lovely Elisabeth Sladen) in “School Reunion” (Ep. 3), an episode as fanwanky and beautiful as anyone could imagine. (A story that makes K-9 look good must be a triumph.) Most any boy who watched Who at a young age was in love with Sarah Jane the same way many boys are likely in love with Rose today. For better or worse, S2 frequently (although not obtrusively) references the old series; “School Reunion” is only the most obvious example.

S2 reintroduces the Doctor’s #2 enemies, the Cybermen in Eps. 5 & 6. While the Daleks were only mildly tinkered with in S1, the Cybermen are given a full-blown overhaul. This is understandable, however, as they continually changed over the course of the original series as well. For the most part they are done justice and as a race they’ve not been this menacing since the late '60s.

The major difference between the two seasons is a noteworthy one, and that’s the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, which is due mostly to two factors. First off, there’s the new Doctor, David Tennant. Secondly, there’s Billie Piper’s decision to leave the series, which clearly was taken into account early on in scripting the season. Both of these form the way the pair deal with one another.

It took me a while to warm to Tennant – longer than I expected, in fact. While there were moments he “had” me, he also managed to lose me now and again. It wasn’t until “The Satan Pit” that he became the Doctor; this is noteworthy as I felt similarly about Eccleston’s Doctor until “The Doctor Dances” and both episodes dramatically occupy the same spots in each season. I’ve yet to figure out what exactly makes Tennant’s Doctor work, which isn’t intrinsically a bad thing for an alien who’s over 900 years old. I shouldn’t always be able to figure him out, right? It’ll be fascinating to see where he takes the Doctor next year.

Billie Piper’s Rose is about as far from the Rose of S1 as you can get; for about the first half of the season it felt as if I’d fallen out of love with her - or maybe even moreso, that she'd fallen out of love with me. She’s not the same person as last year, but then again, she shouldn’t be. S1 seemed to be more about Rose working to please the Doctor and cementing the relationship; it could be argued S2 is the opposite. The Doctor seems mostly intent on showing Rose a good time, which, when they’re not busy getting in trouble, is what they mostly do. There was a certain amount of the duo taking the situation for granted in the first half, and logically this makes sense after S1's finale. (I mean, when all hope is lost and yet you still manage to slide through like whale shit in an ice flow - yeah, you might start thinking everything will always work out fine.) Midway through the season I began to fall for her again, and by the finale I think I understood why Rose had been written and played as such earlier in the season.

It’s something of a shame that the series keeps getting thrown these curveballs: First Christopher Eccleston’s departure and now Billie Piper’s. Rumors have as of late been surfacing that indicate Russell Davies himself is keen to move on (presumably, if this is true, it won’t be until after Season Three). To be fair, it must be difficult to keep the show innovative when it’s constantly in states of flux - you’re working with a limited number of stories each year and you’ve got to worry about this big change and that development and so forth. Looking back at S2, it seems numerous decisions were made solely because of Rose's impending exit. If Davies has had enough, I wouldn't blame him. I've said before and I'll say it again: This show must be exhausting to make.

If I had to lodge one major complaint against Doctor Who, it would be the all-too-frequently used Deus ex machina solutions. S1 used them somewhat, S2 relied on them far too often. It's the sort of thing that mass audiences don't think too much about and therefore will likely never be considered a negative by most. In fact, it's the sort of stuff mass audiences don't have to think too hard about at all. This may be why the show continues to succeed. If every episode was a "Girl in the Fireplace", I'm not sure the masses would keep tuning in.

The season's biggest transgressor in this department was the finale, "Doomsday". I wrote of how last year's finale, "The Parting of the Ways", did the same, only the logic seemed to come from somewhere - as if it were part of the season all along. This really isn't the case this time around, though I hope subsequent viewings prove me wrong. Make no mistake, there are moments in the episode that made the tears roll, but there were just as many that made my eyes roll.

If Davies does intend to leave after S3, and assuming there's a S4 (something that at the time of writing is unknown), please add my name to the list of people who think Steven Moffat should be hired to take his place. This is not to say I think ill of Davies or even that I think he should go. For all my criticism, hopefully my adoration of this show comes through. It's hard for me to imagine that anyone besides Davies could've envisioned and rejiggered this concept so successfully (even given its faults). He's shown the way and pointed the spotlight. I only hope someone with an equally strong sense of vision (like Moffat) will be hired to oversee things once he decides, "My work here is done".

Friday, July 07, 2006

'e is an ex-Bond

If Pierce Brosnan is hell-bent on nailing the coffin lid shut on James Bond, he took giant leaps in the right direction with Julian Noble, the character he plays in The Matador.

Noteworthy is how many traits 007 shares with Noble – a hard drinking, bed hopping, globetrotting hitman or, as Julian refers to himself, a “facilitator”. He even takes orders from a low-rent version of M, played here with a sort of paternal wisdom by Philip Baker Hall. But that’s where the similarities end. He’s out of shape, let his hair go gray and has surrendered his kempt visage to whiskers and a bad moustache. Even James’ sly wit has been replaced by Julian’s terrible dick & pussy jokes. Julian Noble might just be where Bond ends up when Her Majesty no longer requires his secret services.

I’ve been critical of his take on James since around The World is Not Enough, and prior to that I'm pretty sure I merely allowed nostalgia to bamboozle. It occurred to me after World especially that Brosnan was Bond’s Greatest Hits, giving us nothing we hadn’t already seen and everything we thought we wanted.

As the years wore on, Pierce became progressively more and more vocal about his dislike of the way the franchise was being handled. He wanted to take Bond into more dangerous, character-driven territory while the Broccolis (the 007 producers) seemed happy treading whiz-bang water. We’ve yet to see what Casino Royale puts forth, but it’s beginning to look like someone took Pierce’s advice after he exited the premises. Watching The Matador (which Brosnan also produced), I couldn’t help thinking that he got the last laugh.

The film also stars Greg Kinnear as a down-on-his-luck salesman trying to work out the finer details of the one job that may save not only his career, but also his marriage to high-school sweetheart Bean (Hope Davis). It’s in a Mexico City bar where Kinnear’s Danny Wright meets Julian Noble over margaritas and somehow this mismatched, broken pair of men manages to change each other’s lives. Even the movie’s tagline is an inspired bit of contrivance: “A hitman and a salesman walk into a bar…”

Somehow, in some way Greg Kinnear has slowly worked his way into the role of damn fine American actor. Kick-starting the whole process was his Oscar-nominated Simon the fag in As Good as It Gets, and following that with fare like Nurse Betty, The Gift, and Auto Focus, well, Kinnear has come a long way since Talk Soup. His Danny Wright is the latest in the chain of great Greg guys and I dare say it isn’t as good as it’ll get. I predict a day in which Kinnear wins a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. Yup, this cat is that fuckin’ good.

There’s a scene around the halfway point of the film – a scene we later discover was far more pivotal than what we’re given onscreen at the time – in which Julian pays Danny a visit late at night outside his hotel room. Julian bangs on the door, begging and wailing for Danny to open so he can apologize for being an insensitive clod. Danny sits alone inside, mere feet away, drinking himself into an oblivious haze. These are not two men we necessarily want to be, but they are two men we want to understand and for whom we wish the very best.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ears Wide Open

Back when the Morgue was still "Slap Pals in the Alps", I made a vague declaration that there might possibly be some music criticism espoused in these parts; 70 plus entries later and that's never happened.

Music criticism baffles me. Either something hits me or not, and writing about it is a nearly insurmountable task. With a movie or a TV show, it's much easier to figure out what was being attempted and whether or not it was achieved. Not so much with music - it seems a wholly subjective, mass-produced artform, which is why I find its criticism more unfair than most other types of pop culture criticism. (Note that even at this moment, the actual commentary is being avoided.)

Seems that just about every summer I find an album that becomes my soundtrack for three months. Last year it was Snow Patrol's Final Straw (I arrived a year late to the U.S. Snow Patrol party). This summer, perhaps predictably, it's the latest release from the very same Scottish rockers, Eyes Open. It would appear that Snow Patrol are my new "favorite" band...or maybe my favorite "new" band?

Such was my love for Final Straw that the followup was always going to be a tough sell. It took about 3 or 4 listens to Eyes Open before I declared that the Patrol had indeed topped their previous effort.

It's not that Eyes Open is necessarily comprised of better songs than Straw - it's just that the songs flow in and out of each other so much more seamlessly than Straw's. I suppose the easiest way to describe Eyes is to say that it achieves the effortlessness of Straw's biggest hit, "Run", over the course of one CD. Take that amazing tune - with its peaks & valleys...its heartbreak & hope - and imagine it spread across eleven songs like the freshest jam on a perfect piece of toast. The resulting album defies further description (well, by me anyway).

If you're looking for a soundtrack to carry you through the lazy, hazy remainder of your summer, this is what the Morgue recommends.

The final moments of track #7, "Make This Go on Forever", which singer Gary Lightbody repeats several times with only a few strokes of the piano behind his hollow voice, lyrically continue to haunt me:

And I don't know where to look
My words just break and melt
Please just save me from this darkness
Please just save me from this darkness

Here's the video for the first song on the album, "You're All I Have", which features another set of lyrics that really sing at me:

You're cinematic razor sharp
A welcome arrow through the heart
Under your skin feels like home
Electric shocks on aching bones

On the DVD front, Snow Patrol - Live at Somerset House is also highly recommended - an energetic live show comprised mostly of stuff from Final Straw (and a few earlier tunes) as well as some extras including a U.S. Tour film and the music videos for the Straw singles "Run", "Chocolate" and "Spitting Games".

And for something that's got nothing whatsoever to do with Snow Patrol, try the DVD of Gorillaz - Demon Days Live (at Manchester), which I've been spinning a fair amount over the past month. The DVD's got a swank little feature: You can choose to view the concert (the album Demon Days in its entirety), or you can listen to the audio played over trippy music vids that originally played at the live show up on a screen behind the band.

Here's an example of the latter for the title track "Demon Days":

Sunday, July 02, 2006


I've no idea how you'll take this, but if nothing else I'm sure you'll find it noteworthy:

Witches/Druids/Pagans/Satanists/whatevers are always my favorite horror movie "monsters". (Please don't think I group all the above together - I was merely simplifying to get my point across.) I totally dig witch stories and always have. Ever seen
Suspiria? That's one of the very best. Also The Wicker Man, Horror Hotel (aka The City of the Dead) and The Devil Rides Out. Heck, even Halloween III: Season of the Witch is my favorite of that shoddy franchise. Of course, I take none of this fare seriously, and I know much of it reflects poorly on your beliefs, but dammit - witch movies rock! Rosemary's Baby is probably the one film that unsettles me the most (in other words, it's my favorite horror flick).

It hit me recently during a viewing of Rosemary why I'm so into these types of movies: the idea of a group of people with a direct pipeline to the supernatural, all working in collusion against an individual - absolutely terrifies me.

Recently I wrote the above to a wiccan pal, and upon rereading it, my love for all things witchlike seemed the ideal springboard for a Morgue entry. Fear of collusion is obviously core to Rosemary, but the films mentioned prior to it operate from basically the same place. So without further ado...

Halloween witch imagery mesmerizes me, yet as a young boy it was the one classic costume that was off limits to my sex. Until now, it never even occurred to me that I desperately desired to cross-dress at the age of 7.

It must have all started with Oz's Margaret Hamilton, the witch by which all other witches must be measured; I refuse to believe Witchiepoo had anything to do with my fetish - mainly because no witch, no matter how memorable, can ever compete with a dragon in go-go boots. So ideal a witch was the Wicked Witch of the West, that she defined the classic witch image and yet nobody has ever dared try to replicate that image on film (at least not in any serious manner). Surely Margaret Hamilton’s precursor to Broom Hilda is the witch that other witches have nightmares about?

A few years later I fell under the spell of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", and thanks to those little illustrations, I experienced a profound revelation: Witches can be hot! This was an idea - despite Bewitched - I’d not previously considered; Elizabeth Montgomery was much too far in the other direction to give me any pause for reflection. 'Sides, like Witchiepoo before Samantha, witches had no business being played for laughs. No, the blame for my silly notion that witches couldn't be sexy should be placed squarely on whoever cast Billie Burke as Glinda. By the time I got to "The Magician’s Nephew", Jadis was fueling many a perverse fantasy for the 11 year-old me...I mean, that Emerald bitch was sooo two books ago.

So how about that Tilda Swinton, eh? Certainly no actress could ever have lived up to the kinky weirdness my prepubescent mind concocted and even more certainly, Disney isn’t in the business of making those kinds of movies...but Tilda did alright. She was sexy in the most evil of all possible ways – simultaneously desirable and repellant. In the real world, women like this are bad news. Avoid them to retain what little dignity you still possess. Jadis, in hindsight, was not a healthy fixation, and yet years later it must have been she who led me down a dark path to a town where the sexiest mini-coven ever put to film resided: Eastwick. Bah to he who kneels at the altar of The Craft! My tagline for that movie? “It’s the cheesiest.”

The Witches of Eastwick fulfills the most absurd of all male delusions: You can be balding, fat and/or old and still get three hot women in your bed at the same time merely by spouting clever witticisms. Most men feel they are capable of doing the latter even if they are the former. It's worth mentioning that Eastwick was the first movie I ever saw in San Antonio and was also the first DVD I ever purchased.

In high school I played Rev. John Hale in "The Crucible" - even won a UIL “All Star” award for that performance; me convincingly playing a man of God does logically merit some sort of recognition. Going back to collusion, "The Crucible" is that idea turned upside down. It’s a group of stupid Christians with no magic powers and even less rational thought accusing innocents of, ironically, worshipping an imaginary deity. When people talk about it being a veiled attack on McCarthyism, I zone out. There’s a reason Arthur Miller symbolized his ideas through the Salem Witch trials - he too knew that witches make for fine entertainment. To have used The Red Scare would have been to create a snoozefest. The 1996 movie adaptation is an outstanding piece, despite a once-again-somewhat-miscast Winona Ryder.

1990 introduced me to a new kind of sexy witch: Jenny Seagrove's druidic nanny in William Friedkin's underrated and yet highly flawed The Guardian. This woman both worshipped & controlled the trees, killed babies and had no problem hanging about in various states of undress. Good lord! Had she not been such a nut, this would have been the woman for me.

The fare with which this entry began (Suspiria, The Wicker Man, Rosemary's Baby) is stuff I discovered in my adult life. It changed my perception of movie witches, taking me to stranger and more provocative places. But you gotta remember where you came from to know where you are, right? Even though my feelings about filmic witches have shifted over the years, their sexiness can sometimes work side by side with the collusion.

Perhaps this is why Polanski's Baby is my favorite of them all. Admittedly, Roman & Minnie Castevet are far from being hot witches, and yet there remains something undeniably sexy about a coven convincing a husband to join them in summoning the Devil to impregnate his innocent wife. Indeed, part of why it horrifies is due to it being a sick turn-on.

Were I a religious man, I'd at this point understand you questioning why you still visit the Morgue...but I am not. As a nonbeliever of all this stuff, I get a free pass and am allowed to go places God-fearing folk have no business venturing. The Morgue exists to say the things that should not be said and think the things that should not be thought.

Or I could always just say the Devil made me do it.