24 January, 2010

Horrorfest 4 (2010)

(theater map)

The bad news is that, as of this writing (and it's less than a week away), Horrorfest 4 will not be coming to a theater within an hour's drive of my current location. And considering my schedule, I doubt it would be very worthwhile to make the drive to the nearest theater (and back, let alone on multiple days). I could do it if I wanted to, but as it is, the hassle probably wouldn't outweigh the benefits. Maybe if I had some close friends who were into it, and my schedule was more normal (jeez, you'd think they'd cater horror movies to the night owls), I could make like a day-long movie marathon road trip out of it and that would be fun, but I'm not doing it for myself. I'd just as soon wait and watch the movies in the comfort of my own home, at my leisure.

But, I couldn't help watching the trailers, which are now up (surprise! - trailers before the beginning of the festival!).


Recently, it was decided to take some of Clive Barker's classic stories from his Books of Blood compilation and make them into feature films. Dread is one of those, following on the heels of Midnight Meat Train, which was utterly shafted in its distribution, and that I still haven't had a chance to see. Dread is a great story about some university students who take their research on fear way too far. I'm really excited about this one, and it's a treat to see it as part of the Horrorfest lineup.

[Unlike Dread, the rest of the films I knew nothing about before watching the trailer and reading the synopses on horrorfestonline.]


This one is about a man who returns to his hometown after the death of his mother (who was not a very savory character, it appears), only to uncover some secrets about his past (which affect his present, and maybe his future). From the trailer, this one looks interesting, and it also looks like this might be the one "doppelganger" movie for this year.

Kill Theory

The plot for this one is kind of hard to swallow - a bunch of young people trapped in a house, given a saw-like ultimatum: if one person is left alive by dawn, that person gets to go free, otherwise, they will all be killed. I mean, it's an interesting thing to think about - what would you do? And I guess, just because I think killing anyone, even under those kind of circumstances, would be simply out of the question, I guess that doesn't mean that everyone else in my party would agree. Who can you trust? So, at any rate, I am curious at how this one turns out.

Lake Mungo

Not too clear on the plot of this one - something about a girl who may or may not have drowned in a lake, and may or may not have led a double life - but it looks like it could be really interesting, and more of an arty horror film than the typical brainless coed slasher type fare. Thus, I am intrigued.

The Final

This one looks to be a must-see for me. The setup is thus: high school outcasts get revenge by trapping the popular kids at a fake party, so they can be tortured at the outcasts' whims. Excellent. Ignoring the fact that there is absolutely no way in hell that any of these actors or actresses could convincingly pass for high school aged kids, this looks like it could be a really fun movie, and perhaps a bit of catharsis. But since the outcasts are the torturers, I just hope to god that the popular kids don't find some way to win out in the end...

The Graves

Two sisters get lost in the desert and take a mine tour only to become prey for inbred locals. Essentially. It's funny how good this premise was back in the days of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when you think about how incredibly tired and uninspiring this premise is these days. To be honest, I have very low expectations for this film, although the one reference in the trailer to Baby Please Don't Go was pretty hilarious.

The Reeds

A group of young people celebrating in a remote and foreign location (a surefire recipe for horror, I tell you) - in this case a river surrounded by reeds - have a potentially fatal run-in with some ghosts living in those reeds. Although the ghosts are kind of meh for me, judging from the trailer, this one has at least some potential for entertainment.

Zombies of Mass Destruction

This one is, obviously, a zomcom. (You know, zombie comedy?). Or else some form of parody. Zombie fan though I am, a comedy fan I am generally not. And though you can have fun with a zombie premise without taking yourself too seriously (see: Planet Terror), the trailer for ZMD left me little in the way of anticipation...


So, it goes without saying that I can't be sure which movies will be hits without actually seeing them, but judging only from what I have at my disposal right now:

Dread - definite must-see
Lake Mungo, The Final - have to see
Hidden - worth checking out
Kill Theory, The Reeds - could be interesting
The Graves, ZMD - might hold some surprises

Now then, it's too bad about the theaters...

18 January, 2010

Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall

Joe Bonamassa's Live From The Royal Albert Hall concert DVD would be an interesting watch even if it was a mediocre show. But this is Joe Bonamassa, one of the greatest guitarists living, and the best of his generation. And this is a fantastic show. But beyond the surface of whether or not the performances are captivating (and they are), is the meaning behind this show. Joe Bonamassa's Royal Albert Hall performance was 20 years in the making - his own personal dream and goal for himself, ever since watching Cream's original farewell concert played there in 1968 - and it shows both in the way this DVD is presented, and in the performances themselves.

Regardless of what raw talent he has (which is undeniable, given that he was opening for B.B. King at the ripe young age of 12), Joe presents himself as the working man of today's blues rock scene, and there's no denying the effort he's put in - honing his craft, garnering a fan base, and slowly climbing the ladder of stardom. This performance at the Royal Albert Hall represents his dream come true, and when he plays to that crowd, you can really feel the payoff.

The nervousness is palpable as the camera tracks Joe's advance to the stage at the beginning of the concert. In the first song, I heard the first bum note I have ever heard Joe play - but the rest of the night was flawless. And when the legend himself, Eric Clapton, finally joins the stage, I felt like that was me up there in Joe's place, after 20 years of effort, finally having a chance to trade licks with God.

Joe Bonamassa is truly an inspiration, not just in the music he plays, but in his approach to that music, and life in general. It's almost enough to make me believe that even I could one day play the Royal Albert Hall (or the Budokan, or the Madison Square Garden, where Led Zeppelin played the performance that first inspired me to pick up the guitar), if only I work my ass off for twenty years. I don't quite believe it, but I almost do. I want to.

Highlights of the first half of the show include the solo in So Many Roads, which Joe really gets into; trading licks with Clapton, which I mentioned above; and, of course, Sloe Gin, which opens real quiet with piano, followed by a somber guitar lead. Joe's wearing a nice suit at the open of the show, but after his duet with Clapton, and just before Sloe Gin, he switches to a black shirt, becoming the man in black. As an aside, I love that all black look, and the sunglasses only add to it.

Joe loosens up in the second half, playing some truly great leads. Paul Jones plays harp on Your Funeral My Trial. The highly polished finesse of Blues Deluxe here - which I love in rougher versions - actually sounds really good. Joe dons a sparkly strapped Flying V (I've got to get a strap like that) for the set-closing Just Got Paid - Zeppelin jam included. And for the encore, we get the beautiful Mountain Time, the intro to which I noted was reminiscent (in structure if not strictly content) of Jimmy Page's White Summer showcase, followed by the also beautiful Asking Around For You, which despite its religious overtones ("if I ever get to heaven"), still manages to get to me.

"Thank you, London, for making this the greatest night of my life."

The bonus interview included on the DVD with Joe in a bus (a snazzy tour bus, not a city bus) is enlightening, and really showcases the depth and breadth of Joe's talent. He talks about a handful of his songs - mostly from the Ballad of John Henry album - both lyrically and musically, delving into his influences and giving impromptu demonstrations on guitar. It's impossible not to be impressed by both the physical talent at playing guitar, and the mental ability to understand music, that this man possesses. Truly inspiring.

I recommend this DVD highly.

16 January, 2010

Flower Fairies

While shopping for the holidays, before the turn of the new year, I came across a calendar in a bookstore that jumped out at me. Now, if you know me, I rarely make impulse purchases. But it took only a single glance at this calendar for me to know, I had to have it.

So, what kind of calendar could it be, that I would just have to have? A rock 'n' roll calendar, featuring all the gods of rock? A guitar calendar, with lots of groovy guitars? An erotic calendar, with naked chicks? An anime calendar? A horror calendar?

Nope. As you've probably already guessed, by the title of this post and the images below (if you've glanced ahead), it was a Flower Fairies calendar. Yep, flower fairies - as in, fairies imbued with the likenesses of flowers.

One of the advantages of shopping close to the holidays is that the excuse, "it's a gift for somebody I know," is a lot more plausible. Sure, there are birthdays year-round, but during the holidays, it's pretty much assumed that you're shopping for somebody else, and not yourself.

Well, it's not like I keep my love of [mythological] fairies a secret. And I don't know why there's all this shame about liking girly things to begin with. I recently came across a photo on flickr which was accompanied by lyrics to a song - lyrics that were strikingly articulate. And to my surprise, it turned out to be a Madonna song. Now, I'm not really a fan of Madonna's music (although I can't help being impressed by her approach to controversy during her Sex period - "express yourself, don't repress yourself"), but these lyrics are pretty good:

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
'Cause it's OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

Case in point: using the phrase "you (verb) like a girl" as an insult.

Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with girls or girliness - in fact, I admire them very much. But I'll spare you the diatribe on gender politics. The point here is that I think the fairy art in this calendar is adorable. To the point that I actually looked up the artist - one Cicely Mary Barker, born just before the turn of the century (the 20th century).

She capitalized on the fairy craze that grew out of Victorian England, borrowing models for her art from the kindergarten her sister ran out of the house they lived in. I found her approach intriguing, in that she would always find a specimen of the flower she was to depict - which she took careful effort to depict accurately - have the young model hold on to it, and then simply draw the flower as large as the child. I also like how the fairies are dressed according to their flower, wearing petal skirts and whatnot.

These are just a few of my favorite fairies:

The Narcissus Fairy is the messenger fairy, who transmits information (of various levels of importance) throughout the fairy court, and symbolizes egotism - though I relate more to the vanity aspect.

I've always been fond of willows, both because they are aesthetically beautiful, and because they symbolize sadness and mourning. The Willow Fairy, like her namesake, is dipping her toes into the stream.

The Traveller's Joy Fairy - it would most certainly be a joy to encounter this fairy during one's journey.

An angel on a snowflake, the Snowdrop Fairy offers consolation and hope amidst the depths of winter. She also instills purity of thought, and is inhabited by moon spirits.

The Almond Blossom Fairy is bursting with all the joy of Spring, urging the rest of the fairies to join hands and laugh and dance with glee.

The Gorse Fairies play 'kiss chase', indulging in a little playful fairy romance. The gorse bush, with its year-round bloom, is known as a symbol of endurance, inspiring the adage, "when gorse is out of blossom, then kissing is out of fashion."

[The above fairy profiles compiled from flowerfairies.com]

14 January, 2010

Music Haul

In addition to Mystery To Me, here are the CD's I got over the holidays (in no particular order), with a couple [hundred] words about each:

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Couldn't Stand The Weather [1984]

This is SRV's second studio album, following his debut Texas Flood. Both that album and this one are consistently good, serving up Stevie's trademark style of swinging Texas blues rock. The album kicks off with a short but impressive instrumental, Scuttle Buttin', which showcases Stevie's rapid fretting capabilities. The most radio-friendly tracks on this disc are the title track and Cold Shot, as well as the not-to-be-missed cover of Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile (even if, in all fairness, I think Jimi's version is better). I also like the bluesy The Things (That) I Used To Do, but the standout track is the long slow burner Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place In Town), whose praises I've sung elsewhere.

Harvey Mandel - The Snake [1972]

I really enjoy Harvey Mandel's music. He's a straight-up instrumentalist, who rarely bothers to add vocals to his songs (which is a-ok by me). He has experience playing the blues in Chicago - his path crossed that of Mike Bloomfield's on more than one occasion - and he had a stint in California blues band Canned Heat at the end of the sixties. But his solo material has a bit of a jazz flavor - that is, interesting guitar jazz, not that horn bullshit. His songs do have a tendency to melt together and blend into the background, but where others may count that as a negative, I consider it to be part of The Snake's charm. Oh, by the way, the title for this album borrows Harvey's nickname - the origin for which I've heard multiple stories, but I like to believe it has something to do with his fluid, "slithering", guitar lines. For example, in the track Bite The Electric Eel.

Gary Moore - Blues Alive (Live) [1993]

I'm a fan of Gary Moore. He's a good guitarist in the blues rock vein, but he's got more of a modern touch - and when I say "modern", I mean, like, from the blues revival of the eighties. He's got great technique, and he wouldn't sound out of place in the shredding hair metal scene, I guess. For blues purists that might be a sin, but hey, he's a fantastic guitarist. He's not my top favorite, but his chops are solid (though some argue that he's got more technique than soul), he's a lot of fun to listen to, and he's got great taste - he's covered Roy Buchanan, and he's a dedicated devotee to Peter Green (to the point of having recorded an album of Peter Green covers, which he played on Peter Green's classic guitar, that he inherited).

This live set sounds great. Many good songs on here, including one of my favorites from Gary's catalog - Still Got The Blues. Albert Collins makes a guest appearance on Too Tired (a Collins song - though I'd rather it was Cold Cold Feeling, like on the DVD I got last year). Got some blues classics, including Further On Up The Road, Albert King's Oh Pretty Woman, and the perennial favorite, The Sky Is Crying. Parisienne Walkways is also worth mentioning, which is a beautiful song. The encore is one of my favorite Peter Green songs - Jumping At Shadows (disclaimer: Peter Green didn't actually write the song, his friend Duster Bennett did, but his version is the one I am familiar with, and fond of). Peter of course does it better than Gary, but it's still really cool to hear someone else doing the song.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Re*Ac*Tor [1981]

Re*ac*tor is the Crazy Horse album following 1979's Rust Never Sleeps (which was half solo/acoustic); and if Rust Never Sleeps was the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere of the seventies (vaguely speaking), then Re*ac*tor is akin to the Zuma of the eighties. It doesn't have any timeless radio hits, but it rocks, it's hard, and it's great for Crazy Horse fans such as myself. I would also classify it as a bit of a "road record", considering it has a lot of road-themed songs (Get Back On It, Southern Pacific, Motor City, Rapid Transit). The opening track, Opera Star, is a great one lyric-wise - although I don't usually pay much attention to lyrics. The 9+ minute jam on T-Bone, which has all of two lines ("got mashed potatoes, ain't got no t-bone") repeated to infinity, may not be the best in Crazy Horse's long line of jam songs, but it's a good one. I'm also fond of the train song (Southern Pacific) and Rapid Transit, complete with its exaggeratedly stuttered vocals. But my favorite track on the album is probably the fierce closing number, Shots.

Albert King - Wednesday Night in San Francisco (Live) [1968]

This disc of tracks from a classic live Albert King concert (his first performance at the legendary Fillmore West, playing to a mostly hippie crowd) is actually one part of three separate releases, which also include Thursday Night, and the original Live Wire/Blues Power. To my understanding, Wednesday and Thursday night are just more performances from the same (two) concerts that the original live album Live Wire/Blues Power comes from. So, I probably should have gotten that one first, but for some reason (possibly the track list, possibly including songs I've heard on a web radio station), this is the one I asked for. I have no regrets, however. This is classic Albert King; and as much as I love and respect B.B. King (and I really do), I like this album more than B.B.'s more popular concert album Live at the Regal (from 1964). Wednesday Night contains a great (if short) tracklist, including two songs from Albert's popular Born Under A Bad Sign album from the previous year - the title track and Personal Manager - plus the classic Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong which Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield adopted for their live shows in support of their Super Session project from the same year as this concert. And my favorite track on the set is the rousing blues, Got To Be Some Changes Made.

Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick [1977]

I'm not any kind of real big Cheap Trick fan. Dream Police and Surrender are fun songs, but I've never been fond of I Want You To Want Me, which is a piece of sap that gets so totally overplayed on rock radio that it's not even funny. I mean, does it even make sense that a rock radio station would take one look at a rock band and pick out the lightest, sappiest, boy bandiest song in their catalog and play it on endless repetition? Or maybe it's the fans' (or the non-fans') faults for making that song so damn popular. But it's apparent that Cheap Trick is not a band that is very adequately represented on corporate radio (at least not the Cheap Trick I know, which is the Cheap Trick that recorded this album). And, the bottom line? Cheap Trick's debut album rocks, hard. There's not a radio hit on this album (at least not one we still hear today), but I'd be hard pressed to choose a bad track off this record. There's a reason they originally named the sides "Side 1" and "Side A". With songs like Taxman, Mr. Thief and the wild opener ELO Kiddies, not to mention my favorites, the deliciously evil Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School ("I'm sorry, but I had to gag you") and The Ballad of TV Violence ("I need a gun to have me some fun"), this album delivers. The guitars are hard and the vocals rough. Forget that other song I Want You To Want Me, this album here is the product of a rock band.

Roy Buchanan - Roy Buchanan [1972]/Second Album [1973]

Roy Buchanan is one of my top favorite guitarists of all time. And he has been since the first I heard of him (via the ethereal The Messiah Will Come Again). His style is unique and emotive, his playing rough but delicate. He has total control over every note he plays. It only took one song for me to know that he was one of the best that ever was. But even so, I was at first hesitant to put all the weight of my dedication behind him, simply because I hadn't heard a lot of what he had recorded (and you will never hear his songs - some of the best that were ever recorded - playing on the radio, I guarantee you that). Well that is slowly changing, and the more I listen to Roy Buchanan, the stronger my conviction is that he is one of the best of the best.

These two albums are his first "official" studio records, and they contain some slammin' tracks - my favorites being the instrumentals of course. On the first album, you've got the beautifully melodic Sweet Dreams, the country-tinged melancholy of I Am A Lonesome Fugitive (which is growing on me), the afore-mentioned (and unmatched - except by Roy's live versions, of course) The Messiah Will Come Again, the soulful John's Blues and Pete's Blue, and a couple others for the less heavy-hearted listeners. The second album features yet more instrumentals, including the impressive After Hours and I Won't Tell You No Lies, and the plodding Five String Blues (which actually has a few short vocals in the middle) - apparently that song was named so because Roy broke a string at some point but kept on playing. He clearly doesn't need all six strings to impress. Treat Her Right has a little surf flavor to it, and Tribute To Elmore James (a bluesman hailed as the king of the slide) is self-explanatory. All in all, the showcase of these albums is Roy Buchanan's incredible talent, and for that these albums most certainly do not disappoint.

The Allman Brothers Band - Beginnings [1973]

Released as early as 1973, Beginnings actually contains both of the Allman Brothers Band's first two albums, their self-titled debut from 1969, and Idlewild South from 1970. Both of these albums contain top-notch music from one of the greatest jam rock bands of all time. You hear about Eat A Peach and Brothers And Sisters more often (and those are also both great albums), but think of these as the fresh, early, bluesy beginnings of the band - like Zep's first two albums, for example. Immortal songs found on these two albums include Dreams, Whipping Post, Revival, Midnight Rider, and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, but the rest of the tracks are almost as good (and in some cases, just as good or better!). My favorite moment is when the first album kicks off with that intense one-two hit - the instrumental Don't Want You No More, which flows seamlessly into the brooding It's Not My Cross To Bear. The vocals on Hoochie Coochie Man on the second album, sung by bass guitarist Berry Oakley, sound so much like Johnny Winter that, until I looked it up, I was convinced that they had gotten Johnny to appear as a guest on that album!

Derek and the Dominos - The Layla Sessions [1970]

I've told the story a million times before - Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is the album that came out of Eric Clapton's obsession and unrequited love for his best friend George Harrison's wife Patti Boyd. The album is tortured and romantic, and I count it as the best collection of love songs ever recorded. And unlike Clapton's other bands of the time - specifically, Cream and Blind Faith - which exploded due to creative differences, in Derek and the Dominos, the importance of the music rose above and beyond the individual members of the band. And that's saying a lot, considering the talent that was focused in that band. Aside from Clapton himself, legendary slide player of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman joined in on the studio sessions. The result was (and still is) sublime.

The Layla Sessions collects the entire [I am to believe] studio sessions recorded while working on the Layla album. Which isn't actually a whole lot, beyond what made it onto the album. The Sessions is a three disc box set. One disc is a newly remixed version of the original album. Another is a collection of alternate takes - which is interesting, but I think 20+ minutes of Mean Old World (which is acoustic, and on the shorter side in terms of length) is a bit much. But the meat of the Sessions set is the Jams disc, which contains five instrumental jams: three featuring the core Dominos band; one with the addition of Duane Allman, forming the ultimate lineup that appears on the album; and one with the entire Allman Brothers Band sitting in with the Dominos. One thing that becomes apparent, listening to these jams - as good as they are - is how much the vocals add to the mood of the album. And this is coming from someone who often tunes out the vocals in a song!

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Well, folks, I've finally gotten my hands on an original language copy of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which I have previously known under the title of Master Killer. And it's surprising how much I've grown accustomed to the English script and voices. Not to say that they were good, or that I prefer them, but just that it was quite different hearing the movie in a different language. But I'm happy to be able to watch it that way now.

The special features on the DVD were enlightening, including two different interviews with star Gordon Liu (the Master Killer himself), and the commentary by a film critic and a member of the Wu Tang Clan (who goes by the moniker RZA). I had heard about the influence of this particular movie on the hip hop group Wu Tang Clan, and have been curious about just what the connection between kung fu movies and hip hop culture is, since, initially, it seems like such an odd combination. Well, RZA's comments went a long way in solving that mystery for me.

He (and others like him) apparently had a history of watching kung fu movies in the days of his youth, and in addition to being wowed by the action, he felt a connection to the brotherhood of the kung fu clans, and in this particular movie, the theme of fighting against oppression (paralleling the civil rights movement). A very enlightening point of view on this phenomenon of a hip hop group naming itself after a kung fu clan. And in spite of what I may have been expecting, it was quite interesting hearing RZA talk about all the great things about this movie, and the appreciation he has for many Buddhist principles.

Certain comments drew my attention to some of the details that contribute to making this particular kung fu film as good as it is. One of those is the influence of the director Lau Kar-Leung, a kung fu master himself, and his desire to shoot real kung fu in his movies, performed by real kung fu masters. And one of his tricks that is effective but I hadn't consciously noticed until it was brought to my attention, was his use of long shots, in which the participating actors (sometimes including a whole crowd in the fight) would engage in upwards of ten moves to a cut - resulting in a very natural, organic, and impressive display of the fighters' real abilities.

I could talk about other things that make this movie so good, but I'd probably just be rehashing old points. Like how amazing the training sequences at the Shaolin temple (which constitute almost half of the entire movie) are. Or how each of the skills learned turns up later, in the field, showing their application, and that they were learned for a reason, and not just because it looks cool, or to fill time. Also, the critic commentator articulated the appeal of martial arts movies over typical western action films - there seems to be much more rhyme and reason (and choreography) to a martial arts fight; it's more clever, and more like a physical chess game than a brainless brawl. Plus, there's the spiritual aspect to martial arts, that doesn't as often play a role (or as central a role) in western action films.

But I won't belabor those points. I might not be in the best position to say this, as I haven't seen nearly as many martial arts films as I have certain other types of films, but even so, this one stands out for me as being especially good.

08 January, 2010

Berserk Spoilers

If you're not [relatively] up to date on Berserk, and don't want the details of the plot spoiled (up to vol30/ch266), I recommend you don't read the rest of this post. Spoilers start here.

Over the holidays, I received the next four volumes of Berserk available in English that I had yet to read (I was kind of falling behind, but I don't mind reading it in chunks). This includes volumes 27-30 of the series, or chapters 227-266, according to my sources, and picks up in the middle of the battle of Guts vs. the apostles of the reformed Band of the Hawk, just after he puts on the Berserker armor for the first time, entrusted to him by the old witch Flora, recently deceased.

These volumes were awesome. It's so great to read a series that's consistently good, and consistently impresses me. The Berserker armor itself is truly badass, though I'm worried about its effects on the wearer. As demonstrated in the above mentioned battle against the apostles, and even moreso in the following battle against the enchanted sea monster(s), the pairing between Schierke's magic and Guts' brutality is a perfect match, and I really love seeing them working together.

I was also very happy to see Princess Charlotte return to the story, and what's more, her reunion with Griffith. That was truly a scene straight from a dream or fairy tale. Despite everything I know, it had me wanting to root for Griffith all over again. It's amazing the difference between this encounter and the previous one, which directly led to Griffith's great fall. He has so much power and confidence now, whereas last time he showed up a defeated man, having lost in battle - the first (and only?) time - to Guts, so long ago (it really seems like a different life, in a different world - and perhaps, in a way, it was), back when he originally decided to leave the Band of the Hawk. My god, everything that's happened.

I was shocked when it was revealed that the king of the elf kingdom the gang is traveling to (Puck's home) might have the power to restore Casca's mental functioning. Can you imagine? Casca back to her old self? I never thought it would be possible. Of course, this being Berserk, I don't expect things to go quite so perfectly, so we'll just have to wait and see. Still, the prospect of a recovered Casca is tantalizing.

The portrayal of the dead city was very creepy, and I'm really getting into the Kushan sorcerors being the general bad guys. Good thing Guts' gang has enlisted the help of a witch. But it leaves me wondering, as always, whether Griffith is really a good guy or a bad guy... I want to like him and trust him and fight for him so badly, but...but...well, you know what happened.

"He appeared right in front of me, and he wasn't a demon... but what looked like a human. As if he'd been yanked from before into the present unchanged. I gazed at him and for a second... I forgot to kill him."

It's amazing how close Guts' gang came to having a run-in with the Band in the port city. I can definitely sympathize with Schierke's reactions to the city and human civilization, and all the soldiers gearing up for war. Her friendship with Sonia is so sweet, but yikes, she's with Griffith, and Schierke's dedicated to Guts (and I never want to see them separated!). Luckily, she knows where her loyalty lies, but it's a shame the two girls had to go separate ways. Although, being in Griffith's entourage, I don't entirely trust Sonia (even if I like her).

Farnese's part of this story is very captivating. She's kind of sunk into the background lately, little more than Casca's caretaker, but now, with her taking an interest in magic, and confronting her roots, I hope she'll come out the other side with renewed confidence, to fight - for the right side this time. I was concerned about her family at first, but I've come to like them. Farnese's mother is surprisingly insightful, and while Manifico is a coward, Roderick actually seems pretty cool, even if I don't like him as Farnese's fiance (what will become of Serpico?). He definitely stands out from the rest of the aristocrats, though.

The dinner party was awesome. My god, when Guts cut down that demon tiger in one swipe, cutting it cleanly in half. Incredible. And before that, the tiger's reveal, when it knocked out the lights - classic horror scene.

Have I mentioned how much I love this series? Not only is the content and the approach and the characters fantastic, but the art is excellent, too. I have never read a better story. I just read four whole volumes in four days, all of which I loved, and all I can think is that I want to read (or even reread it) more!

07 January, 2010

A Day In The Life

People keep asking me what I do all day, and I keep telling them I keep myself quite busy, despite living a NEET lifestyle. I'm not sure they believe me. So I decided to catalog a full day's worth of activities, to provide an idea of just what it is I spend all my time doing. This is from yesterday:

16.13 - alarm goes off, struggle with sleep (set at .13 because the minute button is broken)
17.00 - get out of bed, stretch, light wakeup exercises (to keep my muscles from atrophying :p)
17.07 - check email
17.12 - to the bathroom
17.25 - get in shower
17.55 - dryoff mode
18.05 - hair dry phase (including a few minutes admiring naked girls on flickr while I wait)
18.20 - get dressed
18.25 - dinner
18.55 - get undressed
19.05 - reply to an email
19.35 - catch up on my favorite forum(s), read discussions on activism
20.20 - read an entire manga volume of Berserk
22.00 - browse Berserk images, old chapters, look for a quote (that I found, but couldn't source), think about how much I'd like to go through the entire manga series and save all the best of the beautifully drawn pages (though in some cases it'd be nice to have a better scan than what I've got), etc.
22.55 - prep for guitar practice
23.05 - guitar practice
00.13 - more Berserk image stuff, shuffling files
00.26 - lunch
01.00 - watch movie - animated Return of the King
02.44 - write a blog entry
03.33 - website update
03.42 - retrieve batteries for my new digital recorder
04.03 - aerobic exercise (DDR)
05.00 - cool down phase
05.17 - upload a photo to flickr
05.23 - breakfast (took longer than usual today)
06.22 - write another blog entry (different blog)
07.41 - look at funny pics and watch a girl on video (not that kind of video, you perv :p)
07.54 - brush teeth
08.01 - more internet inanery
08.19 - go to bed
08.25 - answer pedobear-related IM
08.28 - watch that girl on video again (I swear I'm falling in love, and I don't even speak her language)
08.31 - to bed for real
08.37 - ok, vid ripped, *now* to bed for real

Now then, where is all that free time? Sure, it's nice that I have time to read books and watch movies and putz about on the internet. But this is what I do. I spend my time cultivating and expressing my creativity and individuality. And I don't always have time to read books and watch movies. I didn't do much with photography on this day, and that takes up a lot of time, from shooting to processing to uploading. And things like writing blog entries and updating my website, that goes back to the expressing myself thing.

If I had a nine-to-five job just to pay the bills, I wouldn't have time to be myself. At least 80% of this stuff just wouldn't happen. I'd be hard pressed to practice guitar every day, and I'd have the time to take photos even less often. And everything else would pretty much get pushed out of the way. It would be like when I was in school, and I didn't have time to read books and watch movies and stuff like that because there was always another assignment waiting to be done.

So I'd love to be able to not just get a job, but make a living off of one of these things I like to do, that's a part of what I am, be it playing guitar, or taking photos, or expressing myself creatively in some other way. But it's not as easy as walking in to a McDonald's and saying, I need a job.

The [Animated] Lord of the Rings

Next on my list of holiday swag is the animated Lord of the Rings "trilogy". If I'd ever watched these before, I don't remember them. And it's quite possible that I hadn't, because I recall that my first introduction to Tolkien's epic was through the original novels themselves, and if I remember that, I should be able to remember following up with the animated films. On the other hand, it's also possible that I may have seen one or more of them before reading the books, and promptly forgot about them. Regardless, the point is, I don't remember having seen these before, though I had heard of them, so it was interesting to watch them, especially with Peter Jackson's live action adaptation completed (minus The Hobbit, at least).

I put "trilogy" in quotes above (and, well, here, too) because, though there are three movies, they aren't strictly connected. The Lord of the Rings covers material from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, whereas The Return of the King feels more like a sequel to The Hobbit (both of which are Rankin Bass productions) than a continuation of The Lord of the Rings (a Ralph Bakshi film - the same guy who did Wizards).

The Hobbit was pretty good. More or less primitive animation, but it certainly works as a [generally speaking] children's tale. The goblins were actually pretty scary, the way they were drawn, and Smaug was satisfactorily intimidating. I liked Gollum, too - he had a kind of froggy look to him, and his voice/mannerisms were an effective characterization for him, I think.

The Lord of the Rings follows in Bakshi's tradition of using a lot of rotoscoping, which means taking live action film clips and drawing over them. I think the effect worked perfectly in Wizards, but I must say, The Lord of the Rings is a story that I think would have benefited from a more coherent animation style. The rotoscoping effect is really neat, but it seems overused here, and it gets to a point where it's like the film can't decide whether it wants to be animated or live action...

Otherwise, though, the film is not bad. It is downright eerie how similar some of the voices in this film are to those used in Peter Jackson's adaptations, even down to the accents - Frodo and Sam especially. Also, Bakshi's Gollum is less froggy than Rankin Bass's, and actually looks very similar to, again, Peter Jackson's (he's got the same mannerisms, as well). There's no question in my mind that the similarities between this film and Jackson's are not purely coincidental. The story ends at the conclusion to the battle at Helm's Deep, minus Saruman's downfall, the battle of the Ents, or Frodo's encounter with Shelob.

The Return of the King, returning to the animation style of The Hobbit, suffers from trying to pick up a story right in the middle. As I mentioned above, it doesn't pick up where The Lord of the Rings left off, but instead tries to join the story right in the middle, or rather, towards the end, briefly (though maybe not brief enough) recapping everything that's happened up to that point. Some events are thus completely missed, such as those also missing from Bakshi's film - Saruman's end, Shelob, etc.

I did, however, like the depiction of Mordor in this movie. And the Watchers that guard the gates to Cirith Ungol were dealt with much more effectively here than in Peter Jackson's live action adaptation, which is one of the few sticking complaints I had about Jackson's go at the story (since those Watchers were one of the things that stuck in my mind the most from reading the original novels). Otherwise, though, this film overdid the bard treatment, throwing in so many songs that it started feeling like a musical. >.> The songs were effective, but maybe repeated a few too many times. "Where there's a whip there's a way", sung by the orcs (who look just like the creepy goblins from The Hobbit) was amusing, though.

I also liked seeing Eowyn (even if there was no sign of Arwen - I know, I know, her part in the original story wasn't so big to begin with), though the leader of the Ringwraiths had a really stupid voice. Speaking of which, I noticed that some of the Ringwraiths (minus the leader who had a dragon) were riding flying black horses. When I originally read the story, that's how I interpreted "flying steed", so it was neat seeing them depicted that way. Yeah, flying black mini-dragons make a lot more sense, and look really cool. But, well, there's something about first impressions...

05 January, 2010


Fables turned out to be not as gritty and noirish as I had expected, judging from the premise (especially considering that the first story is a classic murder mystery), but, in spite of the bright colors, these stories are indeed rather serious, for fairy tales.

The premise is that all our beloved fairy tale characters have been exiled from their homelands, the realm of fairy tales, by an enemy they call The Adversary (who looks a lot like the devil), and are currently living undercover in New York City (or in the case of those characters who can't pass as human, on a farm upstate).

Meeting a slew of well-known characters and getting to know them outside their stories is pretty interesting, although a little suspension of disbelief is required to accept their ability to all live together relatively peacefully. Not to say that they're all buddy buddy, of course, but - their common enemy and amnesty agreement aside - it's jarring to see the Big Bad Wolf keeping order in a position of respect, for example. But, then again, seeing these characters' traditional roles flipped or fleshed out is part of the fun.

The book I have contains the first ten chapters of Fables, split evenly into two story arcs. The first is the murder mystery I mentioned, which serves as a good introduction to the world of Fables and its main players, and the second story takes us up to the farm, where a revolution is about to be staged. There are some shocking scenes in that one.

My momentum having run out, I will simply conclude by saying that I enjoyed the stories.

03 January, 2010


One of the things I got for Christmas was a DVD of the Ralph Bakshi animated film Wizards. This is a film that I distinctly remember watching when I was quite young, yet I remembered very little of it in detail before re-watching it. And now having done so, I'm very impressed with how good it [still] is.

I also watched the interview with Ralph Bakshi that is included in the special features on the DVD, and is very illuminating. He is obviously very proud of this project. I appreciated his jabs at Disney, and I enjoyed hearing about his approach to creating an animated film, which I absolutely respect.

It's hard to say whether Wizards is a film for kids or adults, because it's basically a standard fairy tale, but with some decidedly adult elements. The way Bakshi describes it, he wanted to create "cartoons" for the family, but (as opposed to the Disney method) he didn't want to sugar up the subject matter and patronize children by kiddifying everything. He was also concerned about being able to make animation to his tastes without being forced into the paradigm of what a "cartoon movie" should be.

The setup for Wizards is pretty dark to begin with. Despite being a fantasy story, it takes place far into the future rather than the past. Thousands of years after the world has been devastated by nuclear holocaust, the last remnants of humanity are mutated beyond recognition, and, with the burying of technology, magic is revived and the fairies/elves/dwarves/etc. return to the land (well, the good parts of the land).

Two brothers are born, one good and one evil, who each become powerful wizards, and are destined to battle one another for the fate of the world. All of this back story is narrated wonderfully by Susan Tyrrell, whose voice just fits the mood perfectly.

And for what is supposedly intended to be a "family" movie, this one pulls no punches. The violence and sexual innuendo is presented shamelessly. And need we even speak of the Nazis? Yes, Nazis. It's one thing to make the monstrous and demonic army of the evil wizard a symbolic reference to the Nazis of WWII, but to actually come right out and have that evil wizard use recovered Nazi propaganda, featuring Hitler himself, to motivate his troops and demoralize his enemies? That's badass.

And the animation style. See "rotoscoping". You might think that the usage of stock footage of Nazi propaganda in an animated film just wouldn't work. But not only does it work here, it's perfect! In the interview, Ralph Bakshi talks about how he had no specific desire to give the film a consistent (read: boring) animation style. And the style changes throughout the film, but again, it works. Visually, this film feels like a treat, not because the animation is finely polished, but because it's just so wild and out there. Rather than sensing the undeniable budget constraints, I instead get the impression that the film is liberated to freely explore outside the limits of traditional one-track animation.

And above all, it's a product of the seventies. I won't even go into the serious issues that are brought up by this film, not least of all the magic vs. technology debate, as that would require a more detailed analysis of the story. But the bottom line is, as a person who's not often impressed by American animated features, much less those that have a reputation (if not total) for being a kids' title, Wizards unhesitatingly gets my nod of approval.

Swag: A Preface

I feel that simply writing a list of all the swag I scored for Christmas is pretty lame, but on the other hand, I know there's at least one person who is curious to know what I got. So I'm thinking a good compromise is to just talk about some of the things I got and offer my opinions on them as I go through them.

Which is actually what the last post (or two or three?) was about. Even more to follow.

01 January, 2010

Mystery To Me

1975. California. A drummer by the name of Fleetwood and a bass guitarist by the name of Mac recruit musical duet Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks into their band, and record an album titled Fleetwood Mac. The followup album, Rumours - which would become one of the top-selling albums of all time - cements the band's status as pop rock icons of the seventies.

1967. London. Genius songwriter/guitarist Peter Green recruits a drummer by the name of Fleetwood and a bass guitarist by the name of Mac to form a blues band, and they record an album titled Fleetwood Mac. Their blues roots and jamming chops make them stars of the British blues revival and emerging psychedelic movement of the late sixties.

Same Fleetwood. Same Mac. Same Fleetwood Mac? That's for you to decide:

1975 - World Turning

1968 - The World Keep On Turning

So what happened in between?

Well, after founder and bandleader Peter Green quit the band in 1970 to pursue his own personal demons, followed shortly by the band's other two talented guitarists - Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan - the band entered a transitional phase. Around this time, hanger-on Christine Perfect, the bassist's girlfriend, and a talented musician in her own right, married into the band.

I'd love to tell you all the details of Fleetwood Mac's transitional period, but the truth is, it is still very much a mystery to me. Everyone knows about the pop period featuring Buckingham/Nicks, and I have delved deep into the early period featuring Peter Green on personal interest, but I have yet to explore very thoroughly the transitional period.

One of the prominent names that came and went during this period was that of Bob Welch, yet another songwriter/guitarist to lend his talent to the band. Previously, my only exposure to Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac had been the song Hypnotized, the only Bob Welch-era song I've heard on the radio (and even then, only rarely, and only billed as a "deep cut"). But it's an amazing song. So when I decided to pick out a Bob Welch-era album to investigate (and it's only a matter of time before I investigate them all), I was drawn to the one featuring that song that I knew and loved.

And that album's title is "Mystery To Me". Of course, there's also the fact that the album contains a Yardbirds cover (For Your Love) - the discovery of which, as a huge Yardbirds fan myself, was at least as exciting as stumbling upon an Easter egg. Plus, there's something about that title, that phrase, that strikes me. I find myself using it in everyday situations on occasion.

But how is the music?

If you hang around Fleetwood Mac fans, you'll find different ones that are loyal diehards for this or that member. And this covers all the eras. I, personally, am a Peter Green diehard. But I've come across Bob Welch diehards. I like Bob Welch. I like him a lot. His songs have a distinctive style (think: Hypnotized), which I can dig. But to place things in perspective, I see no threat of Welch-era Mac conquering Green-era Mac in my personal hierarchy.

There are also Christine McVie diehards. I don't have a problem with Christine McVie, but she's not my favorite member of the band. In all truth, the Christine songs on Mystery To Me sound most similar to the Buckingham/Nicks-era Mac. And consider that, on this album, that doesn't include what Buckingham and Nicks brought to the band (and believe me, as much as I slag the pop era of the band in favor of their roots, I do respect both Buckingham and Nicks as musicians, and in fact do like them within their context).

So that's how things stand. The songs on Mystery To Me that I feel ambivalent about are made up for by the songs on the album that I particularly like. One of which is the opening track, Emerald Eyes, the lyrics for which provide the album's compelling titular phrase.

So, I can say that my initial foray into the transitional period of Fleetwood Mac has gone pretty much as I expected. I'm not blown away by what I'm hearing, like I was when I discovered Peter Green, but on the other hand, I do like what I'm hearing, and I'm excited to continue exploring this period in the future.

The real important question is, is Welch-era Mac better than Buckingham/Nicks-era Mac?

A good question, indeed. And until I listen to the former some more, it shall remain...a mystery to me.