Saturday, May 26, 2012

Michael Jackson: Thriller

This came out when I was in the second grade.  My older brother who was into metal got this through Columbia House Record Club for some reason (I guess it was the automatic monthly feature) & promptly announced that it sucked.  So I believed him.  Of course it went on to be the best selling album of all time for over twenty years.  One day in school they had an assembly where all us kids watched the video for “Thriller” & then a documentary on the video & I suppose I preferred the opening werewolf bit to the dancing zombie bit.

I guess I was 25 when I realized I should hear the album Thriller after hearing “Billie Jean” on the radio.  I figured I’d get it used at a thrift store for a dollar, but oddly (unlike Billy Joel’s The Stranger) it was never there.  I’d occasionally bring the album up to other music friends & while no one seemed to own it, most open minded people seemed to be of the opinion it must be a pretty great album.

So this morning I was at a buddy’s house & “Beat It” came on VH1 Classics & I said I’d been wanting to hear the album to review, but had as yet to be willing to pay $5 for it.

So he loaned me his copy saying it wasn’t as good as people think.  He’s right.  I thought it was going to be a tour de force – a dance pop equivalent of Guns N Roses’s Appetite for Destruction.  It’s not.  It’s four or five decent dance pop songs & four or five songs in the ballad style of “Ben” (only “Ben” is cool because it’s about loving a mouse).  I don’t know if the mixes of the dance songs (“Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “PYT”, “Thriller”) are longer than the mixes they play on the radio, but I think they’d all be more effective with a minute trimmed off of them.

I feel like it was really important to hear a record that somehow became of such worldwide significance & that propelled a man from being a singer to a megastar; but it’s kind of depressing that regardless of me not personally liking it, it’s simply not solid as an album.  My advice is enjoy the singles when you hear them on the radio or in the grocery store & don’t worry about checking out the album.

Quatermass (1979)

A few years ago a girl I was going out with told me about Quatermass.  Quatermass is essentially the granddaddy of X-Files.  It’s about a scientist (Professor Quatermass) investigating crazy crap like alien invasions.  It’s from all the way back in 1953.  We watched some of the episodes from the 1950s & they were pretty great & their influence to Doctor Who is pretty clear.  (It’s worth noting there were some Hammer films made from Quatermass, but I think of those as non-canonical even if they are just essentially the same stories with the plots trimmed down & shot in color with different actors.)  I always assumed we’d eventually watch the rest of the series together, but things kinda fizzled out between us.

So I was super-surprised when I found out there was a version of Quatermass from 1979 (I thought there was just the 1950s stuff) & I stumbled on it from typing “dystopian sci-fi” on YouTube.  It takes place in what I assume is still 1979, but an alternative 1979 where (at least in England) roaming gangs of kids rule the streets killing people for fun & over things like a can of beans.  So a pretty dark place.  Quatermass is asked to make an appearance on television to comment on a joint space mission between the United States & the Soviet Union & he goes on the air saying both super powers are total cocky jackasses & the only reason he is there is to show a picture of his missing granddaughter who’s runaway from home.  In the middle of his rant the USA/USSR spaceship blows up & the story really starts.  Aliens are somehow getting young people to gather at megalith locations & shooting them with giant lasers.  So Quatermass is trying to save the Earth & find his granddaughter at the same time.  I don’t want to give away too much, but the ending is a lot darker than I expected.  It is about 4 hours long & done as a serial & not meant to be watched in a single sitting.  It was made for TV in the 1970s.  There are plenty of things that are introduced & discarded or unexplained.  Still, I think this is top notch & would put it up against any other sci-fi show.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kafka (movie 1991)

So as a teenager I got interested in Kafka.  Which I suppose is common to pretty much anyone that would ever get interested in Kafka.  I found out about this movie called Kafka when I was 23 & me & the girl I was living with had switched video stores after a run-in with her ex-boyfriend where we normally rented.  The new video store had this sitting on an end cap for some reason, but she’d already seen it & I think we ended up renting some bad horror movie instead.  I pretty much never fell into a period of life where I regularly rented movies since then, so I’d forgotten all about this & of course it is not a movie that appears on TV.

So YouTube recommended this one to me.  I am still confused by what movies are there in their entirety & the legality of it & the moral implications of me watching them, but I watched it all the same.  It’s mostly in black & white & mostly an homage to Orson Welles version of The Trial (which is awesome if you’ve never seen it), but makes a lot of references to other works by Kafka (The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, The Castle) & also has a vibe that reminds me of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.  I really enjoyed this movie, but I’m not sure who I would recommend it too.  It’s slow & boring & yet intricate enough to easily lose track of what is going on – which I suppose is true of Kafka’s stories in general as well.  I suppose if a movie based on Kafka’s stories translated into a biography sounds good to you, you’ll enjoy this.  It does have good cinematography & acting & I can’t think of a way it fails at being what it tries to be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Liquid Sky

I first heard about Liquid Sky when I was in grade school.  Some of the other kids that were being raised by television had cable & I guess this was on HBO at the time.  A few years later in my parents’ house we got a VCR & when video rentals got popular I remember always seeing the box to this & thinking about getting it, but I never bothered.  I don’t know why.  Over the years it would occasionally come up in conversation & people would be surprised I never saw it.  Well, now I’m doing some repetitive assembly tasks so I was looking for something to have going on in the background while working & I remembered about this.

Well, first off, I thought this was a dystopian/post-apocalyptic movie, but instead it’s a 1980s New York hipster setting.  The production values & acting quality are on par with an afterschool special or at best a pre-MTV music video & despite having some aliens in it for no apparent reason & a ton of swearing, it mainly feels like a cautionary tale about sex & substance abuse.  I don’t really understand why anyone would honestly like this movie or how it gets a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes instead of 94% rotten.  Maybe I just don’t understand what makes people like movies.  I mean, I guess this movie is supposed to be shocking & is a train wreck between things like Ladies & Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains & David Bowie & Adam Ant & The Germs.  There is one thing I do think this movie briefly touches on that is interesting & that is that the nihilism of some punk rock is a reaction to the failed hippie vision of peace & love of the parents & teachers of that generation.

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