Tag Archives: arts and entertainment

Hilarious Amazon Recommendations

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

Anyone who shops online or browses free content knows that websites use search algorithms (or something else mathy) to get an idea of your interests and then make recommendations for additional purchases or other forms of consumption.

YouTube is pretty good at this. I watched a video of former Prince protege Sheila E on a whim the other day, and the right-side column of recommendations included a bunch of other 80s-era Prince proteges like Morris Day, Vanity 6, and The Family.

Amazon, on the other hand, is comically off target most of the time.

As you may deduce from my lead image, I am a fan of horror and monster movies, particularly the grimy, “video nasty” kind that played at drive-ins and urban cinemas in the 70s and 80s. “Why” is a different post; suffice to say that you won’t find many mainstream films on my shelf. Which is the reason I shop on Amazon in the first place. Best Buy and Target simply don’t carry much in the way of Japanese giant monster flicks or Spanish werewolf movies.

I receive nutty Amazon recommendations… or should I say “wreckommendations,” and took a few screen shots for your amusement. Note the reason for the recommendation in the red box at the bottom of each screen shot:

Amazon wreckommendation - Mickey Xmas

 

Look, either you’re one of them Disney people who can’t get enough of It’s a Small World, or you are obsessed with giant, toothy destroyers of worlds. There is no overlap. This is from Godzilla vs. Biollante:

godzilla vs biolante

 

******

And then there’s…

Amazon wreckommendation - breathless

Because they both start with B? Because “breathing” shows up in the poster art?

beast of hollow mountain

*****

 and…

Amazon wreckommendation - my girl

Look at the picture from Demons 2 below and tell me what complex statistical analysis determined it was made for the same audience that enjoys a sappy, gentle love story featuring two precocious children.

demons 2

*****

or…

Amazon wreckommendation - The Interview

Yes. The controversial 2014 comedy starring two current high-profile movie stars is practically an unofficial sequel to a trashy, no-budget splatter flick from 1977 that played at 3 drive-ins for all of a week.

Amazon wreckommendation - melting man

*****

and finally, my favorite:

Amazon wreckommendation - sound of music

scream blacula scream

One is a lush, sweeping epic featuring the most glamorous, beloved movie stars of the era, full of unforgettable music and directed by a Hollywood legend. The other is some drivel about a governess who falls in love with a Nazi and gets in trouble for turning the drapes into ugly clothes and putting them on his obnoxious, entitled children.


I’m finally one of the cool kids

If you want to be popular, you usually have to be good-looking, wealthy, charismatic, famous, athletic, or have some sort of talent in the arts. I arguably possess a bit of the last one, but widespread dissemination of said talent is often needed before you can go clubbing in New York with an entourage that may or may not include current NBA stars, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and at least two former Nickelodeon starlets who are now 25-going-on-50 and totally wacked-out on cocaine.

However, there is a secret side-door for us normies into the world of the cool kids: Resembling a newly famous celebrity. Remember all the girls getting their hair straightened to look like Jennifer Aniston back in the ’90s? Teenage girls are probably dressing and styling themselves after Rihanna and Taylor Swift these days, though I wouldn’t know because I haven’t worked in a shopping mall since VCRs.

I’ve never had the good fortune to resemble a trendy famous person. I look more like Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, than I do Justin Bieber, and I can’t believe this sentence now exists.

Then, two weeks ago, things changed. British actor Peter Capaldi took over the lead role in BBC’s global phenomenon Doctor Who. Whenever a new performer steps into that iconic role, he instantly becomes the most talked about actor in Great Britain.

And what are people discussing about Mr. Capaldi? His acting? No. His eyebrows. Dude’s brows are already legendary.

I was chatting about the latest episode with a friend the other day when she stopped in mid-sentence. “Holy crap, Eric,” she said. “You got Capaldi brows!”

I immediately took to Twitter with this boast and, as if to prove my point about side-door popularity before I even thought of it, BBC picked it up and retweeted it to thousands and thousands of people. Somehow I doubt uncool kids get retweeted like that.

Here’s the photographic evidence:

 

Capaldi vs Baker

Capaldi vs Baker

Note: If you’d like to be in my entourage, please submit an essay explaining why you are cool enough and how many drinks you are willing to buy me. Thank you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A bit of sad news this week: Lost amid the chatter about the Jennifer Lawrence photo-hacking scandal was the death of singer Jimi Jamison of the ’70s and ’80s pop-rock band Survivor, whose hits included  Eye of the Tiger (with a different singer), The Search is Over, I Can’t Hold Back, and High on You. Survivor never received critical recognition and, to be real, their music didn’t have much substance. However, they did know how to craft a good pop song. Regardless of their place in music history,  Jimi Jamison had a killer voice. You don’t have to like their music (which I do) to admit the guy owned serious pipes. He could have sung for Journey.

Jamison died this past Sunday at age 63. Rock on, Jimi!


Goodbye, Rik Mayall (1958-2014)

Rik Mayall

Rik Mayall

As a child of the 1980s raised on MTV, I remember three things about that channel:

1. World Premiere Videos by Journey, Michael Jackson, and Duran Duran

2. Headbangers Ball on Saturday night

3. The Young Ones

Gen Xers should know The Young Ones, the utterly demented British TV series about the four worst college students in the whole world: Neil the Hippie, Vyvyan the punk rocker, Mike the vertically challenged Casanova, and Rick the anarchist.

The Young Ones: Nigel Planer (Neil), Rik Mayall (Rick), Christopher Ryan (Mike), Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan)

The Young Ones: Nigel Planer (Neil), Rik Mayall (Rick), Christopher Ryan (Mike), Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan)

Though it ran for only 12 episodes, The Young Ones made a lasting impact on us MTV children. Everyone had a favorite character, but every good sitcom has a villain, and in this case, that villain was Rick. Played to the max by comedian Rik Mayall, he fancied himself a budding Che Guevara but, to his endless frustration, was viewed by the rest of the world as a pimple-faced twit.

Mayall went on to star in the cult hit Drop Dead Fred (1991) and appeared on hundreds of BBC shows since. He died today at age 56.

Sayonara, Mr. Mayall. You made me laugh.

***

A few Young Ones clips featuring Rik Mayall and friends (see if you can pick out some famous faces amongst the guest stars):


“Diversity” explained for racists

Warning: Eric is on his soap box again. He still managed to throw in some gags, though. Always with the jokes, this kid.

lupita2

As anyone with an internet connection could have predicted, the long-anticipated and finally confirmed casting of Lupita Nyong’o in the new Star Wars movie caused an uproar among racist idiots online today.

For those who don’t pay attention to Hollywood stuff, Ms. Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for her performance in the acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave. Meanwhile, if you have never heard of Star Wars, I can’t help you.

lupita6You can probably tell from her photograph that she’s black. This is very upsetting to a lot of people. Of the principle cast of about 15 actors announced for the new Star Wars movie, 13 are white. Clearly, white folks are being robbed of their cultural identity by the producers of this movie!

Side note: I don’t recall anyone being upset about the number of green characters in the original Star Wars trilogy. Yoda, Jabba the Hut, and Greedo vs. Lando Calrissian. Greens outnumber blacks 3 to 1!

So anyway, the racists are angry because, if I can boil it down for you, “diversity” is being shoved down their throats (the de rigueur expression of bigots who resent having to accept the existence of anyone not like them). Everyone knows that characters in popular films are all supposed to be white, so when a black (or Asian, etc.) person is cast, it is nothing less than political correctness gone mad.

These are the same folks who lament, with sarcasm, that we don’t have “White History Month” and “White Entertainment Television,” as if history and TV weren’t already that.

This explanation is for them, but they aren’t here, so please read anyway and help my words feel noticed:

“Diversity” is not a weapon being wielded against you. It’s the intermediate step between the Civil Rights movement of the past and future total engagement, in which people of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds participate equally. It means getting used to a more culturally diverse world, whether you like it or not, because you can’t stop the world from changing. It always does.

The outrage about Star Wars is particularly dumb, considering the story takes place in another galaxy. There is no reason to believe humanoid life forms there would favor one skin color over another. Think about that next time those jerks in Hollywood ruin your favorite movie franchise by casting actors who actually reflect the variety of people living on the real planet where it’s filmed.

Lupita Nyong’o was cast in Star Wars for the same reason people always get cast in high-profile Hollywood films: She is young, talented, trendy, likable, and photogenic.

She also earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale Drama School and has directorial credits on her resume, which is more than most movie stars can say. And she is fluent in four languages. I hardly think she represents a token sacrifice to the gods of political correctness.

In other words, her “15 minutes of fame” as you say (good lord I hate that misused and abused cliché) is not going to be over any time soon. Sorry (not really).

Hard to find, work is, for green actors.

Hard to find, work is, for green actors.


Why Godzilla is the Best Thing Ever

godzilla new

A group of business professionals with college degrees sat around a table in their office building today discussing the most critical topic of the week, far more important than any potential merger, major new account, or policy initiative: When to see the new Godzilla movie that opens this weekend.

Thank you, world, for finally catching up with me. It has been a lonely bunch of decades.

I am a man of many interests. Music. Writing. Art. Film. Architecture. Science. Multiculturalism. Civil Rights… Drums. Guitars. Rock. Soul. Jazz. Metal. Funk. Pop. Classical… Horror and science fiction. Star Wars. Star Trek. Doctor Who. Zombie movies. Italian Gialli. Friday the 13th. Tarantino. Kubrick. Cronenberg…

I remember where I was in my life when I discovered all these things, and I know how each interest has helped shape my identity.

On the other hand, there’s Godzilla. I don’t recall discovering Godzilla, simply because my memory has not retained anything prior to age three. I was already a veteran at that point.

My mom has photos of the toddler me sitting on the floor, staring in wonder at our grainy old Zenith TV while the world’s most famous monster stomped across the screen, kicking up a maelstrom of fire, debris, sparks, and wind as he obliterated yet another Japanese city. The TVs have gotten better, DVDs and blu-rays offer picture quality undreamed of in the days of Saturday-morning monster marathons, and a 180-million-dollar epic remake is about to shake theater speakers all across the world, but the star of the show hasn’t really changed, other than cosmetically. Godzilla is still the coolest, baddest, biggest character in all of cinema.

Yes, the budgets were low in those old flicks. Of course it was a guy in a rubber suit. No, I don’t believe Godzilla exists on the same artistic plane as Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, or Martin Scorsese.  But as much as I revere those artists, only Godzilla:

  • Inspired a shy, scrawny little boy feel strong for the first time in his life
  • Awakened that boy’s imagination and stimulated his drive to tell colorful, fantastical stories
  • Impressed upon that boy what wonderful, unreal things were possible if he was open to them
  • Put an appreciation, fascination, and respect for other cultures and ethnicities into his young, impressionable mind before forces around him had a chance to indoctrinate him to a life of judgment and intolerance

If you didn’t grow up watching this stuff, there’s little I can do to convince you Godzilla is great. I will only say that what’s ridiculous about those films is also what makes them so spectacular: The outlandish, implausible monsters and the manic plots. In one, a metallic bird monster with a buzz-saw chest and a bomb-spitting giant cockroach from an undersea kingdom team up to fight a robot that can change size at will and a 30-storey Tyrannosaurus who shoots blue fire from his mouth.

Show that to a three-year-old child and see if he lacks for imagination when he grows up. I may not recall my first experience with Godzilla, but I remember my son’s, and I will admit to more than a little satisfaction when he became mesmerized in an instant. Years later, he speaks with reverence of the different films and monsters, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention he is a rather imaginative writer himself.

I’ll also invalidate the frequent criticism that the films are “cheesy” because of the obvious special effects fakery. Realism and naturalism in art is a western convention. East Asian art has never aspired to look “realistic,” so comparisons are irrelevant. But I’ll make one anyway: watch any of the contemporaneous monster movies filmed in the west. With rare exception, the creatures and sets are rather shoddy compared to those constructed by their Japanese counterparts.

Oh, and making fun of the dubbing is misdirected superiority. The bad lip-syncing is the fault of the American distributor, not the filmmakers.

End of mini-lecture.

I have no idea if this American remake is going to be any good, though it is getting excellent reviews and appears to pay great respect and homage to the source material. I guess I’ll find out Saturday morning, when I invite the whole world into my house for two hours.

***

A gallery of big G through the decades

Godzilla 1950s2

The 1950s, as a metaphor for the atomic bomb

Godzilla 1960s

The 1960s, as a burgeoning global icon

godzilla 1970s2

The 1970s, as a children’s superhero

godzilla 1980s2

The 1980s, once again as a metaphor for nuclear proliferation

godzilla 1990s2

The 1990s, as a super-sized commercial property

godzilla 2000s

The 2000s, highly stylized and re-imagined for 21st-century tastes


Back in (Orphan) Black

Orphan Black

Being addicted to TV shows while trying to write a novel is a futile endeavor. That’s why I have a rule: Follow no more than three series at a time.

I’m sure I am missing out on some terrific storytelling for the sake of attempting my own. But I also can’t hear every great album ever recorded or taste every delicious dessert ever baked. Life is making choices, and I want to publish a novel one day. Thus, three shows. If I want to pick up a new one, an existing one has to go.

Thank Zeus, then, that The Walking Dead just ended. Orphan Black is back and I’m not going to miss it.

BBC America’s sci-fi mystery resumes this Saturday night nearly a year after season one ended in a cliffhanger, and it’s well worth your hour. If the term “sci-fi mystery” turns you off, don’t let it. You don’t have to be a Star Trek geek to love Orphan Black (though I’d adore you even more if you were). This show is very soft science fiction: No space ships, no aliens, no laser beams. It’s all concept and story, Earthbound, and features little in the way of technical effects, aside from the ones you won’t notice.

Whatever your taste in TV drama, you should watch it for one reason, and that’s lead actress Tatiana Maslany. Brilliant is too tepid a word to describe her performance, for Maslany plays not one, not two, no three, but eight (!) characters, many of whom routinely interact. At several points throughout season one, Maslany even played characters impersonating other characters. Often I forget it’s one actress, like when I get a crush on one character while simultaneously being irritated by another in the same scene.

I think awards shows are self-congratulatory marketing tools at best, but if this woman does not win a best actress Emmy next year, that event is rigged.

Here is a gallery of her characters (a few didn’t make it to the end of the season, but I’m sure she’ll introduce new ones to replace them):

Sarah

orphan Black sarah

Beth

orphan black beth

Alison

orphan black alison2

Helena

orphan black helena

Cosima (My crush. Hey, she’s a sexy science geek. Can’t not)

orphan black cosima2

Katja

orphan black katja

Rachel

orphan black rachel

Jennifer

Orphan Black jennifer

 

How about you? Do you allow for TV time? What’s your show?


Interview with Music Journalist and Author Amy Yates Wuelfing

City Gardens bookFresh from her appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, music journalist and author Amy Yates Wuelfing sat down with little old me, of all people, to talk about her new book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens. What was she thinking?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

For the unfamiliar, City Gardens was among the country’s most notorious punk rock clubs of the 1980s and ‘90s, and everyone from the Ramones to the Dead Kennedys to Green Day graced (?) its rickety stage. The stories told in this book are quite literally insane, the mayhem on stage frequently surpassed by the lunacy playing out on the dance floor and in the parking lot. It’s a must-read for music lovers, psychology majors, and people dangerously obsessed with fire.

EJB: Why write a book about a punk-rock club in New Jersey?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me.  And unlike the clubs in Philly or New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.  

EJB: People will be shocked by some of the stories recounted in the book. What are some of your favorites?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: I like it best when people have completely different recollections of the same event.  It is left up to the reader to decide who, if anyone, has the story straight.  The one story that people seem to gravitate
to is the riot at an Exploited show.  Some people say that the band’s van was completely ransacked and set on fire, CGardensother people say, no, just a broken window or two.  Which is correct?  You have to decide.  There is a similar story about the one time the Beastie Boys played there. Was it the best show ever – or the worst show ever? That’s why I love oral histories so much; you get every side.

EJB: You talked to members of The Ramones, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and other big punk acts as well as plenty of pop, metal, and rock bands from the era. How receptive were these musicians to being interviewed? Did anybody give you a hard time?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  No one gave us a hard time, but some people just didn’t take part in the project and that’s fine.  In the end, the book turned out exactly like it was supposed to.  Anyone who passed on talking to us isn’t missed.

EJB: You told me a lot of publishers were iffy on your plan to interview “normal” people (as if City Gardens’ patrons could be qualified as normal) along with the bands, believing readers wouldn’t care what they had to say. However, I found that to be the most fascinating aspect of the book. I’m convinced a sociology course on disaffected youth could be built around this thing. What it your plan all along to paint that kind of picture, or did the theme and direction of the book evolve as you compiled and transcribed the interviews?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: The book started out as a project to write the memoirs of City Gardens promoter Randy Now, then it just kept expanding in scope.  Early on, I realized that the club was so important to so many people, that I felt it was essential to include those viewpoints as well.   The normal, not-famous people had great stories. cgardens2And you are not the first person to recognize the sociology angle!  It is a total case study in how misfits found each other before the internet.  As we began interviewing people, it all just came together.  The book became what it was meant to be, not to get too “new age” on you. The book had a force of its own.

EJB: This title is selling out all over the place. Someone stole mine before I could resell it on eBay for a profit!

Amy Yates Wuelfing: Dude, that’s so punk rock.

Where can people get a copy?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  The first pressing, which was 2000 books, sold out in less than a month.  If anyone had told me this a month ago, I would have laughed and bought them a drink.  We are doing a second pressing right now.  To get a copy of the book, head to infinitemerch.com.  They are the first people we will restock with books when they come in, mainly because they are really close to my house, which is where the books will be delivered.  This whole thing is DIY, just like the old days.  No publisher wanted to touch this, so we have to do the grunt work, but we don’t mind.  The book was a labor of love and to it see it get this much attention makes me so happy.  At every signing we do, people thank [co-author] Steve and I for putting it together. That alone makes it worth the time and effort.

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico