Spend a Couple Hours »Apple TV

A better Netflix instant experience

We loved our Roku – I think it’s a fantastic product – but when we decided to add a Blu-ray player to the mix (watching the Shining and 2001 back-to-back on Blu-ray one afternoon at Brittany’s dad’s house totally convinced me to switch formats) it just made sense to go with the Samsung model that integrates the Netflix instant player, the BD-P2500, and pass the Roku along to the brother-in-law.

This was a huge mistake. While the Blu-ray player itself is fine (actually, it’s sub-fine: not all discs will play and more often than not ‘enhanced viewing features’, like Ron Weasley – or Lafayette – appearing in a huge Picture-in-Picture window, are impossible to disable), the Netflix instant portion was a disaster. Despite being hard-wired (vs the wireless Roku), movies would take forever to start, the audio would often be out of sync and, most frequently, the picture would vanish and just the audio would play prompting at least one reset of the whole system; sometimes as many as half a dozen. About once a month ominous error messages appeared about registration issues and I’d have to hard-reset. It was terrible…

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Posted on November 27, 2010

Movies »The Lord of the Rings

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the RingsDirected by Ralph Bakshi (1978)

Believe it or not (I’m hoping my facetiousness is apparent), I was a huge Tolkien fan when I was a kid. I’m sure I can’t remember what year it was, but the night my dad brought home our first family VCR we rushed out to the (sadly now defunct) Video World and grabbed the two tapes my brother and I would watch again and again over the next several years: the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and John Boorman’s the Emerald Forest (for years that was his favorite movie, go figure… BTW: Boorman nearly adapted LotR himself, he reused the sets he built for Excalibur).

I actually had two maps of Middle Earth hung on my bedroom wall (one was next to an image of the members of Public Enemy hanging out in a maximum security prison; pretty sophisticated juxtaposition of the kind of things boys in their pre-teens are drawn too – thanks for offering the tools needed to create such a dynamic collage, Prints Plus!).

I hoarded copies of the author’s books, which wasn’t all that easy considering that until the advent of the Book Barn years later, there really was no local spot that dealt in used books, though occasionally the Booksmith in New London would have an unusual looking pressing of Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham.

And in an gesture I’m still in awe of, the first time I met my father-in-law he presented me with a hardcover copy of the edition of the Hobbit he himself illustrated (awesomely).

But of all things Tolkienian, the Bakshi movie has made the deepest impact.

I’m not going to list to list its many inaccuracies (Tolkien enthusiasts have already complied lists taking care of that), and I’m not going to compare it to Peter Jackson’s films (plenty of articles are out there for the reading); while there’s no way to deny that this movie has its flaws, it’s an amazing work of art and it’s the imagery I’m really, really into.

I’ve collected a number of stills below/after the jump giving special attention to what I think is the film’s finest sequence: Frodo’s encounter with the Black Riders just outside Rivendell; it’s here that Bakshi’s impressionistic vision is most successful. As the wounded Hobbit breaks away from his party, the background dramatically fades to an expressionistic, nightmarish landscape, partly rendered in slow motion. It’s an absolutely amazing series of shots that truly captures the terror of the Ring Wraiths and Frodo’s almost submarine decent into their world of shadow.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Books »The Book of the New Sun

The Book of the New Sunby Gene Wolfe (1980 – 1983)

Gene Wolfe‘s imagination is truly formidable. A industrial engineer (and devoted Catholic) who has become a living SF legend, Wolfe’s work is rich, dense, and not always exactly what I’m looking for. But that’s no slight: when Wolfe’s writing what I want to read, it’s amazing; when he’s not, it’s still fine, it just tends to get a bit… overly complicated and less than satisfying – but a return to form is always just a few pages away.

Brittany will be posting her impressions of Wolfe’s early short story compilation, The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (not a typo, FYI), and I imagine her take on Wolfe will be equally conflicted.

But the Book of the New Sun is the big one: the magnum opus (he’s since spun off a coda and two additional series, the Book of the Long Sun and the Book of the Short Sun).

The four novels that make up the tetralogy are packed so densely with episodes alternately incredibly compelling and kind of… kind of like you just want to get through them as quickly as you can, that, sitting here now recalling the bits I remember, I’m truly astounded at the way the story is so compartmentalized in my brain.

The plot unfolds in a distant future inspired by the work of the writer who has appeared more times then any other on this blog, the great Jack Vance. The first novel, the Shadow of the Torturer, opens with its protag, Severian (who is blessed/cursed with a perfect memory), serving as an apprentice in the guild of torturers. His kind of weirdly idyllic childhood is interrupted by a key chance meeting in the nearby necropolis and the professional discipline he’ll expertly develop over the next few years is kind of slow-burn compromised.

While I suppose I could offer a more comprehensive plot synopsis, I’d really be doing everyone (particularly you, dear reader) a disservice. Suffice to say, a lot happens very quickly: Severian makes a judgement call that ultimately results in his exile from Nessus (the capital city), is challenged to an alien poison flower duel, demolishes a church, meets a young lady who’s been submerged in (for lack of a better description) internment water for who knows how long, meets another young lady who’s definitely hiding something, gets a crazy note from a bus boy, and becomes aquatinted with a fairly unique traveling acting troupe. Oh, and he’s given an awesome sword called Terminus Est and dispatched to a place called Thrax: the city of windowless rooms.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Songs »Reba

Phish at UNH 5.8.1993Phish, live at the UNH Fieldhouse May 8, 1993

Phish has never been an easy band to love, it takes hard work and an extremely specific social context for the music to take hold – but once it does, once it becomes the official soundtrack to youthful good times, it never fully leaves the lives of its long-time listeners.

The concept is pretty straight forward: stoned nerds meet up in the late ’80s in the Burlington, VT area. Channeling the sounds of the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, they become the ultimate bar band on acid, then they cross over to playing colleges. Over the next ten or so years they produce some of the most popular and enduring music of the ’90s (yet never really appear on MTV or FM radio) with a serious bent towards goofiness and a penchant for mind-bendingly intricate musicianship. Constantly touring, they close the decade out as one of the world’s highest grossing live acts.

What’s so appealing about this music is that it’s always in good spirits – it’s always ready to affect your mood in a positive way – and the song I’ve selected here is a prime example of the band at their finest… or, more accurately, phinest.

If you spent any time at all around a high school parking lot or university hacky sack green in the early to mid 1990s, you’re probably familiar with the refrain ‘Bag it, tag it, sell it the butcher in the store’. If not, I’m sorry because you totally missed out.

Reba is comprised of three distinct movements (and a parenthetical fourth: the final, whistled refrain), the first, which includes the lyrical portion of the song, tells the children’s booky tale of an over-eager cartoony home-chemist (kind of betraying Trey’s roots as the son of a woman who wrote songs for Sesame Street); the second portion sounds like what you might expect if an early 1960s eastern European master of animated film commissioned an avant garde jazz quartet to score an unfinished film he created based on the first part of the song (the narrative of Reba mixing all these crazy ingredients in her bath tub); finally, at around the 6 and a half minute mark, the song opens up and… well, you really ought to hear for yourself.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Albums »Chronic Town

R.E.M. Chronic Town album artR.E.M. (1982)

Sure, R.E.M went on to become a pretty big band, but I’ve always thought their first EP contains some of their best work. I hadn’t listened to these songs for a long time, but a fairly recent interview with Tucker Martine on All Songs Considered put me back in the mood and I dug up my copy of Dead Letter Office.

All the elements that would propel the band first to the top of the college charts and then onward and upward to the real big time when they signed with Warner Brothers (the first time, back in 1988 and then again, for like $80 million, in 1996) are pretty much fully formed: Peter Buck’s signature urgent, jangly guitar tone, Stipe’s mumbly and oblique lyrics, Mike Mills’s thoughtful – even occasionally playful – bass lines, and Bill Berry’s masterful fills would serve the band well up to the release of Document; and that’s partially what’s so wild about this record: the point of view comes across so complete, so… so wholly developed that the only other debut recording I can draw a comparison to is that of another jangly-toned guitar player and enigmatic front man.

The first two tracks have always been favorites of mine with Stumble edging out Wolves, Lower as a song I can listen to over, and over, and over again – and they’re both overlong, which is something I absolutely love about them. Mitch Easter‘s ahead-of-their time production techniques (weird sound-scape breakdowns with almost Native Americany undertones) and the insistent mystery these songs evoke make them endlessly re-playable pieces of pop music – even with the advent of online lyric databases, the meaning of these songs still eludes me.

The images below/after the jump harken back to a special time when buttoning your top button was totally de rigueur.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Hunks »Chhom Nimol

Dengue Fever's Chhom NimolDengue Fever’s lead singer

We saw Dengue Fever at South Paw a few months ago and I was blown away. Not only is musical mastermind Zac Holtzman’s beard absolutely amazing, singer Chhom Nimol is totally adorable!

A few more photos, culled from Flickr, are below/after the jump.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Style Icons: Male »Keith Morrison

Keith Morrison of NBC's Datelineof Dateline NBC

While I truly do love Jim Morrison (not only do we share the same birthday – we also have the same name! I’ve even been to his grave!), I’m also a huge fan of Dateline NBC correspondent Keith Morrison. It’s not smugness or incredulity (exactly) that you’re detecting in his voice; it’s just his unique aristocrat-specializing-in-drama tone. Love it!

Little did I know that Bill Hader is also a fan! Below/after the jump are a compilation of clips, the top three feature the man himself (for those of you unfamiliar with his work); the last two are Hader’s not-quite-spot-on-in-but-accurate-enough impersonation. Enjoy!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Restaurants »Baoguette Cafe

Baoguette Cafe37 St Mark’s Place (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)

While sitting down to write an essay about my favorite sandwich has me feeling a smidge like Liz Lemon, banh mi (a French/Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette stuffed with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chile peppers, pate, mayonnaise and more) is something I love so much that I honestly don’t care if I’m betraying a deal-breaking character quality (I’ve already written about Phish – twice this week…).

I’ve long been a fan of Vietnam Banh Mi So 1 on Broome Street and Nicky’s on 2nd Avenue, so when Silent H opened its doors on Berry Street and banh mi became available locally, I was totally psyched. Sadly, the price, service and hours they chose to serve sandwiches during (weekdays noon to 4), made me less than happy…

Recently, An Nhau’s banh mi shop on Bedford and North 7th has changed my life (I must eat at least one meatball sandwich a week). The sandwiches are cheap, delicious and prepared in about three minutes, but when Brittany and I were out in the EV a few nights ago, we grabbed dinner at Baoguette Cafe.

I automatically ordered the classic #1 banh mi sandwich (pork terine, pate, pulled pork, fresh herbs) and it was amazing – but totally heavy duty, I was actually having a hard time finishing (the pulled pork is no joke) – and Brittany totally scored with beef vermicelli noodles (the waitress recommended the beef over the chicken bun dish).

We got to the restaurant at around 6:45 and it was gloriously devoid of any other diners, but by 7:15 dudes were beginning to pack the tiny interior – so go early!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »See Phish

Phish at MSG 12.3.2009Fall/ Winter 2009 Tour

There’s a real difference between armchair analysis and actually being a part of the crowd, and when Dan and I saw Phish at MSG the other night, the experience differed, as you can probably imagine, rather tremendously from listening to a bunch of MP3s on Nugs.net.

I hadn’t seen a Phish show since Astrid and I went our during our last year of school – practically another life: this was back before the Providence Civic Center was re-christened Dunkin’ Donuts Center – so I was a bit out of step and a couple things struck me right away.

First of all, the music is front and center – for hours. Without a cluttered desktop full of stuff to do, Outlook’s auto-receive scheduled for every 3 minutes and, of course, coworkers, there are relatively few distractions (though there are definitely a few distractions) and the takeaway isn’t in the details (obviously you can’t scrub back to that amazing moment at 12:39), but the entirety of the experience.

Ebb and flow, tension and release, lighting effects and glow-in-the dark-bracelet-throw-cues; the whole thing kind of melds together, laying bare the structure nearly every song adheres to and the band’s truly unique sound-vision. Absolutely no other rock act so successfully fuses what is essentially contemporary jazz, good old fashioned crooning, traditional rock blues, tone-based alien landscapes, overly ambitious college-level compositions and unadulterated white, duct-taped-brimmed embroidered collegiate cap funk. After a couple of hours the distinct aural experience becomes more than familiar.

‘Precocious’ may seem like an unusual descriptor for someone who’s a well established virtuoso, but the personality of the playing, which I can best sum up as kind of a nerdily frustrated musical theory major (they’re just not teaching what I want to learn, dude) who happens to be super into showing off (which I guess probably isn’t all that unique a character combo), makes for alternately sublime and confounding music.

The continual escalation, the nearly infinite ratcheting up of every song, results in one ‘Can you believe I’m even playing this?!’ moment after another. This can go one of two ways: it can blister and ultimately kind of numb, like the incredibly intense David Bowie that closed the second set, or it can truly wow, like the breathtakingly necessarily over-complicated Fluff’s Travels, which was just absolutely stunning to behold as the band navigated its way through what felt like dozens of sound-scapes drawn in cartoony broad-strokes, literally turning on a dime several times a minute.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Minutes »Suscribe to the WTF with Marc Maron podcast

WTF podcast with Marc Maronat the iTunes Store

You don’t have to send him any money, and you don’t have to use the justcoffee.coop coupon code he keeps talking up, but this weekly, hour long podcast by comics and for comics is worth listening to. It’s true, Maron himself is a bit much and yes, he does comes on strong (though you’ll get used to him soon eventually), and yes, there are definitely times you won’t feel like listening to him talk about how he told off a jerk in the airport for lacking even the most basic human decency, but once you become familiar with Maron’s point of view and wrap your head around the show’s core concept: an angry, former alcoholic (he’s also divorced) comedian interviews some of today’s most popular comedians – some former alcoholics themselves – with an occasionally contemptuous tone and a constant self-absorption that’s so real and unnerving it cannot be faked, I think you’ll really like it.

A steady stream of really, really funny people including Patton Oswalt (whose success Maron is almost okay with), Zach Galifiakis (always charming), Sam Lipsyte (author of the novel Home Land), Jerry Stahl (who, next to founder George Dawes Green, is the best story teller I’ve heard on the Moth in awhile), David Cross, Maria Bamford (who I never really appreciated until Maron had her on the show and I took in her performance in long-form), Eugene Mirman, and Matthew get into really entertaining conversations mainly about themselves…

It may take a couple of episodes, but it’s definitely worth getting in to.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Web Sites »Tickets & Music

Tickets and MusicScouring the web for music tix

When it comes to purchasing tickets to live music events, sometimes StubHub and TicketMaster are your only options – but just as frequently someone’s trying to dump tickets through Craigslist and using a whole different rate structure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop resource (that defaults to a home page showcasing immediately upcoming shows in your geographic area) that automatically returned all the available ticket options?

Enter Tickets & Music (the brainchild of our friend Marcus), an incredibly useful site that does exactly that.

A couple of days after Halloween, I was thrilled to discover that the one and only Blues Traveler was playing locally – but I was (understandably) stunned by the prices TicketMaster was charging. I checked T&M and discovered that some dude was getting rid of tickets through Craigslist for just $12! Armed with that kind of bargain basement price info, I quickly got in touch with Fred, who had worn a Blues-Traveler-themed costume just days earlier.

Of course, he firmly rebuked me for even suggesting that he’d want to attend such and event but, thanks to T&M, I was able to get the conversation going. Just wait until the Spin Doctors come to town!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

TV Shows »Wicked Attraction

Wicked AttractionOn the Investigation Discovery channel

Visually, it definitely takes some getting used to (the first time Brittany and I watched an episode we found the overuse of kinetic video techniques incredibly overwhelming – and distracting), but the concept behind Wicked Attraction is undeniably intriguing: the show profiles couples (usually romantically involved, but not always) who have gone on (usually murderous) crime sprees.

The great Honeymoon Killers examines the bizarre, but not unique, relationship of a pair of crazies who probably would not have been killers if they hadn’t met each other but, through some crazy shared world view (usually founded upon the romance of the outlaw lifestyle), became serial killers. Badlands is a pretty wonderful portrait of this kind of relationship – so is Natural Born Killers, for that matter.

What’s great about Wicked Attraction is that it examines tons of similar cases – as a tease, a photo of Karla and her husband Paul flashes across the screen in the over-done intro – most of which are not nearly as infamous, though no less horrific, than the few high profile couple-killer cases we’re all familiar with. One particular episode, about two guys who met in prison and bonded over their mutual interest in abducting, assaulting and torturing women then, upon their respective releases, went out and bought a van and murdered an untold number of young girls, is truly chilling.

The production staff is always saddled with too few photos to work with (see below/after the jump), so I can almost understand the use of all the stylized digital fire, spazzy zooms and quick blurs; the over-saturated dramatic recreations (told almost entirely in close up) are an entirely different matter.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Laughs »Ghost Hunters Academy

Ghost Hunters AcademyAiring weekly on SYFY

Let me just start off by making it clear that Ghost Hunters is a show that, unless you’ve seen it, you really can’t believe it. If you’ve seen clips on the Soup where a traditionally good looking guy is, in the parlance of McHale’s writers, “taunting the air”, that show is not Ghost Hunters but the free-wheeling, tongue-in-cheek Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures. Ghost Hunters, which airs on the newly branded SyFy, is a dour, sour, extremely self-serious program that follows the TAPS team (former RotoRooters – I kid you not, watch the animated intro) Jason and Grant as they travel the country proffering their special blend of dickish skepticism.

I’m not sure how to put this without sounding like a dick myself (I’d certainly like to suppose that I’m not without a base-level belief in the supernatural), but a television show about the (pseudo) science of ghost detection is, at its very core, problematic. I suppose what I have the biggest issue with is the way that a bunch of scowly douchebags have thoroughly stripped away the mystery and wonder of the spiritual realm and replaced it with a bunch of hard and fast rules they simply shat out over years and years of know-it-ally conversations. Ghost stories are always fundamentally people stories: once you’re dead, you can’t really do all that much – it’s the human element that makes tales of spookings and hauntings so compelling – and Ghost Hunters occasionally succeeds when it profiles individuals experiencing paranormal activity in their homes and places of business.

The interviews with the afflicted are always the most genuinely interesting parts of the show because, more often than not, the interview subjects cannot help but betray that the haunting is something that they’re kind of proud of, a fact that sparks a series of essential, and rather heavy, human experience questions: why do these people think they have ghosts in their lives, what’s going on psychologically? Why aren’t all of us affected by moving plates and dimming lights, bumps in the attic and visions of people not there? Ultimately: is there really an afterlife or are we doomed to haunt some tourist attraction for the rest of eternity?

After the interview and case history are established, a  bunch of DV cams, EMF detectors and rigid, jerky attitudes take center stage as the team tries to ‘scientifically’ establish whether or not the place is actually haunted. This ‘evidence gathering’ phase of the show is always tedious, once it’s completed the team studies the A/V record they’ve made and looks for pieces of the tape where they can almost detect a voice straining to say something like, ‘Help me”.

But I filed this under Brittany’s Laughs category for a reason: this show is hilarious.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »The Parlour

parlour greenpointThis week Jim was so taken with a new salon here in Greenpoint that he volunteered this post:

I’ve never actually felt comfortable in a salon; I’m sure my own issues are a big part of the reason why but, personal hang-ups aside, I’ve always genuinely perceived a mild disinterest radiating from the staff, as if they didn’t exactly want me in their club house – like I was some kind of interruptive intruder.

Never again. The other day, under pressure from Brittany to trim my beard, I booked an appointment up the street at The Parlour (it’s on Greenpoint and Franklin, right next door to Brouwerij Lane). I’ve never in my life felt more welcomed in a place of hair dressing. Everyone is super friendly and I didn’t at all feel like I was disrupting whatever they were up to the second before I walked in.

For $25 I got a shampoo, neck and beard trim with a hot towel, which is both super relaxing and a pretty good deal – but what’s really key is that I was able to get my beard trimmed by someone who totally knew what she was doing – which has not always been the case at other local shops that boast of their tonsorial expertise.

In fact, the last time I got a trim I was so displeased with the results that I had to tinker with it at home for some time and, in an (ultimately ineffectual) effort to make it look even and regular, I gradually shortened my beard far more than I would have liked to; so I’m sure you can imagine how pleased I was that I walked out with a great looking beard.

But the Parlour offers far more than mere man maintenance packages, Nackie (who runs the salon) is a major hair stylist. She worked for a number of years at the Chelsea Hotel before opening The Parlour just a couple of months ago. She trimmed my hair and it looks excellent, so I’m sure that whatever kind of style you’re looking for, she and her team can totally deliver.

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Posted on June 8, 2009

Hunks »Kelly MacDonald

kelly macdonaldI simply cannot get over how adorable this woman is. Sure, she caught my eye in Trainspotting and Gosford Park, but it wasn’t really until No Country for Old Men that I totally realized the full level of her charm.

Then we watched State of Play – and I was totally blown away by her turn as Della Smith. We even tried to watch the Girl in the Cafe, with MacDonald and Bill Nighy, how could things go wrong, right? They can, it’s terrible!

But that hardly matters – it’s not like I really like Sam Rockwell all that much, but I’m still looking forward to in-demanding Choke in 2009.

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Posted on December 8, 2008

Style Icons: Male »Stephen Malkmus

Stephen MalkmusIt’s not like Brittany’s going to pick a Pavement song any time soon, mainly because it’s music that tends to work best for dudes. My good friend Danny‘s copy of Slow Century sits prominently on a bookshelf in our living room and whenever we have a party Marcus considers borrowing is, but he knows he’d have to watch it by himself –?hich is the main reason I’ve yet to see it.

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Slanted and Enchanted are my picks (though there’s a lot to like about Terror Twilight and Wowee Zowee), mainly because the double disc editions that Matador released a couple of years ago came out out at a time when I was working in a place that sold CDs and I was able to listen to the amazing previously unreleased material all day long. But Malkmus’s post Pavement stuff is awesome as well. I’m particularly partial to Pig Lib, where I think that as a guitar player he really began to face the truth (lolz) and reflect on just how little distance there was between where his own work was going and the music of the man who, throughout the entire 1990s stood as his diametric opposite, Trey Anastasio.

But it’s not just his guitar playing, it’s his attitude that makes him one of may all time favorite famous dudes. I don’t think I’ve ever read an interview where he doesn’t put someone down – and he’s usually he’s totally in the right. On Billy Corgan:

“I don’t really know. Some people say he’s nice, but he’s full of himself. He has a lot of fans so I can see how that happens. They weren’t very good in concert, they sounded real bad.”

Other times, he’s just being a dick:

“For all the mistakes that were made marketing Pavement, it comes down to the song; and the song [Cut Your Hair] was pretty good, but it just wasn’t the song of the time. The Offspring song [“Come Out and Play”], “Cannonball” by the Breeders — those were bigger songs people could get behind.”

Kim Deal responded pretty awesomely on the last page of a magazine I am somehow subscribed to for life (I haven’t paid them in at least 3 years):

“Yeah, I liked Pavement. But if he keeps fucking smacking his mouth off about me, I’m going to end up not being able to listen to any of their fucking records again. Anyway, I thought, God, man, “Cut Your Hair” isn’t as good of a song as “Cannonball,” so fuck you. How’s that? Your song was just a’ight, dawg.”

Fair enough.

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Posted on December 8, 2008

Style Icons: Female »Kathryn Bigelow

Point Breaker

Hands down, this foot chase is the best action sequence I’ve ever seen. It’s no secret that I love Point Break, but I really love its intellectual director, onetime wife of the (I assume) insufferable James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow – just listen to her discuss Near Dark.

While it’s true that Strange Days wasn’t quite what I hoped for and I skipped K-19: The Widowmaker altogether, there’s tremendous buzz building up around the Hurt Locker, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

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Posted on December 8, 2008