Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hidden Gems: Obscure 45’s No. 3 – Dave Mason

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Dave Mason was one of the original Traffic members, though I’m not sure if he was a founder, or just a recruit. He wrote the most psychedelic tracks on the band’s debut LP, Mr. Fantasy, plus the far-out single, “Hole In My Shoe“. He seemed to be the main experimentalist, while the others, particularly Steve Winwood and Chris Wood, preferred a more blues/R&B-based approach. These tensions reached a head during the making of the follow-up LP a year later, in 1968.

Dave stayed with the group through a short U.S. tour and then either left, or was asked to go. He would re-join Traffic in 1971 for a few shows (including the Oz Benefit), but never again in the studio. His first solo single was released in 1968, while he was producing Family‘s first full-length album, the classic Music In A Doll’s House.

The single’s A-side was “Just For You“, a pretty psych tune with a catchy melody, filled out by flute, tabla, Beatles-ish strings and Dave’s sunshine-y acoustic guitar strumming. This tune will become an earworm, but a delightful one. I love the way Mason stretches out the word “you” in the chorus (“you..oo-ooo…oo-ooo”) – it almost sounds Middle Eastern or Indian.

Mason is backed by Family for the B-side, called “Little Woman“. It’s a more straight-forward affair, but Rick Grech‘s sawing violin trills definitely show an Incredible String Band influence.

Surprisingly, or maybe not – given psychedelia’s waning popularity in 1968, the single flopped. “Just For You” was confusingly featured on the Traffic odds-n-sods collection, Last Exit, released in 1969 – leading many, including myself, to think it was a group composition.

In any case – it’s a great single – both ‘A’ and ‘B’-sides are quite excellent. Dave went on to have a decent solo stint, though not quite as auspicious as his erstwhile band-mate Winwood’s. Traffic carried on to 1974, then finally split for good (though drummer Jim Capaldi and Winwood would exhume the band name for the disappointing Far From Home album in 1994).

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Where’d ya get your name?

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It’s a valid question.

For this nom de blog, I chose a goofy one based on a band name off of one of the “Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble” mixes, created by The Future Sound Of London/Amorphous Androgynous. The band in question are from Belgium and the track I heard is “Helga“. I especially like the line “She’s god-almighty in a beer can.” When I first heard it, I swore it was a Captain Beefheart out-take. Good stuff!

“Die Hard”: A libertarian slant?

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I was watching Die Hard the other night – it’s one of Pixie’s favourite films. She owns the “Die Hard: Quadrilogy” DVD box set. I noticed, as if for the first time, that the subtext to the film seems to affirm differing viewpoints. I know, I know – it’s only a goofy action film, though a very good one at that. I’d say that it re-wrote the action film template for much of the 90s and even Noughties genre output.

Now, I suspect director John McTiernan and the scriptwriters (adapting the story from a novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp) never intended any political subtext for the film – they were looking for a “fun” thrill-ride for the audience. As always, though, the viewer may end up adding their own “gloss” or reality-tunnel onto the finished work.

The most common view is that “Die Hard” is an affirmation of the conservative ideology of 1980s America. Nakatomi Plaza is symbolic of the dominant Japanese economy ‘invading’ the U.S. through financial methods. The “terrorists” are German, representing America’s old World War II foes. The F.B.I., represents the Federal Government, mucking up the situation and over-extending their authority….and on and on. There’s a blog which sums up the conservative subtext deftly – it can be found here.

I even found a blog post from a Christian viewpoint, which claims the film affirms a few gospel messages!!???!!! Granted, the post is mostly about the marital strife between John McClane and his estranged wife, Holly. You can read that post here.

Into this mix, I (only half-seriously) posit that there’s even a leftie/libertarian subtext to be gleaned in between the gunshots and blood-soaked feet. Firstly, the African-American characters are the calmest and most rational, even Argyle, the limo driver, pegs McClane’s situation within a few minutes. Al Powell, the beat cop who stays in contact with McClane while he’s trapped in the upper floors of the tower, provides good advice and encouragement. They’re also intergral to the ‘sides’ they’re on. Theo, the geeky hacker-whiz working for the terrorists, is the only one who can unlock the computerised vault to get at the cash bonds the gang wants. Also, it should be pointed out, none of these characters fall into the dreaded “Magic Negro” category (O.K., maybe Powell is a little bit). Sure, they may be a bit cliched – but they’re important to the story. That seems pretty libertarian to me.

The terrorists are meant to ‘the baddies’ and yes, they do some pretty reprehensible things (did the security guard at the reception desk really need to be shot? Couldn’t they just knock him out?) – but many of the American characters aren’t much better. The two F.B.I. agents, Johnson and Johnson (a sly dig at the corporation?…O.K., probably not), come off as arrogant know-it-alls. Dwayne Robinson, the LA. police chief, does his bureaucratic by-the-book schtick and attempts to keep McClane sidelined. The film wouldn’t be complete without the 80s slime-ball and “Die Hard”s is “Harry Ellis”, played to coked-up, lounge-lizard perfection by Hart Bochner. There’s a subtle hint that Harry’s trying to get into Holly’s pants, which makes him even more of a conniving twat. William Atherton’s reporter is unscrupulous and even threatens Holly’s housekeeper with deportation, so he can interview the McClane children. Against that crew of fuck-ups and cut-throats, does Hans Grueber and his co-horts seem to be really “evil”? It’s never mentioned how Nakatomi Corporation made it’s millions – maybe they’re weapons manufacturers? Now, I’m not a fan of theft, especially when it comes to the ordinary rank-and-file, but if Nakatomi got the cash from shady deals, well…it’s all a bit relative.

That’s about where I’ve got to in my perspective. To be honest, there’s not much more to the film other than explosions, smart-arse quips and lots of gunfire. Holly’s cop-out at the end, when she takes her husband’s surname again definitely leans in a conservative subtext – but I think that some of the other subtexts can be taken a number of ways. Or maybe I’m just daft?

Film review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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I know, it was released over two years ago – I only just got around to watching it a couple of days ago. Was it worth the wait for me? Well…

I had massive expectations for this one – not because I’ve read the graphic novels that the film is based on (I haven’t), or that I’m a gamer (I’m not). My anticipation was mainly due to Edgar Wright directing the film. Wright, in my view, scored three impressive hits withSpaced(O.K., not a film, but a brill UK teevee series that featured loads of hommages to films), “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” (both films set in the UK and both parodies of popular genres, zombie/horror films and cop-buddy films, respectively). His whizz-bang style worked for those films and “Spaced” because the characters were genuinely funny and so were the references. So I was all set to check out his ‘Merican/Hollywood debut.

Gotta say, I wasn’t too impressed. Definitely seems to me to be a step-back from “Hot Fuzz”. Maybe it’s souped-up to appeal to American audiences..but then, as far as I know, “Hot Fuzz” did pretty well in the States.

Michael Cera, as the title character, plays his usual nebbish-y dork role, complete with goofy haircut. This time around, he plays bass in a really average indie-rock band (I refuse to type ‘grunge’…oop, I just did). He’s in his early 20s, but he’s dating a high-school girl called “Knives Chau”. You read that correctly. Someone, even in an imaginary universe, called their child “Knives”….a female child. Anyway, in another in-joke that only musos will get, Scott’s band-mates are called “Stephen Stills” and “Young Neil”. His ex-girlfriend, Kim, plays drums. The name of the band is “Sex Bob-Omb” (one of many, many video game references in the film – I am ol’ skool enough to get that one, though).

“Anyone need a guy to play a lovestruck nebbish?”

One night, Scott has a dream about a roller-blading girl with pink (purple?) hair. He’s convinced that she actually exists and later, at a party, he sees her. Her name is “Ramona Flowers”. Again…Ramona??? I didn’t think that name was even in circulation anymore. She works for Amazon as a courier, so Scott orders a book, or DVD, or whatever, so she’ll deliver it. He somehow convinces her to hang out with him and they hit it off. He then gets a strange e-mail telling him that he has been challenged to a fight by the ‘League Of Ex-Boyfriends”, which will happen soon. He ignores the e-mail – but then, at a gig of the band’s, he meets Matthew Patel. Matthew is the first of Ramona’s “Seven Evil Exes” that Scott has to defeat in battle to win her heart…

….and that’s pretty much it for the plot. He battles the other six exes, one being a woman. We meet Scott’s gay room-mate, “Wallace” (played by Kieran Culkin, of the Culkin acting dynasty). Wallace has some funny lines, but I couldn’t help thinking the character’s a bit creepy and also seems to be stereotyped as the “promiscuous homosexual”. Every time Scott is shown waking up in the morning, a different man is in the bed next to Wallace. The fights are staged like rounds in “Mortal Kombat”, or one of those million other one-on-one fight video games. When Scott defeats an ex, they disappear in a shower of coins and a point total appears above the coins, like in the “Super Mario” games for the old Nintendo system.

Very very cute, but maybe too aloof?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead definitely provides the cuteness factor for Ramona, with her doe-eyes and husky voice, but not much spark and charm. Allegedly, in the graphic novels, Ramona is quite mysterious. In the film, however, she just appears aloof and well….bored. It’s honestly tough to see how she generated a spark with seven of the other guys, never mind the eternally dorky Scott Pilgrim. The hair-dye thing also made her seem a throwback to the riot grrrrrl 1990s, not an up-to-date indie queen. Dunno, maybe if she had an Amy Winehouse beehive? A 1970s-stylee Joni Mitchell‘do?

There’s also a sub-plot about Scott’s ex-girlfriend, “Natalie”, who left him and joined a new band that made it big. The guy she left Scott for is the bass-player in her new band. He’s also one of Ramona’s exes, so Scott has to fight him. The ex is a vegan and the big gag is that his powers come from him thinking he’s better than carnivores. I didn’t really find the gag all that funny, so I guess the scene was wasted on me.

Wright also uses devices, like when a phone rings, a “R-I-I-I-N-G” graphic will float through the air. While sorta funny at first, they do become over-used and during the fight scenes – they reminded me of the campy 1960s “Batman” film. You know, when Batman or Robin would hit one of the goons, the screen would show a “POW!” graphic. Maybe that was the intention, to make it seem cartoony – but the entire fights are cartoony in the first place, so the word graphics appeared superfluous to me.

Then there’s a bit where the “Seinfeld” theme music plays and a laugh track occurs – just sort-of appropros of nothng. Plus, the film is set in Toronto, Canada. What is the significance of the “Seinfeld” reference? Damned if I know.

In the end, I found myself not really rooting for anyone. I didn’t care if Scott got with Ramona, or that he was a dick to Knives, or if his band got signed to a label, or if he would ever move out of Wallace’s place. The climactic fight with Jason Schwartzmann‘s character, who’s the boss (geddit?) of a record label just fizzled for me. Despite a near-twist right in the final scene – the ending is telegraphed from miles away.

Pixie couldn’t stand “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”, I think it’s just so-so. I am glad that I didn’t shell out to see it in the cinema, despite it’s cool special-effects in some scenes. We have a theory that Wright only spins gold when teamed with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (both of whom appeared in “Spaced”, “Shaun..” and “Hot Fuzz”) and vice-versa. I’ve seen some of Pegg’s “solo” films and the quality dips quite a bit. The less said about “That Boat That Rocked” (which Frost appeared in), the better. That “Paul” film, with Pegg & Frost teaming up with a CGI alien looked a bit weak as well. Here’s to hoping the triumvirate will convene again soon.