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about florilegium444

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in giving up every time we fail.

Humor - Attempting funny.
Music - Music writing, etc.
Mystery Fiction - Mystery fiction articles, reviews.
Mystery Film & TV - Mystery movie and TV articles, reviews.
Shakespeare - Shakespeare plays reviewed.
SFF/Horror/Arthuriana - SFF, horror and Arthuriana articles, reviews.
Short Stories - Flash fiction, etc.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Heaviest Metallist 4 – Slomatics

(excerpts from my search for the heaviest metal song ever - recommendations are welcome)

Slomatics
Tunnel Dragger
Estron (2014)


They seem to gravitate toward the lowest of the low registers, these Slomatics guys. Who hail from Ireland and who have turned out five full-length albums so far - but you knew that.

Tunnel Dragger appears on the fourth of these, Estron (2014), and as your grandpa might put it, it's a real humdinger. How much more bottom heavy can you get? It's not for me to say but you can borrow my seismograph, if you need to do some research.

Anyway, the song rumbles and thuds and is dragged through tunnels for a while and suddenly there's a pleasant break that's all melodic and puppies romping in fields of daisies. Which only serves to emphasize the heaviness of the whole contraption once the thudding and rumbling start up again. Color me delighted.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Heaviest Metallist 3 - Middian

(excerpts from my search for the heaviest metal song ever - recommendations are welcome)

Middian
Sink to the Center
Age Eternal (2007)


An intense wave of sonic abuse designed to vaporize the listener? A heavy plodding tempo and one chord repeated over and over again (with a second one tossed in for good measure now and then)? Vocals that sound like a legion of fingernails dragged over a blackboard? That's gotta be early Swans, right?

Not so fast, Gira-breath. It's actually Middian, who released Age Eternal in 2007 and soon were driven out of business by a similarly named combo with a litigious streak. Sink to the Center is very old Swans-like indeed, if you ask me, but with more of metallic edge and screechier vocals.

It's heavy beyond heavy and of course it's way too soon to award it the Heaviest crown. But it will be a strong contender.




Monday, October 9, 2017

Heaviest Metallist 2 - Sourvein

(excerpts from my search for the heaviest metal song ever - recommendations are welcome)

Sourvein
Holy Transfusion
Black Fangs (2011)


What's the optimum BPM required to achieve the optimum level of heavy? Ain't got a clue, but I tend to favor something between downright plodding and pleasingly mid-tempo. A super-low bass bottom that sounds like its rising up from the bowels of the earth helps the proceedings along and of course a simple yet effective riff.

All of which are present in Holy Transfusion, from Sourvein's Black Fangs (2011) album, their third full-length release over the course of about twenty years. I hadn't heard of them before but that's no surprise since I've been out of the metal loop for a while.


(Jump to 17:33 on the video)


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Heaviest Metallist 1 - Black Pyramid

(excerpts from my search for the heaviest metal song ever - recommendations are welcome)

Black Pyramid
Visions of Gehenna
Black Pyramid (2009)

A half century into heavy metal and you might assume it's all been done - and it probably has. But even at this late date you might run across a band who breathes life back into the moldering old corpse of the great beast.

for example, there's Visions of Gehenna, from Black Pyramid's self-titled first album (2009), a song I've had in heavy rotation lately. It opens with a catchy little bass bit and then gives way to a martial beat and a first-class riff delivered with an intensity that suggests a 30-piece ensemble rather than just a trio. Throw in some sword and sorcery inspired lyrics that actually aren't goofy and it makes for a very fine number. Wunnerful, wunnerful...



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gun Club Revisited 3 - Promise Me

Promise Me, the sole "slow" song on side one of the LP version of Fire of Love was bracketed by a pair of rave-ups, both before and after. Back in the day I didn't have much use for it or any of the other laid back Gun Club songs. But they began to grow on me over the years. It's a fairly straightforward effort, for the most part, with a heavy guitar part that plods along throughout and ominous lyrics adding to the dark undertone. The icing on the cake is a violin part by Tito Larriva (who co-produced the album, along with Chris D. - once of the Flesheaters) that's more drone than tune and which recalls John Cale's viola playing with the Velvet Underground.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Gun Club Revisited 2 - Preachin' the Blues

The Gun Club released their version of Robert Johnson's Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) as Preaching the Blues, in 1981. The late bluesman's star had not ascended to its current lofty heights at the time but English bluesmen and others had been doing their part to keep his music in front of the public since the Sixties.

This greatly altered version of the song kicks off with all of the rip-roaring, out of control goodness of a train about to run off the tracks and keeps up the pace pretty much throughout, with a few lulls tossed in for dramatic effect. It works and really well. Wailing slide guitar opens the proceedings, the rhythm section kicks in at a frenetic pace, and Pierce, hardly the most restrained of all vocalists, turns in an especially forceful performance, complete with wailing and howling. Which puts it in my Gun Club top 10, for sure.


Gun Club Revisited 1 - Sex Beat

The Gun Club released their first album, Fire of Love, in late summer of 1981. Over the course of a decade and a half or so until the death of core member, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, their output included seven studio albums and an EP, assorted and sundry bootlegs and a smattering of this, that and the other. While there's plenty of good stuff to be found in all of this, some (myself included) would make the argument that their debut album was also their finest moment.

Lots of ink has been spilled trying to describe what The Gun Club actually did. My take would be punked-up blues with a decidedly dark bent, though the overt blues influences seemed to dwindle a bit as the years passed.

Sex Beat - the opener on the album and The Gun Club song your grandma and other non-fans are probably most likely to have heard - owes a great deal to punk and not so much to blues. The stop and go bits provide a bit of drama and the lyrics, well...they're lyrics. Overall I find that the appeal of this one has waned some as the years have passed, while songs on the album that I used to skip over have become much more appealing.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

(Now Hear This) Jethro Tull - Songs From the Wood

(Now Hear This)
Jethro Tull
Songs From the Wood
1977

Songs From the Wood, in particular, is an album that, for all the band members, was a reaffirmation of our Britishness. (Ian Anderson)

Praise be to the distant sister sun. (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)

Quick - name two popular hard rock bands that incorporated the flute as an integral part of their sound. If you're like me you probably got as far as Jethro Tull and gave up. Maybe I'm missing an obvious one.

Jethro Tull became something of a punchline for a while after the 1989 Grammys, when their Crest of a Knave album beat Metallica's ...And Justice for All in the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance category. It was a ridiculous development that surprised the members of both bands and anyone else who had a notion of what heavy metal actually was. None of which should overshadow the achievements of a band that gave the world such rock milestones as Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play, and of course, Aqualung.

By 1989, I had already moved on and my Jethro Tull years were about a decade past. I remembered Songs From the Wood as being a pretty good album and one that I listened to quite often back when. But until recently I hadn't sat down and listened to it after a gap of nearly forty years. Like so many things that seemed nifty keen back when I figured it wouldn't hold up. So it came as something of a surprise as the album unspooled (on YouTube on a Kindle Fire - my well-worn vinyl copy parked on the shelf about three feet away) and I realized that it was much, much, much better than I had remembered it. So good that it might even merit a fourth "much". A Rolling Stone reviewer once remarked that this "may well have been the group's best record ever". I haven't heard all of the band's albums but I can't imagine one that might top this one.

Jethro Tull was no stranger to concept albums, having already turned out several by this time. Songs From the Wood wasn't quite a concept album, in the sense that it told one coherent story from start to finish. But the songs therein were all focused on a specific theme, which you could boil down to English country life, with the emphasis on folklore and mythology. It was the England of solstice celebrations, standing stones, May Day parades, wicker men, druids, fertility rites, and whatnot.

There's not really a dud in the bunch but side one (for those of us who grew up listening to those vinyl copies) is probably the better of the two, by a hair. Songs From the Wood kicks things off in fine fashion with a sometimes heavyish and other times folkish approach and topnotch harmonies. Jack-in-the-Green is mostly guitar and flute, with a slightly darker and more acoustic feel and is a keen little snippet of song, while Cup of Wonder hearkens back more closely to the title track. Hunting Girl is the odd song out here being a heavier tune about a wealthy woman who veers from a hunting party to consort with the hired help. Ring Out, Solstice Bells closes out side one with a very catchy paean to the solstice.

Side two kicks off with Velvet Green, which alternates between a lyrical and somewhat darker tone, with subject matter that hearkens back to Hunting Girl. Casual Jethro Tull fans are probably most likely to have heard The Whistler out of all the songs here. Of the few singles that were released from the album it’s the one that seems to have been the most successful. Up next is the longest and perhaps the heaviest song on the album - Pibroch (Cap In Hand). Pibroch being a type of traditional Scottish music and consequently Martin Barre's guitar is made to resemble bagpipes (well, sort of). The proceedings conclude with the quietest song of the bunch, with the aptly reflective title of Fire at Midnight.

Top Tracks
It's tough to narrow it down to a few favorites but if I had to, I'd go with (a near photo-finish) Ring Out, Solstice Bells, very closely followed by Cup of Wonder.


Monday, January 18, 2016

10 "Other" Ramones Songs


When I bought my first Ramones album - Ramones Leave Home - way back in 1977 no one wanted to know about it, including the heavy metal kids I associated with. Never mind that it's arguably one of their heaviest albums. Didn't matter. It was a relatively small circle of Ramones fans back then - or so it seemed. But as time passed the world caught up and came to recognize their innate greatness. For the Ramones it was too little, too late, and of course all of the original members are gone now.

If one were to program a playlist of songs from this other Fab Four (Spin is said to have ranked them 2nd, after the Beatles, on a list of best bands) it would probably consist of many of the usual suspects. Let us review. There's Blitzkrieg Bop, Rockaway Beach, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker, I Wanna Be Sedated, Teenage Lobotomy, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Pet Semetary. These are among the band's best known songs. For good reason, for the most part, though I could do without the last one.

Of course, there are many more Ramones songs that are worth a listen. I've listed some below. Or you could just go with the first three albums, in their entirety. I'd add End of the Century to that list but that may be the minority opinion.

Ramones(1976)
Beat on the Brat
Keep it simple, stupid. About as simple as it gets and yet strangely alluring.

I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement
Horror movies meet punk rock and not for the last time.

Leave Home (1977)
Glad to See You Go
The first Ramones song I ever heard. Love at first listen.

Commando
One of the heaviest efforts in the Ramones songbook.

Rocket to Russia (1977)
I Wanna Be Well
You could compile an album (or more) of Ramones songs about mental health. One of the best.

Surfin' Bird
Many have tried (and failed) to capture something of majesty of this song, first recorded by The Trashmen, in 1963. The Ramones were one of the few to pull it off.

End of the Century (1980)
Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?
For their fifth studio album the group teamed up with the legendary and legendarily eccentric producer, Phil Spector. By all accounts it didn't go well. The reception to the album was mixed, but I mostly give it a thumbs up. The song that kicks it off is very Spectoresque and is about as catchy as they come. I rank in my top two of Ramones songs, along with Blitzkrieg Bop.

Danny Says
Because when you think of the Ramones the first thing that springs to mind is a ballad. A catchy one about the rigors of touring, from a foursome who knew that very well.

Pleasant Dreams (1981)
The KKK Took My Baby Away
Not much to recommend from this lackluster album but I'd rank this song in my top three.

Too Tough to Die (1984)
Wart Hog
The excitement of confronting a new Ramones album had dwindled by the time of their eighth studio album. But it was a decent effort and featured this song, a silly take on thrashing hardcore punk.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
by Agatha Christie
1939

"Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

Is there a reason why Agatha Christie is said to be the best-selling author of all time? I'd be willing to bet that there are a few. But more than anything I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that she was really good at what she did and she did it a lot, turning out about eighty works of detective fiction in her lifetime. I'm no expert on Christie and I'd wager that there must be some duds in the bunch, but I have yet to run across them.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas, which was also published under various other titles (Murder for Christmas, A Holiday for Murder), is, for my money, a great example of Christie's mastery. The premise is a fairly standard one for the genre. A wealthy old man who's not particularly likable gathers his dysfunctional family members around him, along with a few others. Not long after he berates them for their perceived failings and threatens to re-write his will, he is found locked in his room with his throat cut.

I'm also no expert on locked room mysteries though I've vowed to read more of them. What I would say about the ones I've read is the word "farfetched" often seems to apply. There's the tiniest bit of that quality to this one but overall I think Christie handles this aspect of the book quite nicely.

Along with everything else, for that matter. By this time in her career, Christie had already turned out about two dozen books and it shows in the relaxed and concise manner in which she introduces the various characters, sets the stage for what's to come, sprinkles clues and red herrings all about and turns Poirot loose to pull everything together. About the only minor quibble I had with the book (a very mild spoiler cometh) is that the identity of the killer seemed to come from out of left field. Aside from that I'd give this one a very enthusiastic recommendation.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas is Murder, by C.S. Challinor

Christmas is Murder
By C.S. Challinor
2008

"Do you think Henry might have choked on his dentures? He said they were always coming loose."

I read and reviewed one of Challinor's Rex Graves mysteries a while back. I hadn't planned on reading another one so soon but the premise of Christmas is Murder reached out and grabbed me. I have to admit to a special fondness for those mysteries in which the author strands his/her characters in some remote location and turns a murderer loose in their midst.

Challinor does this to great effect in what is actually the first mystery to star barrister Rex Graves. A motley crew is stranded by a blizzard at a remote Scottish hotel and one of the unfortunate characters goes down for the final count before graves even arrives. He won't be the last, unfortunately. There's a fairly sizable body count before it's all over.

The author really lays it on thick all the way throughout with clues and red herrings. Perhaps I'm not so good at sorting these things out because I had to admit that even as the end was nigh I wasn't quite sure what was up. My only minor quibble with the whole affair is that the motivations of the killer seemed a bit shaky. Aside from this point, I give this book high marks.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Underrated Rock Guitarists - Snakefinger

A rather obscure "rock" guitarist, Snakefinger, aka Philip Charles Lithman, was probably best known for his work with The Residents, who have provided the world with a seemingly inexhaustible fount of sonic weirdness for about four decades. He was so closely associated with the eyeball head guys until his untimely death in 1987 that the two entities almost seemed to blend together. While his Residential work, not surprisingly, was decidedly quirky, Snakefinger was arguably less offbeat than his pals and his 1984 live album was devoted solely to blues covers. For an introduction to his work, try the Residents albums on which he appeared or the quartet of solo albums he released on Ralph Records from 1979 to 1983.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Underrated Rock Guitarists - Bruce Anderson

One of the more obscure underrated rock guitarists, Anderson played with MX-80 Sound, once described as "either the most Heavy Metal Art Band or the most Arty Heavy Metal Band". Out of the Tunnel, their 1980 release on Ralph Records, is enough to justify Anderson's inclusion in the annals of the underrated.

The group's second full length album, it delights throughout with Anderson wielding a guitar that sounds like a fistful of barbed wire being raked over the strings. Highlights include the bouncy, loopy Gary and Priscilla, which is catchy and annoying at the same time and which finds Anderson almost at his finest. He peaks on Someday You'll Be King, a mix of avant-weird-power-punk-bubble-gum-whatever, complete with an honest to goodness hook and angular punkish guitar freakouts that still stick in my head decades later.

Scritchy, man.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How to Deep Fry a Turkey

To deep fry a turkey.
Procure a turkey in the usual manner.
Such as casually approaching one on a street corner
Or in a senior citizen's home
While appearing to gaze at your wristwatch
And then pouncing on it
And stuffing it into a satchel
Or a carpetbag.
Or set a very large mousetrap
In an area frequented by turkeys.
For best results,
The turkey should be dead.
If the turkey is not dead,
Just be patient,
For pity's sake.
Turkeys are not immortal.
Or you can drop the hammer on that little devil,
In a literal or figurative sense.
It's really up to you.
Dynamite is not considered sporting
As a method for snuffing out
The life of a turkey.
And beating a turkey to death with a shoe
May be frowned upon
In some quarters.
But suffocating a turkey with a pillow
Is considered relatively humane.
It is no small feat to sneak up on a turkey.
And please reflect on the irony
Of smothering a turkey with a feather pillow.
Next, dress the turkey.
No one seems to be sure what this means.
But a nice pinafore is considered stylish
In the turkey community
Or a seersucker suit.
Whatever that is.
Never attempt to put a wig on a turkey.
It will only aggravate the turkey
And you won't feel very good about yourself.
Now place the turkey
Into some type of turkey deep frying device
And fry it
In the customary manner.
If the turkey is not quite dead
You'll know it.
For further instructions
See Appendix 2C,
How to Deep Fry a Turkey

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Children Of The Candy Corn

Old man Burke’s house was off the beaten path, but Jimmy always stopped by each Halloween for a tiny bag of candy corn. It was always tied so nice and neat, with a red ribbon.

This year Burke had replaced the standard kernels with tiny waxy figures. Their sugary bodies had white flesh, yellow clothing and ragged orange hair.

Jimmy eagerly untied the ribbon. The candies were so good. He couldn’t hear the agonized screams or the crunching of bones as he chewed, but Burke could. The old man smiled.

Count Dracula's Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of the Lord Charles D. Razar School for Hemophiliacs

The ageless Count cuts a dashing figure as he walks to the podium, elegant and refined - yes, almost regal. His dark, magnetic eyes scan the room. He clears his throat and speaks. His diction is precise and his thick accent, rather than detracting from his message, only serves to lend it an air of authority.

He speaks eloquently of opportunity and the future and of the patchwork of life that is even now unrolling in front of them like an expensive Persian rug, crisscrossed with an intricate latticework representing an infinite number of possibilities.

They hang on his every word, rapt. There is a minor commotion in front, but most of them are so caught up by his words that they do not notice.

One of the students has lost a small brooch - a family heirloom. She and another student are bent over looking for it. She straightens up - triumphantly clutching the brooch. As she does, she whacks her fellow seeker in the lip with her elbow.

A trickle of blood flows from the split lip. The Count is distracted by the commotion. He spots the blood and falters slightly. He catches himself and continues.

The young man presses the lip with a handkerchief, but of course it keeps bleeding. The handkerchief is soon stained a deep shade of red and the boy's chin is smeared with blood. He excuses himself and slips from the hall, but it is too late.

The Count has become increasingly befuddled and distracted. He stammers and stumbles over his words, mumbling and tugging at his shirt collar. As the boy stands up to leave, he completely loses his train of thought. He stares blankly into the hall, a vacant look on his face. His tongue whisks across his lips. A murmur passes through the audience.

The Count is visibly relieved when the boy leaves. The magic spell he has woven with his words has been shattered, but he manages to gather his thoughts with great difficulty and carries on, just as a thin rivulet of blood trickles from the nose of a girl in the second row.

That does it. The Count slams his palm on the podium, mumbles a halfhearted excuse and stalks offstage, mopping his brow with his sleeve. The crowd murmurs. It is over.

From the Zombie Owners Manual

Bringing a zombie into your home takes a lot of dedication and commitment. But the love you receive will be well worth your time and effort. A zombie may not be easy to love at first, but they are relatively easy to care for. With proper care, you can maintain the health and well-being of your zombie throughout its lifetime (figuratively speaking). Here are a few tips on caring for zombies.

Zombies are surprisingly playful and will love being bounced on your knee, tossed in the air, or playing peek-a-boo.

Never burn any part of a zombie in a wood stove or fireplace.

When first introduced into your home a zombie should be kept in a playpen or crib. Be sure to make your home zombie-proof. One devilish little zombie can make a whole lot of mischief.

Drill a hole in the base of a zombie's skull to release demons.

Only use distilled water to wash your zombie. Use a mild non-allergenic soap. Soaps with perfumes or oils may leave a film on the zombie. To dry your zombie use a soft clean towel. Do not use a hair dryer, as zombies can sometimes be skittish.

Everyone poops - even zombies. Keep their litter box clean and stock up on air freshener.

When bathing your zombie, never leave it unattended. If you leave the bathroom, wrap the zombie in a towel and take it along.

Flesh and intestines are the cornerstones of a healthy diet, but zombies sure do love their treats. Many zombies enjoy toenails, but they are hard to digest and should be given sparingly. Other treats your zombie might enjoy are upholstery, loganberries, drywall paste, cupcakes, mincemeat crepes, and hair.

Zombies sometimes swallow air while feeding, which may make them fussy. Be sure to burp your zombie regularly.

Monitor your zombie for freshness. If it smells "off" or "putrid" or "just plain godawful," remove it from the house.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Essential Sweet Jane I - V.U. & Lou Reed

You could argue that "Sweet Jane" is one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. I would. Never mind that Rolling Stone, in their infinite lack of wisdom, ranked it at 342 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Which puts it one just behind such timeless efforts as Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and a few notches down from Queen's "We Will Rock You".

In any event, your humble author has travelled to the ends of the Earth (well, YouTube) to find some of the most noteworthy versions of the song written by Lou Reed and popularized by the Velvet Underground. This first installment presents versions by the Velvet Underground and selections from Lou Reed's 40-odd years as a solo artist. Installment two will be devoted to notable cover versions. Stay tuned.

It's all subjective, mind you. If you'd like to nominate a version of Sweet Jane to be added to the list, feel free to leave a comment.

(Dates listed are the dates of performances/recordings, not release dates. )

Lou Reed Lectures on Sweet Jane (2008)
You’d think that 40 years after the fact Lou Reed would had gotten tired of playing "Sweet Jane", something he must have done at least hundreds of times. But even later in life he still found the time to explain to Elvis Costello and the audience of Costello’s short-lived TV show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., how the song was structured, while demonstrating his points on an acoustic guitar.




1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1969)
The genesis of "Sweet Jane" is not completely clear but it began appearing in the Velvet Underground’s live shows as early as late 1969. Which is when the version immortalized on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live was recorded. Although the album itself didn’t see the light of day until a half decade later. It's a downright laconic version of the song that contains the infamous bridge that fell by the wayside in many later versions. Cowboy Junkies fans will find it all quite familiar.




The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)
Founding Velvet member John Cale had moved on by the time of Loaded, the group's fourth album, but three-fourths of the group were still on board, including Lou Reed, who proceeded to give the world a song called "Sweet Jane". The version contained here, the first to be loosed on the world at large, is considerably more lively than the hypnotic version from 1969: The Velvet Underground Live.




Lou Reed - Rock and Roll Animal (1973)
This version was recorded in late 1973 and released the following year on Rock and Roll Animal, the first of a pair of live albums that rolled out during Lou Reed's RCA years. The album opens with a heavy guitar duet by Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who work their way through a lengthy instrumental piece that gives way to a radically reconstructed version of "Sweet Jane".




Lou Reed - Live in Paris (1974)
A half a year later or so and "Sweet Jane" had undergone another transformation, though perhaps not as radical as some others. A few members of the Rock and Roll Animal band were on hand for this version but Hunter and Wagner had moved on. It's less heavy than Rock and Roll Animal and even waxes a bit funky at times, with emphasis on the organ in parts. Watch for the moves from the bleached-blonde Lou Reed, who looks like he's about to break into some James Brown at any moment.




Lou Reed - Live in New York (1977)
Probably my favorite of all the non-cover versions. It was recorded at New York's Bottom Line about a year before the version that's next on the list, the one that made onto an actual live bonafide album release. Heavy, heavy and heavy, but in a slightly different manner than Rock and Roll Animal, and there's even some judicious use of a saxophone.




Lou Reed - Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
Lou Reed's double live album from his Arista years is something of a mixed bag. The band is great and so are the performances, mostly of classic Lou Reed songs and a few newer ones. The downside is his tendency to derail several of the songs with lengthy spoken asides that are somewhere between monologue and standup comedy. Which is the case with the version of "Sweet Jane" immortalized therein. If it weren't for those asides - which are quite witty, it should be said - it could have been one of the greatest versions of the song ever.




Lou Reed - Acoustic Version on Spanish TV (1998?)
"I do Lou Reed better than anyone" -Lou Reed


Sunday, September 13, 2015

King Arthur - 2004

King Arthur
Starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley
2004

For epic portrayals of the Arthurian legend it's going to be pretty hard to outdo King Arthur, a 2004 movie that may have outdone what's arguably its most epic predecessor - John Boorman's monumental 1982 movie, Excalibur. For me King Arthur hasn't lost anything even though this was at least the fourth or fifth time I've seen it.

The notion of taking Arthur's story and turning it on its ear is hardly a new idea. One of my favorites is a series of about a half dozen or so books by Jack Whyte in which he strips out all of the magical and fantastic elements and leaves the reader with a perfectly serviceable version of the legend. Which is essentially what King Arthur attempts to do.

After a brief opening scene with a young Lancelot leaving home to fight for Rome, we jump forward about fifteen years. The Knights of the Round Table, those that are left, are all Sarmatian (from the region that's now Iran) warriors who are required to spend fifteen years in service to the Romans. If you do the math then you'll realize that it's time for them to fly the coop. But there's a twist, as a bishop Germanus explains to their commander - a Roman named Arthur.

As the Romans are pulling out of Britain, a great Saxon horde is massing to come down out of the north and lay the land to waste. The scenes of the Saxons on the move are pretty ominous stuff, with their war drums, thousands of marching feet (or so it would seem) and eerie chanting. Turns out there's a prominent Roman family living near Hadrian's wall that needs to be rescued. The weaselly bishop informs Arthur that his men cannot have their walking papers until they complete the mission. Though they carp and moan and know that it's nearly a suicide mission, they are a band of brothers, after all, and grudgingly agree to this one last foray. Any resemblance to The Dirty Dozen or The Wild Bunch may or may not have been intentional.

The knights arrive at the Roman outpost not long before the Saxons and make haste in evacuating it, including a number of people found in a grim dungeon of sorts, one of whom is a Woad named Guinevere. Woads in this movie are just another name for the real-world Picts, a painted warrior people who lived north of the wall and wasted no opportunity to harass their neighbors to the south.

As the Saxons move southward it becomes obvious to Arthur that he should put aside his feelings about the woads and accept their offer of an alliance. But not before the small band of knights must face off against a splinter force of Saxons on a frozen lake in a scene that might remind some viewers of the battle of Thermopylae. It's strictly over the top action movie stuff, this scene, but it does keep you clinging to the edge of your seat.

Against all odds, the crew makes it back from their mission almost intact and are given their walking papers after all. They start walking but when they see that their old leader Arthur is apparently going to try to take on the Saxons singlehandedly, they naturally have to rally round him one last time. And I'll say right here that battle scenes in this type of movie have a tendency to be rather dull, but this one was the rare exception. You can almost guess how it turns out but getting to that point's a lot more gripping that in most action flicks.

Given that it's essentially just an epic buddy movie, King Arthur relies pretty heavy on this small band of warriors. There are six of them, plus their leader and they are a fairly diverse group. I have to say I didn't care much for Clive Owen's Arthur, who's prone to speaking in great oratorical flourishes throughout and not much else. As for Lancelot, he just seems to be bewildered most of the time. Gawain and Galahad just don't seem to get all that much to do.

Which leaves it to the other three to carry most of the group scenes. There's Ray Winston as Bors, the hard-drinking, hard-loving family man who says exactly what's on his mind. There's Ray Stevenson as Dagonet, a fierce burly fighter who turns out to have something of a heart of gold and who saves the day in the frozen lake scene. And then there's Meds Mikkelsen as Tristan, the silent, mystical type with a trained raven and a decidedly offbeat way of looking at the world.

Also worthy of note, Keira Knightley as the kick-ass Woad warrior woman - though it's a bit of a stretch to imagine someone so slight whupping big beefy Saxons in hand to hand combat. There's little or no magic or supernatural stuff to speak of here, though Merlin, the Woad leader, is said to be a magician, of sorts. Also worthy of a considerable accolade is Stella SkarsgÄrd as Cerdic, the muttering leader of the Saxons, who, though he's starting to get up there in years, doesn't take any mess from anyone.

Which is about all I've got to say for this one, except for an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dune & Dune Messiah & Children of Dune

Dune
By Frank Herbert
1965

Dune Messiah
By Frank Herbert
1969

Children of Dune
By Frank Herbert
1976

Given that I've read the original Dune books, the ones by Frank Herbert, a number of times and also given that the first book is nearly fifty years old, I thought I'd forego doing full reviews of each of the three books. I don't recall when I least read the series but I was interested to see how they'd stack up after all these years. Especially after reading six of the sequel/prequel books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, books that I became decidedly less impressed with as I made my way through each volume.

I'm happy to report that Dune held up quite well after so many years. I found myself zipping right through it and while I remembered quite a lot of what was coming I was surprised at how much had slipped my mind. I won't go into much in the way of describing the book, as well-known as it is by now, but rather will join those who praise Herbert for creating such an intricate and detailed world with a rather gripping plot playing out against this background.

Then there's Dune Messiah. I didn't remember much about this one either and after reading it again, I'd say I'm not surprised. It's a short volume and the story does actually have a plot with things happening throughout. But in spite of that it feels that not much is really happening, aside from a bunch of the characters moping and a bunch of the others plotting and conspiring and that's about all she wrote. If you've never read these books before I'd almost say you could get away without reading this one. But in the interests of completeness you might as well go ahead.

Children of Dune was just as hazy in my mind as the foregoing, but I was surprised to find that it's my favorite of the three. In my hazy memories I seem to recall that God Emperor of Dune was my favorite of all of the Frank Herbert Dune books so it remains to be seen if that's really the case. Children of Dune, as the name suggests, deals primarily with the preborn children of the emperor Paul Atreides and their preborn aunt Alia, who seems to have come off the rails a bit. As things proceed Leto, one of the twins, begins to make a major transformation that's dealt with more extensively in the fourth book.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Few Surefire Kickstarter Campaigns

Abscess: The Musical
Dan Rather action figures
Remake Lawrence of Arabia with less "desert stuff"
Research study on the word millinery
Slip-proof banana peel
Horse feather beds

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Accident Prone Hamlet

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
[steps in a paint bucket]
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
[tries to shake the paint bucket loose]
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
[still trying to shake the paint bucket loose - stumbles - catches himself - bangs his elbow on a chair]
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
[gives his foot a hard shake - the paint bucket flies high in the air - comes down and hits him in the forehead]
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
[disoriented - eyes slightly glazed over]
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
[walks into the wall]
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
[very disoriented]
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
[slips on a banana peel - long pause while he gets up and composes himself]
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
[throws his arms wide for emphasis - knocks a vase off the table and smashes it]
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
[picks up the shards of the vase - sticks his finger into a mousetrap]
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
[tries to shake the mousetrap loose and whacks himself in the face]
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
[decides to take a breather - sits on a bear trap that his servant forgot to put away]
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
[leaps to his feet - runs around the room]
That makes calamity of so long life;
[still trying to extricate himself from the bear trap]
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
[finally gets the bear trap loose - steps on a rake - clocks himself in the face]
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
[extremely disoriented now - falls down the stairs]
[decides to call it a day - lies down with a cool rag on his face]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Curmudgeon

He is accustomed to retrieving the newspaper at precisely six thirty.

It isn't there.

He fumes. He rants incoherently and jerks and twitches. After about a minute he begins to froth at the mouth.

One minute after that he starts to bark and growl and gnaw at his arm. At three minutes he dumps a pot of hot coffee on his head. At four minutes he yells so loudly that his teeth fly out and stick in the wall and his wig pops off and lands on the cat.

At five minutes he bangs his head repeatedly on the door and stomps on the floor. At six minutes he slaps himself in the face and wrenches his arm so hard that he dislocates his shoulder. At seven minutes he attempts to swallow a boot.

At eight minutes he cuts his nose off. At nine minutes he drives a sharpened number two pencil into each ear. At ten minutes he gouges out his eyes with a spoon.

At eleven minutes he takes a steak knife and begins to peel his skin off.

At six forty-two his brother-in-law walks from the bathroom with the newspaper tucked under his arm.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Slightly Dubious Ice Cream Flavors

Baby Liver and Horse Sweat Swirl
Kerosene Delite
Banana Toenail Chip
Moist Old Man
Chocolate Cholera Crunch