Thursday, April 19, 2018

Surgery 4

Surgery today. Fourth and final, I hope, after three failed attempts to shatter my kidney stone. I go to the hospital in a couple of hours for my uretoscopy; I will be knocked out, tubes will be stuffed up my penis, and I will (I hope) wake up stone-free, to pee out the pieces, hopefully with little pain. 

Then one more week of having a stent in me. Which as long as the stone isn't moving (most days) has been the bigger source of irritation, the thing that makes me bleed when I pee, that makes the urine burn, that makes me wake up at all hours to run to the washroom.

Anyhow, wish me luck.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nada (plus Brian Jonestown Massacre, DOA, and Slow again)

Nothing exciting to report here.

I see gigs happening and feel detached. I hear of films playing and feel detached. I look out the window at the rain and my thoughts are of work I have to do, money I need, my health issues, my future, and my life ahead with Erika (patiently enduring my underemployment and my complaints about my health, though her own health has also had a few bad turns this year - a foot injury and a fall on a sidewalk while on a business trip... of course I am too preoccupied with the blood and fire shooting out my dick to give her equal attention but I'm trying not to be TOO miserabilist this time through. Kidney stones suck though - nothing good to say about the experience. Fourth procedure tentatively penciled in for April 19th, after three failed ones...). 

I mean, it's not like I am completely sidelined. I am kinda wanting to do something on the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I am curious to hear what Joe has come up with for his new DOA album. Like this one, his last three or four albums have been pitched with words like  "DOA's most vital record since War on 45," so he knows what his last high water mark is well as anyone; and in honesty, I've thought his last three or four records were all pretty great punk records (especially by comparison to most of what DOA did in the 1990's and early 2000's, though Loggerheads is pretty great as well). I actually figure he's got a great punk rock album in him still. Maybe Fight Back will be it? It amuses me that he and I are finally geographically located in such a way that I am now in a position to vote for him. 

...And I will (by the way he's got a Burnaby townhall meeting or such scheduled for Wednesday of next week, though I will be at work). 

The Sunday Slow was interesting but there were elements in the night that overshadowed the actual concert, though Heather Haley was charismatic as ever, Slow did a couple of slow jammy almost funky/ bluesy things that I presume were new songs, which I had not heard before; and I was reminded of a great new song by them called "Nothing to Use" which I heard at the Fox and forgot about. There's a great album in the works, I think... lots else that I'm not really at liberty to get into (or just don't want to). 

I look out the window and see people walking by with umbrellas open. I smell my waffle cooking. I think I am going to stop writing, eat my waffle, and clean the apartment a little. Wish I had something more exciting to write.   Meh.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Walter Hill again: The Assignment

I already did some writing on the theme of "what the hell happened to Walter Hill?" I still haven't figured it out, how someone who made some of the great American action movies of the 1970's ended up where he now is, making what are very much B-movies, almost utterly lacking in the charm and craft of his classic work. I still revere his classic films (Hard Times,  The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort) and can find things to enjoy about his one bad 1970's film (The Driver) or his lesser 80's and 90's output (48 Hours, Streets of Fire, Tresspass; I may even revisit Johnny Handsome one of these days). Overall, though, it's puzzling to me. With involvement as a producer on one of the most successful franchises ever, Hill seems like he should have the money, influence and power in the American film system to basically go his own way, and - catching up with his 2016 film The Assignment (also known as Tomboy, on IMDB) - it does seem like that's what he's doing; the film is eccentric in ways that suggest he's calling his own shots. For example, you know his "director's cut" of The Warriors, which introduces those unwelcome cuts to comic book panels at the end of each scene, and substitutes a good number of the films transitions for something akin to flipping a comic book page?

That's all over The Assignment, too. (It is one possible answer to the original question of what the hell happened: Hill apparently really got into comic books, and/or decided that film was or should be an extension of them). There is even a comic book version of the story, co-written by Hill before he made the film, and originally only available in France (which makes me wonder if Hill has been hanging out with Jodorowsky or something, but I have no idea).

That the story existed in comic book form prior to being made into a movie may explain some of what's wrong with it. There's a clumsy cutting-back-and-forth between two levels of narrative, which might work a lot better on the printed page than in a movie, since the comic book reader has a bit more of an authorial role in how lines are read and scenes imagined, contributing more to the work of assembling the story for him/herself. The less effective, much talkier layer has a psychiatrist (played by Tony Shalhoub, whom I like) interviewing an arrogant "rogue" plastic surgeon (played by Sigourney Weaver, whom I neither like nor dislike, but who can certainly do good work). Weaver has been declared insane and committed, and has to read some of the clunkiest lines in the film, illustrating her arrogance and elitism with references to Poe and Shakespeare, lording it over Shalhoub for not getting them. Shalhoub, in turn, has to report his interactions with her to a superior, compounding the talkiness of these sequences and making explicit what was already none-too-subtle. There is simply much more of this than is necessary for progressing the narrative, and elements of it seem so undercooked - like Weaver telling Shalhoub she insisted her bodyguards dressed in dark suits with white shirts, which she bought for them - that they could easily have been left out of the film altogether. That scene, as it plays, reads as Hill justifying a resort to visual cliche in how his characters present themselves (something even Frank Miller - who I generally don't like and don't have an interest in - is smart enough not to do; it's akin to having someone in The Driver explain why The Driver doesn't have a name). Come to think of it, the whole framing device reminds me of a much better film, in fact made by a Hill alum, the late, great Bill Paxton. His superb Gothic horror film Frailty handles its layers much more effectively.

It's a shame, because the other layer of the story - about a (male) hitman named Frank Kitchen, played by Michelle Rodriguez, who is abducted, rendered unconscious, non-consensually gender-transitioned by Weaver, and left to figure out what happened and/or get revenge - is much more interesting. It isn't without problems: it serves at the backstory to the story Weaver tells, but confusingly seems to vie with the Weaver narrative as a framing device, since it in fact begins the film. Since the story Weaver tells is not in fact the Rodriguez one - which contains tons of elements that Weaver was not present for - and since the story of Weaver is mostly unknown to Rodriguez, and happening after the fact, we have what ultimately seem to be two stories embedded in each other, definitely related, but neither of which are being told by either of the film's narrators. (This is very confusing to explain and a little less objectionable on screen, but still irritating). And the Rodriguez "layer" also has an element of its own explicit narration, as in a scene where Rodriguez recaps what is happening to her in a video, in case we've missed something. There are also some weirdly clunky edits (as when, about 21 minutes into the film, Rodriguez throws a tantrum and tires, the scene seemingly coming to an end, after which, the film cuts back to her throwing a tantrum again, with nothing in-between: this seems to violate a basic rule of film editing, that if you're going to let a scene come to an end and cut away from it, don't cut back to it going on again). It's a mess, overall, but there is good stuff in it - especially the performance by Rodriguez.

I don't know why Michelle Rodriguez isn't an A-list star in Hollywood, frankly. It seems unfair enough that I am tempted - again knowing nothing of the actual history here - to cry racism or sexism or something. She can carry a movie - as anyone who has seen her excellent debut feature, Girlfight, will know. Maybe it's daunting to people that she began her career with a performance so tough?

Mostly she seems to have done support roles in action films, since then. She's always welcome onscreen, by me, but nothing I've seen her in since Girlfight (like the surfer movie Blue Crush, which I saw because she was in it, or the Machete films, or the Resident Evil or Fast and Furious films she appears in) has really impressed me that much; she's always good - least convincing when she's happy and feminine, as in Blue Crush, and seeming more comfortable when glowering with body armour and a gun - but she's never the lead, that I've seen, which always seems a waste.

She does have (sort of) the lead role of The Assignment, and her performance is the best thing about it. It's a demanding, maybe even ridiculous, role that she sells: she credibly plays a straight male hitman, then plays a man who finds himself suddenly (and unwantedly) occupying a woman's body. Which doesn't mean she ever plays a woman: she remains a man throughout the performance, with the gestures and expressions and vocal cues of masculinity throughout. These are broadly conveyed - as when, in a scene reminiscent of Oldboy, she wakes up in a grotty hotel room to discover her condition, stripping off bandages to inspect her naked and newly-female body in horror. We've been shown - in Rodriguez's nude scene as a male - that he had quite a large dick, which we can infer he was fond of; his discovery that it has been swapped out is quite traumatic, but it is a masculine trauma we see on screen (presumably an element in the apparently negative reception of the film among transgendered people, but I don't want to get into that; the film is hard enough to get through, because of the levels and degrees of incompetence in its assembly, without also analyzing it politically - though I am sure it could also be politically defended, if you were of a mind to do that).

In any case, Rodriguez remains believably male throughout her performance. You may feel your disbelief straining at all this, but compared to the rest of the film, it works quite well, enough so that you'll be impatient to get back to him/her, frustrated when we cut away to more of the same chatter between Shalhoub and Weaver. There's an interesting story buried here, overwhelmed, overcomplicated, irritatingly assembled, and overall undercooked. If Hill had chosen to tell the story in a more linear fashion, from Kitchen's point of view, while keeping the reveal of what happened to the end - well, true, Park Chan Wook (and Spike Lee) might have been unhappy about it, since it would basically be Oldboy with revenge-driven gender-bending substituting for incest. But it would be a pretty original and powerful exploitation film, and might actually work as a movie, albeit a derivative one.

It does NOT work, as it is; it's a mess. But it is a mess I'm kind of enjoying sorting through, and for those at all curious, there's one other reason to see it that I can offer - besides a general curiosity about Hill's weird trajectory, an attraction to oddball exploitation cinema, and a liking of Michelle Rodriguez: it's filmed in Vancouver, apparently mostly around Chinatown and East Van (the Ovaltine cafe is clearly visible in one shot). Had I known Walter Hill was shooting in Vancouver in 2015 I would have tried to track him down and get my Southern Comfort blu-ray signed (though I would probably have kept my mouth shut as to the question of why he can't seem to make a movie that good again. I'd love it if he did, but it's going to take some rave reviews, at this point, to lure me back to his cinema).

Oh, and for the record, the disc of The Assignment is reasonably cheap, too, having been part of a big Mongrel Media markdown going on at Sunrise Records; while it was $20 or more last month, depending on your chosen format, you can now find it on DVD for 2/ $10 or on blu at 2/ $20, which you now have to pair with a similarly stickered item (a pain in the ass; I liked it better when all Sunrise's $6.99 items were 2/ $10 and all their $12.99 items were 2/ $20, but presumably, that was making it too easy for customers to shop there).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Slow: some bad cellphone pics

I saw Slow again last night. Brought my wife, met Bev there, said hi to a few other people (Ron Reyes was in the house, in advance of his upcoming appearance with the band Thursday, but he didn't sing anything, and I didn't get a chance to say hi to him). Brought stuff for the band to sign but only got to chat with Terry and his wife, at the merch area - where I bought a shirt - though I got to briefly gush at Bruce Wilson of Tankhog and Sunday Morning, the evening's guest, who signed stuff by both those bands. Took a bunch of cell phone pics but Tom asked us all to not shoot and post video of the night, since there was bound to be some chaos and since - my words not his - he's trying to enforce a bit of quality control on the presentation of their as-yet-unrecorded, still-possibly-under-construction songs. I am fine with that (and I've removed some Youtube vids I had previously posted, at his request). "Asphalt Plane" last night seemed a bit darker and funkier than at the Fox. "Polaroid Queen" is awesome Stonesiness, reminding me of a glib comment someone - Dale? Phil? Grant? - made a Track Records years ago, that they didn't like the first Circle C album (the first Copyright album, that is) because it reminded them of those 80's Stones albums no one liked (but which, like Tattoo You, have long since acquired classic status, much like the Circle C album itself).

It was a great show, in any event. The space was small and packed, and indeed, the presentation was unruly, especially between songs; at one point Tom likened it to a Sonic Youth concert, "except we only use two tunings." But it sure was fun. It didn't go exactly as I expected: I thought there would be an opening set from Bruce, maybe even some Sunday Morning (or Tankhog!) stuff, but instead - after spinning all of the Stones' Some Girls off a turntable onstage, and a brief Aaron Chapman interview with Molly Malone, one of the Penthouse strippers - the instrumental portion of Slow kicked things off (at about 11pm) with a set of surf music (!); then - with Tom arriving - they played most of the Slow old and new catalogue - including a truly kickass "I Broke the Circle" and a couple songs that we had NOT heard at the Fox ("Hello," one appeared to be called). Only then, mid-set, was Bruce brought out, who did two songs: "He Ain't Heavy (He's my Brother)" and Iggy's "Kill City," with Tom doing a duet on the former and mostly stepping down for the latter. If Bruce came out later I missed it; my wife and I snuck out shortly after "Gimme Shelter," since my ailin' body was pretty uncomfortable by that point and I hadda go pee some blood downstairs. But it sure was fun. It struck me that Tom Anselmi is basically a 50 year old teenager. This, in turn, made me feel like a 50 year old teenager (though I've aged more like Hamm, who looks like a 50 year old Hamm).

It would blow to discover that Bruce got onstage for a final song or two with Tom, especially if one of those was "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," so please don't tell me if he did. What else? Them backup singers sure was cute (I didn't get their names, though I kinda thought "Betty and Veronica" would work). I am keen to see another show, though my body bein' what it is these days, I may not, especially since I'm back to work this week. (By the by, a little bird tells me that Doug Donut will be singing "In Flames" with them tomorrow, the greatest Death Sentence song ever; and I am guessing that Billy Hopeless will be doing "Ain't It Fun" with them on Thursday. My most likely night of attendance will be the Heather Haley/ Dennis Mills evening, which closes things off next Sunday. We'll see how it goes).

Anyhow, this is what I got pic-wise. Bev probably took a lot better ones but I ain't seen them yet. Lots of chances to see Slow still this week! (I wonder if I can make it to Vancouver on Thursday night after work? I dunno if I'll be up for it but whoo, Ron Reyes AND Billy Hopeless sharing the stage with Slow? Hmm).

Friday, March 30, 2018

Bison, Slow, and so forth: gigs this weekend

Bison plays the Rickshaw for the 11th anniversary of their debut album Earthbound, tonight! Brad Mackinnon is back on drums for the event (dunno where Matt Wood is, or for that matter, Masa Anzai). I might just pack up my kidney stone and go to the show. If this is the gig Dan And mentioned to me last time Bison played the Rickshaw, they'll have "Wendigo" back in their set. And I haven't heard "Dark Skies Above" in ages. And, you know, I might need me a new Bison shirt, since I keep losing them. Or maybe a Bison hoodie, now that I'm actually wearing hoodies?

You know, I was a hoodie snob for ages - didn't wear them for exactly the same reason I don't wear my baseball caps backwards - and then I got a couple at a thrift store and... holy shit they're comfortable. 

Oh, and Earthbound is being reissued on vinyl. (The CD, pictured above, is out of print and pricy). Hey, lookie, they have their old logo back:

Oh, and those of you who don't have it might want to nab a "vintage" Bison t-shirt which they have reprinted for the gig (see below). James and I had an amusing conversation a couple years ago, on the sidewalk outside the Hindenburg, where I asked him about exactly this shirt and he talked about how much he loved the design and I observed "come on, it looks like something a 14 year old drew on the inside cover of his math textbook,"  or words to that effect. He glowered at me, or raised an eyebrow, or something, but I'm guessing - based on things he's said in past interviews about a friend's awesome "stick and poke" tattoo - that the crudity of design here is exactly why he likes the shirt so much. I mean, this is the guy who wrote "These Are My Dress Clothes," after all. I kinda like the more sophisticated Bison shirts that have emerged since, but it's kinda a fun shirt, I do admit. 

By the way, that's not a reprinted shirt, but an original: this was the first Bison t-shirt I bought, back from before they were signed to Metal Blade, playing the Plaza, back before it was the Venue. Thems were the days. 

Anyhow, there's no Bison interview this time around, but there is a storc mini-interview I did awhile back. And storc singer Luke Meat and I have had some fun interactions on Facebook. I would like to see storc (bandcamp here); if you like spazzy tuneful punk with a side of noise, they're pretty great, and kinda akin to BRASS, who opened for Bison last time they played the Rickshaw. 

I don't know the other opener, Needles // Pins, but am game to check them out. They've been pretty prolific - a few LPs now, several singles, a cassette... maybe I will dig it?

In other news, tonight is also the first night of the (kinda insane) Slow ten-night stand at the Penthouse. They have a whole lot of fun stuff planned, including Aaron Chapman giving a presentation on the history of the venue, on several evenings (see below). Sadly, I won't get to see the Ron Reyes/ Billy Hopeless night, since I'll be working in Surrey, but you basically get to pick your cool opening acts. Me, I wanna see Bruce Wilson (of Tankhog and Sunday Morning, both featuring Slow bassist Stephen Hamm) on Saturday and Heather Haley (of the misspelled Zellots - see here) and Dennis Mills of the Judys (who I still haven't done a single lick of press for), on April 8th. Mike van Eyes is a crazy good piano player, too - as close to Jerry Lee Lewis as I've seen Vancouver produce (seen him with the Trespassers and the Rocket Revellers and loved it both nights). 

Oh, and by the way, this one I did do an interview for. I got some real eye-opening stuff from Tom Anselmi for the Straight website. Didja know where the title of Against the Glass came from? You will never, if you don't already know, be able to guess. 

I dunno if I will make it out to the see "the jug band of the damned," the Creaking Planks, on April 1st at the WISE, with Aaron J. Shay of Seattle (event page here). I know for sure I won't be seeing Jeff Andrew at the WISE Lounge, because I work on the 4th (though anyone who came to my Suburbia event and enjoyed his songs a couple weeks ago should check him out doing a full set). 

There are probably a billion other bands that are worth seeing this week. I probably won't be writing about them. But I might go see a couple of gigs this weekend, for a change. I mean - I'm sick, not dead. If you see me, try not to jostle me, okay? 

Greg McLean's Jungle: an enjoyable ordeal indeed

I love outdoor ordeal films. Ideally I like them to have a deeper resonance, to have a subtext - as Carol J. Clover writes about so effectively in Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film - that takes on archetypal resonances (she likens films like I Spit On Your Grave and Deliverance to Little Red Riding Hood) or implicitly figures class relations (she looks at Deliverance and the metaphor of rape: the middle classes are "raping the land" and the rape-minded hillbillies are getting even, forcing the well-to-do interlopers to come to terms with their privilege and either die guilty or defend it). In fact, the most interesting of these films can be read on many levels. There's an entire aspect of Deliverance, more obvious in the novel, where the "ordeal" to which the main character is subjected is a ritual of manhood-making - an engine teaching him to suppress his homosexuality. (It may not be politically correct to love a film that you believe is deeply, fundamentally homophobic, but, you know, I also think King Kong is fundamentally and problematically about interracial relationships - that there is a buried racism at its core, which Peter Jackson very effectively brings to the foreground in his remake, with all the Heart of Darkness references... but I'm not about to give up the film because it's politically problematic). The Canadian horror film Rituals - not to be confused with the excellent Netflix outdoor ordeal film The Ritual - also works as a sort of transformative ordeal on its main character, a conscientious doctor who, in being made to suffer (at the hands of someone deformed by less conscientious doctors), has to learn to fight for his life, overcoming his compassionate tendencies and killing in self-defence. In many ways these films - Hostel is another great example, though it substitutes economically depressed Eastern Europe for the American backwoods - are about learning from your persecuters, becoming like them, taking the violence that has been done to you and using it in an act of vicious (and justifable) self assertion (best figured at the end of the original The Hills Have Eyes). There's something usually very reactionary about these films, since, as Clover argues, they act to allow people with class privilege get to get over their guilt and blamelessly murder the poor (though you get occasion exemplars that are conscious of the class dynamic and play with or subvert it, as with Eden Lake). It's especially interesting to me that the locales of these films are increasingly outside America, where wealthy tourists are subjected to ordeals at the hands of pissed off locals. Take, say, Turistas, or Hostel, or - well, there are two superb early Greg McLean films, Wolf Creek and Rogue,  both of which partake quite gleefully in torturing visitors to Australia (Rogue actually seems to want to make amends for how nasty the earlier film is to its tourists, showing that McLean is quite conscious of what he's doing).

With all of that on my back - and counting myself a fan of Greg McLean's cinema, based largely on those two films and the best Battle Royale movie since Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment - the moment I saw the box art for Jungle, and saw that McLean was directing it, I knew I had to see it.

And if you're now thrumming with resonance, having read the above, having seen that image, and  feeling a genre-lovers craving for a good outdoor ordeal film, you pretty much have to see it too, ideally without knowing anything more about it, except that I assure you, it's really good. If you liked Wolf Creek and Rogue, you'll be right at home with this movie. You can stop now, and go find the film ($12.99 at Sunrise Records as of this writing). But fair warning: I've totally misled you as to the content of the film with that first paragraph. It very adequately explains why I was excited to see Jungle, based on what I had on my back when I saw the box and who directed it - but it has nothing much to do with the film itself, it turns out.

Some mild spoilers follow. You see, Jungle is a pretty faithful "based on a true story" kind of story. It's not the kind of "based on a true story" story that takes some real event as the pretext for confabulating a lot of crap; it's the kind of "based on a true story" story where the person it happened to, and who wrote a memoir about the experience - Yossi Ghinsberg - is present on the set as an advisor, and pops up in the making-of featurette included on the disc. It IS still an outdoor ordeal film, and it does have features that some of the above-mentioned films have (like men on a raft going down a river, which resonates against both Deliverance and Rituals). And it has some good little gross out moments (monkey meat, anyone?). But being an actual true story about someone fighting for survival in the forests of Bolivia, it doesn't quite have the horror or fairy-tale/ archetypal dimensions that the other films I'm mentioning have. It has more in common, in fact, with Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn - another based-on-a-true story film where a known actor (there it's Christian Bale, here it's Daniel Radcliffe) has to lose a bunch of weight, get attacked by parasites (leeches in the Herzog, worms that live in wounds in the McLean) and struggle against the elements - green things, rain, cliffs, and so forth. While I did enjoy Rescue Dawn, I must say: I enjoyed McLean's movie far more, maybe because it doesn't come at you with all the "arthouse machismo" baggage of having been made by Werner Herzog (who I like, but who can be a bit much at times, y'know?). While a humbler film, it is certainly no less interesting to look at than Rescue Dawn. That's pretty high praise, really. because Rescue Dawn does look great...

Oh, and there's a good quicksand scene, too - when was the last time you saw a good quicksand scene in a movie? And there's stuff with ants that should really make Eli Roth wince with embarrassment, at how bad his CGI ants look in The Green Inferno. While - with the possible exception of the monkey meat scene - Roth trumps him for gore hands-down and guts-out, McLean easily out-ants him: he actually puts REAL ANTS on Daniel Radcliffe, and gives us what sure look like real close ups of ants biting human skin. (He explains a bit about how he does this - holding up a jar of Australian ants, standing in for fire ants - in said featurette, but he doesn't say what the ants are actually biting). Harry Potter haters might have fun seeing ants poured on Daniel Radcliffe, though. Hell, Daniel Radcliffe fans might enjoy it, too.

I actually like Daniel Radcliffe - he's made consistently interesting career choices as an actor. Have he and Elijah Wood co-starred in anything? They've seemed on similar trajectories.

While I am mildly disappointed that there is no deep subtext to Jungle, that there's not much to dissect in terms of class politics or the form the ordeal takes or so forth, and that in fact it ends up being more of a real-life adventure story than a horror movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Knowing nothing about it at the outset, except that I wanted to see it, I had to shed by baggage gradually ("I don't think there are going to be any cannibals... nuts"). But by the end, I was glad to have seen it, and am happy to recommend it to anyone who counts himself a Greg McLean (or outdoor ordeal movie) fan.

A real jaguar would have been nice, actually. I guess that's my one criticism of the film. But the featurette is pretty fun on that note, come to think of it, when you see that they had actually used, before the CGI, a fucking stuffed tiger as a stand in.

Anyone seen Wolf Creek 2, yet? I missed it... I think I need to. Keep going, Greg McLean! We old auteurist types need genre filmmakers to follow!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A little update

Sorry, not writing much.

There is a Slow feature soon to come on the Georgia Straight website where Tom Anselmi totally blows me away with a couple of his answers... He's a fascinating cat and I'm really hoping to catch at least one or two of their momentous upcoming ten night stand at the Penthouse. I also put out feelers for a Bison interview but that doesn't seem to be materializing (this might change). Will I suck up my discomfort and go see Bison? Will I make it to at least ONE Slow show of the ten?

I dunno. (Heather Haley, formerly of the Zellots, will be singing with Slow on April 8th, by the by).

Meantime I am still sidelined with these kidney stones. I have spent most of the morning with a dull ache in my back and pain in my left ball, which is all good, because it is a kind of pain that seems to correlate with the stone moving. It is still uncomfortable. I have taken two T3s to minimize that, am guzzling a concoction of RealLemon and carbonated water (because it is said that citric acid can help dissolve stones), have rubbed some deep heating rub on my back, and have been using a "personal massage device" to actually massage my back, for whatever good that might be doing. Nothing so obvious as yet but one never knows.

As you may gather, my second lithotripsy was unproductive. I did pee out one tiny fragment and the stone MIGHT be a bit lower than it was, but that's about the best news I got: it is still clearly visible on the X-ray (though it seems a bit more ghostly, like it's maybe thinner? Not sure what that means). Stent removal has been delayed til mid-April; I go to the urologist to consult with him about the next step, which will either be a third (and possibly also unsuccessful) lithotripsy, or else a ureteroscopy, which involves getting lasers and whatnot up my penis, through my bladder, and into my ureter to break up the stone. (Adrian Mack, bless him, likened the procedure to sending a tiny Donald Pleasence up my dick with a jackhammer). The first procedure - the lithotripsy - is less intrusive but it seems to be, alas, quite ineffective; the OTHER urologist in the story, who supervises the lithotripsy, has said we should not repeat it, if it didn't work this last time. I gather my main urologist, however, has real concerns about proceeding with the ureteroscopy, which has a higher risk of, say, burning a hole in my internal tubing. There was some brief back-and-forth, with me calling offices to learn that both men didn't want to proceed, that I likened to "kidney stone ping pong." "I don't want him, YOU take him!"

So what's a guy to do? Anyhow, I consult with my main urologist today. I am well ready for this adventure - which began in June or July, recall, when the stone actually passed from my kidney - to be OVER; to have both the stone and the stent out, so I can sleep and pee and function normally. I am sort of inclining towards trying the laser option, since it has not yet been tried, but it worries me that the guy who will be performing it seems to want to discourage me from going there.

That's my life at present. Lotta gigs I won't be mentioning. The Creaking Planks have something coming up at the WISE Hall... that may be where Jeff Andrew will have a gig, soon, though I forget. I feel pretty removed from it all at present. Weirdly, my blog has never had more readers, though, so...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Things I will likely not see: Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird

My health issues are going to keep me from a few cool things this month. Having had my third procedure for kidney stones earlier today, I doubt very much that I will be well enough for the Pointed Sticks on the 23rd at the Byrd in Surrey (though I have a plug for it on the Straight website, comin' soon, talking with Nick Jones). I have done nothing so far on Bison's Earthbound 11th anniversary show March 28th at the Rickshaw, and may continue to do nothing, including missing the show, though it is very cool that Brad will be back on drums for the occasion. It's gonna be kinda interesting because I have long acclimatized myself to Matt Wood's very different style. Plus I assume this is the gig Dan And was telling me would see "Wendigo" back on their setlist! I am hoping that by March 30th I will have the mojo to go to a few gigs of Slow's momentous ten-night-stand at the Penthouse. (I also have something coming up with Tom on that topic on the Straight website, which has some real eye-opening backstory about the titles for "I Broke the Circle" and Against the Glass). But if today's lithotripsy works, I might start peeing chunks soon, so... how will that feel? Will I want to go out if I need to scream when I pee?


It is also unlikely I will see Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird, a play that takes in the topic of sexual abuse (a different production of it, with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, is described here; the Straight has something on the Vancouver production of it here). It opens tonight, I gather, in a $10 preview version. It ain't nothin' against the play - I talked to Rodney about his most recent album, Old Tenement Man, here, count myself an admirer of his work, and would probably enjoy the play a whole lot. (I've even picked up and read a poem or two from his most recent book every time I pass through a Book Warehouse, but I haven't committed quite yet there). Theatre is something I almost never do, but a gritty local production of a well-received play, featuring someone I know and respect in a lead role... it sounds pretty cool. (I also have had, disturbingly, an almost identical shirt-and-tie combo to the one Rodney appears to be wearing, above). A description of the content, from the Blackbird press kit:

When Una was 12 and Ray was 40, they had a three-month long sexual relationship. Ray was sent to prison, served his sentence, changed his name and began a new life. Now, fifteen years later, Una has tracked him down to confront him in his workplace. But what does she want? 
“… is Una, the young woman in the play, after revenge or closure, or does she want to restart it? Is Ray, who has been sent to prison and is (he claims) attempting to rebuild his life, a mendacious aggressor, or as much of a victim as she is?… …questions far outnumber the answers…” –The Guardian, 2017 
David Harrower captures the bewildering and brutal realities that victims of sex abuse often face as they grow older. We follow Una on her confusing journey, as she navigates the conflict of her young infatuation with Ray, and her adult understanding of the trauma that came of his actions. Harrower masterfully orchestrates her emotional roller coaster and does not shy away from the tough questions, while providing no easy answers. 
“I distrust statements,” Harrower says, “I want to undercut them, look under them.” –The Guardian 2017 
Harrower writes Ray with surgical accuracy, as a fully fleshed out human being, with his own defenses and reasoning that he has created around his actions. This invites the audience to see Ray in a light different than just a base monster, and to empathize with him, a position that creates the same kind of confusion in the audience as it does in Una. 
UNA: You were looking at me. At the barbecue
RAY: No.
UNA: I saw you
RAY: I wasn’t
UNA: I felt you
RAY: I looked at you. I wasn’t looking. 
One Story’s production is directed by David Bloom, known for such hard-hitting works as Und (Felix Culpa), and The Monument (Felix Culpa/Rumble Productions). This show will introduce Vancouver theatre goers to Panthea Vatandoost, a Leo nominee for Sahar, as Una. Renowned singer/songwriter/poet and actor Rodney DeCroo plays Ray. Stephanie Wong, (The Aliens) is production designer and the stage management team is Samantha Pawliuk and Emily Doreen Wilson. 
Blackbird runs Wednesdays through Sundays, March 21—31 at Backspace 1318 Grant Street – Alley Entrance. Performance times 8:00 pm, Saturday/Sunday pay-what-you-will matinĂ©es 2:00 pm. Tickets $15.00 online, $20.00 at the door. $10.00 previews March 21, 22
Sounds meaty and real. Now that I write this I'm wondering if maybe I can make it one night? At the very least I'll forward this link to a friend or two... least I can do...

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

My 50th Birthday Movie event: Suburbia (the Penelope Spheeris one, that is)

So: for my 50th birthday party, I'm getting to curate a film: Penelope Spheeris' under-rated 1983 "punxploitation" follow up to The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, screening March 12th at the Vancity Theatre. Here are eight good reasons to come see it!

1. You like me! (I only turn 50 once, on March 7th, in fact, and I don't curate film events very often).

2. You like Flea! Yes, before he was famous, I think even before he was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea was a punk, who played in Fear (and I believe a few other California punk bands - I had heard he was in the Circle Jerks for awhile, and I believe he has a Black Flag tattoo, though I don't know if he was actually ever in Black Flag). He kind of steals the show here, as he tends to do, acting under the name "Mike B. the Flea" as a rat-loving street punk named Razzle, living with a group of other LA punk kids in an abandoned suburb. Ever wanted to see Flea put a live rat in his mouth? Here's your chance! (No rats are harmed). And who can forget the "Happy Easter, Asshole" scene?

3. You like a good exploitation film! This film - not to be confused with the stilted 1990's Linklater/ Bogosion slacker comedy of the same name - was produced by none other than Roger Corman and is very similar in respects to a lot of Corman's classic AIP exploitation dramas and of the 60's and 70's, containing the same sort of unsubtle social commentary you get in classic blaxploitation cinema, the same feel for youth that you see in his drug films like The Trip or Psychout, at least some of the same sensationalism of vintage women in prison movies (even a bit of lesbianism!), and a straights-versus-outsiders plot that you get in biker movies. There are certainly documentary elements to the film - a cast of real punks, for one, real bands, real concerts, presumably real locations (like the housing complex where the kids are squatting, sort of foreshadowing the squats of Decline of Western Civilization III). It has the same unexpected authenticity that a lot of the Corman films have (I mean, they're always a bit cheesy, but for a B-movie huckster, his productions often do more justice to their subject matter than their "serious" A-list contemporaries).

4. You like punk music! The Vandals - the original Vandals, with Stevo - kind of steal the show with "The Legend of Pat Brown," which appears to be about a cop killer (?! - "he's no zero/ he's a fuckin' hero!" But D.I. also performs "Richard  Hung Himself" - later covered by Slayer; and there are, if memory serves, two clips of vintage Jack Grisham TSOL. There's also punk all over the soundtrack, and a cast of real punks (including, I gather from comrades at the Straight, the female drummer from the Butthole Surfers, back in the day, trying to sell her pap smear); Penelope Spheeris said something at the time about how she was operating on the principle that you could train a punk to act but you couldn't train an actor to be a punk (though she tried with a subsequent film, Dudes, which I haven't seen in years and can't comment on; it's got John Cryer and the chubby murderer-dude from River's Edge, whose name, if I recall right, is Daniel Roebuck. All of this is long before Wayne's World).

5. You like Penelope Spheeris! ('nuff said, I hope, but certainly this film and the first and third Decline films are essential seeing for anyone who cares about punk cinema).

6. You like live music! We will have a guest, Jeff Andrew. I picked Jeff for this event because: a) his music works great in a solo acoustic context; b) for a folky kinda guy, he has pretty impressive punk credentials, having appeared on the final album by the Rebel Spell, co-writing a song with them; and because c) Todd Serious, the departed frontman of that band, was a big supporter of Jeff's, was the man, in fact, who turned me on to Jeff's music. Jeff is a very, very gifted songwriter in his own right, and songs like "Professional Asshole" - about cops abusing authority - to me have the classic feel of the very best (punk or folk or what-have-you) protest songwriting; I am sure Phil Ochs would have been impressed. Read Jeff on Todd Serious and the writing of "The Tsilhqot'in War" here...

7. And at the risk of opening old wounds, for fans of the Rebel Spell, I hope to play a couple of videos by the band as an added bonus, in tribute to Todd, who actually died ON MY BIRTHDAY, on March 7th, 2015 (March 12th might well be the anniversary of the day I found out about it - I was sitting at work at PGIC, in the computer lab downstairs, planning a lesson, when Adrian Mack called me to ask me if I'd heard. He was momentarily freaked out when I asked if it was rock climbing accident, like I was psychic or something, but it really wasn't a tough thing to guess; Todd had been injured previously in rock climbing accidents, which we'd talked about. Anyhow, the Rebel Spell remain one of my all-time favourite punk bands. I believe members of the band are going to come to the screening, and I might try to play some clips of both the Rebel Spell and maybe one or two bands from the Rebel Spell's diaspora...

The Rebel Spell at Adstock in Maple Ridge, photo by me!

8. And hell, I dunno what else you need to come see this event, but hopefully a few of my friends (and Facebook friends) will be there. I usually give out a couple of prizes - not sure what those will be this year. There is a bar at the Vancity, just like the Rio. Real comfy seats; Jeff will be playing in the atrium, so it's really easy to grab a beer while you watch. And, you know, how often have you heard of Suburbia playing THEATRICALLY in Vancouver? (I don't know if it has EVER played theatrically here, actually, or anywhere in Canada; it's kind of an under-seen, under-discussed classic).

I will have an interview online SOMEWHERE (take a guess where) with Penelope Spheeris on this film, before it screens, but seriously, folks, if any of the above moves you, come see Suburbia at the Vancity Theatre on March 12th. I promise it will be entertaining. I mean - *I'm* going to be there, and I still bleed when I pee!

See you there! Happy birthday to me...! (I'd add "rest in peace" for Todd, but "peace" seems like a strangely inappropriate thing to wish on Todd, akin to "old age" or "mediocrity" or something. In any event, I miss you, man).

Saturday, March 03, 2018

On Eli Roth's Death Wish

Note: apologies to Joe Carnahan - I HAD noticed his name in the credits (and based on Narc and The Grey, count myself as a fan) but I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't know ANY of the sad history of his screenplay (which you can read in the original here - thanks for that, David M.!). I am sure Carnahan's version would have been better. Anyhow, he doesn't get mentioned at all in what follows, but from what I gather, it wasn't much of "his" screenplay anymore at all (he left the project when the producers insisted on Bruce Willis). Hope he got a paycheque out of it, at least.  

I don't consider myself a total vulgarian when it comes to cinema. There is crap I enjoy - including the original Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, which I wrote about here; Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie got me on a Bronson kick awhile ago and I really quite enjoyed myself. But simplistic and sleazy and crudely-made as such movies may be, I think the question of vigilantism is a very interesting one, not entirely irrelevant to my interest in punk rock (CF. Gerry Hannah's comments about Direct Action and vigilantes in Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed). Sometimes crappy, sleazy movies can raise interesting questions, speak to aspects of society in a way that is potent, honest and unpretentious (no one \accused Bronson of being pretentious ever, I should imagine). And sometimes sleazy action films and thrillers do things that rival Un Chien Andalou in their capacity to unsettle, that can be quite startling and psychologically revealing, in ways more genteel, "mature" films rarely are.

Take Eli Roth's first two Hostel movies. While paid newspaper-type movie critics - mostly jobbers who trade in moral outrage and middlebrow mediocrity, seldom saying much of interest at all, often just jumping from one predictable bandwagon to the next - dismissed Roth's two best films as grindhouse "torture porn," I  would be hard-pressed to name any 21st century horror franchise that interested me half as much, and I entirely bought Roth's protestations on the Hostel II commentary that the film was meant as a sort of political protest against GW Bush's America, that it was a film about exploiting, torturing, and killing people for profit (among other things - there's also a whole subtext in the film about beauty and female competiveness, grounded by an incredibly brave performance from Heather Matarazzo, whose death scene is maybe the most upsetting scene in any movie I've seen, shy of Salo). When I applied to the Master's Program at Film Studies at UBC (which I was not admitted to, and nevermore shall attempt to access, because, well, just fuck'em), the main thing I was interested in writing about was transformative ordeals and class rage in what I was calling urban/ rural horror movies - a phrase I thought I had picked up from Carol J. Clover, but which I don't think she actually uses. Her chapter on rape revenge movies and the city versus the country in Men, Women and Chainsaws is some of the most provocative film writing I've read - and can be productively applied far beyond her scope (which mostly focuses on Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Hunter's Blood, and, of course, I Spit On Your Grave). If you get thinking about it, her analysis - that such films allow people further up the class ladder than the downtrodden to guiltlessly act out their rage at the poor, for MAKING them feel guilty in the first place - lends great depth to the Hostel franchise, which swaps out rural America in favour of economically-depressed Eastern Europe. It's part of a growing tendancy to use the developing world in the place of the dirt-poor, rapey hillbillies of Deliverance (see also, say, Turistas, for a Latin example. or The Ruins, or Borderland; there are others). There's lots I can say on the topic - there's a pretty good book in it, actually, on the globalization of urban/ rural horror... 

...but suffice it to say that I really, really liked the Hostel movies - especially part two, which is just jam-packed with ideas about class and gender and beauty and power and capitalism. It's one of the smartest, richest horror films I've seen, with its brilliance lying in part in the fact that it draws on a very simple template (but tweaks it and complicates it).  I spent a few years forcing friends to watch Roth, even got my wife, who doesn't like horror that much, to watch Hostel  (though she disliked it enough that I haven't pressed Hostel 2, the better film, on her... yet. There is almost no point, since I would probably have to just fast forward through Heather's big scene, which is just so cruel and heartbreaking and ugly that I couldn't bear to expose her to it, as important a scene as it is). 

Alas, I haven't been that impressed with anything Eli Roth has done since: acting kinda badly in a weaker Tarantino and the one Latin horror film I caught him in (Aftershock) didn't do anything to vindicate my enthusiasm for him, and while The Green Inferno and Knock Knock were both decent enough - I liked The Green Inferno the second time through far better than I did the first, after my expectations had been suitably lowered -  they weren't as original or striking as the first two Hostel films, with the first being a genre homage and the second a flat-out remake, if memory serves. I began to worry that Roth's early brilliance would prove to be as temporary as Tarantino's, if, as so often happens in American cinema, success would spoil him in one way or another (Because I haven't loved anything QT has done since Jackie Brown, you know? And I flat out disliked his last two features,  albeit in very different ways).  

Anyhow, having read Brian Garfield's original novel; having seen all the Bronson Death Wish films, and several other Bronsons besides; having seen Death Wish knockoffs like Harry Brown and The Brave One, having greatly enjoyed James "Saw" Wan's Death Sentence, based on Garfield's follow up novel to Death Wish, and much truer to Garfield's intended message; and having even watched Zebedy Colt's bizarre, transgressive, and disturbing porn ripoff of Death Wish, Sex Wish... I was actually really excited to hear that Eli Roth was taking on Death Wish, and I thought it brilliant that he had cast Bruce Willis in the lead role. It seemed a perfect choice, especially if Roth was planning to do anything remotely transgressive or fresh with his text. He had every opportunity - to make a film that stood to the original Death Wish films as Unforgiven stood to earlier, more violent Clint Eastwood fare, or that took in, say, a film like Falling Down (which speaks to the put-upon white male vigilante, with some fairly overt political messaging). Willis has long been - especially in the first Die Hard and The Last Boy Scout - sort of a poster-boy for put-upon white male rage; who better could Roth possibly cast in the role of Paul Kersey - especially if Roth intended to subvert Kersey's vengeful rage, query it, make it an uncomfortable place for the viewer to access? (Which, by the way, is what Wan does with Death Sentence, making it very clear in a way the Bronson franchise never did that VIGILANTISM IS BAD, that it leads to a dehumanized, ugly place; Kevin Bacon ends up far uglier than the monsters he's dispatching, and the film ends up no advertisement for taking the law into your own hands). Garfield had always disliked the Death Wish franchise for making his story into something pro-vigilante, turning Kersey into a sort of folk hero.... and I always felt bad for him, because the book, while uncomfortable, even painful to read, has brilliance to it. Roth could right that old wrong, amp up the damaged, racist, angry aspects of his main character's descent, and maybe even end the film with a surprise twist, like having Kersey get shot and killed at the end by a black man, say. There are a billion interesting and provocative things to be said about gun violence and racial tension in America right now; and if you're going to address such issues through an exploitation film - especially a remake - what better source text to choose than Death Wish?

You see, all the hand-flapping bandwagon-jumping critics who,  when the Death Wish trailer broke, posted articles about how tone-deaf, ill-timed, and insensitive it was for Roth to resurrect this franchise...? They were TOTALLY WRONG. It was, all along, a potentially brilliant move. If Roth did something as brave and confrontational as he did with the Hostel films, if he took a few risks - I thought - and ventured to rub his audience's noses in their desires and prejudices, he could make an INCREDIBLY timely and politically significant film, show that his finger was in fact RIGHT on the pulse of American violence, maybe even digging his thumbnail into it a bit. IT COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT. I spent months salivating, even interviewed Robin Bougie about his reactions to the trailer. (I avoided watching it, myself, lest it sully my excitement). Despite the early shit reviews - which were totally predictable, given the current state of critical culture -  I still made my way off my sickbed to see the film on opening night at Metrotown, last night, with at least somewhat high hopes still intact. 

Sometimes you need to have a movie you have hopes for, you know?

And while I enjoyed myself - it's a fine, fun "homage" to the Bronson films, and if you like those, you'll probably enjoy it well enough - I must say that my main reaction was disappointment. I try NOT in general to review a film against what I had HOPED it was going to be, but it's impossible for me to do otherwise here, since my hopes were so high and played so much of a role in my going to see it last night: I had hoped this film would do something inspired and original with the Death Wish mythos, and that it would vindicate all the long hours I have spent arguing against the "torture porn" Roth-dismissers out there. 

Sigh. Turns out the film is merely okay. It is assembled well-enough, in terms of editing and photography and scoring and pacing - it is a competent bit of crap, vastly better-made than any of the original Death Wishes, for one thing (none of which look that good, and especially not the first one). Some of the overhead traffic shots are just great. Some of the action scenes play out very crisply. There's a bit of interesting commentary on social media, with Willis watching a clip of himself in action on the internet and approving, even smiling. I like the score. Even AC/DC is well-used - how is it that "Back in Black" hasn't been in a movie until now? (Or has it been...?). 

All of that is not enough by far - especially when MOST of the key players in the film appear to be beyond Roth's capacity to direct. Bruce Willis, Elizabeth Shue, and Dean Norris all look like actors delivering lines through most of the film (with Willis basically re-visiting the ground covered in the vastly fresher Unbreakable: he seems sad and mournful even before the home invasion that so damages his family, so you never really feel the depths of his grief or rage, afterwards; he's basically in sad-sack mode the whole fuckin' film, turning in a performance that actually is WEAKER, acting-wise, than Charles Bronson's - which, much as I like Charles Bronson, is really SAYING something). Vincent D'Onofrio, on the other hand, almost overacts his role, running a bit too far with it, like he's compensating for Willis' lack of expressivity, panicking a little at how stiff everyone else is; he borders on the hammy at times, which doesn't help matters. There are a few relative unknowns who do decent work in the film - Camila Morrone, as Jordan Kersey, or Beau Knapp as Knox, to name two - but the only name actor present who actually submits a memorable performance is Stephen McHattie, who has a minute-long cameo in the film, where he bursts in a room, EXPLODES with actorly power, and then leaves, putting everyone else in the film to shame. His lines are NOT "you call this acting? Where the fuck did you learn to act, in a TV commercial? You assholes aren't acting. THIS is acting, for fucksake. NOW SHAPE UP!" That is NOT what he says, but that's kind of what you take away from his scene. 

I love Stephen McHattie. I like that Roth cast him, obviously just for the sake of having McHattie in the film, briefly. 

It still is nowhere near enough to save the movie. Where the film is really disappointing is in its completely not living up to ANY of the potential it has. Does it offer anything new or fresh or interesting? Does it say anything that the original Death Wish films didn't? Does it do anything remotely inspired or creative, beyond having Kersey watchin' himself kill people online?

Okay, there's one pretty great, gory torture scene in it, but I always held that Roth, at his best, was about a LOT more than "torture porn." Maybe his naysayers have convinced him, finally, that that's a suitable ghetto for him to occupy, though? When the only remotely fresh scene in the film is, in fact, a scene of torture... it makes me wonder if maybe I had Roth wrong all along? Maybe Hostel II isn't the inspired, provocative masterpiece of contemporary horror that I always took it for? ...or maybe he just got lucky, had a couple of good ideas early on, then made a lot of money and got lazy or just plumb ran out of new things to say? 

It wouldn't be the first time, in American cinema, that that's happened.

Eli Roth's Death Wish did not offend me. I enjoyed it well enough - if you like a good violent shoot-em-up kinda film, if you like Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis movies, you'll probably enjoy it just fine. It is no more dangerous or tasteless than most other action films out there; if it remains in line with the reactionary tendencies of the original franchise - if we started condeming American movies for being reactionary, there wouldn't be many of them left that we could watch. The film is a purely passable entertainment. Someone who has never seen a Charles Bronson film might even find it an agreeable gateway drug. 

But I sure didn't care about it, and I'd really hoped to. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Kidney Stone blues

First off, I'm all right. I have a puppy training pad stuffed in my shorts as I write this - basically a giant, folded maxi-pad, in case I dribble; they were much, much cheaper than an adult diaper, which is what I was sent home in. (Thanks to my smart wife for this brainflash; puppy pads can be purchased at any Dollarama and cost a fraction of their human equivalent, for those of you with incontinence issues). Now that the anaesthetic has worn off, the dribbling appears to have stopped, but it burns a bit in my urethra when I urinate; my pee has a pinkish hue (or did yesterday); and it doesn't take long for my bladder to feel uncomforably, even painfully full. Plus I have a bit of constipation, also caused, I think, by the anaesthetic.

But for a guy who had tubes stuffed up his dick yesterday, I'm doing just fine. 

I also still have a kidney stone, 6X9 mm, jammed up my left ureter, apparently exactly where it was before I went to the hospital. I would feel much, much better about my experience yesterday had it actually been effective in removing this blockage. My urologist DID manage to get a stent into my ureter, so the urine can now flow around my stone - which is definitely something - but - I had not realized this - apparently yesterday's treatment was kind of exploratory, of a "let's go in and see what we can do" variety.

The answer, sadly, was "not much."

Pretty sure my urologist was more definitive when he initially described the procedure to me two weeks ago, but okay, whatever: apparently my kidney stone is not in a place where it is accessible. The lasers and cameras and other mysterious technology that went up my penis, through my bladder, and into my ureter yesterday could not get far enough up into my tubing, as my buddy Mark has put it, to "blow up my Death Star." So I will have to go for a different procedure, involving heavy vibrations, at VGH. I'm not even sure what the hell it is called, or what the side effects to THAT will be. (No one warned me about urinary incontinence yesterday, though in hindsight, it makes sense; what will being vigorously vibrated about the guts do, I wonder?). Maybe I would rather have cut to the chase, on that, and spared myself the experience yesterday, had I known it might not be effective, but I guess I'll try to have some equanimity here. I got a stent. I am almost fully recovered. It was nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be.

And while it may not have actually solved my problem, it was still an interesting experience, as those of you who follow me on Facebook will know. I got to have my feet in stirrups, just like a woman giving birth. (I was pretty much knocked out by that point, with a spinal shot and a general sedative, so my memories aren't very clear about that. I kinda wish I had pictures to show of it). I spent about three hours numb from the waist down, with nurses using ice to determine how effective the freezing was, moving it down my body to see where I was frozen up to ("is it cold?" became yesterday's equivalent of "Is it safe?"). I got to have first hand experience of the whole "wiggle your big toe" trip from Kill Bill, which scene I have new appreciation of. (Apparently my left big toe comes out of anaesthetic much faster than my right). And I had the singularly strange experience of feeling like there was some sort of small stuffed animal in bed with me, an odd lump between my legs that, on further investigation, turned out to be my penis. (As senstation returned to my feet and groin it felt like my dick and balls and the bottoms of my feet were all made of pillows).

And while the what's-that-oh-it's-my-dick moment was probably the high point of weirdnesses, there were, indeed others. At some point, for instance, I apparently involuntarily ejaculated, with no erection, because I could sniff semen on my fingers after touching myself. When I could finally stand, in order to demonstrate to the nurses that I could urinate and was therefore fit to be discharged, I got to Tim Conway my way from the bed to the bathroom, leaning  into the porter with my IV bags on it, dribbling urine every step of the way. Usually Erika gets annoyed with  me when I pee on the floor, but apparently yesterday I had a free pass. It has, further, been some time since I wore a diaper (which was soaked with pinkish pee by the time I got home; alas, we didn't think to ask for a second one to change into, which is where the puppy pad came in). All of these count as life-lessons, I suppose - a sort of practice-run on my old age. I probably didn't need to re-learn how little I like having tape ripped off my arm, though it may encourage me to shave my arms a bit before I go into VGH for phase two of this procedure.

But I'm home, I'm safe, and while there was probably wisdom in keeping a puppy pad on, I am no longer leaky, apparently. Sometime in March, I get to get my guts vibrated. We'll keep you posted on how that works, I guess.

Meantime, I leave you with this Frank Zappa song. Maybe you know the one...

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Shaw Brothers Night at the Vancity Theatre: Come Drink With Me plus vintage trailers!

You meet people who remember the Rickshaw as it was from time to time, back when it was known as the Shaw Theatre. One of my wife Erika's coworkers tells me he used to regularly go see Hong Kong-made Shaw Brothers movies there with his father throughout the 1980's, back when it was actually a movie theatre. The place was an institution for Vancouver's Chinese-Canadian (and/ or kung-fu-movie-loving) community for decades, run by the actual Shaw family, before it eventually closed and fell into disrepair. The resurrected Rickshaw's current proprietor, Mo Tarmohamed, has put up a couple posters for vintage kung fu movies in honour of the building's heritage, but - though I've chatted with him a bit about the building's past - I hadn't heard until recently that, when he took over the building, he also inherited film reels that had been left in an office, including some vintage Shaw Brothers trailers. (I believe Adrian Mack over at the Straight has actually seen the film cannisters in question, which Mo and co. are currently cataloguing; it was all news for me, as of a couple weeks ago).

That's all some cool local history. But besides being overwhelmed with other work, I'm maybe not the best-suited man to write a story about all this, because, despite a recent  failed attempt to make it through The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the only actual Shaw Brothers movie I have seen to completion is an anomalous one: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a Hammer Studios co-production that features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, battling, yep, kung-fu fighting Chinese vampires. It is very silly, very fun, and reasonably well-made, even if the film's Dracula pales next to Christopher Lee.

I mean, vampires are supposed to be pale, but... you know what I mean.

I do like a good kung fu movie, mind you, and have enjoyed two Ip Man movies, Bloodsport, Circle of Iron, and a couple of vintage Bruce Lees, but it's a genre I have less than exhaustive knowledge of. I am too fussy to watch poor-quality bootlegs, I can't abide most dubbing, and am even less fond of incompetent subtitling (which I have noted more than once on less-than-reputable DVDs of Chinese films). You just don't stumble across good quality DVDs or Blu's of classic kung fu actioners that often in your da-to-day scroungings in this town. (Or at least I don't). Hell, I don't even know if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon counts as a wuxia film. To be totally honest, I'm not even sure what a wuxia film is, though I know that the 1966 feature Come Drink With Me is a wuxia film, because it is mentioned in the Vancity Theatre's program description.

Which brings us to the point. The Vancity Theatre will be playing Come Drink With Me and THREE of the Shaw Brothers trailers rediscovered at the Rickshaw on February 11th, at 9:45PM, to mark the occasion of Chinese New Year (the next day). Apparently the star of Come Drink With Me, who made a splash at age 20 in the film - her name is Cheng Pei Pei - was also in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and acts in Mina Shum's upcoming Meditation Park. She's still around, and through Shum, she too has a Vancouver connection. All of this is more than enough to put this film on my radar (my crazy-busy worklife right now might still mean I don't make it, but I'm gonna try).

There really isn't a lot else I can tell you, but Tom Charity has posted a piece on the Vancity Theatre website which includes trailers for some classic Cheng Pei Pei films, including Come Drink With Me, and more news about the Rickshaw discovery. It should fill in a few blanks. I wonder if Erika would enjoy Come Drink With Me? (Maybe she should tell her aforementioned coworker?).

Friday, February 02, 2018

Paolo Angeli's Vancouver return: a real (rare) treat for guitar lovers

Welcoming Paolo Angeli back to Vancouver!

I used to be a lot more involved in the avant garde music scene in Vancouver - noise nights, pancake noise breakfasts (or was that "noise pancake," to differentiate from the sound of the noise MADE by pancakes?). I wrote a Wire article - my only one so far - largely focusing on the Fake Jazz Wednesdays scene and Vancouver New Music, also speaking to people involved at 1067,  and tipping hat to bands like Shearing Pinx and the Mutators (unfortunately, some editor capitalized my And, making them into one band, but ah well, by the time I saw it the article was in print.) I think I got Dave Chokroun, Flatgrey, Harlow McFarlane and Josh Stevenson in there, maybe under a band name in some cases. I missed a couple of obvious names - Bill Batt and Jeremy van Wyck deserved to be in the article, for sure (Anju Singh was only just getting involved in the scene, though I did plug the Her Jazz Noise Collective). But I was focusing on the fear of impending venue closures, and talked to wendythirteen about the Cobalt instead, not knowing either Bill or Jeremy at that time and trying to keep my interviews manageable. The punk in me was glad to get wendythirteen into the Wire, but missing Bill and Jeremy seemed a mistake afterwards (I don't even recall if I mentioned Bill's band at the time, Stamina Mantis, who I'd only barely heard of). Besides all that, I paid a little more press than was maybe strictly warranted to my friends in Ejaculation Death Rattle (but what can I say, I dug what they did, members of the band were my "in" to a lot of the cooler stuff I was aware of, and, I mean, that's a great name for a band). I also blogged here a lot on any of the noise events I went to - go back ten years or so. And I frequently volunteered at Vancouver New Music events, selling merch for a long list of very cool people: Paul Dutton, Fred Frith, Maja Ratkje, the Her Jazz Noise Collective, Sir Richard Bishop, Diamanda Galas, and one of the guys from Negativland (Mark Hosler, I think his name was).

Those merch table nights were really fun. I often bought a ton of merch myself; I sold merch to some cool people (Alex Varty and I both bought Kick the Dog, a live Fred Frith album that you just don't see in stores); and sometimes I got to have very interesting conversations with the artists in question (including a long talk with Jaap Blonk that didn't ever end up making into the world, if anyone is hungry for a Jaap Blonk interview; it's one of about five major interviews I've done that for one reason or another never actually got published). Often I would be sitting at the merch table, "guarding" it, instead of going in to the venue proper (we're talking the Scotiabank Dance Theatre, here, so there was definitely a separation between the merch tables and the performance area).  Frequently that meant hanging out with people who were waiting to perform, or just winding down. I missed Koichi Makigami's set but I got to see him do a little bit of warming up in the anteroom. I had a long, enjoyable talk with Paul Dutton. I got Otomo Yoshihide to sign a CD, and confirmed with him in my broken Japanese that his family name was indeed "Otomo," not "Yoshihide" (the program got it wrong). Got to meet Maja Ratkje, too (much less terrifying when not performing). And of the five, I think, Vancouver New Music festivals (and a couple of stand-alone concerts) that I did that sort of thing for, by far the set that got the most buzz was Paolo Angeli, at the Guitars! Guitars! festival (or was it "Guitars! Guitars! Guitars!"...?).

I had no idea who Paolo Angeli was at that time. I was keener to see Rene Lussier that night, if memory serves, doing a combination of traditional French-Canadian reels and improvised electric guitar stuff, so I decided to just stay on the table and let a co-volunteer go into the space. But when people came out, after Angeli was done, they were totally excited about this masterful performance they'd seen, of moving, tuneful music played on a totally unique prepared guitar/ cello that gave him a much richer, bigger sound than you usually get from a solo performance. People cued up to buy his CDs in droves - it was Tessuti that he was touring at the time, involving his covers and homages to the music of both Fred Frith and Bjork (!) - and we sold all but one or two.

Mr. Angeli, after the performance, came out to square up, saw that he'd sold almost all his merch, was very surprised and happy, and - this was the only time, as I recall, that this happened - he gave me a tip: a copy of his CD. He tipped me! (That didn't happen very often).

It was terrific. I took it home, put it on, and commenced kicking myself for having missed his set. Understand, this was not really avant-garde music as the term is usually understood. It was fresh and new and virtuosic, sure, but there was none of the demanding/ indulgent/ noisy quality generally associated with the avant-garde. It was utterly beautiful to listen to, but also very earnest and down-to-earth, something that could easily bridge the gap(s) between people who liked classical music, jazz, experimental music and pop. I can't imagine anyone who likes guitar music, regardless of his or her background or tastes, spinning the album and not enjoying it (unless they really needed to be able to pigeonhole the genre, which I imagine would be frustrating). If you like music, you'll like it (and I'm tempted to say if you don't like it, you don't like music). And while I have sold off most of the CDs and LPs that I bought during that time, and almost never listen to anything remotely avant-garde anymore - the odd Eugene Chadbourne disc aside - I think I'm going to make up for my error and go see Mr. Angeli's Vancouver return performance on February 10th, again, put on by Vancouver New Music.

That's all I can really say about it, but an excerpt from the press release from Vancouver New Music follows. Note, fellow vulgarians, that in reading this through, I initially thought he adjusted tunings "on his fly," not "on the fly," which error lasted long enough in my head that I formed a mental picture of what it might look like.

Vancouver New Music presents
Paolo Angeli (Italy) – Solo Performance
Saturday, February 10, 2018; 8PM
Free pre-show chat 7:15PM 
Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music (843 Seymour Street)
Advance single tickets: $29 general / $21 senior / $12 student
At the door: $35 general / $25 senior / $15 student
(includes taxes and venue surcharges; ticket vendor surcharges extra)
Vancouver, BC – Virtuoso guitarist Paolo Angeli (Italy) returns to Vancouver on Saturday, February 10 for a one-night only, solo performance for prepared Sardinian guitar and voice at Pyatt Hall. This concert will be the final Canadian stop on his world tour for his new album, TALEA, which will begin at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 
Whatever you want to call it, nobody else plays music quite like this. Angeli, the Sardinian sorcerer, creates beautiful, multi-layered music from his unique prepared guitar: a hybrid orchestra of an instrument with strings that go in all directions, foot-pedal-controlled motorised propellers and hammers. Creating shimmering drones and bass-lines, Angeli bows, strikes, plucks and strums while producing rhythmic musical atmospheres by treading on a plastic bag and adjusting tunings on the fly. With this singular instrument he improvises and composes unclassifiable music, suspended between traditional music of Sardinia, free jazz, baroque, post-folk and pre-everything else. Every performance is lived through the practice of free improvisation, and represents for Paolo the chance to mould the sounds generated by his ‘orchestra’-guitar. The result is an ever-changing portrait where, in real time, can be found remnants of the ‘canto a chitarra’, Tasgia choirs, free jazz, punk noise, drum & bass, and avant pop. 
He has collaborated with Pat Metheny – who used Angeli's guitar in Orchestrion – Fred Frith, Hamid Drake, Iva Bittova, Butch Morris, Ned Rothemberg, Jon Rose, Antonello Salis, Evan Parker, Takumi Fukushima, Louis Sclavis, Paolo Fresu, and others. 
"Paolo Angeli is one of jazz’s best-kept secrets. The Sardinian guitarist (of sorts) has the ability to conjure incomparably beautiful multi-layered music, all from just one instrument. Playing a one- of-a-kind guitar/cello/motorised hybrid, Paolo bows, plucks and even provides his own percussion all at the same time without any need for loops." – Jez Nelson - BBC radio 3

More on the event here, and on Paolo Angeli here. Check him out on Youtube and tell me that it ain't lovely. Maybe we see you there?

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Kidney Stone, My Penis and My Urologist's Laser

Was is June? July? One summer night, back when I was still working at Douglas College as a tutor, you could find me at the hospital, doubled over with pain in the mid-back, sitting on the floor of the ER because the nurses wouldn't give me a chair (because I might be infectious, and because they apparently all had chips on their shoulder, some weird hate-on for sick, unpleasant men - because who can be pleasant in the state I was in?). The tiny hard hospital cot was too uncomfortable, and too high off the ground for a guy who needed to barf pretty frequently, so, chairless, I was slumped there on the tiles with the trash bin between my legs, projectile-puking and moaning, the doctors and nurses staying well away, and my understandably disgusted but still supportive wife standing, worrying about me, from the opposite corner of the room... it was several months ago, now... worst night healthwise of my life since I got over my tongue cancer surgery...

I figure  now that that day was when the kidney stone left my left kidney and began its passage down my ureter (the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder). At 9mm long (and whatever the diameter - "it's a big one," my urologist tells me) it is too big to actually pass into the bladder, too big to be effectively shockwaved into fragmenting, too big to pass with the help of products like Flomax (which my urologist doesn't trust, anyhow, and which has, I gather, some scary dick-damaging side-effects). So as soon as they can book an appointment, they're going to admit me to the hospital, put me under, and stuff a camera and laser on tubes UP MY PENIS, THROUGH MY BLADDER, and INTO MY URETER to laserblast my rock into fragments that I might actually piss out, hopefully without cutting my urethra to ribbons, and without them accidentally lasering through my internal tubing. "It's a very small risk," my urologist said...

It's only taken six months of the BC medical system to get me to this point, from the diagnosis of a "possible kidney stone," even before my ER trip, to a diagnosis of "likely kidney stone" to an inconclusive ultrasound to a conclusive CT scan, each spaced out by a month or two, as my symptoms persisted unabated and untreated. Having a partially blocked ureter means your body wants to pee more to flush out the blockage, so you dehydrate a bit, and wake up to pee a lot, no matter how much water you do or don't drink. Because my blockage - a lump of calcium and minerals presumably about the size of a playing marble - is actually too big to pee out, there has been some buildup behind it in the ureter of substances that it traps; for all I know, it's gotten bigger. (Infection and inflammation are obvious other risks). The pain is actually fairly mild - a dull lower back ache on the left side. Some days I don't even notice it. But I am told if it goes untreated much longer, the pain will worsen, and my urologist seems intent on fast-tracking me. With my apnea and my being overweight and so forth it takes a little while for them to get all the paperwork in place for a surgical procedure, but, if he speaks the truth, it could be as soon as next week.

I never would have guessed that there would come a point where I was looking forward to having ANYTHING stuffed up my penis, but here I am. If it's the most likely treatment to have the desired effect - if there are, really, no other good options, then, like I said today to my urologist, "Doc, you go ahead and stuff that laser up my penis, and the sooner the better." 

If that's not the most unlikely combination of words I have ever strung together, I dunno what is.