Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: 'Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture'


In Mark Voger’s world, the lava lamp is always fired up, psychedelia and sunshine pop are always blaring from the jukebox, there are nightly screenings of Head and Easy Rider, the magazine rack is always stocked with the latest issues of MAD Magazine and Zap Comix, and H.R. Pufnstuf, The Banana Splits, and Laugh-In are in constant rotation on the tube (and make no mistake, his TV has a tube… and rabbit ears). These are the things Voger defines as “groovy,” and these are the groovy things that he uses to build a groovy world in his groovy new book Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, and there have been no shortage or reverent, historically conscious books to commemorate the Aquarian age. Groovy is the first one I’ve read that actually captures the full flowering fun of that period. I love, love, love the fact that Voger makes room for the things Jann Wenner types consciously leave out of the discussion. Our author betrays no snobbery, placing the perennial critical darlings beside the less revered but no less lovable sorts. So in this lively, ping-ponging survey of the late sixties and early seventies, there are places for The Buckinghams next to The Beatles, The Guess Who next to The Who, The Cowsills next to The Beach Boys, Tommy James next to Dylan, and Tiny Tim next to Hendrix. A lot of these folks stop in to gab with Voger too, and the book is liberally seasoned with recent and less recent interviews with fab folks such as Donovan, Maureen McCormick, the Smothers Brothers, Brian Wilson, Ruth Buzzi, Mick Taylor, Paul Kantner, Shirley Jones, Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, Lily Tomlin, Roger McGuinn, all four Monkess, and many others. What a gas! However, Groovy’s grooviest feature may be its acid-cartoon design, which explodes with colorful portraits, period art, album jackets, and memorabilia galore.

Mark Voger is also the author of Monster Mash, a book about the Monster Kid phenomenon I gushed over a couple of years ago. I can’t help but think that with his wonderfully definitive volumes on classic monsters and now the psychedelic age, Voger has managed to distill everything I’ve attempted to do with Psychobabble over the past decade in just a couple of handy, dandy hardcovers. He’s a true kindred spirit, Psychobabblers, and judging from his personal, humorous, self-effacing, fun-loving prose, a pretty groovy himself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Two Horror Classics Coming to Blu-Ray from Criterion This February

Just in time for, errr, Valentine's Day, the Criterion Collection is releasing two classics more befitting Halloween season.  Night of the Living Dead and The Silence of the Lambs have actually already been released on Blu-ray by other companies, but both titles clearly deserve the lavish attention of a Criterion edition. And this is what they apparently shall receive this February 13. Here are the specs straight from Criterion.com:


Night of the Living Dead
  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
  • New restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary R. Streiner, and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
  • Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
  • New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
  • Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
  • New piece featuring Russo about the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
  • Two audio commentaries from 1994, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and more
  • Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
  • New programs about the editing, the score, and directing ghouls
  • New interviews with Gary R. Streiner and Russel W. Streiner
  • Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
  • More!
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans
The Silence of the Lambs 
  • New 4K digital restoration, approved by director of photography Tak Fujimoto, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 1994 featuring director Jonathan Demme, actors Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas
  • New interview with critic Maitland McDonagh
  • Thirty-five minutes of deleted scenes
  • Interview from 2005 with Demme and Foster
  • Inside the Labyrinth, a 2001 documentary
  • Page to Screen, a 2002 program about the adaptation
  • Scoring “The Silence,” a 2004 interview program featuring composer Howard Shore
  • Understanding the Madness, a 2008 program featuring interviews with retired FBI special agents
  • Original behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Amy Taubin along with, in the Blu-ray edition, a new introduction by Foster; an account of the origins of the character Hannibal Lecter by author Thomas Harris; and a 1991 interview with Demme

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: 'Book of Alien'


Despite the philosophically deep 2001: A Space Odyssey and the generally shocking Clockwork Orange, science-fiction was still pretty much considered a kid’s genre when Alien was released in 1979, so you can forgive Kenner for trying to market the graphically violent, R-rated movie to tykes with a Xenomorph action figure that drew the outrage of parents.

Owen Williams’s new Book of Alien feels like another slightly misguided product for children based on a very adult movie. The book is constructed as a survival guide full of files on the various monsters, past space crews, missions (i.e.: movie plots), and machines for marines dealing with chest bursters, face huggers, queens, and other nasties in that place where no one can hear you scream. That semi-cute conceit is what makes the book feel like it’s intended for kids, and the rah-rah-military attitude feels out of line with films that were often deeply critical of the military industrial complex. Nevertheless, Book of Alien is great to gaze at it with its spiffy design and abundance of photos and illustrations of Aliens, spacecraft, and high-tech weaponry. Interestingly, the series’ casts are almost entirely absent from the visuals—not a single snap of Sigourney in the bunch. But I think anyone who will really be into this book will care less about the film’s human elements more and more about the monsters and gadgetry. Kids love that stuff.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Super Deluxe Edition of 'More of The Monkees' Coming Soon

On December 15, Rhino Records will continue its long-running Monkees Super Deluxe Edition campaign with a triple-disc edition of More of The Monkees. Sessions for The Monkees' second LP were extensive and had the distinction of producing some of the group's best early songs ("Mary Mary", "Steppin' Stone", "She", "Look Out", to name a few) and some of their all-time worst ("The Day We Fall in love","Ladies Aid Society","Kicking Stones", "I Never Thought It Peculiar"... I shall name no more). The sessions also produced quite a few early versions of songs The Monkees would revisit later in their career ("Valleri", "Words","Prithee", "Mr. Webster", "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet", "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", "Don't Listen to Linda", "The Girl I Left Behind Me", "I'll Spend My Life with You", "Whatever's Right").

Rhino's Super Deluxe More of The Monkees spreads the great, the bad, and the rest across three discs of mono, stereo, alternate, vocals-only, and instrumental mixes. The most intriguing inclusions on this set are a couple of numbers exclusive to the TV series ("I Love You Really"from the "Monkees at the Movies" episode and Mike's wacky version of "Different Drum" from "Too Many Girls") and the earliest live tracks to get official release. These ten numbers caught in Arizona in 1967 include the long-discussed rarity "She's So Far Out, She's In" and the guys' four traditional solo set pieces (Peter's "Cripple Creek", Mike's "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover", Micky's "I Got a Woman", and Davy's "Gonna Build  a Mountain").

You can pre-order the Super Deluxe Edition of More of the Monkees at Rhino.com here. And now here's the complete track listing:

Disc 1
1
She (Remastered) [Mono Mix]
2
When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door) [Remastered] [Mono Mix]
3

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Very Beatles Christmas is Coming

Just in time for the holidays, Capitol/UMe will release a genuine and long-desired rarity for the first time. As far as The Beatles' back catalog goes, their fan club-only Christmas records are the most glaring missing pieces of the Livrpudlian puzzle aside from the Let It Be film. Released in the sixties on chintzy flexi-discs, the seven Christmas records the Fabs issued from 1963 to 1969 will be issued on colored vinyl in a limited edition box set this December 15. According to the official press release, the set will include all original picture sleeves and a 16-page booklet with "recording notes and reproductions of the fan club’s National Newsletters, which were mailed to members with the holiday flexi discs." 

As a little seasonal bonus, Capitol/UMe will also issue the recent stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a limited edition picture disc LP. Happy Crimble!
 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: 'Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier'


The thirst for more time in Twin Peaks was no doubt largely fueled by the desire to return to a mystery, alluring, deeply dangerous locale that held a select few of us in its thrall for 25 years. We wanted to find out what happened to Agent Cooper and his evil double. We wanted to know whether Norma and Big Ed ever got together once and for all. We wanted to know if Audrey Horne survived the bank explosion.

But if we are completely honest with ourselves, our desire for more Twin Peaks was also tied to nostalgia, and though Mark Frost and David Lynch did provide answers to most of the questions we’d spent 25 years pondering, they defiantly refused to give in to our desire for nostalgia. Like Agent Cooper, Twin Peaks was back but not quite in the form in which we were expecting it to be. Many questions were answered, but the holes that remained left some viewers feeling challenged a bit out of their comfort zones.

Our first clue that this was what we should have expected from a third season of Twin Peaks is a firm understanding of David Lynch’s uncompromising artistry: there is no way that the man who made Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE was going to take us on a trip back to Twin Peaks just so we could enjoy one more comfy helping of cherry pie. Our second was Mark Frost’s book The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a winding journey through the town’s history that teasingly focused on matters far removed from the original series’ main events and characters.

As stimulating as these new print and screen additions to Twin Peaks lore have been to some of us, other longtime fans have found them understandably frustrating. Such fans should take heart in the publication of what could be the last word on Twin Peaks, because Frost’s latest book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, answers a lot of questions.

While Mark Frost presented The Secret History of Twin Peaks as a near-multimedia collection of newspaper articles, diary entries, memos, footnotes, and other print materials, The Final Dossier is much more straight-forward. It is a series of between-then-and-now narratives that reveal the fates of characters who didn’t show up for the return, such as Sheriff Truman, Leo Johnson, and Donna Hayward, and explanations of some of the more talked-about matters in the latest series. Such questions as who was behind the so-called Manhattan experiment and who was the girl who swallowed the frog-roach are now answered. And, yes, we finally find out how’s Annie.

The Final Dossier is Mark Frost’s satisfying conclusion to Twin Peaks for those who were unsatisfied by Lynch’s elliptical television incarnation, and it is much tidier than Frost’s own Secret History. That means it is also much briefer—The Final Dossier is a scant 145 pages—and much less idly luxurious. Images are few and the design is far more austere than the lovely Secret History. However, we get much more time with our favorite Peaks characters and much more humor than we did in The Secret History.

Those who revel in the unsolved mysteries of the Showtime series might want to steer away from Frost’s book, or at least, parts of it. I personally found the short but illuminating chapter on Audrey Horne a bit too illuminating even as Frost avoids giving us too clear a picture of what her current situation is. Yet, I was not at all sorry I read it, and with all the theories about what really happened in the third season of Twin Peaks already floating out in the zone, I imagine that Frost would delight in having us accept his version of events as just one more theory that may or may not be gospel. As far as theories go, I’ve read none that were more entertaining or compulsively readable than Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier.

Review: 'Star Trek: The Book of Lists'


Star Trek was one of the most thoughtful American shows from a pre-Golden Age period when most series didn’t share a single brain between them (I’m looking at you, Gilligan and Jeannie). Nevertheless, you shouldn’t really expect great thoughtfulness from a book with a title like Star Trek: The Book of Lists. Even as far as a book of 100 lists about topics such as “Kirk’s Most Memorable Kisses” and all the times Shatner appeared on screen shirtless goes, Chip Carter’s Book of Lists is pretty simple-minded. Commentary is minimal, and in some cases, non existent, as lists of characters who appeared in mirror universes and time travel episodes consist of nothing but names and titles.

But the nice thing about Star Trek is that it was thoughtful and fun, and while Star Trek: Book of Lists doesn’t try to deliver thoughtfulness, it does a fairly good job of bringing the fun. Lists of props and costumes that were remade and reused from episode to episode, 21st century devices and technology Star Trek predicted, merchandise, and actors and actresses who appeared on both Star Trek and Batman are a kick. Since the design is image heavy, graphically appealing run downs of the series’ various uniforms and most outrĂ© fashions, as well as side by side comparisons of how various aliens were depicted across various Star Trek incarnations, are groovy too. Some of this stuff is even informative. I hadn’t realized the Shari “Lambchop’s Mom” Lewis co-wrote the “Lights of Zetar” episode or that none other than MLK was a Trekkie.

There are some questionable inclusions too, though, as “Assignment: Earth” guest star Teri Garr is erroneously credited as a star of High Anxiety and Ronald Reagan is listed among famous Star Trek fans simply because he once screened The Search for Spock at the White House (he didn’t even like it). However, a photo of the U.S.’s last functional president, Barack Obama, snuggling with Nichelle Nichols and flashing the Vulcan salute is a geeky gas, and that’s really the kind of thing you should be hoping for from a book like Star Trek: The Book of Lists.
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