Let’s All Appreciate Tanya Donelly!

Monday morning Becky was listening to the first Belly CD, Star. Belly was Tanya Donelly’s band after she left Throwing Muses. It’s a great album (as is their second album, King) and before long I was under a Belly spell. My This Is My Jam for Monday was “Dusted” from that album.

It’s such a great song, and it inspired me to thank Ms. Donelly for the music she’s made, and we saw how that turned out.

After printing out that tweet and framing it, I declared a Tanya Donelly theme week on TIMJ, and here are the results.

Tuesday was “Pretty Deep” from Tanya’s 1997 solo album, Lovesongs for Underdogs.

This is a live take. The official video is here.

Wednesday’s track was “Hellbound” from Pod, the first album by The Breeders. Tanya was a member of The Breeders originally and co-wrote this song.

Several of my Twitter pals suggested Throwing Muses Thursday, so that’s exactly what I delivered. Here is “Not Too Soon” from The Real Ramona:

For Friday, I wasn’t sure where to go. I had a Throwing Muses track, a Belly track, a Breeders track, a solo track…what else should I include? Then pal Andrew reminded me of this gem:

That’s from the Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits compilation from 1995, and it’s incredible.

So: Tanya Donelly, everyone. This theme week may be over now, but my motto is to live every week like it’s Tanya Donelly week.

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The Movies-To-Watch List: Apocalypse Now (1979)

“It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror.” That line, sampled at the beginning of a remix of Shriekback’s “Nemesis”, was much of all I knew of Apocalypse Now. (Well, that and “the smell of napalm in the morning”.) I’d been curious about it but never seen it. I’m not interested in war or war movies, even ones that purport to show the brutality and absurdity of war. The ones I’ve seen, such as Platoon, The Big Red One, and The Hurt Locker, all seem to echo that saying of Truffaut’s, that you can’t really make an anti-war movie because you still end up ennobling war. Even if you’re presenting the participants as hapless innocents slaughtering and being slaughtered for no valid purpose, there’s still a hint of dulce et decorum involved. And that’s even before you add in the current climate’s beatification of soldiers. Generally I felt that no matter how good Apocalypse Now may be, I’m on board. I don’t need to be shown the horrors of war. American teenagers killing Vietnamese rice farmers because the US and USSR are swinging their dicks and you think you’re going to enlighten me on the banality of it?

The other issue I had with seeing it was that I came of movie-going age in the 80s, under Reagan. And I was too young and dumb to remember Vietnam or understand much of the 70s, but I understood that Platoon and Rambo were basically ball-grabbing attempts to declare that America was still the best country on Earth an no, we didn’t lose in Vietnam, Vietnam gave up on us, man! It was the fault of sergeants gone wrong or inept politicians or liberal faggots or whatever. I lumped Apocalypse Now in with that group, thinking it was yet more hand-wringing over how Vietnam was a problem simply because it caused people to doubt the strength and spirit of America, not because we learned nothing from it and would happily do it again.

But as time went on and the other 80s-era Vietnam memorials faded and seemed quaint, Apocalypse Now stayed, still looming. It became clear to me that this went beyond that conflict, or armed conflict in general, and I steeled myself for it.

And now I’m sorry I waited so long.

It’s an incredible movie. It’s not perfect, but even its imperfections are amazing. It starts out with the protagonist essentially in Purgatory and then pushes him deeper and deeper into Hell, with each episodic circle presenting a whole new batch of sinners. When I mentioned to someone that we’d started it late and stopped right past the last bridge, he remarked that that was a good stopping point, because it all goes to hell after that. Considering the scene we’d just been through, I couldn’t imagine, but he wasn’t wrong.

Impossible for words to describe, yes. I can’t articulate the feelings this dredged up. The movie is paternalistic — the natives are only barely human and that its their actions which trigger Kurtz’ break is telling — and it’s not subtle — “Colonel Kilgore”, indeed — but every instrument in it is used with precision. It does indeed glorify war and honor the dumb dead soldier, despite the attempt to condemn the purpose and execution of the conflict. But it gets under your skin. There’s more here than just “war is bad”, and despite the onslaught of horrific images it’s almost subliminal in its effect.

There’s a reason the jingoistic foolishness of the 80s is forgotten but this one stays on. Apocalypse Now, with its references to T.S. Eliot (and of course, Heart of Darkness) attempts to move beyond “the tragedy of the Vietnam War with regard to American feelings” and go further, much further down the river.

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Lego Detective’s Office

Ever since they first came out, I have loved the Lego modular buildings — the official ones and the original ones in that style I’ve seen on Flickr. They’re pricey, though, so I’ve generally had to make do with my own EPIC takes on the Cafe Corner and the Green Grocer sets. But that all changed recently.

Thanks to my buddy Dan, I was able to get hold of the newest modular building, the Detective’s Office, at a discount rate since it fell off the back of a truck. This weekend I enjoyed putting together my first really for real building set. Here it is!

And the back:

The set is full of great details. There’s a pool hall downstairs:

A barber shop with some great lettering done in a very cool way (and check out the minifig scissors!):

And, of course, the Detective’s Office itself:

(I imagine “Brickman” is like “Smith” or “Jones” in this world.)

And here are the insides:

There are some really great building techniques here. You can’t really tell, but a lot of the walls use a half-stud offset to bring the windows in. The way the half-stud is accounted for and attached to the rest is really quite clever. As usual with official sets I’m always excited by situations where as I’m following instructions I can’t really see why something weird is going on until the moment when you realize what it’s doing and how nice the result is. It’s one of these things, like a really nice mathematical proof, that you can’t really explain to someone who doesn’t already get it.

There are six minifigs in the set. Ace Brickman, the dame, two pool players, a barber, and a cop.

But wait! The cop comes with lady hair!

The set does have some play elements. The fire escape drops down, the doors open and such, and there are odd secret passages that I couldn’t figure out until I looked at the back of the box. It turns out there are some shady dealings going on regarding cookies and the pool hall gang.

I don’t quite follow this noir tale, but I guess someone is buying cookies from their dealer, then hiding them in a barrel. The guy then sneaks into the back of the barber shop and stows the contraband underneath the stairs, where it can be accessed by another secret panel in the pool hall. I haven’t the heart to tell them that cookies are perfectly legal and cost much less than $100.

Oh and the back of the box also lets you know you can pretend the dame has to go potty.

I don’t mean to raise any alarms here at home, but now that I have a somewhat cheaper source for these, this may not be the last one I get.

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i/we am/are a/some being/s of pure light now/always

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I Had That! #48: Fotonovels

In the constant quest to relive one’s favorite TV shows and movies before the advent of DVDs or even VCRs in great numbers, the fotonovel was essential. These were fumetti-style comic book adaptations where, instead of artwork, stills from the films were used. Here’s how the above Buck Rogers fotonovel looked on the inside:

Do they even bother to make these anymore? I know they finally did ones for the original Star Wars trilogy a few years ago, but I don’t know that I’ve seen any others. (Apparently there was also one for The Blair Witch Project. Was the reader advised to shake the book around as he read?)

I had a bunch of these. Looking at a list of them, these are the ones I know I had:

Alien – talked about here.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
The Champ – yeah, I have no idea. But I distinctly remember it. Maybe I borrowed it from someone?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Grease – And not only did they include the raunchy lyrics, there were even lines not in the movie, such as Rizzo telling Kenickie, “Keep a cool tool, fool. I’m wise to the rise in your Levi’s”
The Lord of the Rings – The animated Bakshi movie, which I was fascinated by, but not enough to read the actual books.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – I think. I’m not 100% sure on this one.
Battlestar Galactica
Mork and Mindy
Star Blazers – I have the first three volumes of, I think, six. And I love them and have wanted to for ages to get the remainders, but for a long time they were crazy expensive. I haven’t checked in a while.
Star Trek: Metamorphosis – I found this at a used book shop, which explains why I have a random episode and not, say, The Trouble With Tribbles, which I would totally have instead (I did have the “Making of” book about that, which I loved.)

They really should make these again. They were a lot of fun.

When did I get it? Various times in the early 80s.

Do I still have it? I still have those three Star Blazers volumes. I also have the Star Wars ones I mentioned. None of the others.

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The Movies-To-Watch List: Ministry of Fear (1944)

Remember the Movies-To-Watch list? Almost a year ago I made a list of ten movies I wanted to see before the end of the year. Well, I failed. For most people, knocking out ten movies is at most the work of a month or so, but for me, a whole year couldn’t do it, with the effort petering out as early as June, sort of. But I am undaunted, and I will not only finish the 2014 list, but I’m going to think of a 2015 list as well.

I actually watched Ministry of Fear right at the tail-end of 2014, but haven’t talked about it until now. It’s a Fritz Lang happening from 1944 about an everyday guy caught up unwittingly in a network of spies.

Honestly, this one didn’t really wow me. This plot, where a schmoe accidentally stumbles into espionage is something that has now been done a million times, and once you’ve seen North by Northwest and Foul Play it’s going to take a lot to make an impression. Since I can’t really say much towards any of the technical aspects of film, because that sort of thing is lost on me, all I have is plot and character. The plot is not only familiar, it’s kind of wacky. The way Ray Milland gets involved is, frankly, absurd, and some of the “twists” along the way (the spy leader is pretty much obvious the moment the character walks on screen) are likewise artificial and goofy. I will say that there is an interesting touch where Milland’s character may or may not have killed his wife, and in really crazy bit with a seance, but neither of those things goes much of anywhere. After M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and Metropolis, this one’s kind of a disappointment as far as wanting a really stellar movie goes. Still, it was a fun enough time.

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The Vic Vipers of Catan

Vic Viper using bits (settlements, cities, roads) from The Settlers of Catan.

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I Had That! #47: Enemy Visitor Action Figure

V, for “Visitor”, not “Vendetta”, was an odd sort of thing to me. On the one hand, I eagerly watched the original miniseries in 1983 and enjoyed it. I bought the novelization of the miniseries and its East Coast Crisis companion book. I wrote a program for my VIC-20 to display the visitors’ symbol, a variant on a swastika. But when the TV series began, I didn’t really bother.

Part of this was the usual reason I didn’t bother with TV shows. The only color TV was in the den, so watching anything meant first wresting control from anyone else in the family, none of whom were much interested in science fiction, but even if I gained control I’d be sharing the room with people who would happily go on about how stupid what I was watching was and have no problem talking loudly on the phone while it was on and whatnot. The alternative was watching on the black-and-white TV in my parents’ bedroom, and that didn’t excite me. (Doctor Who escaped this by being on at 10:30 PM on Saturday nights, when everyone else had gone to bed.)

So although I was intrigued by the concepts in “V”, I didn’t really pursue it much.

This V toy (one that really weakens the “it’s not a doll, it’s an action figure!” debate) was itself kind of a cheat. I didn’t get him in 1984, when he came out, but a couple years later, when he was on deep clearance at Lionel Playworld. Seriously, I remember paying very very little for him and them having a crate of them. He’s a neat toy. The head comes off to reveal the lizard face, the tongue comes out, the sunglasses get lost, the uniform is well made, and he’s pretty large, meaning he’s out of scale with pretty much any other toy, so there isn’t much you can do with him.

What I did with him was take the fake human head off and put it on this vinyl Godzilla figure I had:

The result was named “Kenzilla” after Barbie’s boyfriend. Kenzilla came to college with me in 1986. The rest of the V figure stayed home.

When did I get it? They came out in 1984 and I probably got mine in 1986.

Do I still have it? Not the figure, not the head, not the vinyl Godzilla. I honestly thought I still had the latter.

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