From the Blog

Jun
14
Posted by Derek on June 14th, 2006 at 9:26 am

In general, it’s become much too easy for me to find specific DVDs. Best Buy and Borders have online availability tags, so I can usually be sure I’ll get what I want before leaving the house.

Until last week.

Last Tuesday was the release of a long-awaited DVD – the Criterion Collection two-disc edition of Dazed and Confused. Many of you reading will know immediately why this is so special, but let me elaborate for those who might not know.

Criterion is the prestige name in DVD. When a movie gets the Criterion treatment, amazing care goes into every detail of the disc from the cover art and packaging to the menus, audio commentaries, special features and so on. They are the best, and they are thorough. They dig up all sorts of material for special features that the big studios would just shove aside.

So why am I so pumped that we have Dazed and Confused on Criterion? Well, folks, this is one of those movies that slipped through the cracks – twice. First off, this is a movie that shouldn’t exist. It was not the kind of movie being made at the time (1992-93) and certainly was not something that a major studio usually put out. But here was Dazed and Confused, the “teen movie” that wasn’t like Porky’s or Better Off Dead or anything else that came out of the 80s for that matter. And though Universal bankrolled the film and released it through co-owned subsidiary Gramercy, the marketing was sparse and unfocused. They tried targeting college kids by hyping up the drugs and drinking in the film and prominently featuring Milla Jovovich on the posters, but Dazed ended up in limited release playing only the larger cities.

Thankfully, in 1993, I moved to a larger city. That fall I headed off to college in Orlando. I had become a big film fan in the years leading up to college, having been lucky enough to get a novelty column in the local paper where I traded weeks with two other students writing movie reviews. Through home video, I sought out different films and occasionally, I would see something utterly unique at the theater.

In the early 90s, AMC Theaters was using a label of “Gourmet Cinema” in some of their multiplexes, bringing in some of the suddenly-hot “arthouse” films. One of these theaters was in an upscale area of Sarasota, just south of my hometown of Bradenton. This was how I came to find out about Richard Linklater’s incredibly unconventional Slacker. Since my conception of what “film” should be hadn’t been shaped by higher education or theory, my mind was wide open to accept whatever this movie had to offer. Many would run screaming from a film where the storyline was non-existent and characters seemed to ramble on about nothing of importance. But if you stuck with it, much of the film was compelling. The conceit of passing off from one chance encounter to another made me wonder where the film would go next. And to top it all off, it was funny. Even if someone hasn’t seen the film for years, they’re likely to remember the woman selling Madonna’s pap smear and the sociological dissection of Scooby-Doo. Much has been made of how Slacker changed Kevin Smith’s view of what film could be, and that’s pretty much the same reaction I had.

After arriving in Orlando, I was checking out the local record shops when I spotted a flyer for the movieDazed and Confused. Because of my reaction to Slacker, Richarad Linklater became the first director I actively followed other than Steven Spielberg. I knew this was Linklater’s new movie, and I knew I had to see it immediately. I made plans to get to the Enzian where Dazed was showing. On a side note, this was the beginning of a lovely relationship with Enzian, a great little theater north of Orlando that shows independent and art films in a restaurant environment. You can have a meal (reasonably priced, too) or adult beverage with your cinema experience at Enzian. They also host the Florida Film Festival every year. This theater became something of a second home, culminating in a stint as staff at the Florida Film Festival one year.

I was incredibly impressed with Dazed and Confused when I saw it the first time. Sure, this film had a fairly conventional structure and characters, but the essence of Slacker was all over Dazed. Nobody on that screen felt like an actor. The conversations were natural and realistic. While I didn’t quite realize it at the time, the story was also rather unconventional. The typical movie plot is driven by the needs of one or two main characters. While Dazed and Confused has something close to a main character in “Pink,” everyone in the cast has something going on. It’s the genius of the movie that we get to explore moments of each person’s life. Those moments are brief but eloquent. It’s the next evolution of Slacker, if you will.

With both Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater had changed forever the way I would look at screen acting. Once I realized this kind of naturalistic performance was possible and compelling, it was hard to accept regular Hollywood movies the same way.

Hopefully I’ve given you an idea why Dazed and Confused means enough to me to warrant excitement over a Criterion Collection DVD. And the set lives up to the expectation. The packaging is top-notch. A slipcase houses a foldout digipack for the discs and a thin booklet. Round windows on the front up the slipcase line up with one set of pictures on the digipack and another set of pictures on the inside of the box. Very cool. On disc one, we finally get a Richard Linklater commentary on the film, as well as nearly a half hour of deleted scenes. Disc two houses a treasure trove of materials, from behind-the-scene footage, audition tapes, interviews and more, plus a 45 minute documentary called “Making Dazed” which manages to be interesting and emotional at the same time. While a lot of documentaries for “movies” stick to the mechanics of making a “product”, this one takes a cue from the character-based film itself and shows us the bonds between the people who worked on the film and the love that has developed in audiences in the years since Dazed‘s release. There are a lot of great little moments here, including comments from Linklater and Ben Affleck about cussing in the film, Parker Posey’s explanation for “Wipe that face off your head!’ and plenty of other great anecdotes. It’s also interesting to note what a unique experience in filmmaking that Dazed and Confused was. The actors clearly realize in retrospect what a special opportunity it was and that most films don’t get made the same way. Maybe this documentary could be longer, but what’s in there now is all gold.

My purchase of the Criterion Collection Dazed and Confused was the culmination of a week-long search. Best Buy seems to have underestimated the demand for this set by allotting one per store (it’s now listed as “backordered” too). Quantities of one do not show “Available” on their website, so in-store pickup was impossible. By the time I reached the three Best Buys near me, their single copy was gone. My next choice of purchase was Borders, as I had a 30% off coupon so I could get a good price on the set. By Saturday, three stores in my area showed available, but when I tried to reserve for in-store pickup, two of the stores had already sold their stock (I didn’t want to drive to the third store). Now on Tuesday, a new store showed “available” on the website, so I went immediately. I had to ask an employee for the disc, because they didn’t shelve it in comedy, they shelved it in boxed sets (with a bunch of TV shows)…

The upside of all the looking around I did in this Borders was that I discovered a copy of a great little out-of-print movie called The Daytrippers starring Parker Posey (again), Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and Anne Meara (?!). This was another gem I saw at the Enzian in Orlando, and i was sad I never picked up the DVD once I discovered it was going for $65 and up on Amazon and $40 and up on eBay. But now I’ve got one at regular retail! Thanks, Tampa Borders!
A post-script… I’d just like to add that Richard Linklater’s streak continued for me following Dazed and Confused. I remember my elation at catching a preview screening of his next film, Before Sunrise which I absolutely adored. The preview audience seemed baffled at how Linklater ended the film, but I maintain realism trumps Hollywood endings. The next film Linklater made was an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play SubUrbia which I alone seem to have liked. It’s not even out on DVD yet…

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May
29
Posted by Derek on May 29th, 2006 at 12:07 am

Okay, folks, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll usually end up going to concerts by myself, but I’m going to start rubbing it in.

I just got back from an evening of Wheatus, and despite the fact that there were probably less than 50 people in the audience, it was an absolute blast.

Those of you with longer memories for semi-obscure tunes will recall Wheatus’ 2000 geek anthem “Teenage Dirtbag.” I obtained a second-hand copy of the self-titled debut album just for that tune, but the disc turned out to have more to offer.

After the one glorious moment in the sun, the band went through a series of label battles and lineup changes, eventually self-releasing two further albums. More on that later…

Flash forward to a few weeks ago as I peruse a flyer for upcoming concerts and I see Wheatus will play the State Theater on May 28. Only five bucks (or eight on the day of show)! My gosh, what a bargain! Despite the price, I was sure the turnout would be light. I also wondered exactly what to expect from the band – the songwriting on everything I heard had been melodic and intriguing but some parts of the debut record seemed to hint at hip-hop influence, which is not quite my taste.

The first indication that this show would be a bit out of the ordinary was the stage setup. Instead of being set up center stage, the drum kit was placed stage left, facing the opposite side instead of the audience. I later realized that the entire kit was electronic as well. In fact, the entire lineup of instruments on stage (all three of them) had to be routed to the sound system to be heard. Lead singer/songwriter Brendan B. Brown played one acoustic-style guitar the entire show achieving a wide range of sounds with outboard equipment. Rounding out the instrumental lineup was a slim electric stand-up bass. In another unique twist on the typical rock show, Wheatus also features two live female back-up vocalists.

As the band took the stage, Brendan B. Brown (or bbb as he is referred to on the Wheatus website) revealed that the band has no setlist and asked for requests. To his surprise (and mine) the tiny audience were rabid Wheatus fans and nobody asked for “Teenage Dirtbag” for more than 45 minutes.

I’m sure a lot of bands would cringe at the thought of letting the audience dictate what songs are to be played, but in this case, the idea went smashingly. I will venture a guess, however, that the band must be a bit disappointed to only get in one song from their newest album, “Too Soon Monsoon.” I almost spoke up to request the beautiful “Hometown,” a meditation on the skyline of New York City before and after the loss of the Twin Towers. They did manage to play an also-worthy tune called “The London Sun.” (They also played a track called “BMX Bandits,” but that was more like an encore for the very vocal fans.)

If there was one thing I took away from the evening, however, it is that Wheatus’ troubled sophomore effort is an overlooked gem. The story goes something like this… When the band finished their second album – a more serious effort to be titled “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” – their label, Sony, had major disagreements about the record and how to market it. A small release of the album with the original title happened in the UK, but it wasn’t until the band won control over the record that the general public got to hear it. And sadly, the intent and feel of the album were forever ruined for the band. Two tracks were added and the whole collection was mischievously rechristened “Suck Fony.” (No college degree necessary to figure out the meaning of that title.)

The whole story is a big shame, since “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” would have been a spectacular and well-reviewed follow-up, showing a band adding a bit of depth to what seemed at first to be a jokey outfit. It reminds me a bit of how Weezer grew from their debut album into “Pinkerton.” Of course, that album flopped at first, but the artistic merit of the record has been proven with the passage of time. The Wheatus album now known as “Suck Fony” is quite an accomplishment and deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

In concert, Wheatus pulls off their songs with gusto and charm. The members of the band have no airs or pretensions and interact with the audience with ease. One member of the audience remarked that the whole thing was like watching the band in their living room. I can’t think of a more apropos way to describe it. And let’s not forget that the band is essentially playing music “on demand” so they have to know the entire catalog. Sure, it’s only three albums, but still… They even managed to accommodate a fan’s request for a b-side called “Pretty Girl” and it came off like they play it every night.

Brendan B. Brown said at one point in the evening that they would keep coming back again and again until they could fill the room. Sure, it might have been a bit of hyperbole for the excited fans, but here’s hoping they actually follow through.

So here’s your homework: go buy some Wheatus CDs (or download them from iTunes) and find out what you’ve been missing (like “Love Is A Mutt From Hell,” “Anyway,” or “American In Amsterdam” to name a few). Then when Wheatus comes back to town, you’re coming with me!

Post-script…

I was just reading up on Wheatus and discovered that back-up singer Connie Renda and drummer Kevin Garcia have only been part of the band for less than a month (at least the announcement of such happened within the last month)… making this band’s cohesive performance all the more remarkable.

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Jul
20
Posted by Derek on July 20th, 2005 at 8:33 pm

I am currently tearing through Chuck Klosterman’s KILLING YOURSELF TO LIVE, and goddamn if it isn’t the fucking most awesome book I’ve read in… well, probably ever. How do you know this is true? Look at me, I’m swearing up a storm. Usually I just restrain myself to “Mother puss bucket!” when I need to swear. Forget how the jacket flap and other online sources describe this thing. You’d think you’d want to kill yourself after ten pages, but that ain’t so. If you’ve ever read any Klosterman, you know that he’s funny and dead-on about various cultural phenomena. I thought maybe he had gone soft or was perhaps depressed from what I read in advance, but thankfully, I WAS WRONG… Get this book now. It might even CHANGE YOUR LIFE (no warranty expressed or implied as to the life-changing properties of said product. Use at own risk. Your mileage may vary.)

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Jun
06
Posted by Derek on June 6th, 2003 at 11:55 pm

I wanted to at least get in here and mention that I have found a…

COOL THING FOR THE DAY

The Cool Thing for 6.6.03 is:

HOMESTARRUNNER.COM

The less I say about this site, the better.

Seriously.

Just go check it out. You’ll thank me.

If you’re anything like this guy:

you might find it funny, too.

(FYI, that’s Joss Whedon sporting a T-shirt with a character from Homestarrunner.com.)

Your pal,
MinerWerks.

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May
02
Posted by Derek on May 2nd, 2003 at 11:26 pm

The Cool Thing for 5.2.03 is…

VINYL FEVER

Vinyl Fever is a record store across the Tampa Bay from my home base of Clearwater. I hadn’t gone in there for a couple months due to my being exceedingly busy, but I had the hankerin’ to drop in Thursday night.

If you prefer to shop in an overly sanitized environment like Borders Books and Music, then by all means avoid Vinyl Fever. Posters and collectible records adorn the walls, which stretch up about twice as far as the average height of a room. The store is packed from wall to wall with DVDs, videos, CDs, t-shirts, collectibles and even RECORDS. Yes, those lovely pieces of vinyl that spin at 33 1/3 or 45 rounds per minute… In fact, they are so loaded to the gills, they are moving to a bigger location this summer.

This is the best independent shop in my local area, and certainly one of the best in Florida. Their DVD section has exploded about five times since about one year ago, and they have a great selection of odd cult and music titles. They have a very large used CD section, and a “bargain” section about half the size of the regular used section where some common or unusual discs go for $4 or less.

The first thing I picked up was a DVD I had been searching for, The Kids in the Hall: Tour of Duty, a live performance release. But by the time I was done, I had put that back for much more intriguing booty. I happned to look under Weezer to see if they had any odd stuff, and they happened to have an import single for “The Good Life,” with two unreleased tracks (one GREAT one with vocals by Rachel Haden, late of that dog.) and two live acoustic performances of songs from pinkerton. Then I was browsing a mark-down import section and I was stunned at the sight of a disc I had read about but never laid eyes on. It was a Japanese import by Jason Falkner, Everyone Says It’s On.

If the name isn’t familiar, let me elaborate. Falkner was part of the band Jellyfish, then moved on to The Grays, before going solo. Falkner is an amazing tunesmith in all incarnations, drawing out great melodies and harmonies with a rocking edge. Falkner’s first solo disc, Author Unknown is one of my favorite albums, period.

So this Japanese import is legendary because it combined one disc of demos with disc two containing Falkner’s shelved covers album. The first disc has sone great tunes, including demos of a few songs from Author Unknown. The second disc is amazing, with excellent renditions of songs by The Kinks, The Left Banke, Brian Eno and a few more obscure acts. The disc kicks off with a theoretical impossibility – a reverent yet rocking take on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Keep the disc running all the way to the end and you’ll get Falkner’s take on Def Leppard’s “Photograph.” Great tunes and a campy desert to boot!

The best thing? This CD was originally priced at $49.99. Now if you’ve ever looked into Japanese import CDs, you might know that $30 for a single disc isn’t too far-fetched. But this two disc set was marked down to $29.95, which I considered a bargain since this stuff isn’t easy to find here in the States…

Anyway, shopping at Vinyl Fever is often like this – you never know what you’ll find, and there’s plenty of cool things you might have to pass up if you’re on a budget.

Oh, and one last thing… all the sections of the store were marked by large blowups of album covers with the text manipulated. For instance, the Who’s Live at Leeds was manipulated for say “Used CDs” section, The Kinks’ Low Budget changed to “The Budgets” for the bargain CDs, the cover for the Hair soundtrack said just “Soundtracks”… you get the idea. Great stuff.

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