Tuesday, May 31, 2005

AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes

"Here's looking at you, kid."

"Show me the money!"

"No wire hangers!"

"I'll be back."

On June 21st, CBS will broadcast the latest in the American Film Institute's series of "100 Years..." lists.

100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, to be hosted by Pierce Brosnan, will countdown the quotes using cultural impact as a primary criteria. As with their other lists, this one will stir up friendly debate and fond memories amongst movie fans...everyone has their favorite quotes from movies, of course.

I've seen a lot of movies in my day and heard a lot of great lines. Five of my favorites (in no particular order):

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." (Bette Davis in All About Eve)

"What we got here... is failure to communicate." (Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke)

"Forget it, Jake...it's Chinatown." (Joe Mantell to Jack Nicholson in Chinatown)

"You've got me? Who's got you?!?" (Margot Kidder to Christopher Reeve in Superman)

"They call me Mister Tibbs!" (Sidney Poitier to Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night)

What about you? What are some of your favorite movie lines?

Friday, May 27, 2005


One of the things you just have to get used to if you read super-hero comics is the fact that, unlike here in the real world, "death" is very often an inconvenience rather than a permanent state (unless you're Bucky, Uncle Ben, or Captain Marvel...comic book fans will understand that comment...you non comic book fans don't worry about it, it's not that important.)

In 1985, Superman's first cousin, Kara Zor-El...better known as Supergirl...was given a dramatic, much-hyped send off in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (see above.) Wailing was heard throughout the land...vengeance was sworn...chests were pounded...there wasn't a dry eye in the place...

Since then a couple of other young ladies have taken up the mantle of Supergirl...one was protoplasmic artificial shape-changing lifeform from a dead universe who later became a flame-winged angel (hey, I wish I was making this up but I'm not...) and another was the time-traveling daughter of Clark Kent and Lois Lane from an alternate timeline (ibid.)...and the history of the fictional DC Comics Universe rolled along smoothly (well, not really...but the road between 1985 and 2005 is so convoluted that if I tried to explain it all of our heads would explode so I'll leave it be.)

20 years after Kara's heroic demise, this young lady is about the star in her own comic as the newest Supergirl:

Her name is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Kara Zor-El...and she is (apparently) Superman's first cousin, of course. Everything old is new again...especially in super-hero comics. Death be not proud...and, very often in comics, death be not permanent either...it's one of those things you just have to accept if you're going to be a comic book reader. So when Supergirl #1 comes out this summer, I'll buy it and probably enjoy it and not give it a second thought that this character "died" 20 years ago. We comic book fans are sometimes a strange lot :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Random Notes (Post American Idol Finale Edition)

If I had cared enough to vote, I still would have voted for Bo.

That said, I have to admit that Carrie won fair and square if you go by the final competitive performances...she was poised and steady on the big Kodak Theater stage while Bo seemed a bit flustered and off his game (if we take the season as a whole, I'd still give the overall edge to Bo...I hope Clive Davis still wants to make a record with him.)

Simon's assertion that Carrie will sell more records than any previous Idol contestant seems dubious to me. I'm sure she'll move a lot of CDs but my guess is that Clay and Kelly don't have to start looking back over their shoulders just yet.

* * * * *

The way the season began...with the girls being picked off one after the other...it is a wonder that a girl still won this thing for the third time.

* * * * *

They really need to cut the final show down to an hour. Once again, the first hour was superfluous and annoying...too much of the runners-up butchering Beach Boys songs in that endless opening medley...too much "witty" banter with the judges...too much Mikalah Gordon trying to be the cute red carpet reporter...too much Seacrest...it was all just too much.

* * * * *

If the second hour had stood alone, it would have been a relatively taut, relatively entertaining, and sometimes playful show...starting from that tortured version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by a good sport (and would-be William Hung successor) whose name escapes me now.

* * * * *

Interesting that none of the former Idols...or noteworthy runners-up like Clay...showed up for the extravaganza this year.

* * * * *

Going just by the performances in the all-star medley, anybody who hadn't seen any of the other episodes would agree that the best 2 contestants were in the finals. Carrie was more relaxed than I'd seen her during her song with Rascal Flatts and Bo was equally comfortable fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The rest of them were a decidedly mixed bag. Vonzell was in fine voice during her duet with Billy Preston (certainly in better voice than he was) on "With You I'm Born Again".

Teaming Anwar, Anthony, and Kenny G wasn't the slice of MOR hell that it could have been...but it came perilously close.

George Benson was patient with Scott and Nikko before schooling the kids in how "On Broadway" was supposed to be done (Nikko...bless his heart...came out doing his George Benson impression which I guess might have been somewhat interesting...if the real Benson weren't standing right there, dude!)

One hopes that no one from Aerosmith (or Run-DMC, for that matter) was watching as Constantine, Jessica, Nadia, and Kenny Wayne Sheppard massacred "Walk This Way" (okay, okay, we get it, Constantine, you're a "rocker"...now please take your pouty face back to your band and leave us alone.)

And I guess poor Babyface drew the short straw and ended up having to try salvage some dignity while "harmonizing" with Mikalah and Lindsey.

* * * * *

The "we-believe-you-Paula" bit slamming Corey Clark (without once mentioning his name) was too long and too easy (taking Clark to task is like shooting fish in a barrel)...but hey we got to see Constantine "acting" wearing a cheesy moustache and using a cheesy accent so that was something...

* * * * *

I'm not accusing the producers of anything untoward...BUT that song that's going to be the single seems like it was tailor-made specifically for Carrie. I'm just sayin'....

* * * * *

The fourth season was definitely not the best season (I don't care how many times Seacrest, Jackson, and Abdul declared that it was) but hey let's do this again next January anyway :-)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Early 21st Century Blues

When Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session came out back in '88, a friend of mine expressed her distaste for Margo Timmins' languid, reserved, and (to my ears anyway) sultry vocals (especially on their semi-hit cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane", one of my friend's favorite tunes.) I didn't understand her criticism then...I think Timmins' supple, evocative voice is one of the underappreciated wonders of the pop world (the same being true for the band as whole)...and, of course, I still don't get it all these years later.

The Junkies' new disc is one of the most sedate (but no less engaging for that) "protest" records you are ever likely to hear. Early 21st Century Blues presents a remarkable collection of songs...two originals by ace guitarist Michael Timmins (the evocative "December Skies" and the wistfully bittersweet "This World Dreams Of"), two traditional folk songs arranged by the band (the oft-covered "Two Soldiers" and the anti-slavery song "No More"), and seven shrewdly chosen covers...that comment on the state of our world in a still new century.

Arguably, no self-respecting "protest" collection would be complete without a Bob Dylan song and this one opens with a lovely version of his acerbic "License to Kill" (originally done by Dylan on his Infidels disc.)

With Michael's acoustic guitar and Margo's luminous voice at the fore, the band resurrects Richie Havens' "Handouts in the Rain" to fine effect. Similarly, they strip down two Bruce Springsteen songs...the aftermath of war song "Brothers Under the Bridge" and the haunting 9/11-inspired "You're Missing"...revealing new levels of nuance in the poignant lyrics in the process.

The only real misfire is the inclusion of tepid rapping (by a friend of the band calling himself "Rebel") during the percolating, otherwise taut and funky (well for the Junkies anyway :-), version of John Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier". Leave the hip hop to the professionals.

Shimmering, passionate readings of George Harrison's "Isn't it a Pity" and U2's "One" round out this grand record.

(FYI: As of this writing, Amazon.com doesn't list this CD...I bought mine from the fine folks at Maple Music.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

In case you hadn't heard the sixth (and final?) Star Wars movie is out now (they really should do more marketing on this thing or nobody's gonna go see it :-)

David Elliott, the sometimes curmudgeonly movie critic of my local paper, the
San Diego Union-Tribune, ripped this movie in his review today. This was not a bit surprising, of course...he undoubtedly went in knowing he wasn't going to like it...but I still had to wonder why he bothered.

This movie is critic-proof...the faithful and the curious will, the disappointments of
The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones notwithstanding, turn out in droves no matter how many brickbats are aimed at it (Elliott's review is entitled "Grilled Cheese." Heh. Yeah, that's a good one, Dave.)

There is no real suspense...it's a prequel, we already know pretty much how the story here is going to turn out...but that's not the point. Star Wars movies are not as much about the plot as they are about the experience (seeing Anakin's winding road to becoming Darth is all well and good but the cool fanboy moment is, of course, when the familiar black helmet goes on and James Earl Jones' voice echoes through the theater.) Like a rollercoaster ride, you just hang on and enjoy the thrills and, in the end, you return right where you started from not very much changed...but hey, you had one heck of a ride!

George Lucas is probably guilty of trying to make these movies seem more profound than they really are...whatever echoes of Joseph Campbell's teachings there might be in the overall narrative, the movies owe as much (if not more) to Flash Gordon serials and to Marvel Comics...but they're his babies and he's allowed to take them too seriously if he wants to.

Me, I'd rather just grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

American Idol, Season 4: The Showstoppers

I fired up the Yahoo Music Engine while I was working this morning and gave this compilation a listen.

Some impressions:

One of my problems with Carrie…her wooden stage presence…was eliminated while listening to (instead of watching her perform) Martina McBride's “Independence Day”. She has a fine, strong voice and she knows how to stay in tune. One of my other problems with Carrie…her lack of a unique musical identity…wasn’t completely eliminated (on this track she sounds more than little like Trisha Yearwood) but, that said, I can see her…with the right songs and the right producer…turning out a fine country-pop CD.

Bo…the one I would vote for to win if I cared enough about this season to actually vote…should have picked a better song but his take on “I Don’t Want to Be” is cool. He has a great pop voice (reminds me of David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat, and Tears) and if he wins I think he could make a very interesting pop-rock record. We shall see.

And Vonzell…bless her heart…is here, as on the show, revealed as a promising amateur in need of more seasoning before she can step up to the next level. Anthony is also very earnest…”Every Time You Go Away” is competent but not much more than that…but not really ready for the big time yet (but he’s young and he has time to grow.)

Anwar's voice still leaves me cold for reasons I can't put my finger on (his version of “A House is not a Home” is a very pale shadow of the original…and of Luther Vandross' take...and of Tamyra Gray’s sublime version from the first American Idol CD.)

Nadia, on the other hand, shines on Dusty Springfield’s immortal “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (especially when her performance is separated from the unfortunate facial expressions she makes when she’s singing)…I’m probably not going to buy this album but I'm definitely going to download this track.

Part of the problem with these AI compilations is that so many of the songs are so familiar that it takes a remarkable performance to make them stand on their own. Why, for example, would I want to listen to Nikko doing his half-baked Stevie Wonder impression on “Part-Time Lover” when I can listen to the original anytime I want? The same holds true for Jessica’s carbon copy version of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Lindsey’s overcooked “Knock on Wood”.

The “smoldering idol”/”rocker” Constantine slips into a jazzy arrangement of “My Funny Valentine”. As a certain annoying judge might say, it doesn’t fit, dude. (He should have gone with the Partridge Family song instead. Seriously...it was fun and unexpected when he did that on the show.)

Scott isn’t as bad as some of his detractors have made out…but, that said, his “Against All Odds” won’t make anyone forget Phil Collins anytime soon (take that any way you wish :-)

And Mikalah…she’s got…um…a lot of personality. And thank goodness for that because here she is “showcased” on the most soulless version of “God Bless the Child” I’ve ever heard (Billie Holiday wouldn’t be amused.)

(To be fair, Mikalah...like a lot of these folks...showed a lot of potential in the early rounds of this season...for some reason she...and some of the others as well...went off the rails as the competition progressed. It's hard to "audition" in front of 30 million people without letting stress and nerves get to you, I guess.)

The group song…”When You Tell Me That You Love Me”…is sweet enough I suppose. These “showstoppers” are a mostly tepid mixed bag…which, when I think about it, makes it a fitting souvenir of this decidedly tepid mixed bag of an American Idol season.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Billy Miles

Sultry is the word that comes to mind first.

Sultry, slow, slinky, simmering, sexy beats and grooves...uniformly mid-tempo but not a bit boring for that...accented and embellished with expert keyboards, muted electronica fills, judiciously used samples, and carefully-placed bursts of sweet guitar work. It's a soulful "quiet storm" in all of the best senses of that overused phrase.

Miles' voice is one of those which hints of other voices...echoes in the phrasing, in the timbre, in the resonance, in the vibe...while establishing and maintaining a unique, compelling identity of its own. The first touchpoint that comes to mind is, unmistakably, Erykah Badu (and, through her, Billie Holiday) but you can also feel hints of Sade, bits of Macy Gray...but Miles is no carbon copy, she blends her influences into a tasty musical gumbo that is all her own.

The songs, mostly co-written by Andre Williams and Miles herself, seep into the consciousness without overstaying their welcome (the longest tune, the bittersweet "Your Love's a Lie", clocks in at 4 1/2 minutes...most hover around a compact 3 minutes or so)...they make the point and move along (a refreshing change from songs that noodle around for 5 or 6 minutes for no good reason...and to no redeeming effect.)

Billy Miles is a soothing, funky, utterly delightful CD.

(And for the record, I'm nominating the loping, catchy "Sunshine" as one of the tunes that would make a great anthem for the summer of '05.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Amazing Race

Despite being hobbled by losing their money and possessions at the end of the last elimination round, Uchenna and Joyce, the almost-always upbeat and positive couple from Houston, outlasted "Survivors" Rob and Amber to win The Amazing Race.

I didn't have a strong rooting interest for any of the teams but that they won was cool. (I hope their efforts to have or, failing that, adopt a baby work out, they seem like they might be good parents.)

Rob, gleefully playing the "villain" of this edition of the Race, added a new energy to the proceedings but he did so with such abandon (or at least so the editing led us to believe) that rooting for him to actually win was not in the cards for me. (Amber was mostly a useless, smirking appendage during the race.)

One hopes that Rob and Amber live happily ever after now that they are joined in marital bliss following their soon-to-be broadcast wedding and that, after the 2-hour Rob and Amber Get Married extravaganza later this month, they will accept that their "15 minutes" are over and they leave the rest of us alone. (I'm not holding my breath on that last point though...I fully expect that they would jump at the chance to go for another big payday on another "reality" show given the chance. Maybe Fear Factor will be doing another $1,000,000 couples edition...)

Third-place finishers Ron and Kelly have, we presume, gotten as far away from each other as possible after the way their relationship so acrimoniously imploded during the course of the series.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Elton John in San Diego 5/6/05

Ten years ago I had a ticket to see the joint tour by Elton John and Billy Joel when it rolled through town but I didn't get to use it. My sister was carrying my all-time favorite nephew at the time and she was past her due date and feeling like she was going to be pregnant forever. I thought a lively pop concert might cheer her up so I gave her my ticket to the sold-out show. (A wonderful time was had by all...all-time favorite nephew made his debut a week or so later...it was all good.)

Ten years later, my sister returned the favor by giving me tickets (as a birthday present) to see Sir Elton play at San Diego State University's Cox Arena.

The guy still puts on an energetic, engaging show.

John, his 5-piece band, and an 8-person choir front-loaded the show with 8 consecutive tunes from his most recent album, Peachtree Road. Some of the new songs were okay...especially the soulful opening "Weight of the World", the funky "They Call Her the Cat", and "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave", an ace country song that needs to find its way to someone like Loretta Lynn pronto...but none of them had the spark and resonance of the songs from his hitmaking heyday. He chatted warmly with the audience, giving a little backstory for each of the newer songs and that was cool.

And just as the audience, anxious to hear the hits, was starting to get more than a little antsy, they played the familiar opening of "Bennie and the Jets" and the crowd roared back to life. The band blazed through solid versions of a lot (but certainly not all...among those not making the cut were "Crocodile Rock", "Island Girl", and "Candle in the Wind") of Elton's greatest hits closing with a blistering "The Bitch is Back" and coming back to encore with an equally fiery "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting".

The final encore was my sentimental favorite Elton John tune, "Your Song".

The vast age range of the concert-goers...I saw teenagers and folks well past the age of retirement and any number of ages in between...is a testament to John's continuing appeal.

Good show, Sir Elton, good show.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Dear Santa,

I just found out that come this October they're going to be publishing
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a hardcover, three-volume, full-color set of every one of the wonderful comics that appeared in syndication gathered together in a sturdy, nifty slipcover.

This may or may not not be the coolest thing ever but, for me, it's definitely on the short list. (Just like
Calvin and Hobbes may or may not be the best comic strip ever...but without a doubt it's in the running for the title.)

It's going to be kind of pricey, Santa (suggested retail price of $150...though our pals at Amazon.com are listing it at 37% off that price), but I promise to extra super-duper good this year if you'll consider getting this for me this Christmas (though, to be honest, you might not have to since I might not be able to wait that long...)

Thanks for your time, Santa.

Your pal,
Michael Keith

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sunday Morning

I'm not a morning person. Grumpy, bear-like, very quiet...I am all of these before my first cup of tea...especially on Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings are supposed to be peaceful, easy, and soothing, and renewing...a time to savor the stillness, to warm oneself with a steamy mug of tea, to bury oneself in the voluminous Sunday newspaper. And if the television is going to be on...and often it is not...then it should be just so as well...peaceful, easy, soothing, renewing (and engaging and informative as well, of course.)

CBS's Sunday Morning is all of those things. An eclectic mix of news, arts, pop culture, beautiful images of nature, and gentle whimsy presented in a low-key manner that understands that an informed whisper is much more interesting and appealing than a bludgeoning scream (much of what passes for discourse in the US news media these days being just that.)

For years, the late Charles Kuralt presided over this lovely little program, his solid, personable, puckish presence a welcome tonic on Sabbath morns. The avuncular Charles Osgood...with his stylish bowties and his sometimes clever, sometimes silly verse...has filled the role with his own equally appealing vibe since the death of Mr. Kuralt.

It's a delightful way to ease into any season's gentle Sunday mornings.