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Saturday, November 29, 2014

What I'm Watching: The Last Days of Pompeii

Posted By on Sat, Nov 29, 2014 at 9:01 AM

Preston Foster in gladiatorial gear as Marcus in The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) - WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Preston Foster in gladiatorial gear as Marcus in The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)

I chomped down a good old piece of old-timey Hollywood cornpone the other day: the 1935 version of The Last Days of Pompeii. It was gloriously dopey.

The 1935 was at least the fourth adaptation of the novel of the same name by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who these days is better known for posthumously and (surely) inadvertently lending his name to an annual contest for deliberately atrocious prose. His book, written in 1834, had been made into films in Italy in 1908, 1913 and 1926; the 1935 film that I watched was not only the first English-language version but the first non-silent version.

The directors, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, were fairly fresh off their massive 1933 hit King Kong; between that film and The Last Days of Pompeii, Schoedsack directed Blind Adventure (1933), the inevitable Son of Kong (1933) and the John Barrymore comedy Long Lost Father. Cooper is noted more for his work as a producer, but I'll take this opportunity to recommend a documentary that he and Schoedsack codirected in 1925: Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life. Fascinating film.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Movies You Missed: Charlie Countryman

Posted By on Fri, Nov 28, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Two former child stars meet, and their love is poetry. Or is it … a music video? - MILLENNIUM ENTERTAINMENT
  • Millennium Entertainment
  • Two former child stars meet, and their love is poetry. Or is it … a music video?
This Week in Movies You Missed: Shia LaBeouf stars in an indie film he did not direct. The original title was The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman and, honestly, I think that tells you everything you need to know.

But in case you haven't made a snap judgment and are willing to give this film a chance, here's more:

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A New VCAM Doc Explores the Guitars of Creston Lea

Posted By on Fri, Nov 28, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Creston Lea - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Creston Lea
This just in: Creston Lea makes really cool guitars.

OK, so that's not exactly breaking news in Vermont, or anywhere else in the greater guitar-geek world, really. Under the banner of his Burlington-based company, Creston Electric, Lea has been building custom guitars since 2002. And, owing both to his own craftsmanship and the eye-catching, Western-styled artwork by local artist Sarah Ryan that often adorns them, he's developed quite a reputation for high quality and distinctive axes.

The ringing sound of his Tele-styled guitars is practically the soundtrack to Burlington itself, as several of the area's notable players swear by their Crestons. These include Brett Hughes, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals' Benny Yurco, Anders Parker, Swale's Eric Olsen and Waylon Speed's Kelly Ravin, to name a handful.

Lea has quite a few bigger-name acolytes as well, such as Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Adam Ant, actress Gaby Hoffman and Son Volt's Jay Farrar. By the way, Son Volt guitarist and Burlington expat Mark Spencer is also known to rock a Creston or six and, according to a new short documentary film, might have been the man who started Lea on his path to becoming a luthier to the stars.

That film, Wood & Wire: The Hand-Crafted Guitars of Creston Lea, is a Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM) production helmed by local filmmaker Bill Simmon. The 20-minute doc examines Lea's guitar-building history, his place in the world of custom guitars, his collaboration with Ryan and why, as Lea notes in on his website, the customer is only "sometimes" — read: "almost never" — right.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Longtime Karaoke Host Bob Bolyard Sings Goodbye

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 7:24 PM

Bob Bolyard - COURTESY OF BOB BOLYARD
  • Courtesy of Bob Bolyard
  • Bob Bolyard
Bob Bolyard, who has hosted Friday-night karaoke at Burlington's beloved St. John's Club, is hanging up his DJ hat after a run of nearly 14 years. His last evening as host will be this Friday, November 28. "Happy Trails" would seem an apt farewell number, though those inclined toward schmaltz might prefer Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye."

After this week, Burlingtonians will no longer see Bolyard behind the digital turntables as the host of Karaoke Kapers, but  they're more likely to see him performing in other venues. Bolyard, who says he's never once called in sick to the St. John's Club, is stepping down so he can devote more time to theatrical performances.

The karaoke maestro appeared in Lyric Theatre's April production of Les Misérables, and the experience — his first show in seven years — reawakened his love for theater, Bolyard says.

He's also a member of local drag troupe House of Lemay. "I've missed a lot of opportunities to expand that because I haven't been available on Friday nights," Bolyard says. The group will perform its Christmas show, "Another Beaver Pond Christmas," at FlynnSpace on Friday, December 5.

The St. John's Club will continue to offer karaoke to its patrons, manager Ken Ploof confirmed. It has contracted with a karaoke company called Premier DJ to run the show on Friday nights. "Nothing will change as far as karaoke goes," says Ploof, "but we will miss Bob. We certainly wish him all the best, and great things in the future."

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I'm Watching: 'The Paul Lynde Halloween Special'

Posted By on Sat, Nov 22, 2014 at 9:00 AM


Perhaps the most significant moment of "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special," which aired on ABC in 1976 and which may now be found on YouTube, occurs near its end. As Lynde and Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly lead the show's entire cast in a lip-synched rendition of "Disco Baby" (a gender-neutralized version of Johnnie Taylor's hit "Disco Lady"), the members of KISS, the special's marquee musical guest, gaze down from a balcony in disapproval as stoic as their makeup will allow.

That disapproval — just barely glimpsed in the corner of the screen; one gets the sense that the camera operator was trying not to include it — bespeaks a complicated, contradictory cultural shift into which this strange little hour of television inserted itself. KISS' putative genre is metal, or perhaps "glam metal" — though true metalheads have long dismissed the band and their ilk as "false metal" of the type on which death ought properly to be wished. Yet here, as Lynde, Kelly and a horde of extras disco-dance their way around the stage, KISS' detectable scorn looks like nothing so much as one of the first salvos in one of the decade's most fascinating culture wars. 

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Movies You Missed: Frank

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM

click image Jon and Frank make friends. - MAGNOLIA
  • Magnolia
  • Jon and Frank make friends.
This week in movies you missed: Michael Fassbender puts on a big papier-mâché head to play an art rocker with issues, and the result is my favorite comedy of 2014 (so far).

What You Missed
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young singer-songwriter with more aspiration than inspiration. Basically, all his song ideas are crap.

Then Jon meets the Soronprfbs. The band's keyboardist has just tried to drown himself, and they need a replacement for tonight's show. When Jon shows up for the last-minute (and catastrophic) gig, he's weirded out by the band's American frontman, Frank (Fassbender), who wears a giant fake head. Not just for shows, all the time. ("I have a certificate!" he yells at anyone who asks him to take it off.)

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Vermont Artist Rob Hitzig Makes a Billboard Statement

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Rob Hitzig's art billboard in Queensbury, N.Y. - COURTESY OF ROB HITZIG
  • Courtesy of Rob Hitzig
  • Rob Hitzig's art billboard in Queensbury, N.Y.
Rob Hitzig is known for his meticulously polished, wall-hung wood sculptures, but some 200 customers have collected his abstract-art bumper stickers. The Montpelier artist has been making the brightly colored little rectangles since April 2013 and mostly giving them away. 

This month, Hitzig has taken the concept to a way larger venue: a billboard. Of course, he's also taken it out of state, since billboards are illegal in Vermont. 

The one pictured here — obviously, the one in the middle — is alongside Route 9 in Queensbury, just south of Lake George. It's near Interstate 87 between exits 19 and 20, Hitzig specifies in an e-newsletter. He rented the billboard space for four weeks; it went up November 11 and will be on view until December 8. If you're traveling the New York State byway anytime soon, be sure to wave. Or just contemplate.

"My concept is to provide a gift of mental space for viewers as an antidote to the barrage of messages constantly demanding something of us," Hitzig writes. "Ironically, I have to leave Vermont and use a billboard in an attempt to create the same feeling that one gets driving around our billboardless state."

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Middlebury Chorus Sings the Emergent Universe Oratorio

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 8:47 AM

The debut performance of the Emergent Universe Oratorio at the Shelburne Farms Breeding Barn - COURTESY OF MARSHALL WEBB
  • Courtesy of Marshall Webb
  • The debut performance of the Emergent Universe Oratorio at the Shelburne Farms Breeding Barn
For 150 years, groups of musical Middlebury College students, faculty and staff have been joined by singers from all over the Champlain Valley in the school's Community Chorus. That might sound like a long time, but it's just a drop in the cosmic bucket compared to the subject of an upcoming performance. This year, as part of the Community Chorus' annual Thanksgiving concert, the group will sing about nothing less than the creation and history of the entire universe.

The Emergent Universe Oratorio, from which the chorus will perform several sections, was created by Vermont musician and composer Sam Guarnaccia. Drawing upon, among other inspirations, the writings of environmentalist Wendell Berry and cosmologist Brian Swimme, Guarnaccia's oratorio is a sweeping, epic, thoughtful composition. The piece premiered in September 2013 in a suitably spectacular venue: the gigantic Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms.

The oratorio — whose subject matter is the interconnectedness of humanity and the cosmos — has not been performed since its premiere more than a year ago, during which interval Guarnaccia has been busy revising both the music and the libretto.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

What I'm Watching: "Too Many Cooks"

Posted By on Sun, Nov 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

Smarf, the magical alien robot cat in "Too Many Cooks" - ADULT SWIM
  • Adult Swim
  • Smarf, the magical alien robot cat in "Too Many Cooks"
Like so many other internet fun-seekers, I recently watched and was pleasantly astonished by Casper Kelly's short film "Too Many Cooks." First broadcast in the dead of night on the Adult Swim network on October 27 and released online early this month, the short quickly — and deservedly — went viral, attracting coverage not just from the expected host of content-hungry websites but from major news organizations such as the Atlantic, New York Magazine, CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

It's a little difficult to explain exactly what "Too Many Cooks" is. Mostly, it's a parody of some of the most hackneyed clichés of American genre television. A little more specifically, it's a parody of those shows' opening-credits sequences.

I'd hazard that the film's single most important touchstone (right down to its font choice) is the opening-credits sequence of the 1980s sitcom "Full House," but also invoked are those of such shows as "Growing Pains," "Family Matters," "G.I. Joe," "Hill Street Blues," "Hunter" and "ALF," to name a few. "Full House," though, seems to have just about all of the ingredients that "Too Many Cooks" parodies so deftly: heartwarming family situations; zany, good-natured antics; a terrible earworm of a theme song.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Movies You Missed: The Double

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 3:00 PM

click image Besides two Jesse Eisenbergs, this world has soup vending machines. Cool! - MAGNOLIA
  • Magnolia
  • Besides two Jesse Eisenbergs, this world has soup vending machines. Cool!
This week in movies you missed: Are two Jesse Eisenbergs better than one?

What You Missed
Simon James (Eisenberg) is a loser. Total strangers order him to vacate his seat on the subway. His fellow employees at a drab government agency barely recognize him. Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the depressed, ethereal girl he loves, doesn't know he's alive. He uses a telescope to observe her through her window and carefully retrieves the torn-up artwork she throws in the trash.

Then James Simon (also Eisenberg) enters the picture. The new employee could be Simon's physical twin, but he's outgoing, gregarious, likable, manipulative. In no time at all, James has Simon doing favors for him and Hannah in his bed. He knows how to make her happy — and unhappy, it transpires.

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