“It’s not every day that you get to see a monster piñata killing teens on a paradise island…”*

October 19, 2011

Oh how true that statement is and, thanks to a bout of insomnia and Piñata: Survival Island, I can now rebuff anyone that uses that line as a selling point.

(the titular quote was from a long-lost review of this cinematic tour de force)

If you’re a piñata enthusiast – and, really, who isn’t? – or simply have an interest in really bad movies, Piñata: Survival Island might just be for you.

I cannot recommend it as “so bad it’s good” as I only caught the last ten minutes and that brief glimpse led me to believe that it’s so bad, it’s just bad.

(it’s the kind of movie where you mumble to yourself, “Someone actually believed this needed to be written down?”)

I was channel-surfing, minding my own business, when I was confronted with…well…it appeared to be the little tiki idol that caused so much mayhem when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

This tiki idol, though, was much larger, breathing fire, and rampaging through the jungle wielding a battle axe.

Understandably, my hand froze on the remote as I watched, boggle-eyed.

Piñata: Survival Island is not without star power. There is, of course, the tiki which had burst forth from a piñata.

And, one of the survivors of the piñata creature run amok is Jaime Pressly formerly of My Name Is Earl and currently shilling for the restaurant chain Zaxby’s.

(home of the most sodium-laden chicken in the Western world)

In fact, it is Pressly who dispatches the evil spirit by quickly and deftly assembling a Molotov cocktail and handcuffing it to the creature’s ceremonial headdress.

It also stars Aeryk Egan who seemingly put more thought into making his stage name a bastardization of Eric than in choosing his roles.

(or perhaps in choosing an agent)

The fact that the film was showing on AMC, which allegedly stands for American Movie Classics, is another kettle of fish altogether.

I do feel enriched and enlightened for the experience. It’s not often that I will have the opportunity to write about piñatas and, for that, I am grateful.

And, if any of you are now filled with a sense of urgency to seek out this film and are unable to find Piñata: Survival Island, try Demon Island.

(a cinematic endeavor of such magnitude could not be constrained to merely having one title)

Sadly, my music collection is sorely lacking in piñata songs. So, here are four island songs…

Sting – Island Of Souls
from The Soul Cages (1991)

To a lot of young music fans who came of age during the mania surrounding The Police and their album Synchronicity, Sting was the paragon of cool.

(of course, there were a lot of folks who also consider(ed) him to be an insufferable, pretentious twat)

The moody Island Of Souls came from Sting’s third solo album, The Soul Cages, and, even though I own several of his albums released since, it was really the last one which I awaited eagerly and listened to devotedly.

(though our paths would kind of cross years later)

Blondie – Island Of Lost Souls
from The Hunter (1982)

Island Of Lost Souls…nothing more than a wholly transparent attempt by Blondie to duplicate the success of The Tide Is High from their previous album, Autoamerican. There are a handful of good songs on The Hunter, the trainwreck of a follow-up to Autoamerican, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of them.

However, it is always amusing to hear Debbie Harry sing the line, “Hey buccaneer, can you help me put my trunk in gear?” and, personally, even bad Blondie is something for which I have a weakness.

Japan – Taking Islands In Africa
from Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

I snagged a copy of Gentlemen Take Polaroids on a whim, having read acclaim for the band from critics and praise from a couple of friends (both of whom, as I recall, actually preferred the band’s Tin Drum).

I liked the chilly, electronic music and on tracks like Taking Islands In Africa it’s not difficult to hear Duran Duran’s claim of Japan as an influence.

Megadeth – Devil’s Island
from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986)

I’ve noted that I never truly went through a metal phase as a high school kid (though I have long dug Iron Maiden), so I vividly recall seeing Peace Sells… in the record bins and being immediately dismissive and disinterested.

Oddly, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve become a fan of Megadeth’s thrash metal and gained an appreciation for their groundbreaking sound. It’s not something I listen to often, but there are times when a track like the galloping Devil’s Island is just what’s needed.

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Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits, Mushrooms And Extra Cheese

April 23, 2011

It’s Easter weekend and people all over the globe will, to paraphrase the late, great visionary Bill Hicks, commemorate the death and resurrection of their professed savior by telling children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.

Forget the hunt for pastel-colored eggs. the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham, and religious observances. Several years ago, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to do Easter – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus, Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that provided inspiration for a number of science fiction films at the time.

I must have been six or seven, when I first saw the movie, sitting in the dark of our living room, on the CBS Late Movie. As the credits appeared on the screen, I asked my dad, “What the @#$%& is a lepus?”

(actually, my vocabulary was less sodium-based at the time and it’s likely all I said was “huh?”)

But, despite my father’s surprising reply to my lepus query, I knew the CBS Late Movie to be a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seemed disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of a viewing of Night Of The Lepus on Easter, but, alas, one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

So, this year, it’s Chinese take-out and Watership Down.

Night Of The Lepus was in theaters in 1972, so I must have seen the movie for the first time the following year. Here are four songs that were on the Billboard singles chart in late April of ’73…

Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
from Transformer

How can a listener not get drawn into Lou Reed’s tawdry tale of life in the dirty city?

Is it possible to not hear Walk On The Wild Side and not have the colored girls singing “doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” in your head for the rest of the day?

But, when I think of Lou Reed, I can’t help but remember a summer afternoon in 1986 when I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend, lounging in the den, watching MTV. Her great-grandmother, visiting from the Phillipines, was sitting there with us when the video for Reed’s No Money Down came on.

Great-grandmother had paid little attention to the television until, midway through the song, Reed began to claw at his face as he sang, tearing the skin off and revealing his skull as the old woman – now watching the proceedings for which she had no cultural frame of reference – freaked out.

War – The Cisco Kid
from The World Is A Ghetto

On the mental list which I keep of songs that I’d rather not hear ever again is War’s Low Rider. There’s just something about the song that is like a popcorn kernal caught between my molars.

But the south of the border groove of The Cisco Kid is always welcome.

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

Some love songs are dramatic.

Some love songs are gooey.

And then, there is the occasional love song that captures a feeling of contentment which I would offer as the most accurate vibe of the emotion. Well done, Mr. Wonder.

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the song that drew me in even in ’73.


Going Postal: How I Intend To Thrive In A Post-Apocalyptic World*

April 7, 2011

The drumbeat that we, as a species, are reaching the closing credits keeps getting louder and whether we are or not is anyone’s guess.

I am now able to face such a dire proposition with a new-found sense of contentment and a plan for success in a brave new world.

I have seen The Postman.

I had seen a bit of Kevin Costner’s magnum opus years ago and had no intention of ever seeing more, but it was late and the pickings were slim.

“I know that Tom Petty’s in it,” I said to Paloma, shrugging, trying to feign a semblance of optimism.

(it was some of the best acting of the evening)

I have now seen it, though, and I am richer for the experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s set sometime in the near future and there has been some disaster that has left civilization in ruins with pockets of refugees and a quasi-military strongman who is trying to consolidate power.

I’m not sure what the disaster was as Paloma and I were going full-freakin’ Mystery Science Theater on the flick. There was some comment about drought, but everything seemed pretty lush and well-watered to me.

Enter Costner, a drifter with a penchant for reciting Shakespeare, who takes refuge in a mail truck during a thunderstorm and dons the dead carrier’s garb. With nothing more than a bag of mail, a USPS jacket, and a rather snazzy cap, he becomes The Man.

Actually, he becomes The Postman.

Coming upon an enclave of survivors, Costner is met with the same fanfare which The Beatles received when they arrived in America.

He gets soup.

He gets a bath.

They throw some party which gives reason to believe that bad jam bands will indeed survive the apocalypse.

He gets hooked up with a fetching, young village lass.

The Postman is livin’ la vida loca and there doesn’t appear to be a dog in sight, but it’s not all seashells and balloons.

There is that strongman to contend with who doesn’t like the fact that The Postman is giving the punters hope that the United States is being reformed.

There’s also the sheriff of the village who is suspicious of The Postman’s credentials. Of course, said sheriff is actually Mr. Kruger from Kruger Industrial Smoothing, so George Costanza and the legacy of The Human Fund has obviously made him cynical toward do-gooders.

(that will make sense to Seinfeld fans)

The Postman must also contend with cavernous plot holes, inane dialogue, and acting that would mar a good sock-puppet production.

So, yes, he does have his hands full, but he also has soup, a hot soak, and a nubile companion.

He also gets to hang with Tom Petty, who is the major of Bridge City.

As Paloma reminded me, Petty also had a recurring role on King Of The Hill and, like that part, in The Postman he essentially seems to be playing Tom Petty. However, he gives a tour de force performance because, no matter how gifted an actor – DeNiro, Pacino, or whomever you might fancy – no one plays Tom Petty like Tom Petty.

Forget stockpiling bottled water or canned hams. I intend to thrive after armageddon using the lessons I’ve learned from Kevin Costner, I’m off to find a mail carrier’s jacket or a patch of the US Postal Service which I might affix to my Belgian army coat.

Here are four songs from the mail route…

Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters
from High Land, Hard Rain

In late ’83, I was discovering alternative music with 97X and Aztec Camera’s Oblivious was a staple on the station. I was fifteen and Aztec Camera’s mastermind, Roddy Frame, was a mere four years older than me.

Frame was a prodigy and his songwriting skills were earning him comparisons to Elvis Costello. I owned all of Aztec Camera’s albums up through 1995’s Frestonia which, as it turns out, was the last release by the band-in-mostly-name-only.

We Could Send Letters, from that same debut as Oblivious, is melancholic but it alternates jangling passages with glorious vocals that evoke the best sunshine pop of the ’60s and ’70s.

Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals – Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.)
from Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals

Concrete Blonde was one of my personal favorites during the late ’80s and early ’90s. So, it was with sadness that I read reports of the trio’s break-up in 1994.

But, Blonde’s guitarist James Mankey and bassist/vocalist Johnette Napolitano reunited three years later, collaborating with Chicano punk band Los Illegals. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise as Concrete Blonde had incorporated South of the border influences into their final (at that time) album Mexican Moon.

The grinding guitars of Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.) are hypnotic and the bi-lingual lyric offers a cautionary tale of life for an immigrant in East Los Angeles, warning those left back home to not make the trek.

PJ Harvey – The Letter
from Uh Huh Her

When a track from Miss Polly Jean shuffles up on the iPod, I invariably ask why I don’t know her work more intimately.

Oh, I’m familiar with a good portion of her ouvre and I own a handful of her albums, but there’s been no period since she arrived with the opening salvo of Dry and Rid Of Me in ’92/’93 that I’ve spent with her music in non-stop rotation.

The thing is, I’ve loved most of the music that I’ve heard from Harvey. Much like Neil Young, she constantly surprises while still sounding like no one else, occupying her own astral plane. She has a voice that she can take from sensual whisper to banshee howl in a split second and her lyrics have an often feral beauty.

Planet P Project – Send It In A Letter
from Planet P Project

One-time Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey got a lot of airplay on the stations in our part of the Midwest and notched some minor hits with songs like I Won’t Be Home Tonight, A Fine, Fine Day, and First Day Of Summer.

Concurrent to his solo career in the early ’80s, Carey was also releasing a pair of albums under the moniker of Planet P Project which is likely best remembered for the song Why Me?

Planet P Project’s output had a decidedly futuristic sound and lyrical bent – synthesizers and science fiction. Send It In A Letter is sparse and spacey with a pulsing melody that offered a glimpse into a future where electronica would become a mainstream genre.

*remixed and remastered from a post which appeared on April 21, 2008.