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January 5, 2010 12:35 PM

It's not every began-in-Eugene-but-moved-to-the-big-city (in this case, L.A.) band that comes back to town for a month of Sunday shows. The Parson Red Heads have done residencies at a few L.A. venues; next month, they're settling in three cities at once, playing Mondays in Portland, Thursdays in Seattle and Sundays here, at Sam Bond's.

Wisely, the band has a different opening act each weekend, including fellow former Eugenean Erik Carlson's DoublePlusGood and still hometown-boys Yeltsin, who have a new record, Rhinestone Glow, coming out Feb. 1.

February 07 - Parson Red Heads w/Norman
February 14 - Parson Red Heads w/Leo London
February 21 - Parson Red Heads w/DoublePlusGood
February 28 - Parson Red Heads w/Yeltsin

The band's photos tend to make them look like a big hippie family transported into the wrong decade; the best quote in their press release is this one, from Metromix

This impossibly pretty gang of California love and harmony plays like Brian Wilson never lost his mind and instead spawned a new generation of composers to finish his teenage symphony to God… imagine Fleetwood Mac making Rumours without the cocaine and wife-swapping

Their most recent release is last April's "Orangufang" 7", which you can pick up in non-retro-cool-vinyl format on iTunes.

December 31, 2009 01:30 PM

Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder opens for Howie Day at the WOW Hall on Jan. 15. With any luck, she'll play her gorgeous, plaintive cover of Band of Horses' "The Funeral," which you can listen to on her MySpace page. Or you could just watch the live version:

The video isn't a lot to look at, but Ryder's is a shiver-inducing rendition of the song.

December 17, 2009 01:48 PM

As promised in print, here are the mix CD track listings from The Procrastinator's Gift Guide — with links for listening. Many of the links go to YouTube "videos" with audio only; some go to Stereogum and other places where you can stream or download songs; some, when the individual song wasn't available, go to MySpace pages; some go to live performances or official videos. If you find a broken link or have a better one for us, please let me know!

Throughout the day I'll be adding links to the bands' websites, but I wanted to get the track links up for now...

2009: THE MIX CDs

SARA BRICKNER
K'naan, "America"
The Curious Mystery, It's Tough
Doom, "Rap Ambush"
THEE Satisfaction, "Bisexual"
Steve Earle, "White Freightliner Blues"
Abstract Rude, "Nuff Fire"
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, "Middle of Nowhere"
Califone, "Funeral Singers"
Khingz, "Reach In"
Mayer Hawthorne, "One Track Mind"
Brother Ali, "Bad Muthafucka"
Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band, "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)"
Blakroc, "Dollaz & Sense" feat. Pharoahe Monch & RZA
Del the Funky Homosapien, "Get It Right Now"
Son Volt, "When the Wheels Don't Move"
The Tea Cozies, "Behind the Glass Eye"
Iron & Wine, "The Trapeze Swinger"

RICK LEVIN
1. Wilco, "I'll Fight"
2. Built to Spill, "Nowhere Lullaby"
3. Nirvana, "School" (If you want a good laugh, watch this bootleg version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from the same concert.)
4. The Avett Brothers, "Kick Drum Heart"
5. Meaghan Smith, "Poor"
6. Bob Dylan, "Must Be Santa"
7. Rusty Willoughby, "Crown of Thorns"
8. Sonic Youth, "Anti-Orgasm"
9. Cat Power, "Fortunate Son"
10. Bad Mitten Orchestre, "Saints of the Blue Avenue"

VANESSA SALVIA
Blind Pilot, "One Red Thread" and "Two Towns From Me"
Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue"
Yo La Tengo, "When It's Dark"
Neko Case, "This Tornado Loves You"
Jay Reatard, "My Reality"
Holy Grail, "Fight to Kill"
Dethklok, "Bloodlines"
YOB, "The Great Cessation"
OM, "Cremation Ghat I"
Isis, "Threshold of Transformation"

MOLLY TEMPLETON
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero"
2. Fall Out Boy, "The Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes"
3. Phoenix, "1901"
4. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind"
5. Tegan and Sara, "Hell" (Or watch Amanda Palmer's fan video.)
6. Neko Case, "The Next Time You Say Forever"
7. Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers, "Get the Fever Out"
8. Lykke Li, "Possibility"
9. Warpaint, "Billie Holiday"
10. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"
11. The Thermals, "Now We Can See"
12. Passion Pit, "Little Secrets"
13. Metric, "Sick Muse"
14. Avett Brothers, "I and Love and You"
15. Kingdom County, "Four Chamber Music"
16. Frightened Rabbit, "Swim Until You Can't See Land"
17. Karen O and the Kids, "Sailing Home"

And for your bonus track, the song I would have put on my mix — should have, really — but that it's just not quite the same without the video:

December 14, 2009 06:34 PM

Did anyone else have a sort of dropped-jaw response to this slightly bizarre (and, alas, not in the funny-ha-ha way) SNL skit this weekend?

Sure, Lautner's expressions are ... OK, the kid can be funny. (His Jacob Black is one of the better things about the bland, forgettable New Moon.) I have to give him credit for being such a willing goof; it stands in amusing contrast to the usual image of Lautner (half-naked, displaying absolutely unreal abs, being drooled over by people twice his age). But the skit ever-so-slightly boggles the mind.

Nice touch calling the backup backup quarterback "Phil," I suppose.

Did you laugh? Did you wonder why it was Oregon and not, y'know, that other team? Or how anyone managed to mock the Ducks on national TV without even mentioning the godawful uniforms?

Update 12/15: A friend sent a link to a video from another NBC show that sort of suggests perhaps SNL is getting a touch lazy:

(If only the UO video had had the HD camera gag, though. Oh, lost possibility.)

Update, again: The second video, a scene from 30 Rock, is presently unavailable on Hulu, but I'll leave the link in case it comes back.

December 2, 2009 06:04 PM

Wondering what to get for that special someone who has everything?

The Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles plans to sell off an Oregon thunderegg that's four feet across and one of the largest in the world at at an auction on Dec. 6.

Indians believed gods threw thundereggs at each other from mountaintops. White men later made it Oregon's official rock. This one from the Blue Mountains will set you back an estimated $100,000 to $125,000.

If that's too pricey for your Christmas gift budget, Bonhams is also auctioning a 70-lb. piece of fossilized dinosaur dung for $1,800-$2,400 on the same day.

The massive piece of crapolite (or caprolite as they say in Greek) could serve "as an intriguing and amusing conversation piece," according to the auction house.

November 25, 2009 04:13 PM


All photos by Todd Cooper. See the whole gallery here

Well, I was totally wrong about that first song.

But first, Rain Machine, who blazed through their stoner hippie rock jam (this is a direct quote from my scribbled-in-the-dark notes, but I don't know whether I just wrote it down or Kyp Malone said it; I suspect the former). They ended with a song that references castration fear and — I'm pretty sure — involves Malone repeating "FUCK ALL" at length. That takes balls, folks. Malone noted that it's hard to play a stand-up show to a sitting-down crowd, but the band was pulled it off with mellow aplomb. Malone's the guitarist and one of the singers of TV on the Radio, but Rain Machine songs take up space in an entirely different way. The structures are different, the feeling more twisty and internal. And in the Hult Center, these weird, personal-but-sprawling songs sounded fantastic.


But we were all there for the Pixies. I'm really not sure I've ever felt more like the precise target audience for a show — maybe a bit on the young side, even, though there were actual kids there. Lucky little bastards. Some of them will get to tell all their friends that their first show was the Pixies at the Hult Center. Yeah, my first show was at the Hult Center too, but it was X-Piracy, which means nothing to about 97.478 percent of you, I assume.)

The band's intro involved a shit-ton of fake smoke and a scratchy old film showing on the screen behind the stage. People oohed audibly when the images on the screen split into three, four, more individual pictures, but they stood up in unison when the band appeared. "B-SIDES!" Kim Deal yelled from her position just out of the spotlight. "MORE B-SIDES!" Eventually, "More b-sides! I'm sure you guys haven't heard of them. They're so rare we had to learn them." I'm not a collector; I didn't know them. No one seemed to care either way. The front row wiggled and swayed. The balcony stayed seated, at least for the time being. The angle's a bit extreme up there.

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And then: Doolittle.

You know all these songs. I got goosebumps as Deal's bored vocals, still the epitome of a distant, clear style that people keep trying and failing to copy, drifted above Black Francis' growl (she kept referring to him as Charles, but I feel obliged to use his Pixies name). After every song, the cheering was so loud I had to plug my ears; during every song, Joey Santiago's guitar cut through everything, piercing and precise. This wasn't like the last Pixies show in Eugene, which left me underenthused and underwhelmed. This felt a little bit more like the echo of a Moment, a flashback that let those of us who never properly appreciated the Pixies — or were just too young, too behind, too dense to get it then — have a glimpse of how it might've been when Doolittle appeared in 1989.


I don't need to tell you what they played; it's right there on the back of your CD case, or maybe your old vinyl sleeve. Certain things more obviously charmed the crowed, though: the first time Black Francis shouted "HEY!" at the beginning of track 13. The distinctive riff of "Here Comes Your Man." Me, I fall for "Hips like Cinderella" every time, and have warm fuzzies about "Wave of Mutilation," mostly thanks to the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack.

For the album's finale — "Gouge Away," if you've forgotten — the screens behind the band reflected the crowd, in blurry, ragged slow-motion. After the last note, the band left the stage, shaking hands and waving; the screens changed, showing the four of them waving, bowing, laughing. "It's meta and kind of awesome," I scribbled in the dark as the stage cleared and the frantic clapping and stomping for an encore ensued.

(I don't recommend being in the balcony when the Hult is full of stomping Pixies fans. It's like Mac Court, but scarier somehow.)


"More b-sides!" Deal yelled when they came back out. "You should probably know these b-sides, though."

Yes: The "U.K. Surf" version of "Wave of Mutilation" — the one from that cassette soundtrack I had all those years ago. I was of two minds about this: Yay, two versions of a song I love! and Hey, are you serious? Two versions of one song? No one seemed to mind. Smoke smothered the stage amusingly, if literally, for "Into the White." For the second encore, the house lights stayed up the entire time. I forgot about watching the band and watched the audience, who unselfconsciously sang every word of "Gigantic," at the end of which Deal executed a tiny curtsey. Two more songs ("You are the son of a motherfucker" is likely not a phrase that's been said from the Silva stage before), and then —

Was there ever any chance they'd end with anything but "Where Is My Mind?" When you have a song like that, with that perfect Pixies dynamic, that echoey, eerie Deal vocal, can you end on any other note? You can't. Even if half of us can't help but think of the end of Fight Club when we hear it, you still don't have any other option. You have to let that song ring and settle and sink, with all its resignation and tricky beauty.

Women in the balcony blew kisses to Kim Deal and the audience on the main floor all but rushed the stage, hands outstretched, when it was over.

Doolittle is 20 years old and crazy influential. But it's ageless. And it, like every Pixies album, is a particular example of the magic of chemistry: You can like the Breeders all you like, you can love Grand Duchy, you can even have a fondness for Cracker. It doesn't matter: The Pixies are more than the sum of their parts.

November 20, 2009 11:13 AM

Two weeks ago, EW wrote about the potential of guerrilla gardening in Eugene as a way for citizens to rise up and overthrow the urban blight left downtown by failed city redevelopment projects.

This week the San Francisco Bay Guardian writes about how guerrilla gardening has taken off in San Francisco with backing even from public works bureaucrats and the mayor.

The paper writes of the transformative power of even temporary green space:

"When people see parking spaces turned into parks, vacant lots blossoming with art and conversation nooks, or old freeway ramps turned into community gardens, their sense of what's possible in San Francisco expands."

San Francisco is converting parking spaces to miniparks, restaurant seating or bike parking. Black granite cubes removed in the 1970s out of fear the homeless might sit on them are being taken out of storage and put back in public spaces. With many vacant lots in the down economy, the city is looking at giving developers incentives if they will allow temporary parks and gardens.

But the coolest thing out of San Francisco may be this pedal powered green machine that instantly converts a parking space into a park:

November 10, 2009 11:11 AM

There have got to be Grateful Dead-loving librarians in this town. It's statistically improbable that there aren't. Right? Right. If you are one of those librarians, boy howdy, does UC Santa Cruz have a job for you:

The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library's most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA).

Among the minimum qualifications: "Expert knowledge in the history and scholarship of contemporary popular music, or American vernacular culture, preferably the history and influence of the Grateful Dead."

Get on it, librarians of Eugene. Make us proud.

(Via Boing Boing, of course.)

November 9, 2009 06:22 PM

My colleague Suzi Steffen and I have long disagreed about which Scott Westerfeld series is better. Suzi votes for his Midnighters books, about a group of teens in Bixby, Okla., who are awake for midnight’s magic hour, when clocks freeze but those born at midnight can move freely (if warily; strange things lurk in the midnight hour). I’m for the series that starts with Uglies and is set in a distant (and distantly post-apocalyptic) future in which everyone has an operation, at the age of 16, that turns them gorgeous — and idiotic.

The question might be moot, now. Westerfeld’s latest, Leviathan, is the first of a series — and you’d do well to know that going in, as nothing on the cover suggests that it’s not a standalone. Leviathan takes place in a world where things went a little differently around Darwin’s time. In England, he discovered DNA and figured out how to play with the threads of life, crossbreeding creatures and developing a biology-based military. England is Darwinist, but on the continent, the Clankers have control; in Austria-Hungariy and Germany, people travel in many-legged machines and rely on engines and guns for their defenses. And, of course, their offenses, which quickly come into play when a certain duke is murdered.

Leviathan is a ripping yarn, a classic-feeling adventure story that never forgets that its characters are trucking about their days precariously close to death. In Austria, Alek, the (fictional) young son of Archduke Ferdinand, is on the run from his own countrymen after the murder of his parents; he’s tearing across the continent in a walker, putting his own hours of training (at walker-driving, swordplay and the like) into immediate and dangerous practice. In England, a young Scot by the name of Deryn Sharp is also in hiding, but right out in the open: She’s joined the military (disguised as a boy, of course; this is alternate history, but some things are just the same) and found a place on the Leviathan, a great beastie of an airship that’s part zeppelin and part whale. Bees, bats, hawks, glowworms, hydrogen sniffers and humans are just some of the creatures that are part of the Leviathan's floating ecosystem.

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Deryn is a natural in the air, but for a good reason: her father was a balloonman, and her skills are the result of years of practice (a delight after too many fantasy books in which Our Heroines are just blessed with perfection and the ability to magically and instantly do everything required of them). She’s on the adventure she’s always wished for, while on the ground, Alek is in a terrible place, hunted, grieving, a pawn in a greater battle. Westerfeld switches between their viewpoints with ease, trading out Alek’s dangerous flight from Austria, with its bullets and fear and learning on the run, for Deryn’s life on the Leviathan, where she learns “Service-speak” and spikes dialogue with her own colorful slang.

Much of the book is scene-setting for the war that’s clearly to come, but that’s not to say it’s not fascinating. Leviathan is a story of conflict and contrast — not just the obvious war that’s creeping quickly over the horizon, but between science and technology; between a scientist and a count; between the potential heir to an empire and a girl from no particular background. Westerfeld is careful to keep both the Clankers and the Darwinists sympathetic (though it does seem like the Darwinists have more fun), and the depths to which he envisions his beasties and machines is impressive. It would be easy to get lost during Deryn’s treks through the giant Levitathan, but Westerfeld’s jaunty prose — with a gorgeous assist from Keith Thompson’s illustrations — keeps even a giant sky-beast in context and scope.

Westerfeld was one of the speakers at last month’s Wordstock festival in Portland, and I, late as ever, tore into the convention center in time to see about half of his talk, which mostly involved showing illustrations from Leviathan and discussing what they depicted and how these things related to the story — all while carefully avoiding spoilers and making delicious pronouncements like, “If you’re in a young adult novel, your parents already screwed up.” It was one of a generous handful of highlights of Wordstock, which I found alternately fantastic and frustrating. Its location, in the soulless convention center, was muffling; I tried to keep myself busy with panels and readings so I wouldn’t wind up wandering around the booths too often. They’re all stacked with gorgeous books, sure, but convention center trappings are the same wherever you go, and it gets a touch depressing.

The panels, however, were anything but. Besides Westerfeld, there were a few notable moments:

• Blake Nelson — whose Girl all Portlanders who were alive in the ’80s ought to have read by now — read from his latest, Destroy All Cars. It’s the story of a deeply, amusingly idealistic teenager who rails against automobiles, do-gooders who do nothing but talk and, among other things, big box stores. Nelson was reading on the Target Children’s Stage. The audience tittered appreciatively. While discussing the wide world of young adult publishing, Nelson, seeming sweetly uncomfortable, said, “They kind of overpay you if you write for boys.” Aspiring YA novelists, take note.

• Monica Drake and Gina Ochsner. Whoever put these two wonderful Oregon writers on one panel, well, I thank you. I loved Drake’s 2007 novel Clown Girl but hadn’t read anything by Ochsner. Drake’s reading was a disconcerting and alluring tease, a snippet of story about a new mother, a bottle of pills, the phrase “alone but not alone” repeating like a tolling bell; Ochsner’s was a short story that bowled me over with its gorgeous simplicity, its details, its lovely way of speaking about love and perfection and impossibility. I can’t find the damn story anywhere, though. I need it.

• Ethan Canin. “I’ve never given a reading at which so many people were holding Sherman Alexie books,” began Canin, who spoke not long after Alexie’s (sold-out) appearance. “There must be a reason for that.” I hear from a reliable source that Canin’s self-deprecating, laidback self-presentation — Oh, I hate reading aloud, shall we just talk about stuff, all of you and I? — is the norm for his appearances, but it was my first experience with him, and he was downright charming, telling stories and dispensing nuggets of wisdom about the writing life in equal measure. And when he did, eventually, read from America America, I decided it was about time I pick up one of his books.

• I missed James Ellroy, who was booked opposite Nelson, but reportedly he told an audience member to stuff his question up his ass. I shall never skip a James Ellroy appearance again. Well, unless he’s up against another young adult novelist I adore.

• Patrick deWitt and Maria Semple. I went to this panel out of curiosity about Semple, a former TV writer who worked on Arrested Development, and while the excerpt she read (from This One Is Mine) was bitingly funny, I came out of the reading fixated on deWitt’s debut novel, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, about a bartender in an L.A. bar that’s seen better days. His second-person prose and knowing tone was more than promising.

• There was a panel called “Willamette Week at 35.” I assumed this would, well, be a panel about the Portland alt-weekly through the years, but instead, it was a panel of former WW writers who’ve published books. I stayed for Katherine Dunn (Geek Love) and Oregonian food critic Karen Brooks, who were both fantastic, down-to-earth, no-bullshit speakers (and writers). I was less impressed with Wordstock founder Larry Colton, who claimed that a) there were no young adults at Wordstock and b) young adults aren’t reading. He pointed to (among other things) the emptiness of Wordstock’s “young adult” area as proof.

The thing is — setting aside, for now, the question of young adults and reading (I don’t have the statistics for it, but I don’t think Colton did, either *) — it wasn’t a young adult area. Sure, there were young adult authors reading on the aforementioned Target stage — but it was part of what is clearly described in the Wordstock program as the “Target Children’s Stage & Activity Area,” with giant crayons and arts and crafts. That’s great! Have a kids’ area! But a kids’ area and a young adult space are entirely different things. Nothing about that space was exceptionally teen-friendly, and beyond that, I’m not sure Wordstock is the most teen-friendly thing in the world (that said, there were definitely teens at the Blake Nelson talk, and the Laini Taylor/Sarah Rees Brennan talk, too). I’m not sure how you make it more so, but again, the convention center is a problem, and so, I think, is the passive nature of most of the events. You go and sit and get talked at. It’s great if you’re already a super book nerd, but how do you get more casual readers to go? Especially teen readers?

I don’t know, but I think this is a question, not a blanket statement like Colton made. What I do know, though, is that just an hour or two earlier that day, I heard a teenager tell her mother, “I wish we’d discovered this earlier.” Her mom asked, Earlier like yesterday? No, the girl said, “like when I was 11 or 12.”

I knew how she felt.

* For some interesting statistics on what teens do read, you could take a look at this recent Publishers Weekly piece.

November 9, 2009 05:43 PM

Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns today officially absolved fellow officers of any wrongdoing in tasering protester Ian Van Ornum last May.

The EPD's decision to not hold themselves accountable was widely expected. At a 3 pm press conference, Kerns largely repeated police justifications for the Tasering made by former Chief Robert Lehner three days after the incident.

Police officer Judd Warden Tasered Van Ornum in the back twice while Van Ornum lay face down with one or both arms behind his back. Here's police video from the Taser gun of Van Ornum writhing in pain:

After the Tasering Warden was given the "Officer of the Year" award by the Eugene Police Department.

Kerns is now reviewing another controversial Taser use by Warden against a Chinese student wrongly thought to be trespassing in his own home last month. Kerns said Warden deserved the Officer of the Year Award and stood by his public praise of Warden as "noble and hard-working" after the Tasering of the student. He denied that his praise indicated that he had already also prejudged whether that use of the 50,000-volt weapon was justified.

November 5, 2009 04:24 PM

v.

Oh, internet.

Look, folks, do you really think the V remake is anti-Obama propaganda? Does it not seem slightly more likely that the idea of lovely alien visitors who promise universal healthcare is just, well, the result of a heavy hand on the part of the show's creators, who are beating the audience about the head with Timely and Important Commentary on Life, the Universe and Everything?

But wait — I'm getting ahead of myself. There's one thing the new V definitely is, and that's getting off on a slightly wobbly foot. The premiere didn't waste any time: By the end of the hour, we know for sure that the aliens are reptilian under their borrowed human skin, and that they're not the nice, giving, slightly creepy but generally harmless visitors their leader, the gorgeous Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin), claims they are. They've got sleeper cells all over the world! They're making passports and torturing humans and violently breaking up meetings of those who disagree with them!

V really wants to be relevant. Like, really, really relevant. So relevant they went a few steps too far, at least for me. Right away, a plane falls out of the sky in New York City, its pilot limply parachuting down behind. And did I miss a caption, or did the visitors arrive on a Tuesday — a gorgeous, warm fall Tuesday? Thanks, guys. Your 9/11 references weren't obvious enough already. Like virtually everyone has pointed out, Battlestar Galactica had a lot of post-9/11 relevance. It also had a reasonable degree of elegance, and sometimes a dollop of subtlety. V is opting to take the broader route, the more familiar route, the simplified route. It's a little weird how straightforward and simple this show seems, coming from the same network that gives us the puzzle that is Lost.

But all isn't aggravating or lost. Sure, the harsh camera angles are disconcerting (though I've got a bit of a theory about the sharp, strange angles, which often result in eerie eye-lights that glimmer narrowly in characters' otherwise impenetrable eyes: Lizard Cam!), and some of the dialogue is downright leaden. Did they actually make Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost's fantastic Juliet), as suspicious FBI agent Erica, deliver a cliché-riddled few lines about how her son must be running off to hang out with the Vs because his father left? Yes. Yes, they did.

But Mitchell rises above (as does the eerily calm Baccarin, and Morris Chestnut as Ryan Nichols, a man whose past is rapidly catching up to him). Mitchell can deliver even the tiniest line with wit and humor; listen to the many layers she gives to the word "No" when her partner (Alan Tudyk) asks if he can drive. In one word, she illuminates the relationship between them, the power structure, the familiarity. Even with the clunky, exposition-heavy lines, she gives Erica a down-to-earth quality that contrasts nicely with Baccarin's alien beauty, the boyish greed of Scott Wolf's hungry reporter, Chad Decker, and the bland blandness of her son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who meets a hot V and is totally sold on their message of love and giving and connection and, y'know, taking over the world and such. Like io9's commenter, I would like the show to hurriedly throw Tyler under a bus, but I doubt we're going to get that wish: He's got to stick around to add some extra drama to Erica's newfound role as a V resister, and to court the youth vote — er, I mean, the younger viewers.

I think there's enough here to make V worth watching, but it feels like watered-down sci-fi, layered with familiar images as if the creators hope that will make it more palatable to a non-genre viewer. The speed with which the pilot zipped through the introductory material was interesting — there's no uncertainty as to whether these aliens are in fact reptilian and murderous — and it means we can dive right into the resistance and, hopefully, some character-building. More badass space technology, less whiny teenagers, OK?

November 4, 2009 02:51 PM

The Iraq war has reached new levels of absurd corruption.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. funded Iraqi government spent $85 million on plastic-coated cardboard divining rods to Ouija bombs and guns at checkpoints:

"The Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the
devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each.
Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints,
have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of
physical inspections of vehicles."

The paper reports that top Iraqi officials claim "the operator must walk in place a few moments to 'charge' the device, since it has no battery or other power source."

Is this what we wasted so many lives and so much money for?

October 16, 2009 04:56 PM

The number of things I haven't found time to blog about in the last few months — hey, it's Best of Eugene, and a girl only has so many hours in the week! — is nearing moderately frightful but not yet epic proportions. I think it's time for a Catch-All Catch-Up Post. It's cleansing for one and all! And when it's over, I can feel free to write about Wordstock and the men's basketball team without guilt!

MFNW!

Three days of music and debauchery! OK, mostly music. The last night of the fest, we loved The Brunettes, with their delicate and quirky percussion — at one point in a song, there was a sort of round of percussion that involved more tiny clicking and clacking instruments than I can remember — sweet harmonies and generally grand use of the kind of expansive instrumentation that makes the stage look like a third-grade music classroom exploded in the general vicinity. The levels of sheer charm were through the roof.

We tried to watch Youth Group next, but after the Brunettes, they felt a little plain, and the delicious cocktails at Clyde Common were calling to us. Intermission, with French fries!

And then there was The Get Up Kids' show. I'm not sure there are many other people still willing to admit their love for the Get Up Kids, but I'm one of 'em, even if the band did play "Mass Pike" like it was the musical equivalent of an ex who shows up at a party and who you're supposed to be "friends" with — but you really just don't want to be in the same room with the person, out of some squirrelly blend of residual love and maybe embarrassment that you once felt like you did.

It's an emo band, OK? I can use tangled relationship metaphors. I should use tangled relationship metaphors.

After that show, we watched Frank Blank for a minute, but there'd been some confusion in the program about whether the show would be Frank Black or Grand Duchy, and the hopes were for Grand Duchy. Sorry, Frank. And sorry, Beach House, whose gorgeous compositions, while swoony — the way "Gila" goes from a moody "Oh, oh, oh" into an uplifting and unintelligible wash of vocals nearly gives me goosebumps — had a weirdly hollow feeling. Or maybe that was just us, tired and sore-footed. We'll try again next time.

MusicfestNW is awesome.

BOOKS!

Earlier in the fall — which is, at the moment, pretending to be summer, but I'm not fooled — I read two very different books by Oregon authors, but never had the chance to review them in the paper:

Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson (Speigel & Grau, $25) is subtitled Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life In Ink. Are there actually any tall tales here? Hard to say. Johnson, as the Mercury put it, "writes like he isn't afraid of being arrested." His stories of life in a Portland tattoo shop are bawdy, speckled liberally with horrifically colorful images (and equally colorful language) and, despite his tendency to front like a certain kind of badass, keenly observed and funny as shit. Things I learned from Johnson include the meaning of the word "flash," which tattoos are best for covering other tattoos, and various bits of tattoo-world slang that's so specific, I kind of felt like Johnson was telling secrets. His anecdotes are sometimes about customers (the more batshit, the better) and sometimes about himself (ditto), but there's a gruffness to his voice that seems built of equal parts pragmatism, genuine warmth and a particular kind of storytelling that's part one-upsmanship and part enjoyment of the weird forms life takes. Johnson does tend to write about women like we're actually some strange other species, but if you just take that as part of his schtick, it gets less distracting.

The Bell at Sealey Head is by Oregonian fantasy writer extraordinaire Patricia A. McKillip, whose books I've been reading since I was pretty small. Her stories often feel familiar, like I've heard them before, dressed up in other trappings or wrapped in a careful disguise. This one takes place in a seaside town, Sealey Head, where a bell tolls with the sunset each night. To Gwyneth, a merchant's daughter, the bell is a source of endless inspiration for stories, which she shares with her siblings and with Judd Cauley, who's taken over his family's inn since his father lost his sight. Their town is small, and most everyone knows everyone else, from the horse-obsessed suitor who's after Gwyneth's hand to the old lady in Aislinn House, a decaying place on the edge of town that has a pretty interesting secret.

And then a stranger comes to town: Ridley Dow, a scholar who wants to solve the mystery of the tolling bell. Naturally, his presence stirs all kinds of things up; naturally, McKillip winds his tale in with the strands of Judd's life in the inn, Gwyneth's life as a writer and the life of a maid in Aislinn House who's more familiar with the building's secrets than most. Sealey Head is a lovely read, written with McKillip's reliably graceful, gentle and image-laden prose, but it feels a bit slight and a bit familiar. The layers of story, and Gwyneth's variations on the story of the bell, are nicely pieced together, but at the end, when story becomes more important than ever, the book seems to simply settle into a quiet finale without binding all the pieces together into a satisfying whole. It's a bit of a trifle, this one, not as touching or as deep as McKillip can be when she's at her enticing, engrossing best.

TELEVISION!
GODDAMMIT, DOLLHOUSE. Let's talk about your failings, shall we?

I keep holding onto hope, squeezing it like a little kid who's just learning to handle a kitten. "Belle Chose," last week's episode, started oddly, got fantastic and then died a quiet little death. The premise was an odd one: A serial killer who happens to be the nephew of one of the Rossom Corporation's bigwigs (played, in a nice guest spot, by Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan) gets hit by a car while looking for his next victim. Having a serial killer in a coma might be a good thing, but this one's current victims — whom he drugs and then plays with as if they're overgrown dolls (ooh, I see what you did there, show)— are still trapped out there somewhere. So what do the Dollhouse geniuses do? After sending Agent Helo Ballard in to do a nice bit of "Hey, I used to be in the FBI!" profile work on the Terry, the killer, they dump his entire personality into the active doll Victor (Enver Gjokaj).

Meanwhile, Echo (Eliza Dushku) is on assignment as a student who wants to sleep with her professor, and while Dushku does dumb-as-a-post pretty amusingly, her storyline is just there so that when Topher (Fran Kranz) tries to remotely wipe Terry's personality from Victor's head, things can go terribly wrong and the woman-hating serial killer personality can wind up ... in a woman's body!

This premise is not half as clever as the show seems to think it is. But up to this point, "Belle Chose" had me hooked, mostly because Gjokaj was beyond exceptional. His body language, when he's Terry, is downright creepy; when he becomes Kiki, the ditzy young woman who was in Echo's body, it's played for laughs in an uncomfortably awkward way, but Gjokaj runs with it, getting down with — well, not with his bad self, exactly, but he's certainly getting down on thedance floor.

The trouble is that once you swap personalities and bodies around, you've got Dushku carrying the serial killer story, and she just doesn't do it justice. She's not scary, and Echo is half broken anyway, her mind glitching and dancing between Terry and ... some other persona. It's sad, and it could be fascinating, but the way it plays out is weak: Once she finds the captive women, they've freed themselves from a cage (hurrah for that) but not from the building, and they kind of fight back, but they're confused (understandably) and Echo is too weak to control the people in her head.

So they all have to be saved by a SWAT team.

Setting aside my various other gripes with this episode — including the totally unbelievable violence, from a car cash in which no airbags go off to the apparently not-that-painful whacks with a croquet mallet — I have a very simple complaint about this: I'm really tired of seeing women need rescuing. I expect more from Joss Whedon. The last two weeks have involved weird semi-rescues during which Echo had to be saved from herself by either a) be talked down from her maternal-instinct craziness or b) be beaten into remembering her badass fight skills. By Ballard, the poster child for moral ambiguity, no less. I like this about Ballard's character; I like that he'ss a little off his rocker, stretched a little thin and definitely playing a more complicated game than he's used to. But I don't like this boring place that Echo keeps being led to.

I can accept that maybe there's supposed to be more to these scenarios, more to do with the way Echo's brain isn't working like a doll or like a person; I can hope that there's more bubbling under the surface with regards to humanity and choice and all the scientific and moral weirdness that the Dollhouse suggests and creates. There's so much potential there! So! Much! So much nastiness about personality and control and how people justify their actions! So much possibility in Echo's need to find herself amid all the people in her head! So much heartbreak in the way Dr. Saunders doesn't trust the world she's been built into, but doesn't want to be who she was before, either! But right now, the show is playing its stories and characters so simply, so shallowly, so ... traditionally.

(For a wicked awesome take on Dollhouse and its many problems, please click here; for the same author saying some very interesting things about the show's potential, go here.)

Dollhouse is off this week, and in a couple of weeks, we get Summer Glau as the Topher of another Dollhouse. Please, show. Please get it right.

October 3, 2009 02:57 PM

Oh, Joss Whedon.

See, last week I was going to write a post called "Dollhouse is Not Going to Hold Your Hand Anymore." It was going to be a post about how the show's season premiere, while it didn't live up to the fantastic potential of the first season's unaired 13th episode, "Epitaph One," had a lot of promise. It pretty much threw the viewers into the river and expected that we could damn well figure out how to swim —  a tactic that works for some of us, who like having to work out what's changed, what's the same and which direction we might be headed in this time. Things had clearly progressed without us, and Whedon and his team expected us to keep up.

Where we seemed to be: Echo (Eliza Dushku) is remembering things, kind of. Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is working for the 'house — kind of. Everyone's a little suspicious and rattled, especially Dr. Saunders, the active also/once known as Whiskey (Amy Adams), whose grasp on herself and reality was gradually turning fragile.

The episode's basic plot was a mostly throwaway thing involving an arms dealer (another Battlestar Galactica alum, Jamie Bamber), but it still mattered in that it showed us that Ballard was somehow working for the Dollhouse while being a client — being paid in Echo's time, maybe? Things, this episode showed, are tangled and complicated, particularly where Dr. Saunders is concerned; she's having strange conversations with Boyd (Harry Lennix) one minute, and scaring the shit out of the creepy genius Topher (Fran Kranz) the next. She's falling apart. And then she's gone.

It was the scene with Saunders and Topher that had me; she's so cracked, so lost, so trying to form her own world out of the one he, as the Dollhouse's programmer, has given her. And she's aware but not; she knows she's not Dr. Saunders, but she doesn't know, or want to know, who she is. This one dark, incredibly strong scene managed to pack all the show's weirdness about identity and malleability and power and control and half a dozen other things into precise bits of dialogue between two characters who clearly could use some more exploring.

It was so promising. It was so complicated. And then it was over, and Saunders was driving away — Acker on the way to Happy Town, though I think she's supposed to be back later this season. The premiere dropped in one interesting scene with a well-intentioned senator, Daniel Perrin (Alexis Denisof, from Whedon's Buffy and Angel), who wants to figure out what the deal is with the Rossum corporation, the Dollhouse's parent company, so we've got a new guy outside the house to balance out Ballard's involvement within. It all worked, in a slightly uncomfortable and appealing way.

And then there was tonight's episode, "Instinct," which put us right back at monster-of-the-week-with-a-small-side-dish-of-intrigue.

Spoilers ahead; click here to continue!

Sure, we got Madeleine (the sublime Miracle Laurie, who can steal a scene right out from under Olivia Williams' nose) back in the picture, at least for a bit; we got to meet the senator's wife, whom I immediately suspected could be a doll; we got the interestingly elaborate setup for the episode, which involved not just Echo being someone's wife and mother to his child, but also Sierra being the woman's best friend; we got the new programming trick that Topher has figured out but, in typical Topher fashion, not really thought through.

But we also got a bland and cliché-littered standalone plot that basically boiled down to a weirdly and ooky commentary on the power of the maternal instinct that pretty much dissolved when the husband character explained, ever so calmly and rationally, that Echo was not in fact the baby's mother, and Echo, a ferocious and unstoppable mama lion minutes before, just turned and walked away. In the end, we got the character's best moment of the episode: All this was just so that we could understand that Echo doesn't just remember who she's been and what she's done, but she feels it.

That's great! And interesting! But there was no more original way to approach that part of Echo's existence than the potentially murderous mother storyline that felt, fairly or not, like some strange twist of a Lifetime movie of the week? First science masters the maternal instinct, then the maternal instinct kicks the ass of science, then the nice husband fellow just ... talks Echo out of her disoriented and ragingly protective state? Sure, Echo is often fragile and not entirely there, but, well, the more I think about this series of events, the less sense it makes.

So. It wasn't a truly terrible episode, but it was corny — blue light and lightning for the capital-D Dramatic confrontation! Oh, Joss, how could you! — and it was the second week in a row in which Echo's assignment involves a pretend marriage. Next week, Victor gets sent out as a serial killer. That's something different. But I can't help but think it'd be more interesting if we reversed the plots. Make Victor the dad who gets incredibly attached to the kid; send Echo or Sierra out as a serial killer (if you've got to do that at all; does this plot not just sound incredibly inane from the word go?). Dollhouse is a show with built-in moral questions, a lot of which surround sex and identity and agency, but it seems like it's backing away from a lot of those, forgetting that a lot of viewers are deeply skeptical about a Fox show's ability/willingness to engage with the messy moral issues the show has to address in order to keep it from being a shallow thing that just plays with its characters because it can — just like the Dollhouse's clients play with their dolls.