Edward D. Wood, Jr.:"Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1956)

Plan 9 From Outer Space has been unjustly deemed the worst movie of all time. It's true that cardboard gravestones are knocked over, that scenes change from day to night at a moment's notice, and that half of Bela Lugosi's scenes are shot with a taller stand-in who has trouble keeping his vampire's cape on his shoulders. But technical gaffes like these are shared by a number of low-budget sci-fi films with plots that equal the absurdity of this epic's tale of extraterrestrial grave robbers. What distinguishes Plan 9 from less interesting failures is the bizarre but sincerely overwrought screenplay from now-famous director Edward D. Wood Jr. As in his other works (such as the autobiographical Glen Or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster), Wood's words expressed far more of his interior obsessions, beliefs, and philosophies than any other hack churning out similar kiddie spook shows. It's clumsy poetry to be sure, but Wood loved the movies and tried to speak through them. An alien invader's soliloquy on the stupidity of modern man comes off like a strange man on the bus, demanding to tell you what's wrong with the world. Most of Wood's films have this strangely direct feel to them, but Plan 9 From Outer Space is definitely the tightest synthesis of the man's personal idiosyncrasies and his deep desire to tell a story that everyone would love. As a result, it's proven itself to be immensely popular, a rare combination of accessibility and outsider vision that unfortunately never paid off within Edward D. Wood Jr.'s lifetime.

James Carr:"The Complete Goldwax Singles" (2001)

All 28 songs from Carr's 1964-1970 Goldwax singles are here, which is enough to make it a fair bid for a good best-of compilation, although it doesn't have everything he recorded. About half of the songs on this British import are not on the most well-known American CD compilation of Carr's work, The Essential James Carr, and those tracks are consistent with the level of his other Goldwax recordings, although they don't include anything on the level of "The Dark End of the Street" or "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man." This disc is particularly valuable for filling in some of his earliest 1964-1966 sides, which have a very slightly poppier and more up-tempo bent than his most esteemed songs. "That's What I Want to Know"'s groove is pretty Motown-ish, for instance, while "I Can't Make It" and "Only Fools Run Away" have Marvelettes-like chirping in the background. The 1970 funk update of "Row, Row Your Boat" isn't much to cheer about, though. There are plenty who will argue the point, but this doesn't quite live up to Carr's billing as the greatest '60s deep soul singer; Otis Redding (who Carr resembles in some respects) was better, and others had better and more imaginative material. It's good, certainly, and recommended to fans of artists like Redding who are looking for similar stuff that doesn't get played on the radio


Mike Figgis:"Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas is the rarest of love stories that revolves around acceptance and resignation in the face of defeat, rather than salvation and emotional triumph. Bleak, morose, and doggedly determined to stick to its principles, the film was unique in its resolve to observe, rather than attempt to save, its protagonist. For this reason alone, its enthusiastic reception by critics and audiences alike was not so much surprising as encouraging: in an industry and society where happy endings, no matter how contrived, are thought to be the only way to sell a film, Leaving Las Vegas stood out as a beautiful exception to the rule. There is never any doubt that Nicolas Cage's Ben is going to go through with his plan to kill himself, nor is there any reason to believe that Elisabeth Shue's Sera will be the woman who changes him with her love. Their romance is built on mutual need, but not the need for a happy ending. Aside from the stellar work of Cage and Shue--the latter resurfacing from almost complete obscurity with her Oscar-nominated portrayal--one of the best performances in Leaving Las Vegas comes from its soundtrack. A haunting, moody jazz score composed by writer/director Mike Figgis himself, it perfectly complements the film's narrative, oozing with a graceful, understated foreboding. Rarely has a soundtrack been so intrinsic to a film's subject matter. A beautiful, deceptively reckless meditation on love, death, and the intractability of human will, Leaving Las Vegas has much in common with its central character: darkly charismatic and abiding by its own rules, it charms even as it devastates.

Funkadelic:"One Nation Under a Groove" (1978)

One Nation Under a Groove was not only Funkadelic's greatest moment, it was their most popular album, bringing them an unprecedented commercial breakthrough by going platinum and spawning a number one R&B smash in the title track. It was a landmark LP for the so-called "black rock" movement, best-typified in the statement of purpose "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!"; more than that, though, the whole album is full of fuzzed-out, Hendrix-style guitar licks, even when the music is clearly meant for the dancefloor. This may not have been a new concept for Funkadelic, but it's executed here with the greatest clarity and accessibility in their catalog. Furthermore, out of George Clinton's many conceptual albums (serious and otherwise), One Nation Under a Groove is the pinnacle of his political consciousness. It's unified by a refusal to acknowledge boundaries -- social, sexual, or musical -- and, by extension, the uptight society that created them. The tone is positive, not militant -- this funk is about community, freedom, and independence, and you can hear it in every cut (even the bizarre, outrageously scatological "P.E. Squad"). The title cut is one of funk's greatest anthems, and "Groovallegiance" and the terrific "Cholly" both dovetail nicely with its concerns. The aforementioned "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!" is a seamless hybrid that perfectly encapsulates the band's musical agenda, while "Into You" is one of their few truly successful slow numbers. The original LP included a three-song bonus EP featuring the heavy riff rock of "Lunchmeataphobia," an unnecessary instrumental version of "P.E. Squad," and a live "Maggot Brain"; these tracks were appended to the CD reissue. In any form, One Nation Under a Groove is the best realization of Funkadelic's ambitions, and one of the best funk albums ever released.


George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos was born in Washington, D.C. in 1957.  He worked as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, and woman's shoe salesman before publishing his first novel in 1992.
Pelecanos is the author of eighteen novels set in and around Washington, D.C.: A Firing Offense, Nick's Trip, Shoedog, Down By the River Where the Dead Men Go, The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, Shame the Devil , Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, Soul Circus, Hard Revolution, Drama City, The Night Gardener, The Turnaround, The Way Home, The Cut, and What It Was.  He has been the recipient of the Raymond Chandler award in Italy, the Falcon award in Japan, and the Grand Prix Du Roman Noir in France.  Hell to Pay and Soul Circus were awarded the 2003 and 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.  His short fiction has appeared in Esquire, Playboy, and the collectionsUnusual Suspects, Best American Mystery Stories of 1997, Measures of Poison, Best American Mystery Stories of 2002, Men From Boys, and Murder at the Foul Line.  He served as editor on the collections D.C. Noir and D.C. Noir 2: The Classics, as well as The Best Mystery Stories of 2008.  He is an award-winning essayist who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Sight and Sound, Uncut, Mojo, and numerous other publications.  Esquire magazine called him "the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world."  In Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King wrote that Pelecanos is "perhaps the greatest living American crime writer."  Pelecanos would like to note that Mr. King used the qualifier "perhaps."   
Pelecanos served as producer on the feature films Caught (Robert M. Young, 1996), Whatever (Susan Skoog, 1998) andBlackMale (George and Mike Baluzy, 1999), and was the U.S. distributor of John Woo's cult classic, The Killer and Richard Bugajski's Interrogation.  Most recently, he was a producer, writer, and story editor for the acclaimed HBO dramatic series, The Wire, winner of the Peabody Award and the AFI Award.  He was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on that show.  He was a writer and co-producer on the World War II miniseries The Pacific, and is currently at work as an executive producer and writer on David Simon's HBO dramatic series Treme, shot in New Orleans.
Pelecanos lives with his family in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Raymond Carver

Carver was born into a poverty-stricken family at the tail-end of the Depression. The son of a violent alcoholic, he married at 19, started a series of menial jobs and his own career of 'full-time drinking as a serious pursuit'. A career that would eventually kill him. Constantly struggling to support his wife and family Carver enrolled in a writing programme under author John Gardner in 1958 and he saw this as a turning point.
Rejecting the more experimental fiction of the 60s and 70s, he pioneered a precisionist realism reinventing the American short story during the eighties, heading the line of so-called 'dirty realists' or 'K-mart realists'. Set in trailer parks and shopping malls they are stories of banal lives that turn on a seeminlgy insignificant detail. Carver writes with meticulous economy suddenly bringing a life into focus in a similar way to the paintings of Edward Hopper. As well as a master of the short story he was an accomplished poet publishing several highly acclaimed volumes.
After the 'line of demarcation' in Carver's life - 2 June 1977, the day he stopped drinking - his stories become increasingly more redemptive and expansive. Alcohol had eventually shattered his health, his work and his family - his first marriage effectively ending in 1978. He finally married his long-term parter Tess Gallagher (they met ten years earlier at a writers' conference in Dallas) in Reno less than two months before he eventually lost his fight with cancer.

Nicholas Ray:"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955)

A clenched fist of teenage alienation and cultural disillusion, Rebel Without a Cause questioned the complacent state of 1950s American society with the subtlety of a blow to the jaw. A truly landmark film, Rebel went where almost no Hollywood film had dared, exposing the anger and discontent beneath the prosperity and confidence of post-war America, picking at family values that dictated that happiness was best found in the nuclear family's well-appointed suburban home. The alienated kids in Rebel were part and parcel of these homes -- angry, wounded animals who rejected the very comforts that were supposed to make America superior to the rest of the world. If the notion that comfortable, middle-class white kids could harbor such feelings of anger and nameless yearning wasn't discomforting enough, even more so was the notion that their parents were ill-equipped to understand or help them. From Plato's neglectful mother and father to Jim's ineffectual parents to Judy's pathologically repressed father, all of the film's parents are seen as people whose conformity to the values of 1950s society masks their own discontent and -- in the case of Judy's father and Plato's parents -- underlying deviance. Thus, the teenagers are not so much the problem themselves as heirs to the problems created by the older and supposedly wiser generation.
As the film was defined by the burning performances of its teenage leads, it is sadly ironic that their flames were extinguished before their time, so that Rebel has become as much eulogy as angry declaration. Sal Mineo, sad and touching as the lost boy infatuated with Dean's Jim Stark, was murdered near his Hollywood home, while Natalie Wood, who brought female sexual yearning to the screen in ways that had never before been seen, drowned in a mysterious boating accident. And, of course, Dean, at his most iconic in blue jeans and red jacket, died in a car accident before the film was even released. That Rebel Without a Cause remains a classic is in no small part due to Dean's raw, soulful performance, made more timeless by his mortality. Although the problems of the film's teenagers may seem trifling when compared to those of their modern-day counterparts, Rebel's anger still throbs with conviction, a brooding reminder that, beneath complacency, there is chaos trying to break free.

Toots & the Maytals:"Funky Kingston [Mango Reissue]" (1973)

Toots & the Maytals' first LP for Chris Blackwell was originally released in the early '70s, and it includes solid sides like "Pomp and Pride," a whacked-out restructuring of Richard Berry's "Louie, Louie," and the wonderful title track, "Funky Kingston." Blackwell reissued a bulked-up version of Funky Kingston in the mid-'70s on his Mango subsidiary, adding in the immortal "Pressure Drop," the brilliant "Time Tough," and a reimagining of John Denver's "Country Roads" (simply called "Country Road"), to make a much better and stronger set.

Jean-Jacques Beineix:"Betty Blue" (1986)

Jean-Jacques Beineix's Betty Blue stars Béatrice Dalle as the title character, a mentally unbalanced and sexually aggressive free spirit who becomes involved with Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a repairman moonlighting as a writer. The two engage in a variety of sexual encounters, and grow more passionate toward each other. Betty finds Zorg's book and is aggressively supportive; over time, her mental and emotional instability begin to catch up with her and drive her to the point of romantic obsession with Zorg -- leading to a grisly and shocking conclusion.

Rufus Wainwright:"Rufus Wainwright" (1998)

What separates Rufus Wainwright and the other second-generation singers who sprang up at the same time (Sean Lennon, Emma Townshend, and Chris Stills the most notable among them) is that Wainwright deserves to be heard regardless of his family tree; in fact, the issue of his parentage is ultimately as immaterial as that of his sexuality -- this self-titled debut cares little for the rock clichés of an earlier generation, instead heralding the arrival of a unique and compelling voice steeped most solidly in the traditions of cabaret. Like his folks, Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he's a superb songwriter, with a knack for elegantly rolling piano melodies and poignantly romantic lyrics; while the appearance of Van Dyke Parks and his trademark orchestral arrangements hints at an affinity for the pop classicism of Brian Wilson or Randy Newman, the vocals come straight out of opera, and although Wainwright is unlikely to be starring in La Boheme anytime soon, he conveys the kind of honest emotion sorely lacking in the ironic posing of many of his contemporaries. Maybe the kids are alright after all.


Jerry Schatzberg:"Scarecrow" (1973)

Before Scarecrow's meandering, but enjoyable, "odd couple" plot takes a melodramatic turn at the end, the film is an engrossing and delightful character study. The meandering is not a negative in this instance; the mismatched buddies are themselves drifters, wandering through their lives in search of meaning and purpose. Very much a product of its times, Scarecrow is dated, but not in a bad way. It comes across as a snapshot, both of the mood of the country at the time and of the "free" style of filmmaking that flourished briefly as new directors played with new styles and new themes. Scarecrow is not as consciously experimental as other works from the same period, but its willingness to linger over the quirks and oddities of its two main characters is fairly unusual. Jerry Schatzberg gives the proceedings a rueful atmosphere, helped immensely by Vilmos Zsigmond's evocative and subtly stunning cinematography. But the film's biggest asset is its cast. Gene Hackman and Al Pacino have rarely been better. Hackman uses his curious combination of world weariness and hidden explosiveness to very good effect, and, at times, he dominates the film. Pacino sneaks up on the viewer more, turning in a performance that is more nuanced and much less explosive than is usually his wont. It's a remarkably fine piece of acting. The supporting cast is also quite good, with especially notable work from Richard Lynch, Eileen Brennan and Penelope Allen.

Bad Company:"Bad Company" (1974)

Bad Company's 1974 self-titled release stands as one of the most important and accomplished debut hard rock albums from the '70s. Though hardly visionary, it was one of the most successful steps in the continuing evolution of rock & roll, riding on the coattails of achievement from artists like the Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. From the simple electric guitar lick on "Can't Get Enough" to the haunting bassline in "Bad Company" and the fast beats of "Movin' On," Bad Company exemplified raw rock & roll at its best. Erupting out of an experimental period created by the likes of Pink Floyd, Bad Company signified a return to more primal, stripped-down rock & roll. Even while labelmates Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy and IV featured highly acclaimed, colorful album artwork, Bad Company's austere black and white record cover stood out in stark contrast. Six years later, AC/DC used the same idea on their smash Back in Black. Throughout the 35-minute album, Paul Rodgers' mesmerizing and gritty vocals hardly vary in tonal quality, offering a perfect complement to Mick Ralphs' blues-based guitar work. Several songs include three-chord verses offset by unembellished, distorted choruses, filled rich with Rodgers' cries. Bad Company is an essential addition to the rock & roll library; clearly influential to '70s and '80s hard rock bands like Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Boston.


Roger Corman:"Machine Gun Kelly" (1958)

The real-life "Machine Gun" Kelly was a clumsy, two-bit petty thief, goaded into bigger and badder things by a publicity-hungry wife; legend has it that when Kelly was finally captured by the FBI, he had a smile on his face, as if relieved to get away from the gorgonlike Mrs. Kelly. This film version of Kelly's life alters the facts considerably: as played by Charles Bronson, "Machine Gun" is a cold-blooded sadist who kills because he's sensitive about his height. Together with his ever-lovin' moll Flo (Susan Cabot), Kelly decides to top off his criminal achievements with a high-profile kindapping, a decision that leads to his bloody downfall. Comedian Morey Amsterdam delivers a surprisingly effective performance as a stool pigeon who "gets his" from the business end of Kelly's eponymous weapon. Directed with sweaty intensity by Roger Corman, Machine Gun Kelly was originally released on a double bill with The Bonnie Parker Story.

David Ackles:"American Gothic" (1972)

The years have only been kind to the album considered David Ackles' masterpiece when it was released. Ackles combined an early-'70s singer/songwriter sensibility with a theater music background that placed him as much in the tradition of Brecht-Weill and Jacques Brel as Bob Dylan. Not only are his songs fully realized, dramatic statements, but Ackles proves himself a warm, accomplished singer. When this album got no higher than #167 in the charts, Ackles' fans were heartbroken. Decades later, American Gothic remains one of those great albums that never found its audience. It waits to be rediscovered.

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