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Showing posts from 2015

Duranalysis: Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

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On November 25, 1984, Bob Geldof, frontman of the Boomtown Rats, and Midge Ure, lead singer of Ultravox, assembled over thirty of Britain’s leading rock and pop music talents, including Sting, George Michael, and members of Duran Duran, Culture Club, and U2, at Sarn Studios in London to form a supergroup known as Band Aid and record a Christmas-themed single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the proceeds of which would be used to help relieve the crippling famine in Ethiopia.
Yep, you’re right: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is a terrible song (for what it’s worth,Geldof calls it one of the “worst songs in history”). The criticisms levied against it—that the lyrics are clunky, that the expressed sentiments are smug and condescending—are valid. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I love it to bits. Those involved with the project participated out of a genuine passion for it, and while the end result might be dreadful, it sure is sincere.
For the purposes of this holiday-themed Duranalysis,…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Jingle Bells Affair”

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In the holiday spirit of giving, I bring you the crappiest Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode ever made.

Oh, sure, a case for that honor can be made in favor of a handful of other episodes, but for my money, this wan, schmaltzy, tedious, bizarre offering is as terrible as this (mostly wonderful) show ever gets. Yeah, I’ve seen the episode where Napoleon dances the Watusi with a gorilla, and yeah, it’s pretty awful. This is worse.
Fun historical tidbit: Back in early 1966, when U.N.C.L.E. was on the rise and teen girls everywhere were in the wild grip of Illya-mania, David McCallum was scheduled to sign autographs at the flagship Macy’s department store in Manhattan. The store could safely accommodate three thousand fans; fifteen thousand showed up. When the appearance was canceled due to security concerns, the fans stampeded, causing massive damage to the store and necessitating the arrival of the riot police. As it turns out, though, this would prove to be only the second-most catastrophic…

Duranalysis: The Devils

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In 2002, Nick Rhodes collaborated with Stephen Duffy, lead singer of The Lilac Time and one of the co-founders of Duran Duran, on an album, Dark Circles, which they released under the name The Devils. Dark Circles was mostly comprised of music Nick and Stephen had written together back in 1978 shortly after forming Duran Duran; for an added layer of authenticity, Nick used era-appropriate vintage analog synthesizers on the album to recreate Duran’s 1978 sound.
Dark Circles is pretty consistently great. Hell, “Big Store” probably makes my top ten list of favorite Duran songs, even though the band never actually recorded it (Stephen recorded a version in 1979 with his post-Duran band, The Subterranean Hawks). For the purposes of this Duranalysis, I’m focusing on The Devils’ half-hour electronic press kit, which was produced by Stephen and edited by Gary Oldknow, visual artist and frequent Duran Duran collaborator (Oldknow, you’ll recall, came up with the concept for the violent and awes…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”

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On the sidewalk outside the tailor shop that serves as the secret entrance to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, a well-dressed elderly English gentleman (George Sanders) collides with Illya. The man drops his briefcase, scattering papers everywhere. Amid profuse apologies, Illya helps him gather up his things before the man rushes off to catch his bus.
Upon realizing the man left behind a book, Illya chases after the bus. He seems unaware it’s a classic London double-decker bus, which is not a typical sight in midtown Manhattan. Oh, Illya. Where are your spy instincts, babe? Didn’t U.N.C.L.E. train you to notice anomalies and proceed with caution? Anyway, Illya jumps on the bus and returns the book. The elderly man thanks him, then insists they’ve met before: “Don't you remember the trek out to the desert? All that mucky heat and the crawling insects boring into your skin? ... I wore a beard in those days.” As it starts to dawn on Illya that maybe, just maybe, he’s waltzed right into a t…

Duranalysis: The Power Station

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“…an album that was made by some guys once, and that’s it.”

I’ve been paying a lot of extra attention to Simon and Nick in recent Duranalyses. Since I don’t want Andy and John to feel neglected*, this week I’m taking a look at the Power Station, the supergroup John and Andy formed in 1984 with singer Robert Palmer and drummer Tony Thompson of Chic; Chic bassist Bernard Edwards produced the band’s self-titled 1985 album, which scored two monster hit singles with “Some Like It Hot” and a cover of T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”.
*I’ve probably paid even less attention to Roger than to Andy and John, but I feel confident Roger prefers it that way, thank you very much.
I’d intended to focus on the videos for “Some Like It Hot” and “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”, both of which were directed by Peter Heath, but… well, the videos are fine, but there’s not much there to Duranalyze. Of the two major Duran Duran side projects, Arcadia clearly came up with the more interesting and visually strikin…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Virtue Affair”

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Somewhere in the French countryside, Napoleon and Illya spy from the bushes as an arms dealer named Voegler (Frank Marth) delivers missile parts to Robespierre (Ronald Long), a politician who claims to be a direct descendent of his namesake, the famed revolutionary leader. Upon the conclusion of the transaction, Illya and Napoleon trail Voegler back to Robespierre’s lavish castle. They’re interrupted by Raoul Dubois, an elderly gentleman who approaches them in a panic and forces them at gunpoint to help him escape from Robespierre.
Armed thugs on motorcycles pursue them. At Raoul’s desperate urging, Ilya and Napoleon drive him to his home, where they’re greeted by his beautiful daughter, Albert (Mala Powers), who is named for Raoul’s idol, Albert Einstein.
Raoul, who has been missing for three months, claims he was kidnapped by Robespierre and, along with other captured scientists, forced to work on a guided missile system. Raoul escaped to warn France of a diabolical threat. Before…

Duranalysis: “The Making of Duran Duran’s Red Carpet Massacre”

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We’re so busted, done and dusted…

Let’s take a look at this forty-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which was included with some deluxe editions of Duran Duran’s 2007 Red Carpet Massacre album. Misfortune plagued the album from the beginning; for starters, Andy left the band for the second (and presumably final) time under acrimonious circumstances during the recording sessions. The remaining band members were pushed by their label, Sony Music, to work with a slew of different producers, including Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and Nate “Danja” Hills, to give the album a more contemporary R&B feel. Upon release, the album was a critical and commercial failure; shortly thereafter, Sony dropped Duran Duran from the label.
None of that glum backstory makes its way into this relentlessly cheery featurette, which shadows the band throughout the recording sessions, the filming of the “Falling Down” video, and all the pre-launch festivities. Andy does not appear anywhere in this, nor is…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Gurnius Affair”

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I’ve put it off as long as I reasonably could, but I knew someday I’d have to address the grim wreckage of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s dank and dismal fourth season. Today is that day.
Conventional wisdom would have it that U.N.C.L.E.’s third season, in which the sparkling whimsy that was the hallmark of earlier episodes often veered closer to goofy slapstick, represents the show’s nadir. The ratings took a dive, so the show’s fourth and final season was retooled to lose all the light-hearted charm. A new producer was brought in, and most of the staff writers were replaced by newcomers. The show tried to become darker and more serious, with catastrophic results. Season Three, while deeply flawed, still bursts at the seams with the gonzo energy that made the early seasons so delightful. By comparison, Season Four seems listless and sloppy. “The Gurnius Affair” is probably one of the season’s stronger offerings—at the least, it features a rip-roaring story idea at its core—and even still…

Saturday Roundup: It’s always better on holiday.

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No Duranalysis this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Duranalysis will resume as usual next Thursday and continue on a weekly basis through the end of the year. In the meantime, here’s a quick list of recent Duranalyses, if you feel like getting caught up on any Duran-based madness you may have missed:
Nick and Simon on “Kulture Shock” “Come Undone” “Careless Memories” anime version “Pressure Off” “Out of My Mind” “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” “All She Wants Is” Nick and Simon on MTV’s “House of Style”

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”

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In Paris, nightclub owner Max Von Schreeten (Lloyd Bochner) and his cousin Josef (Gerald Mohr) receive a delivery of a suitcase filled with cash. The Von Schreeten cousins embezzled half a billion dollars in uncut, unregistered diamonds from a diamond syndicate; to prevent them from flooding the world diamond market, the syndicate has been paying them a cool million each month in extortion fees. Max wants to use his new ill-gotten wealth to lure Mary Pilgrim (Kathryn Hays), a singer from New York who used to date both Max and Josef, to Paris to perform at his club, in the hopes of winning her back.
There’s a listening device attached to the suitcase’s luggage tag. From a hotel room somewhere in Paris, Illya eavesdrops on Max and Josef.
Back in New York, Napoleon kidnaps Mary Pilgrim from her apartment in the Bronx, hustles her into a cab, and takes her to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, where a quartet of stylists ignore her loud protests and give her a head-to-toe makeover, transforming h…

Duranalysis: Simon and Nick on “House of Style”

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Hide the lacy frocks! Nick and Simon have descended upon Sears!

In the summer of 1993, back when Duran Duran was riding high on its post-Wedding Album renaissance, Nick and Simon appeared on an episode of MTV’s long-running fashion series House of Style. In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, an oral history compiled by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks, Nick says, “Going on House of Style was one of the funniest things we ever did on MTV.” He’s right: The segment, in which the boys go a whirlwind shopping spree at Sears, is a trip.
While there’s no John Taylor in this, there is a tall, leggy brunet(te) with great hair and phenomenal bone structure: Cindy Crawford, House of Style’s longtime supermodel host, who, as you all surely recall, played John in Duran Duran’s glamorous “Girl Panic!” video. So it’s pretty much just like having John on hand, except Cindy smiles more.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Bat Cave Affair”

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Somewhere in the Ozarks, Napoleon visits a beautiful young hillbilly named Clemency McGill (Joan Freeman), whom U.N.C.L.E. is interested in recruiting for her remarkable powers of clairvoyance. Napoleon’s skepticism about Clemency’s abilities deepens into smirking contempt when she claims Illya is in immediate danger of being mauled by a bull in Spain. Illya, Napoleon tells her with maximum hauteur, is currently on assignment in Sweden, not Spain.
Cut to Illya in a bullring, waving his suit coat like a flag in front of a stampeding bull. On the sidelines, armed THRUSH agents costumed as matadors prevent him from leaving the ring. So apparently Clemency knows what she’s talking about.

Friday Roundup: Friday the 13th edition

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Happy Friday the 13th. I spent a lovely fall morning strolling in Central Park, kicking up the autumn leaves and getting sniffed by enthusiastic dogs and humming Simon & Garfunkel tunes softly to myself and avoiding the stinky patches of fallen ginkgo berries. Ginkgo: Rhymes with “stinko” for a reason. Their leaves are so lovely, and yet their berries smell like rancid feta.
(Ginkgo leaves are a gorgeous gold this time of year, not green as in this photo. I swiped the picture from my sister’s Flickr account.)
Nothing much to report this week. I saw Spectre and enjoyed it well enough, I think, but the details didn’t care to stick around in my brain for very long. I remember liking Q and Moneypenny a lot, but that's about it.

Also, I have a new Duranalysis up, if you’ve missed it. This week, I examined the video for 1988’s “All She Wants Is.”

Duranalysis: “All She Wants Is”

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Know you’ve got to save some for the shoeshine boy…

“All She Wants Is” was the second single off of Duran Duran’s 1988 Big Thing album. The video was directed by acclaimed photographer Dean Chamberlain, who first became acquainted with the band through Nick’s then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) Julie Anne Rhodes, and who previously worked with Nick and Simon on Arcadia’s video for “Missing”*. As with “Missing”, “All She Wants Is” was created using a visual technique in which individual frames were exposed for long periods of time, which, when combined with a moving light source, enabled Chamberlain to “draw” on the film with light. To add an extra layer of difficulty, the video was then pieced together one frame at a time to create a stop motion effect.
*“Missing” is a gorgeous video. It won’t ever be Duranalyzed here, even though I’ve done prior analyses of threeArcadiavideos, because it doesn’t feature any of the Durans anywhere in it. No Durans, no Duranalysis; that’s a hard and fast rul…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Never-Never Affair”

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Illya races through the streets of Manhattan, ducking behind cars and glancing wildly over his shoulder. He darts into an alley and finds himself trapped: THRUSH goons have lit blazing fires across each exit, effectively anchoring him in place. A Rolls-Royce limousine pulls up, and the dastardly yet charming Victor Gervais (Cesar Romero), the visiting head of THRUSH’s French Division, gets out. Illya, it seems, is carrying a list of names of top-ranking THRUSH leaders; Gervais is trying to intercept him and recover the list before Illya can bring it to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Bemused, Gervais watches as Illya collapses from smoke inhalation.
This episode comes relatively early on in the series, so Gervais and his THRUSH associates genuinely appear to have no idea who Illya is—they consistently refer to him only as “the courier”, instead of as “Mr. Kuryakin”, or as “the Russian”, or “the one with the turtleneck fetish”, or maybe “the cute one with the pretty eyes and all that nice hair…

Friday Roundup: Rave Kitty, Duranalysis, UNCLE on sale, Japanese Star Wars trailer, Romeo Void

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November’s been unseasonably warm and muggy thus far, with temperatures sticking around the mid-seventies. I don’t approve. We’re moving into the holiday season; I want brisk weather, spitting rain, and howling winds. I want to look at the sky and wonder if we’re going to get snow today.
Here’s our Rave Kitty Jack O’Lantern from Halloween. Glow sticks make everything special! I skipped last week’s roundup, because my Duranalysis for “Out Of My Mind” ended up taking waaaaaaaaaaaay too long to write. It takes me an embarrassing amount of time to churn out a Duranalysis. It’s just ridiculous, really. In most cases, I’m a speedy writer, but any time I start writing about Duran Duran, my pace becomes tortured and glacial. It’s weird; I don’t know why that happens. In any case, the plan is still to keep up with weekly Duranalyses (and weekly Man From U.N.C.L.E. recaps) at least through December. Watch for them on Thursday afternoons. I promise nothing, though; I'm very lazy.

Duranalysis: “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise”

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The music’s between us…

The video for “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise”, the first single off of Duran Duran’s 2004 Astronaut album, marked the first time the five original band members had teamed up to shoot a video since 1985’s “A View To A Kill”. To celebrate the triumphant return of the crown princes of MTV’s golden age, something grandiose was required. All total, the band filmed six different videos for “Sunrise”: one apiece for Simon, John, Nick, Roger, and Andy, plus one master video made from cutting together brief snippets of all the above. Here’s Nick in Paper Magazine discussing the concept: “The idea was to make five separate videos, one for each band member, showing some kind of journey home, all edited to different remixes.” Each video was shot on a different film format: color Super 8, black and white Super 8, MiniDV, 24p, or Super 16.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: “The Suburbia Affair”

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Swinging bachelors Napoleon and Illya rent a home together in the bucolic suburban community of Peaceful Havens. It’s all in the name of duty: They’re searching for one Dr. Rutter, a famed Danish scientist rumored to be living in the neighborhood under an assumed name. Ten years ago, after coming up with a revolutionary formula for creating antimatter, Dr. Rutter went into hiding to prevent his discovery from falling into the wrong hands. Evil terrorist organization THRUSH has recently ramped up its efforts to get its sticky fingers on Dr. Rutter’s formula to use it for its own dastardly purposes; U.N.C.L.E. is trying to beat THRUSH to the punch by finding Dr. Rutter themselves.
Within seconds of moving in, Illya and Napoleon receive a free milk delivery from Barrows (King Moody), the friendly neighborhood milkman, who happens to work for THRUSH. The bottle is laced with deadly explosives, and… well, this happens:

Duranalysis: “Out of My Mind”

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Just in time for Halloween, here’s an incomprehensible ghost story, featuring Simon, Nick, and Warren.

“Out of My Mind” is a single off of Duran Duran’s 1997 Medazzaland album. The album, despite being quite good, was a commercial failure; outside of the core Duran fandom, “Out of My Mind” is mostly known for being featured on the soundtrack for the 1997 Val Kilmer film The Saint. The video, which was directed by Dean Karr, is similarly obscure. If you’ve seen it, you probably remember it as the one in which Nick Rhodes makes out with a demonic tattooed bald lady while his head melts.
If you haven’t seen it, you’re probably thinking one of two things right now, just based on that description:
1. Holy crap! That sounds awesome. I must see this! 2. Holy crap! That sounds awful. I must see this!

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Ultimate Computer Affair”

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In the fictional South American country of Chacua, a blond-haired, blue-eyed vagabond in tattered clothes strolls barefoot through the streets, strumming a guitar and singing a rousing rendition of that traditional Latin American ditty, “Hava Nagila.” Why, it’s U.N.C.L.E.’s very own Man of a Thousand Faces, Illya Kuryakin! ‘Sup, Illya? What tomfoolery are you getting yourself into this time? Illya approaches a man in a suit and, trotting out his finest we-don’t-need-no-stinking-badges accent, asks for a handout. When the man tries to shoo him away, Illya whacks him over the head with his guitar. Uniformed authorities swoop in, club Illya into submission, and haul him off. Left alone, the suited man whips out an U.N.C.L.E. communicator and contacts Mr. Waverly to let him know the plan is proceeding according to schedule.
Next thing you know, Illya’s been sentenced to seven years of hard labor at the friendly local penal colony, which is secretly operated by the dreaded terrorist organ…

Friday Roundup: Sapphire & Steel, Duran Duran’s “Pressure Off”, Jem and the Holograms

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Amateur mixology corner: As we move into the holidays, I'm trying to come up with new, festive cocktails. Here's my best effort thus far. I'm calling this a Peach Schnapple, because I've been unable to dream up a less-awful name. Take an ounce of bourbon, an ounce of peach schnapps, half a cup of cold peach tea (I’m using herbal; you could easily substitute a flavored black tea if you wanted to amp up the Snapple™ resemblance), and a healthy squeeze of lemon. I’m using the crappy packaged kind, because I have no fresh lemons on hand. Would fresh lemon juice work better? Hells yeah. 
Combine, stir, and serve over ice. Unbeatable color and a clean, fresh taste. Look how pretty that is! Probably more of a late-summer drink, really, but our weather has been strangely warm and sunny this week, so it works.
First and foremost: Duranalysis is back! I posted the Duranalysis of the brand-new “Pressure Off” video earlier today. I’m retiring Miami Vice Mondays for the time being…

Duranalysis: "Pressure Off"

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Everybody, everywhere, feel it in the air…

Duran Duran just released the video for “Pressure Off”, the first single off their new Paper Gods album, and it’s a good one; since first viewing it, my fingers have been itching to Duranalyze the crap out of it. “Pressure Off” was directed by the band’s frequent collaborator, visual artist/director Nick Egan, who, in addition to creating the cover art for Duran Duran’s Wedding Album, also directed four of their earlier videos: “White Lines”, “Perfect Day”, “Ordinary World”, and “All You Need is Now.” Hey, those are all great songs! And those are all beautifully composed and visually compelling videos! However, while I have Duranalyzed a grand total of twenty-four videos to date, none of the aforementioned have made the cut. You know why? Because Egan doesn’t really do plots. His videos for the band, which mostly feature impeccably-shot performance footage mixed with cool visuals, don’t have storylines. Trust me, it’s much easier coming up wi…

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: “The Project Deephole Affair”

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In a cheap hotel in Manhattan, Illya and Napoleon protect famed geologist Dr. Remington from a gaggle of evildoers intent on kidnapping him. THRUSH spies, led by the beautiful and hopelessly vain Narcissus Darling (Barbara Bouchet), have surrounded the building; Illya and Napoleon look for a way to smuggle Remington past them to safety.
In the room right next to theirs, hapless Buzz Conway (Jack Weston) argues on the phone with his bookie. When the manager pounds on his door, he climbs out the window to avoid paying his past-due rent. He’s spotted by Narcissus and her gang, who assume he’s Remington and converge on him. They knock him out with a hypodermic dart, but before they can haul him off, Napoleon swoops in, guns blazing, and shoos them away. Illya takes advantage of the distraction to slip out of the building with the real Dr. Remington.

Friday Rundown: Halloween, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Duran Duran

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Happy October! It’s still a little warmer here than I’d like, but leaves are changing, and the air is getting a bit crisper and clammier. Here’s our annual Halloween table, an idea we’ve cheerfully pillaged from the always-entertaining Dinosaur Dracula
Festive! The ceramic gold skull is from Z Gallerie; I ordered it for Ingrid a couple years ago, because it was described as a paperweight and thus I was, erroneously, expecting it to be roughly softball-sized. Nope, it’s the size of a real human skull. It creeps me out, honestly, but it’s appropriate for this time of year. Years and years ago, our late mother hand-stitched the stuffed fabric pumpkins for us. 
We’re still mulling over the perfect theme cocktail to serve out of the bone-and-skull-festooned goblets. Something the color of fresh blood, probably. Campari might have to be involved. Suggestions welcomed.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Terbuf Affair”

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After the overheated, tawdry shenanigans of the last episode, let’s cool things down with this brisk and breezy offering from the first season. In this episode, which was directed by Richard Donner, the man behind The Goonies and Ladyhawke and the entire Lethal Weapon series, everything’s on a smaller scale: The fate of the world isn’t at stake, no one dies, THRUSH isn’t mentioned, and nobody gets tied up and worked over with a cattle prod. No, not even Illya.
In the tiny fake country of Terbuf on the Balkan Coast, a man named Emil (Jacques Abuchon) flees for his life from the sinister Lieutenant Fest (MichaelForest). A lovely young woman named Clara (Madlyn Rhue) stashes Emil in a haystack, then promises to help smuggle him out of the country.

Miami Vice Mondays: “When Irish Eyes are Crying”

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Episode: Season Three, Episode One: “When Irish Eyes are Crying” Original airdate: September 26, 1986 Directed by: Mario DiLeo Story by: John Leekley Teleplay by: Dick Wolf and John Leekley
Summary: While investigating a tip about a possible weapons deal, Gina saves former IRA member Sean Carroon (Liam Neeson) from an assassination attempt, then becomes romantically involved with him. Carroon, who claims to have renounced his violent ways, is now a vocal proponent of peace between England and Northern Ireland. Vice teams up with a Scotland Yard detective (Daniel Gerroll), who is certain Carroon is using his avowed pacifism as cover while he plots an attack on England. Crockett and Tubbs go undercover as weapons dealers and discover that, indeed, Carroon has been purchasing surface-to-air missiles as part of a plot to bring down the Concorde. Heartbroken, Gina tries to stop the attack, and ends up shooting and killing her lover.
Oh, and Crockett’s beloved Ferrari gets blasted to pieces by …

Friday Roundup: Duran Duran and Adam Lambert at the Garden, Trader Joe’s pumpkin madness, more U.N.C.L.E., The Devils

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Okay, right, it’s Saturday. Saturday is very close to Friday, honestly. Practically the same day.
I went to Fresh 102.7’s Fall Fest at the Theater at MadisonSquareGarden on Thursday night, with headliners Duran Duran and Adam Lambert. Great show—I’d seen Duran at the Garden back in 2011, but that was in the gargantuan Arena, whereas this was in the much smaller and more intimate (but still pretty huge) Theater within the same complex. We could actually see the stage this time, which was a huge plus. Decent seats, cheap tickets, good acts (in addition to the big draws, Rachel Platten, A Great Big World, and Phases played on the bill). Anyway, Duran did a shortened version of their set from the Terminal 5 show last month (they dropped “Dancephobia”, as well as a few other songs, and damn it, I found myself missing that obnoxious little tune).
One sour spot: The crowd was… not great, at least in our section. There were a bunch of middle-aged male Duranies behind us and in front of us wh…

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: “The Concrete Overcoat Affair” (Parts 1 & 2)

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It’s a two-part episode. You know what that means? Twice the usual amount of nonsensical plotting and high-spirited nitwittery! Get comfortable—this is going to be a long one.
During its four-season run, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. produced eight feature films, which were cobbled together from a mixture of existing episodes and additional footage and released in theaters internationally. “The Concrete Overcoat Affair”, repackaged for theatrical release under the title The Spy in the Green Hat, is one of the stronger efforts. It’s a touch darker and more brutal than the usual U.N.C.L.E. episode (more blatantly James Bond-ish, really), but Illya and Napoleon are their usual sparkling and charming selves, and the big-name guest stars—Jack Palance and Janet Leigh—are standouts.

Miami Vice Mondays: “Prodigal Son”

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Episode: Season Two, Episode One: “The Prodigal Son” (parts 1 & 2) Original airdate: September 27, 1985 Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser, aka Starsky on Starsky & Hutch Written by: Daniel Pyne
Summary: After Gina is badly injured in a retaliatory shooting following a big drug bust, Crockett and Tubbs head up to Manhattan to infiltrate and take down the Revillas, the New York-based Colombian crime family responsible for the attack. While back in his old stomping grounds, Tubbs tries to rekindle a romance with his shady ex-lover, NYPD cop Valerie (Pam Grier), whose current undercover assignment puts her at odds with Tubbs’s mission. Crockett hooks up with Margaret (Susan Hess), a bad-news party girl who: a) steals his gun (Crockett, love, do not let your one-night stands steal your gun), b) falls in love with him, and c) betrays him to the bad guys. After blowing up warehouses and wreaking general chaos and shooting down helicopters and ending up with most of Manhattan trying to mur…

Friday Roundup: Free books, Ithaca vacation, Pawn Sacrifice, Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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First up: Free stuff! Luft Books is giving away some free Kindle-formatted eBooks at Amazon today (and, in some cases, for the next few days). My books Demon City, Charlotte Dent (2008 ABNA semifinalist. Per Publishers Weekly: “From start to end, this is a crisp, fun treatment of Hollywood life”), and Preppies of the Apocalypse are all free right now, as is Four Emperors, the sleazy-yet-fun gay supernatural romance I wrote under the nom de plume Evan Allen. It’s a good time to scoop ‘em up. No Kindle, no worries: Amazon offers free apps to let you read Kindle-formatted content on your computer or most devices. Easy-peasy. (With the exception of Four Emperors, all my books are also available in paperback.)
Unsure where to start with my books? I usual point people in the direction of my all-purpose crowd-pleasing mystery Bias Cut(2012 ABNA semifinalist, 2013 IPPY medalist), which isn’t free today, but which, at a very reasonable $2.99, probably isn’t going to break anyone’s budget. Or …

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Adriatic Express Affair”

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and Napoleon and Illya are hanging out at the train station in Vienna while taking a half-assed stab at doing their job, which in this case means keeping an eye out for a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent named Herr von Kreidel. Mostly, though, they’re playing to their strengths: Illya is looking mysterious and unapproachable while muttering gloomy thoughts about the weather, and Napoleon is ogling girls.

Friday Roundup: Man From U.N.C.L.E., Heather Stewart, Morrissey’s novel, and Sparks

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Fall is here! New York is still on the warm side, but the weather seems to be leaning strongly in a general downward direction, and that’s surely a good thing. I’m hiding out in Queens today to avoid Pope-related crowds and confusion, I’m heading upstate tomorrow for a last-minute micro-short vacation, and all is more or less well.
This is the best worst thing ever. I ordered a couple of Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels from an eBay vendor, and he threw in an amazing bonus: a 250-page fully-illustrated hardcover children’s book: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Calcutta Affair” by George S. Elrick. The illustrator is uncredited, which is a crying shame; there’s a full-color illustration on every page (so, roughly 125 illustrations), and they’re marvelous. The plot, which follows Napoleon and Illya as they battle the evil forces of T.H.R.U.S.H. in India, is strangely brutal for a kid’s book; Napoleon and Illya, so glib and mild-natured on the show, come across as, oh, a wee bit psy…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Children’s Day Affair”

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Somewhere in Switzerland near the Italian border, Napoleon and Illya zip along in a sporty convertible, patrolling the roads to Geneva as part of security measures for an upcoming gathering of U.N.C.L.E.’s Western Hemisphere Section One leaders. When someone opens fire on them, they leave the car and explore the surrounding woods. In no time at all, Illya finds himself ambushed from all directions by a gaggle of gun-toting young boys in school uniforms. Illya, my love, try not to let small children get the drop on you. It reflects poorly on U.N.C.L.E. when a bunch of preteens can outmaneuver one of its top spies.

Miami Vice Mondays: "El Viejo"

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Episode: Season Three, Episode Seven: “El Viejo” Original airdate: November 7, 1985 Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt Written by: Alan Moskowitz
Summary: Crockett’s attempt to ensnare a trigger-happy drug lord known as the Bolivian goes horribly wrong—a security guard is shot and killed, and in the resulting chaos, a down-on-his-luck elderly gentleman named Jake Pierson (Willie Nelson) absconds with a buttload of the Bolivian’s cocaine. Pierson wants to return the cocaine to the Bolivian for a hefty finders’ fee; to salvage their case, Crockett and Tubbs, in their long-term undercover guises as lowlifes Burnett and Cooper, intercept Pierson and help set up the deal.

Friday Roundup: Duran Duran at Terminal 5, Paper Gods review, Moonbeam City, Glitter Princes

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I went to see Duran Duran Monday night at Terminal 5 in Manhattan. Hadn’t planned on going, but a friend couldn’t use her ticket at the last minute, so she very generously gave it to me. It was a pretty stupendous show. I met up with my friend’s friend Jane, who turned out to be delightful company, and we managed to stand very, very close to the stage; my own phone is rubbish, so that photo of Simon (with bonus photobomb by John) was taken by Jane. 
Anyway, the boys looked and sounded great. Fun evening filled with cool people, from the awesome lady passing out free individual bottles of prosecco and pinot grigio outside the door to the woman on my subway train home who identified me as a fellow concertgoer by my wristband and struck up a conversation.
I’ve been having a good time listening to their new album, Paper Gods. Here are my fast and messy track-by-track thoughts:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Foxes and Hounds Affair”

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Now in glorious Technicolor!

In Paris, Illya visits a stage magician named Merlin (Andre Philippe), who is in possession of an electronic thought translator, a miraculous device that allows him to read minds. Merlin’s been using it in his nightly stage show; Illya wants to acquire it for U.N.C.L.E. To prove the efficacy of his device, Merlin offers a demonstration. He urges Illya to think of “…some little secret which perhaps only you know.” He fires up the device and probes into Illya’s most private thoughts: “You think of a man. A Monsieur Solo.”
Oh? Do tell, Merlin.

Friday roundup: All Duran, All the Time

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I know I’ve used this photo before, but dang it, it’s one of my very favorites, just for the uber-glamorous half-assedness of it. John and Simon can’t be bothered to put down their cigarettes, John looks on the verge of tears, Roger is hiding behind his sparkler, and Nick, the magical pixie, is busy setting his hair on fire. At least Andy and Simon seem to be having a good time.
Duran Duran’s Paper Gods album is out today, so the guys have been doing a slew of promotional stuff. There’s a good, long interview in The Guardian in which everyone is in fine form. Here's my favorite bit, in regard to filming the Sri Lanka videos (“Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Save a Prayer”, “Lonely In Your Nightmare”):
John: Then Andy fell off a tree into a lagoon and got poisoned. We heard about that for a long time afterwards. That was one of Andy’s favourite resentments: “Oh, that fuckin’ island …”
Nick: I don’t know, I never used to listen to him.
Yep, we know, Nick. Andy wrote a 320-page book about how…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Girls of Nazarone Affair”

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In Cannes, Illya and Napoleon attempt to contact a Dr. Kelvin, who has developed a serum with miraculous healing properties. To keep it out of the hands of miscreants, Dr. Kelvin has sought the protection of U.N.C.L.E. Oh, Dr. Kelvin, how naïve of you. When it comes to innocent civilians, U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t really do protection. Dangling civilians in front of deadly enemy agents as bait? Hurling civilians directly into the path of danger? Yeah, that’s really more U.N.C.L.E.’s speed. Protection? Not one of their strengths.
Outside a hotel, a champagne-swilling flower vendor is approached by a pair of pretty blonde women in a fancy sports car: sinister Madame Streigau (Marian Moses), and famed racer Nazarone (Danica d’Hondt), who is in town to compete in the upcoming Grand Prix. Madame Streigau asks the vendor to pose for a photo, whereupon she discreetly passes him an envelope, then sticks him with a corsage pin laced with deadly poison.

The A-Team: “The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair”

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For some damn fool reason, I thought this would be a good idea.

My affection for the high-energy, unapologetic goofiness of TheA-Team is no secret. And while I’ve arrived very late to the nonstop cocktail party that is The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I’ve quickly lost my heart to the show. So, I thought to myself, what could be more relevant to my interests than a very special Man From U.N.C.L.E.-themed A-Team episode? How could this possibly go wrong?
Okay, sure, even on paper, it’s not a perfect match. Mashing up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (swanky, frothy, sexy) with The A-Team (gonzo, gleeful, idiotic) is like ordering a Kir Royale with a Pabst Blue Ribbon chaser, or ending a jazz recital with a string of fart jokes. Even so, with the right script, this could’ve worked. This could’ve been fun. Hell, it could’ve been cute.

Miami Vice Mondays: "Red Tape"

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Episode: Season Three, Episode Nineteen: “Red Tape” Original airdate: March 13, 1987 Directed by: Gabrielle Beaumont Teleplay by: Jonathan Polanksy Story by: Dennis Cooper
Summary: While serving a routine search warrant, young hotshot detective Eddie Trumbull (a baby-faced Viggo Mortensen(!) in a blink-and-miss-him role) is killed in an explosion, the latest in a series of lethal boobytraps specifically targeting cops. Eddie’s distraught partner, Bobby Diaz (Lou Diamond Phillips, awesome), vows to seek vengeance for his murder.

Friday roundup: Randall's Island, eclairs, Demon City, and Spandau Ballet

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ß I swiped  this photo of Randall’s Island and the Triborough (RFK) Bridge from my sister’s Flickr account without permission. Sorry, Ingrid.
Happy Friday. I just walked to my home in Queens from my sister’s office at ColumbiaUniversity, and I’m feeling rather smug about it. From MorningsideHeights, I skimmed across the top border of Central Park, then crossed through East Harlem to the 102nd Street pedestrian bridge over the Harlem River, zigzagged across Randall’s Island, then walked over the TriboroughBridge across the East River to Queens. It’s not a long walk, but it’s sort of a weird one—Randall’s Island, home of wetlands, soccer fields, homeless shelters, a hospital for the criminally insane, a sewage treatment plant, and too few pedestrian-friendly pathways, can be tricky to navigate.
(Western Queens, where I live, is lovely, honestly. The proximity to the East River means million-dollar views of the Manhattan skyline, which is a nifty perk. However, it also means proximity to…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Fiddlesticks Affair”

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I’m still making my way through season one of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It’s still a freaking delightful show. This worked out pretty well last week, so let’s take another in-depth look at an episode, shall we?
At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Napoleon and Illya prepare for a new mission by trying to break into a vault. Their attempt is unsuccessful, a fact that is trumpeted loudly by a smug fellow U.N.C.L.E. agent, who seems delighted at the opportunity to take these two spotlight-grabbing show ponies down a notch or two. Illya: “Having been successfully captured and killed on our own dress rehearsal, heaven knows the depths we shall sink to on the real thing.” Then he gloomily misquotes a little Tennyson and slinks off in defeat. Illya, you are a strange but glorious creature.

Miami Vice Mondays: "Brother's Keeper"

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Episode: Season One, Episode One: “Brother’s Keeper” Original airdate: September 16, 1984 Directed by: Thomas Carter, whose film credits include Save the Last Dance, Coach Carter, and—god help us all—Swing Kids.  Written by: series creator Anthony Yerkovich
Summary: Here’s where it all begins: After New York Vice detective Raphael Tubbs is murdered by vicious drug lord Calderone (Miguel Pinero), his vengeance-bent younger brother Rico, a street cop from the Bronx, heads south to Miami, hot on Calderone’s trail. His path soon crosses with undercover Miami Vice detective Sonny Crockett, whose partner (played by Jimmy Smits!) has just been blown to pieces by Calderone. Crockett and Tubbs spend most of the two-part episode bickering and punching each other in the face before deciding to join forces and bring their common enemy, Calderone, to justice. Which, by the way, they totally fail to do: They bust Calderone, but a crooked judge lets him out on bail, and Calderone flees the country. Havi…

Friday Roundup: Macklemore in Spokane, David McCallum’s music career, Duran Duran, and Adam Lambert

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released their video for “Downtown” yesterday. It’s a big, jubilant, crazy, joyous valentine to my hometown of Spokane (which is also Lewis’s hometown; Macklemore is a Seattle boy), and I love it to pieces. Spokane, you never looked so good. Spokane can be kind of a cold, prickly, lonely place—at heart, it’s still a turn-of-the-century Old West railroad town, with all the rough-and-tumble attitude that comes with that—but it’s got its own stark beauty. It fills me with delight to see Macklemore and his friends (who include Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Eric Nally, and Ken Griffey, Jr.) singing and dancing in the shadow of the Parkade. (From Wikipedia’s shockingly comprehensive and laudatory entry on the Parkade: “The Parkade is a ten-level parking structure in Spokane, Washington. It was built for $3.5 million in 1967 by Sceva Construction Company, with concrete furnished by the Acme Concrete Company. The structure was built to accommodate one …

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Project Strigas Affair”

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Last week, while trying to make an informed decision as to whether it was worth seeing Guy Ritchie’s big-screen reboot of the 1964-1968 NBC spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in a theater (conclusion: it’s a rental), I came across Sarah Kurchak’s terrific AV Club essay about the iconoclastic character of Illya Kuryakin, the suave Russian spy played in the original series by Scottish actor David McCallum (otherwise known as Ducky on NCIS, for anyone too young to have watched The Man From U.N.C.L.E., yet old enough to be a fan of NCIS). I’d never seen the series, but the AV Club piece intrigued me enough to dive in. Smart move: The show is marvelous. It’s overflowing with the elements I treasure most in fluff television: insane plots, snappy banter, swanky soirees, daring escapes, ill-advised hookups, and bizarre attempts at foreign accents. Along with McCallum’s Illya, it stars Robert Vaughn as the excellently-named Napoleon Solo—secret agent, all-purpose ladies’ man, and world-class …

Miami Vice Mondays: "No Exit"

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Episode: Season One, Episode Seven: “No Exit” Original airdate: November 9, 1984 Directed by: Actor/director David Soul, best known as Hutch on Starsky & Hutch Story by: Charles R. Leinenweber Written by: Maurice Hurley
Summary: Crockett and Tubbs are on the trail of notorious arms dealer Tony Amato (Bruce Willis), who’s looking to unload a supply of stolen surface-to-air stinger missiles. While Tubbs poses as a prospective weapons buyer, Crockett keeps Amato’s house under constant secret surveillance. After Crockett discovers that Amato has been regularly mistreating his wife Rita (Katherine Borowitz, who, quite awesomely, has been married to John Turturro since 1985), he reveals his identity to Rita to prevent her from hiring a hitman to off her husband.

Friday Roundup: Duran Duran's Paper Gods, Glitter Princes, Fun With Keywords

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Friday roundup! I’ve got very little to report this week, other than to note that, as promised (threatened?), my mystery novel Bias Cut has a new cover. The new cover is now live on the ebook version; the paperback version will follow suit within the next couple of weeks. Self-promotion makes me wither and die inside, but I’ll give this a shot: Maybe you should consider reading Bias Cut? Maybe? It’s the briskest-selling and most critically-acclaimed of my books (it won an IPPY silver medal, it was an ABNA semi-finalist, Publishers Weekly called it “fresh and dark” and singled out my “snappy dialogue and accomplished descriptions”). I reread it yesterday for the first time in a couple of years to double-check the typesetting of the new paperback version, and it’s just rock-solid across the board. I’m proud of it.

Mr. T in “Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool”

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“Do you know me? Of course you do. That’s because I’m famous!”

Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool is an educational video from 1984 in which Mr. T—bouncer turned fighter turned actor turned pop-culture icon—provides kids with a series of life lessons. It was directed by Jeff Margolis, best known as a prolific director of awards shows; over the years, Margolis has won an Emmy and two DGA Awards for directing the Academy Awards, which is a nifty fact to have on hand if you ever find yourself trying to make the case that Hollywood can be, at times, just a tad insular and self-congratulatory.
This is a fascinating cultural artifact. Despite being almost an hour long (and currently only available via muddy VHS copies that various kind souls have uploaded to YouTube), Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool is compulsively watchable, mostly due to the goofball charisma of its star. Mr. T expanded his fame by deftly exploiting the dichotomy between his outsized persona—his musclebound physique, hi…

Miami Vice Mondays: "Theresa"

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Episode: Season Three, Episode Sixteen: “Theresa” Original airdate: February 13, 1987 Directed by: Virgil W. Vogel Written by: Pamela Norris, a former SNL scribe.
Summary: Crockett’s steady girlfriend Theresa (Helena Bonham Carter, baby-faced and adorable even while injecting street-grade Dilaudid between her toes), a surgeon with a nasty addiction to illicit painkillers, is blackmailed by her dealer into snooping through Crockett’s files and stealing the address of the police property warehouse. The warehouse is subsequently blown to smithereens, killing several police officers and obliterating all the evidence in Crockett’s ongoing investigation into a dangerous drug lord named Joey Wyatt (Brad Dourif, Hollywood’s favorite go-to actor for crazy-eyed slimeballs).

Friday Roundup: The Peripheral, Glitter Princes, Outlander, Duran Duran, and hate-watching Fantastic Four

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As I mentioned last week in my essay about my Pacific Northwest jaunt, I recently read William Gibson’s The Peripheral, which is a downright amazing book. It’s dense and nigh-impenetrable, even by Gibson’s formidable standards, but it’s well worth sticking with to the end. I’m reluctant to say too much about it, because part of the satisfaction of reading it comes from puzzling out the plot. As is his wont, Gibson drops readers in the middle of a very complex future society (in this case—and see, I’m already giving spoilers—he drops them into two future societies: one in the very near future, the other about seventy years beyond that) and lets them fend for themselves. It’s a book that rewards rereading. It’s also deeply depressing and mood-altering (in Gibson’s all-too-plausible future, 80% of humanity has been slowly killed off over the course of a few decades, mostly due to the effects of climate change). I’ve been fighting off a feeling of inevitable looming dread and despair eve…