Friday, April 27, 2012

CLOSE UP: John McCauley (Deer Tick)

John McCauley, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Deer Tick- Spend the Night

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Handsome Family: Profiles from the Illustrations

The Handsome Family, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Multiple influences, both geographical and personal, have worked to shape the unique sound of husband and wife team, Brett and Rennie Sparks' music.  He is from Texas, she is from New York. Their band, The Handsome Family, was founded in Chicago in 1993 but got new-found inspiration upon moving to New Mexico in 2001. Some would categorize them as "alt-country" but their style defies labels.

The Handsome Family- "Bottomless Hole"

Brett Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Everything is balanced. They are a humorous pair, the name The Handsome Family is derived from a sarcastic joke made at Brett's expense. On the other emotional extreme, Brett's breakdown in the mid-90s has added a sense of melancholy to some of the songs.

The Handsome Family- "So Much Wine"

Rennie Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Beautiful writing keeps their songs lively. Rennie's haunting lyrics and Brett's moody rhythms are perfect compliments to one another. They tour all over, and with eleven albums out, they continue to build up an already strong following.

The Handsome Family- "Flapping Your Broken Wings"

The Handsome Family- "Giant of Illinois" (about Robert Wadlow, the World's Tallest Man)

Brett Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CLOSE UP: Rick Jenkins (The Comedy Studio)

Rick Jenkins, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

The Comedy Studio- Cambridge, MA

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Monday, April 23, 2012

New Portrait Illustration: Tim Mason (Poet)

Tim Mason, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     I've known Tim Mason for about twenty years or so. We met when he and his family moved in a few houses down from mine in Worcester, MA around 1990. At the time he was managing the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus and it was through him and his ex-wife, Jan, that I was inspired to learn more about Folk music and poetry. He is a gifted and prolific poet, and he still promotes and organizes Folk acts around New England at venues like Club Passim in Cambridge, and Hezekiah Stone's Coffeehouse in central MA.

Timothy Mason- "Peace"

Tim Mason, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Timothy Mason at GAWF

Timothy Mason circa 1991

Tim Mason, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wait Until Dark (1967): Classic Audrey Hepburn

     Alan Arkin said the toughest part about his time on the set of Wait Until Dark (1967) was that he had to be mean to Audrey Hepburn. She was such a kind and adorable person, it broke his heart to have to torture her, even if it was just acting. Despite any apprehensions the cast faced, the end result is a top-notch thriller... one that is unique and set the tone for future films in a similar vein.
     A doll has been cut open and used as a vessel for transporting heroin. The runner's plan to abscond with the drugs backfired when she handed the doll off to an innocent photographer, who took it back to the apartment he shares with his wife, a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn)... 

     Now Roat (Alan Arkin), a psychopath and his two henchmen are determined to get the drug-stuffed doll back at any cost... 

     An elaborate ruse to trick the blind woman into handing the doll over doesn't go according to plan... 

     She is too smart for the thieves... 

     A gripping climax puts Audrey against Arkin in a test of wits and fortitude... 

     The blind woman is disadvantaged and overcome with crippling doubt, confusion and fear... 

     But somehow, she must manage to stay alive...

Wait Until Dark- movie trailer

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Illusionist (2006): Magic in Modern Cinema

     Full of vexation and mirages, The Illusionist (2006) is a magical film that leaves us baffled, fooled and guessing until the very end. Shot with an antique-style, limited color palette, the cinematography is amazing to look at... along with the lovely visage of Jessica Biel (who delivers a surprisingly good performance).
     Peasant Edward's ill-fated, failed childhood romance with a Duchess, forced him to travel the world perfecting his already burgeoning talents in the realms of magic and sleight-of-hand. 

     He has returned as magician of renown, now known as Eisenheim the Illusionist, performing amazing feats at premium prices. 

     At one of his shows, his childhood love, the Duchess volunteers to participate... 

     and the romance is rekindled... 

     Much to Eisenheim's chagrin, he discovers she is involved with the Crowned Prince...

     The chief inspector (Paul Giamatti), always looking out for the best interests of the Prince, does his best to persuade Eisenheim to stay away from the Duchess... 

     A shocking crime occurs, and Eisenheim's illusions become more disturbing... 

    Can he create the ultimate illusion? One that will take both he and she away?

The Illusionist- movie trailer

Friday, April 20, 2012

CLOSE UP: Chris Fleming

Chris Fleming, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

"Gayle: Episode 1"

Chris Fleming- Stand-up comedy

For more info, visit: Chris Fleming

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Smallest Show on Earth (1957): Obscure Classic Films

     Before making it big, Peter Sellers paid the bills by taking on smaller roles and bit parts in British films. Ever the creative artist, he always managed to deliver a standout, scene stealing performance, even in minor roles in which he is virtually unrecognizable. Such is the case in The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), in which Sellers plays a crazy, old, boozy movie projectionist. 
     A young couple receive word that the husband's great uncle has died and left them his estate. Eager to find out the enormity of their inheritance, they board the first train to meet with the lawyer handling the estate. 

     Much to their chagrin, they discover that the estate consists solely of an old, run down, dilapidated  movie theater... 

     with the interior in disrepair as well, and needing just as much work as the facade... 

     They plan to sell the theater to the greedy owner of the nearby successful, Grand Theater, but the sly businessman gives them a low ball, insulting offer and they refuse. Still intent on selling the dump, they devise to bluff the greedy man into thinking that they have changed their minds and are going to renovate and re-open the old fleabag theater after all. They meet the kooky staff, comprised of three old fogies who have worked there since the Silent Era. 

     The place is in shambles and the equipment is substandard, to say the least. 

     They do their best to fix it up enough to re-open and start screening movies. 

     Much to their surprise, a moderate crowd does show up. 

     The couple must do a lot of the work themselves, including the wife being the ice cream girl.  But she can't stand being fondled by the horny men. 

     They hire a sexy, buxom blond who has no such gripes about being violated and her sensuous allure draws even more people. 

     Will their efforts be enough to persuade the wealthy rival to make a higher bid to acquire the business? Or will the couple just have to make the most of their new entrepreneurial enterprise?

The Smallest Show on Earth- full feature film

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brad Roberts: Profiles from the Illustrations

Brad Roberts, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     It all started in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada when a rich baritone voice was featured in the night club band, Bad Brad Roberts and the St. James Rhythm Pigs. Brad Roberts eventually changed the name to Crash Test Dummies and set forth with well received shows. Brad got more into songwriting, even attending a workshop with Lyle Lovett, after which he wrote his first defining song, called "Superman's Song." It caught the attention of record labels and Crash Test Dummies recorded and released The Ghosts that Haunt Me in 1991. 

Crash Test Dummies- Superman's Song

Brad Roberts, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     With the success of their first album, the band hit mainstream success with it's sophomore release, God Shuffled His Feet in 1993. Full of offbeat, artistic songs and Roberts' unmistakable voice, the album was a major hit, scoring with an astoundingly simple, but memorable song, "Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm." All the other tracks showed the work of a fine songwriter truly hitting his stride.

Crash Test Dummies- Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm

Crash Test Dummies- God Shuffled His Feet

     Their next album, A Worm's Life explored a harder edged sound, and further experimentation on subsequent albums failed to repeat the commercial success of the first two, but who cares? The respect for Brad Roberts as an artist and songwriter continues to grow. An amazingly creative writer, he knows the value of the unknown... and always puts it into words sharply, and beautifully; directly indirect.

Crash Test Dummies- My Own Sunrise

Crash Test Dummies- Swimming In Your Ocean

Crash Test Dummies- The Ghosts That Haunt Me

Interview with Brad Roberts

Brad Roberts, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dan Burke: Art and Music (Songs that Inspired the Illustrations)

Dan Burke, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

The Orange Ocean

Let's Go Together

"Someone Who Loves You" w/ ballet dancers

It's Wicked Cold Outside w/ Niki Luparelli

Those Were the Days

Dan Burke, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Portrait Illustration: Tommy Ramone (Ramones, Uncle Monk)

Tommy Ramone, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     When I met Tommy Ramone in 2007, he had long since left behind Punk music in favor of a Bluegrass sound. His band, called Uncle Monk, had just released their self-titled debut album consisting of old-timey tunes written by Tommy and his musical partner, Claudia Tienan. He was a nice, cool guy, just doing what made him happy. It was a brave move considering the fact that a lot of people who went to their shows just saw the name "Ramone", which comes with a natural presumption for Punk Rock. Despite just having an acoustic guitar and mandolin, Tommy still possesses a lot of the Punk attitude that made the Ramones famous back in the seventies. With Tommy being the last surviving member of the original Ramones line-up, he usually finds time to pay tribute to his former bandmates with acoustic renditions of their classic songs.

Tommy Ramone- "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend/Blitzkrieg Bop"

Ramones- "Britzkrieg Bop" circa 1976

The Ramones- 1970s w/ Tommy Ramone center right

Uncle Monk- "Round the Bend"

Uncle Monk- "I Fought the Law"

Tommy Ramone and others- "I Wanna Be Sedated"

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic (1997): A Look at the Film on the 100th Anniversary of the Maritime Tragedy

     One hundred years ago today, on it's maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank... taking the lives of over 1,500 people. As a topic of interest, the overanalyzing and sensationalism surrounding those events have become morbid cliches, often overshadowing the human aspects of those lost in one of the worst disasters in maritime history. Nevertheless, the public's fascination with April 15, 1912 always creates pause and remembrance. That said, I thought it would suit to take a look at one of the better efforts to depict the tragedy (which will be re-released soon in 3D), James Cameron's 1997 film, Titanic.
     Yet another voyage into the depths of the sea to excavate the wreckage of Titanic is underway, this time to recover a priceless diamond believed to be on board. 

     Among those objects retrieved is a drawing of a nude, reclining woman. Rose, an elderly woman, sees the news coverage and alerts the crew that she is the woman depicted in the sketch. 

     So, the story begins as Rose recalls her experience on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. 

     A love story develops as she recalls meeting Jack Dawson, a transient artist... 

     She describes their mutual attraction and the obstacles and objections their romance faced, both social status-wise and personal. And she describes the execution of the drawing she had posed for... 

     The background story becomes less important as the Captain ignores iceberg warnings... 

     and the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink... 

     An already inadequate supply of lifeboats are launched without full capacity, leaving thousands to fight for their lives as the ship continues to founder... 

     Jack and Rose, left behind in the sinking ship, must find a route to safety... 

     before the ship makes it's slow descent to the sea floor and is lost...

Titanic- movie trailer