Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007): A Great Film from a Classic Novel

     Ron Hansen's brilliant novel about the events leading up to Jesse James' murder is brought to the big screen in this great adaptation of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). An all-star cast (Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck) fleshes out the characters and beautiful cinematography captures the majestic 19th Century atmosphere. Tense and true to history, the film holds tight and focuses on humanity rather than sensationalism. Not just a great western, but a powerful work of art, it is an essential view.
     Jesse James' robbery career has reached the point where most of his old trusted friends are either dead or in jail. Still eager to plunder, he now must recruit a group of unknown roustabouts to help him with a train robbery... 

     Among the men are the Ford brothers, Charlie and Robert (Bob). After the heist, the two stay on to assist Jesse. During this time Jesse takes a liking to Bob, but begins to get leery of him as time goes along, due to Bob's fan-like obsession with Jesse's biography and exploits (and Bob's desire to become famous himself)... 

     For Jesse, the mistrust grows into paranoia as Bob's behavior is getting more suspicious... 

     Bob can sense that Jesse suspects him of disloyalty, and the inevitable occurs...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford- movie trailer
Ron Hansen, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012): Another Great Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp Collaboration

     The late 1960s - early 1970s television show is given the Tim Burton film treatment in Dark Shadows (2012). Everything Burton and Johnny Depp have created together has proven to be entertaining, quirky, stylish and worthwhile, and this is no exception. Depp is great, as always, and a solid supporting cast rounds out the film nicely, including Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo).
     Barnabas Collins, having been cursed by a witch who is infatuated with him, and turned into a vampire in the 1700s, is buried, but then dug up two centuries later in 1971... 

     His family business (he holds Family sacred above all else) is in trouble, financially and otherwise. The witch, still around Collinsport, has driven his family interests to ruin over the many years he was gone, and his new distant relatives haven't done so well in keeping up the legacy... 

     Barnabas vows to restore the Collins name to prominence and ensure the survival of his family... 

     All the while, of course, he is killing, doing what vampires do, and has fallen for the new Governess who eerily reminds him of a long lost love... 

     He must destroy the witch (who still has the hots for him), and if possible, reverse the curse so that all might be as it should for the Collins Family...

Dark Shadows- movie trailer
Chloe Moretz has a great role in Dark Shadows

Happy Birthday, George Carlin!

     Happy B-Day to George Carlin! The wise old man would've been 75 years old today. It's too bad he didn't reach the 3/4 century milestone. However, the wit, humor, genuine observations and critiques he crammed into his 71 years still ring true and will always be relevant... a lasting legacy. Here are a few gems:

The Seven Words

Religion is Bullshit


I Don't Vote

Fat People

The Ten Commandments

The American Dream

Friday, May 11, 2012

CLOSE UP: Sugar Dish

Sugar Dish, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Sugar Dish performs to "Toxic"

photographs by Travis Simpkins

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tommy Ramone: Profiles from the Illustrations

Tommy Ramone, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Tommy Ramone has had a long journey. His birth name was Erdelyi Tamas. He was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1952 to Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust by hiding from the Nazis with neighbors during the war. The family moved to New York City and he changed his name to Thomas Erdelyi. Forming a series of smaller bands, it was apparent Thomas had a talent for managing and producing music. In 1970, he was hired as assistant producer on Jimi Hendrix's album, Band of Gypsys.

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

     In 1974, Thomas became the manager of a Punk Rock group he formed with friends Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee called the Ramones. Originally, Joey was the drummer, but he couldn't keep up with the fast tempo, so Thomas became the drummer adopting the stage name, Tommy Ramone. Dee Dee was later quoted as saying, "Tommy was supposed to be the manager, finally he sat behind the drums because no one else wanted to." Tommy penned a lot of their early hits including "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Blitzkrieg Bop." 

Ramones- "Blitzkrieg Bop" circa 1976

The Ramones

     In the 1980s, Tommy started to get back into producing, working on albums by artists such as The Replacements and Talking Heads. Most recently, he has formed an old-timey Bluegrass duo with his musical partner, Claudia Tienan called Uncle Monk. They perform all over and with Tommy being the last surviving member of the Ramones, he always finds time to pay tribute to his former bandmates.

Uncle Monk- "Round the Bend"

Tommy Ramone and others- "I Wanna Be Sedated"

Uncle Monk- "I Fought the Law"

For more info, visit:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CLOSE UP: Rob Potylo

Rob Potylo, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Rob Potylo- "She-ra"

Interview with Rob Potylo for ABC's Chronicle

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Monday, May 7, 2012

New Portrait Illustration: Jan Luby (Folk Musician/Songwriter)

Jan Luby, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     I've known Jan Luby for about twenty years or so, and can honestly say she is one of the nicest, most caring people I've ever met. We met as neighbors when she, her ex-husband Tim Mason and their daughter, Ruby, moved in down the street from my mother. She was and is a very passionate person, both in music and in activist causes, which I've always respected about her. She is a talented songwriter and a great friend.

Jan Luby

Jan Luby, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Jan Luby

Jan Luby circa 1991

Jan Luby, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

For more info, visit:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunset Boulevard (1950): Classic Film Noir

     One of the greatest films ever made, Sunset Boulevard (1950) contains all the elements needed for success. An air-tight script, expert direction, great cinematography and perfect casting (particularly with Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim) all fall into place and form a cinematic masterpiece. Controversial in it's depiction of Hollywood business and it's habit of using up talent and throwing it away, it is both an interesting time capsule and still holds relevance today.
     William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter. While running from creditors and repossession agents, he gets a flat tire and pulls into the garage of an old dilapidated mansion. Turns out it is the home of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) a has-been former silent movie star that hasn't accepted the fact that her career is over, still seeing the cameras that have long since stopped rolling. 

     Still living in the past, she revels in her "stardom" and imagined adulation (encouraged by her butler, played by Erich Von Stroheim). 

     In need of a job, Gillis reluctantly accepts her offer to have him edit her tediously bad screenplay. Thinking it'll be easy money, he strings her along and takes the free ride. 

     It is quickly realized that Desmond's interest in Gillis is more than professional, and he stays partly out of necessity, partly out of luxury and partly out of guilt (as she is constantly threatening suicide).

      Meanwhile, true artistic ambitions to write and love mix when Gillis teams up with a pretty, young aspiring writer... 

     Desmond will not react well to this...

Sunset Boulevard- movie trailer

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Princess Bride (1987): "As You Wish..."

     Full of swashbuckling, Giants, good and evil, love and despair, The Princess Bride has been wowing devoted fans since 1987. One of the most quoted of modern films, "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya..." and "...As you wish", have become part of pop culture vocabulary. Written by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner, they have created a timeless modern classic full of memorable moments, a film that is sure to last for generations.
     Buttercup has fallen in love with Westley, a farm boy. Despite only uttering one phrase, "As you wish," he managed to woo her. Westley goes off to seek a fortune on the high seas, though it is difficult to leave. Buttercup is crushed when she receives word that Westley was killed by pirates. 

     Eventually Buttercup is chosen to be the bride of the Prince Humperdink. She does not love him, but must consent. Things change, however, when she is kidnapped by three hired men Vizzini, Inigo and Fezzek (played by Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant). 

     En route to escape, they discover that they are being followed by a masked man. The masked man, calling himself The Dread Pirate Roberts, defeats all three men to rescue Buttercup. It is revealed the the masked man is in fact Westley come back... 

     They survive another ordeal (brought on by the jealous Prince). Now Westley must stop the Royal wedding (with the help of Inigo, who has his own grudge at the castle, and Fezzek)... 

     The Prince, well...

The Princess Bride- movie trailer

Friday, May 4, 2012

CLOSE UP: Josh Gondelman

Josh Gondelman, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Josh Gondelman- Stand-up Comedy

For more info, visit:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005): The Story of the Iconic 1950's Raven-Haired, Pin-Up Girl (Risque Cinema)

     Although an HBO movie, The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) has the grittiness and feel of an independent film. The cinematography is superb, shot mostly in black and white with occasional color vignettes, it fits the subject and looks like a 1950s magazine. Overall the acting is strong and it is a fine effort and suitable tribute to Bettie Page, a true pin-up icon.
     The story traces Bettie Page's (Gretchen Mol) life from adolescence up to her "redemption" and retreat from the spotlight, but jumps around in a non-linear effort to make the storyline more interesting. After a youth, troubled with men who used her for her good looks, Bettie Page moves to New York City and decides to put her good looks to use as a model... 

     She eventually hooks up with camera club people (groups that surround scantily clad and nude women and snap photos), which in turn leads her to a Hollywood head-shot business that sells bondage photos on the side... 

     Naive to the trend, Bettie poses for the photos, but it eventually leads to her involvement in a Government investigation regarding pornography... 

     A vacation to Miami leads Bettie to Bunny Yeager, a fresh photographer with which she has an instant bond, and they take many beach photos together (nude and otherwise)... 

     Magazine covers and postcards abound...

     Bettie Page's life seems to be great, she is naughty but having fun with it. But the ever-pulling question of religion troubles her... and she seeks a new path...

The Notorious Bettie Page- movie trailer
Comparison: The real Bettie Page and Grethchen Mol playing her

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Elizabeth Ziman: Profiles from the Illustrations

Elizabeth Ziman, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Growing up in Greenwich Village, NYC, Elizabeth Ziman was surrounded by art and music. From an early age, she began studying classical piano and later moved on to vocal training. In 2001, she began at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, having been awarded the ASCAP Leiber and Stoller scholarship for her original song, "Like Water is to Sand."

Elizabeth & the Catapult- "Race You"

Elizabeth Ziman, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Elizabeth had intended to devote her studies at Berklee to film scoring, and wanted to pursue it as a career path. In 2002, however, she was chosen to go on an Ella Fitzgerald tribute tour and she became fascinated by Jazz. Upon returning to Berklee she teamed up with two other students to form Elizabeth & the Catapult. They released an EP, Elizabeth & the Catapult in 2006.

Elizabeth & the Catapult- "Mama's Boy"

Elizabeth Ziman, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     With the success of the EP and the devoted following they were getting from their live shows, the band was soon signed to Verve Records. The songs from the EP were included with several new songs on their first album, Taller Children, in 2009. While this first album had a fun, sarcastic side, the band explored new emotional avenues on their next album, The Other Side of Zero (2010), and continues to evolve today... 

Elizabeth & the Catapult- "Taller Children"

Elizabeth & the Catapult- "Hit the Wall"

Elizabeth Ziman, 2012. By Travis Simpkins