(NOTE: This has been sitting in my draft folder for ages. I simply forgot to post it. Sorry)
The Sparks Brothers sees Edgar Wright doing something new, a documentary. As a longtime fan, he was itching to cover Sparks, a band that has released over 25 albums over their fifty-year career. But Wright’s obsession does not end there, for this film he has recruited a bevy of famous fans and the bands themselves, to talk about their prolific output, their music and how they have while influenced hundreds of artists around the world.
For more than For five decades, Sparks have generally enjoyed more commercial success in Europe than here at home. Adapting to the times at their own discretion, they have done everything, from glam rock, camp pop, to floor stomping disco, synthpop and art rock.
Like many subjects in Wright’s film, Ron and Russell Mael are not much to look at. Ron’s deadpan humor and curious mustache (part Hitler, part Chaplin) plays well against Russell’s spastic activity. They look weird but make great art. But the best part is, they are gloriously fun and odd.
Filmed in black and white and color, Wright shouts about their greatness from the highest mountaintop, deploying animation, stop motion, archival footage, interviews and testimonials from Neil Gaiman, Beck, Flea, Weird Al Yankovic, Tony Visconti, Giorgio Moroder, New Order and Mike Myers amongst others.
As a diehard fan, Wright is unwavering in pointing out how Ron and Russell’s longevity and resourcefulness impacted future artists. As he notes through interviews, behind their quirky veneer, Sparks are unafraid of being different. They have never accepted conformity. Endearingly energetic, their stubbornness, when paired with a relentless spirit of adventure, has led to their own reinvention several times over.
The documentary also illustrates that Sparks is a band that has experienced both sides of the musical coin. After years of being a ‘cult’ band they achieved some notoriety in American clubs in 1979 with their eighth record, the Giorgio Moroder producedNº 1 in Heaven and again in 1983 when they had a Top 40 hit with Cool Places, a collaboration with Jane Wiedlin that got them on MTV and American Bandstand.
Wright is also quick to point out that heir audacity has been epic. From a failed collaboration with Tim Burton to their FFS project with Franz Ferdinand, and their musical, Annette (streaming now) Sparks have always sought to remain relevant.
Ironically, Sparks has always had their own renaissance. This success stems from Sparks’ ability to makes music that meshes melancholy, exuberance and silly commentaries on the contemporary without sounding outdated. As noted by Wright, this formula serves as connection for their multiple eras and various experiments.
Their career of innovation is visually underscored by Wright’s use of television clips, music videos and live performances. He also follows their trajectory chronologically, allowing audiences to move beyond Sparks’ vagueness about their private personas and appreciate their musical legacy.
Wright also sets aside the glowing praise of their famous fans and examines their catalog, paying key attention to several releases, including, Kimono My House, Propaganda, Big Beat, Angst In My Pants, In Outer Space,Music That You Can Dance To, Lil’ Beethoven, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, Balls, and last year’s A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. he also previews and their film, Annette, which opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
In addition to the standard rock band bio stuff, Wright also dips into moments of surreal fun as he follows the Maels to some of their favorite haunts as they get coffee, eat ice cream, and work in their private studio. The results of which are heartwarming and hilarious.
With The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright once again proves that he is a masterful storyteller. While his previous films have mixed drama, comedy and pathos with clever dialogue and snappy pacing, this one is just as compelling and fun.
A love letter to a band he loves, Wright treats the band with great reverence as he brings their career into a focused celebration of their musical mayhem and kooky brilliance. The film is streaming now and a DVD is coming. For more information on Sparks visit their website http://allsparks.com. The movie is streaming now. Sparks are also touring America in 2022.
This is a short post. I am a bit off kilter and wonky. There’s a lot other stuff going on but that will be in the next post. But, in general, June and July were kind of crappy.
Between the variants, the heat, the rain, the stress of getting rid of my mom’s car, work and my perpetual weeding out of stuff, I am pretty knackered.
First, for, the second time in three days, the power went out. It was maddening. The first time it was in dribs and drabs. Then, the power went out and then was on again for ten or so minutes before going out again. It did this about three times before it finally worked itself out. This was near the end of June. it was insane.
After that, however, the power went out for ten hours. Apparently it was because of a fallen tree somewhere. The updates from the electric company were hilariously brief. “We are aware you are without power and have a team assessing the issue.” Then there was, “power is out in your area. We have a team working on it. We will keep you updated when power is restored.” Well, for that one I think I’d have noticed because I wouldn’t be sitting in the dark with a bunch of candles around me reading that. Unless I was Sting. Sting would do that. He did that in that one Police video.
The next text from the electric company mentioned a tree fell and that “additional resources” would be required. This was followed with the same polite “we will keep you updated.” There were maybe six texts total. Each was pretty droll. Then the power went on. I got two texts afterwards telling me the power was on again.
Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the power was back on until about 4:30 in the morning when I got up to get some water. I saw a little light from the computer mousepad. To be sure I had power, I turned on a light and then turned on a fan. Whoopee! But, I was awake then. That was a party.
Once I saw the text telling me I had lost power, (again thanks for noting the obvious), I brought some ice home from work. I saved most of the food in the refrigerator and moved things around so I would not trip and fall in the dark.
Ten hours later it is all done. Despite being a huge aggravation and a stress builder, I did get to take an inventory of candles and flashlights and sort out what worked and didn’t work for next time. The other positive from all of this is that I got to talk to my neighbors which was nice. They are pretty chill people and very outgoing. I had chatted with them on and off as the pandemic deepened into lockdown, but it’d been awhile since I had seen them. They have two very nice dogs.
I was on the porch reading as dusk tuned to darkness. I went inside at around 10 pm but came out again around midnight. It was like a Hitchcock film. Total darkness but sounds from the neighborhood. I could see flashes of lights from my neighbors as they turned flashlights on and off while moving to and fro. The police drove by and shined those huge ass lights they have over a few buildings. That was kind of cinematic.
The timing of the outage was pretty frustrating. I had a lot of stuff I needed to get done and wanted to do, and it all got scratched. But these things happen and there’s not much you can do about it, so you move on. Postscript, I think I’d be fine if this didn’t happen twice in three days. That was the real hassle of it. I didn’t really enjoy the feeling of not knowing what was going on. I did not feel, mad, panicked or helpless, just sort of malcontent and inconvenienced.
In appliance news, although this is not really an appliance thing, the really messed up light switch in the bathroom has finally been fixed. It worked before, but you just had to do this thing where you would move it and press it off to the side as you toggled it up or down.
This is also exciting (not really)! The nappy old front door lock is gone and in its place is a shiny new lock. You could lock the top deadbolt but not the bottom one. I tried new keys and WD40 but had no luck. The lock was over 20 years old and the keys didn’t really work well anymore. Luckily, I found an affordable locksmith who replaced it. He also changed out the crappy one on the back door and re-keyed everything so now one key fits each lock!
When I was looking for a locksmith I made it a point to find someone who was local and independent. The guy I used was terrific. He was a hippie, but I overlooked that. But my point is this, please support your local artisans, craftsmen, workers and businesses. If you buy online, look for someone who is selling their own stuff. Right now, it could be the only income they have.
Turning to weather, have you ever noticed how goofy looking the weather people are in other cities? I know the same could be said about the folks here, but it is really peculiar to see other city’s news and weather teams. When I travel I always try to see what the newspeople look like, especially the weather people. Do they look zany? Do they have bad hair? Do they look like freaky suburbanites? Are they the kind of people you’d find in the stores you never shop at in the mall? Do they look like pedophiles or insider trading criminals? Do they seem kind?
Anyway, Im rambling. As I said, the weather was really ghastly over the last few weeks. It was like Mojave desert hot with an apéritif of humidity. I only went out in the morning for my walks and to run any errands. Beyond that I was inside for a few days. Luckily, the weather over the last week has bottomed out and it has not been terrible. It also has been rainy and humid, but not a furnace.
I am reading Matt Kindt and Jason Hall’s Pistolwhip graphic novel. It is the complete version with some one shots in it as well. So I am pretty much getting all of it. I have been meaning to get to it for awhie and finally set aside the time. It is terrific.
Kindt, who is from St. Louis, weaves together a lot of story lines. It’s dense with drama and the characters never get dull. There are parts you may need to reread as you go along, but generally it is pretty compelling stuff.
It looks like concerts are back in full force. I have started to look at going to a few in 2022. I also am reviewing some live theater again. It has taken forever for the arts to come back and it is great to see so many local companies getting back at it.
I recently ate at Grace Meat +Three. Man, it was seriously good. The greens were amazing and worth the cost alone. I got the mac and cheese as well which was also pretty stellar. I was impressed at how organized they were and handling a long line. The staff was very friendly as well.
Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville, Illinois has gotten rid of their roasted cauliflower. This is a tragedy. Despite this, their mushroom fondue was simply amazing. I had a roasted chicken and it was well seasoned and not dry. They make a mean kale salad as well.
I am lucky to still be working. In addition to my part-time retail thing, I am continuing to work remotely from home doing a bunch of content writing. I love working remote since I don’t have to put up with so many morons who think the world is back to normal. It’s also work in my field which is nice. I did pick up some work writing for a resuable energy company’s catalog. it has been fascinating research. I also am working on an article for I Am East St. Louis magazine.
With hardly any connection to the outside world during the pandemic, I played online board games. It was great since it gave me some socialization and I got to use my brain. I like gaming, but my insane schedule always got in the way of things so this was nice since I could do it at my leisure. There is a beautiful connectivity with board gaming, and right now we could all use that!
Speaking of which, some friends of mine have a board game out! Those who love gaming and want to support local folks should check out Greece Lightning! It is available online or at local gaming stores here.
There is a lot more to come about books, music, and movies. But for now this is a boiled, down simple happenings of the last few weeks. Hopefully, the next post will not be as dull.
I guess I should begin by apologizing for the long delay. It has been a bit of a ride lately. Not that anyone really reads this or waits around for it.
Since I last wrote a post I have become even busier. The store I work at has extended its hours. This means I have about 20 hours a week now rather than 12 or so. It’s not a really great job, but I get to read a lot of newspapers and magazines from around the world and I meet some interesting people.
The big thing, however, is that I also picked up two writing gigs. The first is for a national chain of dentists. I write copy and content for their websites and social media. I also edit and write doctor bios. It’s not the most glamorous job but it pays well. The biggest hassle with it is that I work with this person who has a habit of being really condescending. It’s pretty annoying.
Anyhow, after I started that gig, I got another contract from an ad agency. It’s a shorter thing, mostly project by project. It has fewer hours, but it is still money and it is with an agency so that foot in the door helps a bunch.
The biggest thing about these two things is that they are remote and in my field. For years I have wanted to work in marketing and content creation, and this is my opportunity. However, it is ironic that I waited until the back end of the pandemic to find some steady work.
In addition to these, I also am writing articles when I can for a few magazines and websites. So far I’ve done a theater review, a couple of opera reviews and I just finished writing about a woman who owns a pastry shop in East St. Louis.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis has moved their season outdoors. So far the weather has been terrific for the three shows I have seen. They have done a great job of spacing things out and keeping the shows running smoothly.
It is nice to have the arts back. In so many ways they are leading us out of all this. Sports are too, but that’s different. The arts provide mental stimulation, relaxation, and an opportunity to engage in new ideas, stories and experiences.
St. Louis is really lucky to have such a vibrant theater scene. One that works together and endeavors to make our community a better one. In addition to Opera theater and The Rep, there are so many other companies that are plotting their return to the stage. that is awesome!
I also have seen two films at the Hi-Pointe because everyone there is responsible and sane.
While so many great restaurants have left us in the last year or so, many terrific ones are still around. This is why I am trying to eat and shop local.
Running a restaurant is hard work. It is backbreaking and there is always a worry about money, customers, and competition. It’s a rather rough way to earn a living, so please eat locally and tip when you get a meal!
I am still catching up on TV. I did enjoy The Queen’s Gambit. The overall narrative and pacing were great and the sets and costumes were eye candy in their use of color and pattern schemes. The acting was also pretty darn good too. I also enjoyed how its length was just right. I wish more shows would follow the lead and only release the exact number of episodes needed to tell the story correctly. By not having extended fluff and tight plotlines, the drama was heightened, and thus, more enjoyable.
I am now starting on The Nevers, The Expanse, and Resident Alien based on personal recommendations. We shall see how that turns out. If that was not enough, there are still a lot of movies that I want to see too.
Once again I got credentials for the Vienna Shorts film festival. There was some really terrific work in it this year. I particularly loved the animated shorts. Some were delightfully melancholy and some were just tripy and weird.
I also like Bella, a short set in Athens, Greece doing the 1980s. It had a lot of layers to it that made it especially interesting.
Here’s a bit on some books that have interested me lately……
Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel is out. Sadly, it is a reminder of what we’ve lost. He really was a great writer. I don’t think people gave him enough credit for that.
Released posthumously, World Travel features Bourdain profiling some of his favorite places to eat around the globe.
Split into short sections, each filled with wit and insight, the book does suffer a bit from feeling incomplete. Its a great read but you can tell there was supposed to be a lot more.
Continuing on the idea of chefs turned writers is Yes, Chef, an engrossing book from Marcus Samuellson.
Seen on PBS’ No Passport Required and as a guest judge on a bunch of cooking shows, Samuelsson, who runs Red Rooster Harlem, candidly talks about how began his career and worked his way up the ladder to achieve notoriety.
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, his unique story is told in a refreshingly candid manner. His passion for food and the people who make it is at the core of this warm and candid memoir.
For some unexplained reason, there are a few books on 1984 in bookstores right now. At least one of them looks at the year in sports, while another focuses on the year in American music.
However, for me personally, David Elliott’s 1984: British Pop’s Dividing Year is the definite read on that year.
Told in great detail, the book features an incredibly fascinating year in music. From post punk to synthpop and a rising scene of jazz-flavored artists, Elliott covers it all.
The year saw the rise of The Smiths, an increased presence of socially conscious cuts, and a fierce streak of rebellion that led to some incredible music from a wide range of artists.
As Elliott points out in his self-published work, the specter of nuclear war looming over Thatcher’s Britain helped the pop music rebel, enthrall, and create some incredible music. From MTV to Apartheid and Band-Aid, no stone I left unturned.
I saw some live virtual concerts from Madness and Midge Ure. They were each good in different ways.
The Madness gig was a lot of fun. They played most of their hits and had Roland Gift and Paul Weller turn up to guest sing a few songs.
They also used some skits to break things up a bit and keep things light. I have never sene them live and this was a great way to experience their energy and chaos.
Digging into his catalog as a soloist and member of Visage and Ultravox, Midge Ure’s concert was a career-spanning affair.
Four decades on his voice is still in top form. He did all the hits, Fade To Grey, Reap The Wild Wind, and Vienna along with fan favorites like Mr. X and New Europeans.
Presented more or less as a straightforward barrage of songs, Ure was relentless as he energetically guided his band through the show.
Midge Ure was one of the last shows here in town before last year’s lockdown. I was sick as a dog and could not go.
As things begin to open up let’s all get our bearings……
Yep, in case you missed it COVID is still a thing! Really, I swear! But seriously, the pandemic is still kind of an anxious thing for me. I am vaccinated but am still wearing a mask and being careful. I have mostly eaten outside at restaurants. Going inside to eat still seems weird. I know it may be silly to be cautious but after being inside for so long it just seems like baby steps may be the best way to go.
Despite all the positivity and cheerleading about things going back to normal, I prefer to ride this out a bit longer. This is largely due to the fact that there are still a lot of idiots and morons out there waiting to just be silly and goofy and frustrating in their resistance to facts and science.
And, because there are also people in high places eager to prove them wrong, I just think I am going to be cautiously optimistic until I see more data come in on how things play out with the longevity of the various vaccines and how they hold up against new strains, especially the Indian ones.
I should point out that I am not against getting the vaccine in any way. I think they work and I think they are effective. But, I also know I am likely going to need a booster shot sometime soon. With that in mind, I prefer to be pragmatic in my return to the world of ‘normalcy.’
Anyway, that’s pretty much a rundown of all the shenanigans going on here. Again, I apologize for being so tardy and incredibly dull this time around. Hopefully things won’t be as scattershot next time.
It has been awhile. I’ve been pretty slammed. I started a remote job and it involves a ton of writing and editing, which has kept me busy. I also wrote a piece for Sophisticated Living magazine and have another freelance thing that I am working on now.
Before I started the remote job, I finished two freelance gigs. One is with this woman who is a bit nuts. She has a foundation, and, to be honest, I am not really sure what it does. She means well, but I think she’s a bored rich person looking for an excuse to feel better. I’ve turned in all my stuff for her but am living vicariously by reading the insane emails she has been sending to the graphics team. All I can say is that if I ever get a lot of money I won’t be nuts.
On top of this, I kept my piddly retail gig. It’s only 15 hours a week and it gives me a little income in case the temp writing thing ends abruptly. The downside is that I have 3 coworkers who think COVID is nothing and won’t get vaccinated. It’s pretty infuriating.
Getting vaccinated is not supposed to be this hard. I had to work my ass off to get it scheduled and it was amazingly comforting to get it. There is an emotional release of anxiety that dissipates after you get jabbed. It’s a sense of relief, a feeling of security, and a renewed sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, you won’t die after all.
I am thankful to be fully vaccinated. Normally, I would not say I am not a joiner, but in this instance, sure, why the Hell not? I know I will probably need another booster or even a shot annually, but at this point, I am fine with that. This thing is bad news and it’s real.
On a positive note, it is good to see St. Louis begin to rally a little bit and become a community around getting vaccinated. I only wish the city would come together more, across aisle, boundaries, and classes. It would be so great if we were not so divided.
Having said that, the arts are doing some amazing thing right now and artists are not resting, they are doing some cool stuff right now. So are our local musicians!
It feels weird to go out into the world. I have taken a little ‘toes in the water’ dip and not a full dive with it. I went to a movie. Everyone was wearing a mask and there were only abut 8 people there. I also went to dinner with some friends, which was kind of surreal. The restaurant did a good job of spacing people out and the staff wore masks and weren’t messing around. Despite this, I am still not doing a lot of dining in.
I did go to see the St. Louis Symphony. I got assigned to review a concert and I must say, they were not playing around. No intermission, only 100 people, chairs marked for attendees and at least 7 feet apart. The ushers were on the prowl like circling vultures to make sure everyone was wearing masks.
I didn’t feel agitated or nervous there, but I did take more than one cursory look around Powell Hall to make sure I was really there, out in the waking world.
Overall, it is odd being vaccinated. I think there will be an adjustment phase for everyone and it will change depending on each person. But for most folks, there is a huge mixed sense of relief and frustration when you get your shots.
Being in a bubble has definitely changed me. First, I don’t care about stuff the same way. I mean, specifically, about the way I treat the physical. I can get books at the library or online, and I can listen to music online too. I love album art and book jackets, but somehow, the desire to have a bunch of stuff has been crushed. Mostly because I’ve been living in a finite space for such a long time and still want some room. Thus, the pandemic has led to a constant state of decluttering in these parts.
Decluttering has led to an ongoing excursion through the weird and interesting. There is stuff I forgot I had, or have not needed, or music I got from labels that I just do not care about, or, the loads of advanced reader copies of books I got from working in bookstores and libraries.
At this juncture, I think it is important to note that I am not a hoarder.
But back to my point….This idea though that we can just switch everything back on and get on with it is just silly. For me, it is all measured steps. I will go to the movies and eat inside more frequently, but only after I feel like the rest of the world, or a chunk of it, is not stupid and moronic. I realize this means I’ll be waiting for 65 years.
As a side note, there is nothing really good at movie theaters right now. I am glad I like art house stuff. There literally is nothing interesting to see in the multiple joints right now. Unless the screen an older film or something.
I’ve been doing a bit more reading over the last month. A lot of different stuff actually. I started with The Zealot and the Emancipator. It took a bit since it’s got some heavy subject matter. Sadly, I wish this book wasn’t so timely.
H.W. Brands writes really good history books in a way that is not dry or sterile. He’s been on a bunch of PBS documentaries and he teaches at the University of Texas. His books on Ben Franklin and FDR are both really interesting.
I have read a lot about Lincoln but I have not read much on John Brown. I knew about Harper’s Ferry and his dedication to ending slavery. I also knew he advocated violence as a means to an end. However, I had no idea how deeply committed to armed conflict he was and how determined he was to achieve his goals.
This is a study in contrasts between two men who eventually will share the same common idea of ending slavery. Brown is all in and in any way possible, while Lincoln takes a while to get there. As a result, it is interesting to chart Lincoln’s course to the presidency and his determination to abolish slavery.
There is also some intriguing stuff on Stephen A. Douglas. He was a Wiley little bastard. I knew about the debates and his avarice for power, but here, Brands really goes into detail about his meticulous plans for Kansas statehood and how shrewdly he played the North versus South angle.
Simon Heffer’s The Age of Decadence has finally been published here. It has been out in the UK for a bit now. Anyway, I have started it and it’s pretty compelling. My knowledge of Edwardian England is not as deep as some other parts of their history, but it is interesting stuff and he is certainly detailed.
The book spans the years from Queen Victoria’s jubilee to the outbreak of the Great War. That was a much more interesting time in England than I expected. I knew there was a lot of social change happening then, but I hadn’t really thought of the drama and literature of the era and how prolific it was.
There also was a deep divide in economic equality that mimics some of the struggles of working people today. The basic gist of it is that the years covered saw the Empire with an awful lot of wealth. it was unsightly and vulgar how much they plundered and pillaged from their colonies.
There is great care to mention this and also describe how the Empire influenced its colonies and how the political, economic, social, and technological changes they caused shaped the world. It’s a pretty nasty hypocrisy and, so far, it is the spine of the book.
The Oscars seemed sort of hollow this year. I’ve managed to see most of the nominated films or performances, however, it all seems kind of distant in that I saw none of them in the darkness of a movie house.
After a year of this, I still really did miss going to the movies. Especially after the particular strong year we had in 2019.
The pandemic has made everyone want to travel again. There have been loads of books, documentaries and webinars on travel, but none of them really worked on the same level as Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy.
Filming episodes before, during and after the country’s COVID nightmare, his quest to understand Italian food through the country’s culture and people is just what we all needed.
While his episodes on Rome and Tuscany were predictably good, his adventures in Bologna, Naples and Milan were really engaging in that they brought the culinary delights of these regions to life.
Funny, inquisitive and noninvasive, Tucci is a delightful host. For him the food and culture is the real star and he is more than willing to take a backseat to Italy’s cuisine and culture. CNN has renewed it for a second season which is great news. I am curious to see where he will be off to next.
I did see Tina, the documentary on HBO Max about Tina Turner. It is very compelling and it pulls no punches with discussing her relationship with Ike Turner.
Now a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, Turner has an incredible rags to riches story that is done proper justice in the film. Hearing her tell her story, in her own words is powerful. She was one hell of a performer and it is good to see her get her due.
There’s also some great live concert footage as well. I wish there was more about her early life in St. Louis, but I understand they cannot cover everything.
If you have not checked out Staged, you are missing something. Filmed in quarantine, David Tennant and Michael Sheen are magical together. Using digital technology they have managed to do a show that is better because of it. I am not sure this would work with a set and proper staging like a sitcom.
Another great thing about Staged is the cameos. Judi Dench has the best one, but there is also Michael Palin, Jim Parsons, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in there too.
Although there have only been two seasons so far, this ‘Zoom miniseries’ is amazingly fun!
I know it is weird but I finally saw West Side Story. Screening as part of the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival, it really does hold up well. It’s big. The sets are big, the color is big, the darkness is also big. It is also a film that uses setting and lighting to set up its emotional resonance.
The cast is great, especially Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer and fellow Twin Peaks alum Russ Tamblyn. However, it is weird seeing Natalie Wood playing a Puerto Rican woman. She is not awful in it, but she simply is outdone by Moreno in all of their scenes.
The score remains timeless and the songs are now a part of the fabric of American popular culture. Overall, the passage of the has done nothing to tarnish the film’s velocity, vivacity, ferocity and social relevence.
In addition to a great documentary on Powell and Pressburger, TCM screened a restored version of T-Men and The Méliès Mystery, a new documentary about the work of Georges Méliès and the quest to save his work from destruction.
A pioneer of early film, Georges Méliès started his career just before the start of the 20th century. Beginning as a magician, he was captivated by the movies, which resulted in an astounding body of work that is part animation, part science fiction, and part slight of hand.
This informative doc was accompanied by several of his restored films. Collectively, they are vital reminders of Méliès genius.
Filmic in scope and textured in sound. Godspeed You Black Emperor are back with their seventh album, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
Ironically, the record is available to buy at Wal Mart. But that really makes no difference, because they are still brilliant. For the last 25 years, this multimember Montreal outfit has weaved layered soundscapes to perfection.
On this album, the songs are varied in length but powerful sonically as sound collages meet chamber music seamlessly. Job’s Lament, Fire at Static Valley and OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.) are all highlights of a concept album whose themes of alienation, government intervention, and paranoia delve deep into your psyche.
The band is going on tour which is great news. I saw them at the Side door ages ago and it was absolutely incredible.
Finally, things are indeed opening up and our lives are falling into old routines. But despite this, it is important to not let our guards down. The pandemic is by no means over, and the idiots who don’t wear masks still are doing nothing to help their fellow man.
It has been a year. While no one can really comprehend all that has been last during our pandemic year, there is some optimism that the world will at least partially reset. If only it were that simple.
But what kind of world will it be? Will it be a world where social injustice is met with with activism? Will the fast world of McDonald’s be replaced by home cooking? Will the interest in home gardening sustain itself? Will positive change really happen? Will the movies ever be the same again? How will we interact as people? How will work at our jobs? Will we have jobs?Will people finally give up listening to REO Speedwagon?
I cannot answer those questions, but bringing them up helps our society face them and built something better. Sadly, I fear we will all just forget everything we learned and struggled through and go back to what was. That would be disappointing. I want to believe that a better world will emerge, but I have doubts.
As someone who is social by nature I find it odd that I don’t miss gathering in large groups. I miss concerts to an extent and going to the pictures. Man I miss going to the movies. But overall, I am fine just staying in and reading my books, listening to music or watching tv.
This “time off” has made me enjoy taking long walks, sitting on my pack porch and doing more and more cooking. I also am less concerned about having stuff. This has resulting in a massive decluttering which has been therapeutic in that it has made more open space for the apartment.
The cooking has been interesting. I’ve learned t make a lot more Indian, Thai, Korean and Mediterranean dishes that I like. I’ve spent a lot more time in international grocery stores which has bene interesting in that there is often a discovery in every aisle. Like kimchee, which will sit in the fridge forever and it is always filling, or various Indian sauces which will always give things a spicy edge and provide flavor. Oh, and cauliflower rice is the bomb.
On the flip side, I’ve had to learn a lot about cleaning products, hand sanitizers and applications for bleach.
While I never injected myself with bleach, I did do some floor mopping and surface cleaning with it to such an extent that the smell never got on my nerves. Looking back, that crazy scramble for hand sanitizer, latex gloves and Clorox Wipes was a theater of the absurd. Everyone became obsessed with it. It got a little out of hand.
Separation Nation remains in full effect. Over the last year I have seen a few of my friends here and there as they stopped by to visit social distantly and say hello. But, generally, I haven’t seen many of them for over a year. That’s weird. It also is kind of freeing though in that this distance and isolation really has helped a lot of people discover who their real friends are.
Having been vaccinated now I feel obligated to help others get their appointments. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and it has been very rewarding. It has underscored my hope that all of this makes people care abut their neighbors and fellow human beings. I suspect it will not since Americans are, by nature, stupid and selfish.
So the best advice. can offer is to pay it forward, any way you can. We need more empathy in our world right now and even more in the future. Empathy and giving up REO Speedwagon will lead the way.
I still plan on doing social distancing and masking up. I don’t really think I am going to change my routine up all that much.
For me, I really have enjoyed the weekly Zoom get togethers I have with friends in other places. it’s been nice to have social interaction and a sense of camaraderie. It also has introduced me to lots of crazy things like Korean TV shows, new recipes and an appreciation for new authors and bands.
I also have made it through the year by doing a weekly online board gaming night and that has been a lot of fun. It keeps the brain working and I get to some friends! It is interesting how board gaming was able to pivot to new formats during all of this. I also am doing word search puzzles which keeps the noggin’ sharp.
Had the pandemic not come I doubt I would have discovered so much new music. Thankfully, The Wants, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, The 1981, Phoebe Bridgers and Swansea Sound have been around to keep me company. I also have really enjoyed rediscovering Telex, Felt, The Jazz Butcher and The Close Lobsters.
I also have listened to more jazz than I used to and watched more streaming symphony concerts than I had previously. I still hate Phil Collins.
There also is a cool app called Radio Garden that lets you hear radio from around the world. I have listened to stations in Madagascar, Liechtenstein and places like that. It is interesting to hear what Western music is played where. For example there’s a lot of contemporary country getting played in Triesen, Liechtenstein.
Not being able to travel sucks. I don’t miss flying, airports or packing. But, I do miss seeing people I normally see when I travel. Even though I have gotten my jabs I still am in no rush to get on a plane. I can wait.
I mentioned before that I missed movies. That may have been off base in that I did still watch them at home. However, because streaming was insanely off the hook this year, I found a lot of good TV and films. I also got media credentials for the Vienna Shorts Film Festival and Slamdance which allowed me to see some really different, cool stuff.
Slamdance was pretty great. they had a really good selection of short films and they had some feature stuff that was really evocative.Trammel was my favorite short film. It’s about a guy whose only real communication with the outside world is through visits with his local pharmacy technician. It is sweet funny and has a lovely melancholy to it.
CODE NAME: Nagasaki is an emotional documentary about family, self-discovery and alienation. Marius and Fredrik are two friends who live in Norway and pretty much hang 24/7. Driven by a passion for movies and filmmaking they decide make a film about Marius’ quest to find and meet his long lost Japanese mother.
Seeking out a mom who left him decades earlier does not come without some intense drama and the film has that in spades as Marius weighs his every move with careful deliberation. The emotional distance between the two is heartbreaking and as the movie plays out these feeling of solitude and separation become further amplified.
It looks fantastic. Mixing black and white and animation, this powerful piece of cinema was named the fest’s best documentary film.
I also enjoyed the gritty minimalism of No Trace (Null Trace), another example of the exciting things filmmakers are doing in Quebec right now. shot in black and white it looks amazing.
Set in a dystopian future, the plot is sparse but centers on a callous smuggler whose hardened by life attitude shows cracks after she guides a young woman and her child across the border to safety. Unaware that their lives are inescapably linked their journey and struggle for survival is emotionally tense and compelling.
Director Simon Lavoie is a master of visual storytelling and I really liked how the narrative evolved with barely a spoken word. This will probably go into wide release.
Grimy Brit films were represented at Slamdance with A Brixton Tale, a film that takes on a lot of issues in a compact amount of time. Class status, exploitation, love and the art world collide in a movie filled with unsavory characters who just want to survive.
Speaking of gritty…. I watched Trainspotting again. The film has just turned 20 and it is still really enjoyable. Well as enjoyable as a film about heroin addiction can be.
Two decades on, the acting still stands out and the soundtrack perfectly frames everything. It doesn’t sound dated at all. In fact, I had forgotten about how good the Blur song in it was.
Upon seeing it, it made me miss Edinburgh. It’s an interesting flick too in that it calls out a lot of striking societal issues which have been careful been woven into the film. Robert Carlyle is a force of energy, Jonny Lee Miller is cool as a cucumber and Ewan MacGregor shines in his breakout film. I am curious to see how Ewen Bremmer plays Alan McGee in that biopic he is doing.
It is pretty cool that Perseverance is on Mars. JPL did some amazing things to get that project going and their efforts did a lot to lift the nation’s spirits.
It was amazing to watch the landing and see all the data come in over the last few weeks. Isn’t it amazing what science can do?
Here’s one last thing! There is furniture news! I have some new DVD shelves and bookshelves. It’s helped with the massive declutter in terms or organization and storage.
Anyway the adjustment into a person who is going back out into the world is Underway. Hopefully when it happens in a few weeks things won’t seem as desolate or sad or weird. I am not holding out hope. But it will be nice to not have as much of the worrying.
Note: I wrote this abut a month ago when it was really, really, cold out. I had forgotten that I had this as a draft.
Everything is falling apart. I just finished spending 45 minutes getting the internet back online. I am not sure if it was a network outage or some weird thing on my end. But I do know that I trouble shooted the daylights out of my modem and router and finally got it working. It was incredibly frustrating.
I hate talking to service companies and (f)utility companies. They never really help and you always end up either shouting at them or trying to bang your head against the wall getting them to understand you.
If that wasn’t bad enough there was about a two week stretch last month (February) of really, really bad cold weather. There was ice and snow and subzero cold. St. Louis in winter is no fun anyway, but this was a particularly nasty stretch of weather. in fact, it was the longest cold spell with single digits temperatures since the 1940s.
For about 16 days it was in the teens at its warmest with wind chills between -15 and -25. It was no fun. Early , I toughed it out and planned things out to minimize exposure. After the first snow stopped, however, I went ahead and shoveled the back steps, driveway and front entryway. Thankfully, it was the kind of snow where you could just sweep it away.
It was like sweeping inside a meat cooler. I set my phone alarm for 30 minutes so I would not be out very long. It was 1 degree out and a -8 windchill. Ick!
It was like seriously Jack London and Ernest Shackleton cold. It was not a time to play around. I didn’t even have a Tauntaun. However, I did wear layers and paced myself. I got a lot of it cleared off in pretty decent time. Having finished that, I threw down some salt because it was supposed to snow two more times over the coming days and all the smart people from the weather bureau said it would help keep freezing down when the next snow hit.
It did snow again and boy were they right about throwing salt of gritty stuff on the ground.
Next, I moved the trashcan and recycle bin next to the back stairs, so it was right outside the back stairs so all I would need to do is open the back door and go a few steps to unload recycling and trash. My motivation for this was to avoid going outside again for a long period of time. I am glad I did this because I didn’t leave home for six days. I bundled up and dropped stuff in bins twice but I was only outside for, at most, maybe a minute or two.
The entire time this was happening I was worried about the pipes freezing. There is no-one living on the second floor which meant that no one was running a tap lightly at night to keep things from freezing. Luckily everything held.
It was Pushkin novel cold outside.
With regards to warmth, plugging in heaters and using every available blanket to bundle up was fun. Not really. Although things were not too cold inside, it got a bit rough when the winds picked up. But there was whiskey, hot tea and hot chocolate for that.
Having weathered that fiasco the drama of the water heater unfolded. There was no warm water for nearly a week. The pilot light just would not stay lit. A guy game to fix it and installed a new thermometer in it and things got warm for a few hours. But then it was cold again. This was the saga. Light pilot light, have warm water for a short duration and then it was cold again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It went on forever, almost as long as the Battle of Iwo Jima. There also was water leaking for the tank into the drain in the basement.
So the back and forth of getting my property manager to fix this went on and then they fixed it. When they sorted it out it was if the Red Sea had parted or something. It was insanely frustrating.
Then there was the entropy in the outside world. People were losing their goddamn minds. They couldn’t get vaccinated. They chose not to get vaccinated. They didn’t eat the red M&M’s. They insisted on going out maskless. They watched Friends. Civilization was ending.
If that wasn’t enough my freelance client spent a lot of time explaining to me that the Pope was a robot. Normally I would have cut my losses and run but she was paying me and the money was a nice supplement to the work income I was losing because the store was closed.
These kind of failures are emblematic of modern times. Things break, fall apart or need to be disassembled and then reassembled until they are in working order. In the end it all get sorted. Unless you need a vaccine in Missouri, then you are just screwed.
To call the ineptitude and disorganization around Missouri’s distribution of Covid vaccines Stalinist would be a compliment. This kind of total bureaucracy mixed with an unwavering sense of malice is utterly vile. The lack of compassion and disinterest in planning is simply inexcusable in our world. It is all infuriating.
On the plus side, I did get finally get my first shot. I only had to register at 20 (yes 20!) places before getting lucky. I even dug out the map of the state so I could find all these hick towns in the region that got more vials of vaccine than they had residents.
So I think I have reached the part of the pandemic where I am basically slumming it. I don’t want to go out and I wear pajamas as often a possible if I have nowhere to be. This is mainly because I am working part-time and basically looking for a gig in the spare time. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to pass time. There are books to read, movies to catch up on, a dazzling amount of new music to investigate and tons of great streaming TV. Then there are also word puzzles and online boardgames. If that is not enough and I still picking up freelance stuff here and there. In general, there isn’t all that much to go out for, unless it is work, the radio show or errands.
My slumming also includes doing remote work. I like that because I don’t have to catch other people’s germs or deal with annoying people in public. To be clear, when I say “slumming it,” I am not meaning to imply being lazy or nonproductive, I simply mean being a homebody. I know it is not really “slumming it” when you just want to read a good book and be left in peace. However, I think I am just fatigued with making much of an effort to do a lot of stuff with people around during a pandemic.
It’s not like I am giving up completely. I just know the limits of what is sane in an insane world. It is all about finding a comfort levels in a city of unmasked idiots. For me, it is best to avoid the misguided and stupid.
For example, I still enjoy walking and getting fresh air, but, I think it is kind of pointless to walk into a store and go shopping when you don’t have a specific need to be there. I also am a “get in and get out” person. No loitering or hanging around. Direct and t the point. Again, the worst part of all of this is that you can’t control other people’s tomfoolery.
While the Super Bowl is a big deal for millions of people, I find it all kind of annoying after a bit. For starters, everyone has to call it “the big game” or something like that because of copyrights. That is dumb. The commercials are usually fun, but this year seemed so different thanks to the ever-present pandemic. Although I like watching football and appreciate a good game, it has been my experience that the Super Bowl is always kind of a let down. Like New Years Eve. With that mindset, having lots of fans at Super Bowl XL was a dumb idea. The game was terrible. I hate Tom Brady.
Another dumb idea was watching Crocodile Dundee. I had never seen it and thought it would be a fun romp of escapism. Man was I wrong. It doesn’t hold up well as a fish out of water story and some of the jokes are terribly inappropriate. I didn’t see it when it came out because it did not seem funny. Turns out I was right. Plus, Paul Hogan just isn’t a great actor. He sets up the gags well but his timing is sometimes off.
Another relic of the late 1980s is Bright Lights, Big City. It is a 1988 film based on the book by Jay McInerney. I saw it when it came out and I remember that New Order recorded True Faith for the soundtrack. It stars Michael J. Fox, cast against character in an attempt to get him different roles, and an interest ensemble that includes Kiefer Sutherland stars as Tad, his smarmy friend and enabler. Phoebe Cates and Swoosie Kurtz are also in it, along with a cameo from Jason Robards.
Fox plays Jamie Conway, a small-town kid who moves with his wife to New York City. Working at a magazine while his better half gets a modeling job, things begin to spiral out of control, leading for late night drinking binges, complete with lots of cocaine and poor decisions. The result of this is tragic as Jamie slides deeper into addiction, eventually blowing his job and crippling his life.
Fox isn’t terrible in a movie that somewhat accurately depicts the debauchery clubs and capitalist greed of ’80s New York. His slide into the abyss is believable and it is good to see him in a role that differs from the boy next door parts he had been taking prior to this. Like Less Than Zero, the film is a part of the decade’s films that were based on books that were dark and rebelled against the conventional. While it was compelling to read, it didn’t always transfer to film.
With the pandemic happening I am also trying to revisit films I love or have not seen in awhile. One of those is The Seven Samurai. I enjoy Kurosawa’s films but see them so infrequently that when I watch them again it is pretty terrific.
With The Seven Samurai, I like watching Toshiro Mifume and Takashi Shimura. They are both incredible here in a film that features an amazing ensemble. Kurosawa worked his actors to death but the results were simply incredible.
It is epic in every way and the performances are incredible. While it remains one of the most influential films of all time, it is still unknown to a lot of people which is very sad.
What I also love about this one is that it is beautifully shot. Kurosawa was painstaking in his writing and editing and it shows. It also maintains its intensity throughout the entire film. Hailed as a massively influential film it still holds up really well.
I am so over this cold weather. While I do not mind it for a few days, a few weeks is a different thing altogether. Maybe it just seems longer because of the pandemic. I just know that I hate winter.
Slamdance 2021 is underway. Building on its reputation as a place for filmmakers to rebel in peace, the fest has a strong virtual component this year. Doing this allows the festival to do expand their inclusivity while offering a broad slate of films.
Running through February 25, 2021, Slamdance offers 25 features along with 107 shorts and episodics for the 27th edition of the festival. Programming also includes Unstoppable, a new showcase for creators with disabilities.
So far I have only seen a few short films but I intend to see a lot more stuff in the next week, including Isaac, a Soviet noir and No Trace, a movie about a hard-living smuggler who guides a young woman and her child across the border to safety. They also have a track of animated short films that look interesting.
I finished Season One of The Flight Attendant. Going in I was not expecting much but it was actually pretty decent. Overall, it checked off all the boxes that a good thriller needs for television.
The basic premise surrounds a flight attendant named Cassie whose fling with a passenger in Bangkok sets of a spiraling chain of violence filed by poor choices. To make things worse, she literally has baggage. Added to this is her alcoholism which clouds her memory and often gets her into deep trouble.
I have never thought that Kaley Cuoco was a terrific actress and she may not be. But here, they the writers and directors play to her strengths in a way that she’s not as annoying as you may expect. They also surrounded her with an amazing ensemble cast, including Rosie Perez who is sublime as her bestie coworker.
Michelle Gomez chews up scenery and steals the entire thing. She alone is worth watching the series for. Ruthless but funny, Gomez’ take no prisoners attitude gives the show a great edge that really helps with the pacing.
Another weird thing about the show that I like is how it uses interior design. There isn’t a band house or apartment to be found. Everyone has big open spaces with modern design and lots of open space and natural light.
The last month has seen an uptick in new music. For starters there is The Third Chimpanzee, a new EP from Martin Gore of Depeche Mode. Filled with beeps and beats, its instrumental tracks shimmer with Detroit techno influences.
Diving beneath the textured layers of grooves is Howler a cinematic and dark track that accompanies another solid cut, the expansive Mandrill. Overall, the E.P. finds Gore returning to the long form electronic music he’s featured in recent collaborations with Vincent Clarke (as VCMG).
I have been enjoying Dry Cleaning a lot. They are from London via Bristol and have an album called New Long Leg dropping in April. I loved Scratchcard Lanyard, their single for last year.
Strong Feelings, their new single, picks off from where that track left off with some sludgy post-punk edginess. It snarls and sneers in all the right ways.
I am happy to have a new Mogwai record coming into the world. They just dropped “Ritchie Sacramento” ahead of their new album, As The Love Continues.
I love how sonically expansive their music is. Their tenth studio album sees them continuing their knack for crafting really textured songs that don’t meander or lose their heart. They are just a really good band.
I think doing any of the things people suggest you to do on HGTV requires some serious cash. Over the last few months I have found myself watching the channel more and more. I enjoy the design aspects of seeing a place get completely redone as something fresh.
Home renovation and rehabbing is a foreign world to me. Nonetheless, watching the pile of shows the network has is kind of a fun timesuck. It’s a nice way to get ideas for interior spaces, even if you have a budget. It also serves as a great distraction from the chaos on on the news.
Another fun thing is the sly ways that the Property Brothers handle irritating clients. However, in an industry that is all about money they also show a great deal of practicality and empathy, Plus the ‘competative brothers’ double act works pretty well.
Still, I can’t buy a house anytime soon so there is that….
Because of the weather it looks like I have some serious inside time in the next week. I am okay with that. I’ve been slumming it at home for almost a year now and there is a satisfaction to finishing projects, discovering new stuff and making all kinds of interesting meals. There is also booze!
Well it looks like 2021 is telling 2020 to “hold my beer.” I was not expecting much for the start of the year and I am not optimistic about the next two or three ones. Sure, I want there to a be a return to normalcy, but I would rather it be in methodic, careful steps rather than a super rush to satisfy back accounts and commercial interests.
Man did 2020 suck. I am aware that you probably already know this, but I wanted to get it out into the universe.
This year would sure be a lot better if the crapmongers I work with actually wore their masks inside at work. It also would help that if when they did they would also cover their noses. I also would appreciate my six feet. Seriously, the rules are pretty f’n simple. Six feet, cover face, wash hands done. Why is this such a big deal?
Trying to put a positive spin on things, I had a pretty cool freelance thing this year already. It was a total last minute project that I got called about and even though it was a tight turnaround it was great to have the work. But overall, I want this thing over with so I can get back to normal. The bad news is I still have to do some content creation for this kooky lady who loves conspiracy theories. I do my work, bill her, get paid and then move on. I need a real job, But like a lot of folks I am doing whatever it takes to get by during all of this fun.
Living in this bubble of now, I’ve been watching a lot of streaming content. It’s endless. How can anyone keep track of anything?
There are a slew of great music documentaries streaming right now. There are ones on Pulp, Creation Records and the now defunct Other Music record store. I still need to see Springsteen On Broadway too.
I enjoyed the David Bowie documentary, Finding Fame. Loaded with interviews and clips, the film examines Bowie’s early years, a period of Bowie’s career that is often overlooked.
Bowie’s own words frame the narrative and allow his music, most of which is from concerts, video clips or TV shows. If you want to see it, Finding Fame is screening on Showtime and a few other places this month.
I also saw Lazarus again. Although I had seen it it London, seeing it again, at home, without distractions or crowd noises, meant I could get more out of it this time. Working around The Man Who Fell to Earth, the production features very intense drama, combined with Bowie’s music.
Swirling within the science fiction dystopia are some themes of mental illness, death, love and heartbreak. The performances are all great, especially Michael C. Hall whose performance perfectly straddles the line between madness and melancholy.
I know it has been five years since he passed, but I really wish we had him on this planet right now. Certainly, everyone would be better off with having him create distractions for humanity.
I am adjusting to this feature films streaming at home thing. I will go to movie houses when things become normal, because I like sitting in the dark of a theater and seeing movies. However, until then I will make due.
Promising Young Woman is the new film from Carey Mulligan. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, it is a powerful commentary on rape culture and sickening machismo. It also is a revenge film, where, like in Heathers, you cheer for the vile to get their just desserts.
Molly Shannon and Alison Brie are good in small roles. Clancy Brown is always solid and here is no exception as he brings a nuanced sense of humor to the film.
At it’s core this is a ‘vengeance for the wicked film’ that finds Mulligan’s Cassandra one step ahead of her victims, most of which, frankly, have it coming. Stark and callous, Mulligan’s protagonist is the antihero we need right now.
Another film with an antihero is This Gun For Hire. Released in 1942 and adapted from a Graham Greene novel, it starred Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake along with Robert Preston, whose solid performance is overshadowed by Ladd’s breakout turn as Raven, a paid killer looking for payback after he is double crossed. Lake plays a sometimes magician and nightclub singer whose been dispatched to watch her boss who is suspected of selling out his country.
Ladd and Lake are terrific together. From the first time they meet on a train until the gripping finale, there is lots of tension between the tow and it is interesting to see this dynamics of their relationship change throughout the film. Laird Cregar is great as Lake’s treacherous boss.
This Gun for Hire launched Ladd’s career and led to three other pairings with Lake who became a star in her own right. I enjoyed this movie much more than I expected. It’s a hidden gem in that it isn’t as popular as other Ladd/Lake films and it doesn’t have a ton of star power in it either.
Only Angels Have Wings came out in 1939. It starred a young Clark Gable alongside Jean Arthur. It was directed by Howard Hawks who loved him some airplanes. It also featured the first major role for Rita Hayworth.
In fact there are lots of airplanes in this film about mail pilots who fly the perilous skies over the Andes to deliver their cargo. Based on a story written by Hawks about situations he witnessed personally, the film at first appears to be a lesson in machismo. But in actually it’s a lot more. It’s man versus nature, man processing grief and a testament to the power of survival instincts. It’s also a film that feature Arthur an Hayworth as strong women who don’t take any crap as they take their footing in a masculine world.
Grant plays a cynical pilot named Geoff Carter who is works hard to save the airline he manages from falling into ruin. To do this he has to push his friends and fellow pilots while also holding his own emotions at bay. His tough as nails exterior cracks when he encounters Arthur as a street smart entertainer who, despite initial resistance, begins to feel affection for Carter and his band of ragtag misfits.
Once you get past the ludicrous hat Grant wears at the start of the picture you settle down and get caught up in the drama. It’s a slow boil filled with crisp dialogue and an atmosphere of constant peril.
I am getting ready to watch The Queen’s Gambit this week.
I have been rewatching Fawlty Towers and it has been a great tonic for laughter right now. Even after all this time the humor works on several levels. Sadly, some of the humor is terribly inappropriate these days.
WandaVision has been a real hoot. The painstaking care that the production team took in recreating the feel of 1950s sitcoms paid off in giving the characters some new dimensions.
The paranoia and uneasiness of the time is also evoked here to perfection. It also is nice to see a new spin on the superhero story. This is more than capes and special effects. I also love that Dick Van Dyke was a consultant.
So, Cobra Kai season three has been cheery. That whole series is all about people making poor decisions. It is really hard to like any of the characters, yet it is still enthralling to watch. One of the things that it has going for it is that the episodes are relatively short in length. this lets them draw things out and better focus on the narrative over a season.
One upside of the last fourteen months is that there has been a lot of really good music released. There’s a ton of really great indie records being made right now and the lockdown has afforded opportunities for a lot of new artists to get their music out there, via Bandcamp, Spotify and good old fashioned radio. This long chasm of staying inside has also given artists who have already put out one or two albums an opportunity to build on what they’ve done.
Shadow of Fear is the new release from Cabaret Voltaire. Now pretty much a solo project for Richard H. Kirk, the album features Kirk throwing down minimalist compositions laced with samples, percussive beats and lots of energy.
Despite being the first Cabs album of new material since 1994, the music remains just as intense as some of their previous work. Despite going it alone Kirk manages to maintain Cabaret Voltaire’s pattented sound without sounding dated.
Be Free and the epic Universal Energy illustrate how Kirk is still channeling the industrial sounds of Sheffield and the techno soul of Detroit into something new and askew.
I know I have previously mentioned that I really like The Reds, Pinks & Purples. They have an album out called You Might Be Happy Someday (scheduled for wide release on Slumberland later this spring) which was amongst my favorite albums of the last year. But now there is also a new single out called Pour the Light In which is terrific.
Headquartered in the Bay Area, the band is the baby of Glenn Donaldson, a surrealist artist who has all played in Jewelled Antler, Thuja, The Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums and The Blithe Sons & Flying Canyon. He also has released solo material as The Birdtree and The Ivytree.
This is bedroom pop at its finest. In addition to the manly harmonies, there is a sparkle in the melodies that drapes the melancholy tones in Donaldson’s vocals, resulting in sheer pop perfection.
I also have been listening to Blackout Transmission, a four piece from Los Angeles whose sound lies somewhere between Echo & the Bunnymen, Wire and Interpol.
Due out on February 19th, their debut, Sparse Illumination features the lead single, Portals, a track that finds the band wearing their similarities to Echo & the Bunnymen on their sleeves. Other highlights include the brooding and expansive Once There, and Heavy Circles a song filled with some lovely dream pop swirls. This is good stuff.
There also have been some great streaming concerts to see. I saw the Fontaine’s D.C. last month and they were terrific. Even with no audience they had boundless raw energy. There have been a ton of other ones I wanted to see, but I’ve had work or other stuff going on and now I am playing catch up.
In appliance news, a friend of mine recently explained Dubai light bulbs to me. These bulbs are more efficient then bulbs in the West, mainly because they have more filament and run at a lower voltage. While the bulbs produce less light, they do burn much longer. So, to compensate for the low light output, they add more filament to each bulb.
There’s a lot of crazy appliance/household stuff going on. The kitchen light switch toggle thingee came completely off. I could still turn the light on and of, but it was not easy. To make things wackier, the overhead lights decided to go on the fritz. I was afraid there could be a wiring issue in the lighting bay but it turned out that I just had to replace both of the bulbs.
This required going into a hardware store during a pandemic. It was kind of surreal. The staff was nice and wore masks and people socially distanced, but you could just feel the atmosphere that these people were being put out. It was palpable.
In other news, there’s a Roomba here now. It is making its inaugural journey this week after I clear up some more floor space for him. I am fighting the urge to do stupid things like put action figures on it or set up things for it to plow through as it moves across the floor.
Most of the last month has seen me also playing catch up with a few books. One of the ones I have been meaning to get to was Such A Lovely Little War, an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in Saigon by Marcelino Truong.
Told with vivid honesty, Truong tells about the hardships and complexities of growing up amidst the onset of the Vietnam War. While the brutality of both Diem’s rule and the Vietcong is integral to the story, Truong’s triumph here is his depiction of how his family lived each and every day during a time of tumult and violence.
Here is a foodie section……
I am still trying to support local businesses as much has I can. I cannot recommend Whisk on Cherokee enough. The food is good, the staff is amazing and they are making lots of new stuff every day.
Parker’s Table has great cheese and wine. They also make great sandwiches and offer a great Thai curry sauce. They also have a lot of other good food offerings as well.
Meshuggah Cafe is close to where I live and have still been grinding it out each day. The smoothies are awesome and their scones are also very good. The best thing about it for me is that it has still managed to hold up as a regular meeting place for folks in my neighborhood to socially distant visit and catch up. You can’t spell community building like this.
Since being inside most of the time is so much fun, I have spent a lot of time just learning about stuff I have always been curious about. One of the things I have been doing is picking an artist each month whose work I am interested in and then learning more about them.
I have always looked at Piet Mondrian and wondered what was going on. Over the years I have felt like I didn’t get it but should. In addition to examining his art, I was intrigued about the meaning behind his placement of shapes and how he set about developing form in his work. From there, I read about his actual life and that was interesting too.
In the past, I would stop and look at his paintings and think they were interesting, but never really get what was going on. But slowly, as I learned more about art and hung out with art school girlfriends, a lot of what he was doing became clearer. But then, after I read about the correlation between his work and his passion for jazz something clicked and I wanted to really learn more.
There was some snow this week. It was perfect. It accumulated but not too much to disrupt anything and it looked nice. Even though I love the silence that happens outside during a blizzard, I was not really ready for that yet. If I ever can do it, I am moving to a more temperate climate. Assuming global warming isn’t so messed up that those plans will go wonky.
I guess I’ll finish off with another plea to not be an ass clown right now. Be kind, be chill and try to be a better person despite that fact there are soooo many dimwits out there right now. Support local business and do something creative and new.
I am now recovering from the holidays and a mindbogglingly intense few months. I am glad the year is ending, it needs to go like a bad throw rug. But I am a bit worried because each year since 2017 has gotten progressively worse for me.
Anyway, the year ends with mixed feelings of terror, anxiety, frustration, hope and melancholy. I am sure I am not alone. No one should spend their life alone, so if you have family you can stand or friends who substitute for family be thankful. Especially now. But most of all, just don’t be a terrible person.
Mentally, I am mostly okay but still anxious about assclowns who just don’t get it or refuse to acknowledge the obvious. It’s a challenging time to deal with the stupid and I don’t do it very well sometimes. But I am thankful that so many people I care about are safe and well. A few of my medical profession friends got the vaccine and that is terrific news since they have been knee deep in the waters and are emotionally spent.
I miss being able to travel but I don’t miss going out much. Streaming has replaced going to the movies and I am trying to read more. With winter here I won’t be able to sit on the back porch and read which is kind of a bummer. I hate the ice and the cold and the general malaise of winter. Add a pandemic to it and it’s a real party.
I am still on the short end of the work stick have & have spent the last few months working on some freelance stuff. I’ve learned not to expect any help from people I know who could offer work but don’t. Ironically, they are the same people who always ask me for free tickets to stuff. They are on the naughty list.
It is weird to be reviewing theater type stuff again. The Rep has been doing an online series called Cooking, Carols & Cocktails that features local musicians and chefs. Opera Theatre St. Louis is pressing their virtual season with a holiday concert. Both have been welcome distractions from the insanity of the world.
A few quick hits about Christmas
-That Mariah Carey song is the work of the Devil!
-Black Friday is dumb!
-There’s a pandemic and people are still out rushing around.
-The Misfit toys are cool & have been marginalized in recent years.
-Santa is a huge jerk in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
A few quick hits about New Year’s Eve/Day etc…
-There are better songs on War by U2 than New Year’s Day.
-Prosecute them all!
-Ryan Seacrest is still annoying.
-Please support St. Louis’ excellent local restaurants, bookstores, shops, record stores and businesses during this time. If you read this from other places then support local businesses wherever you are.
-When these places talk of being in dire straights they are not messing around. It is important to support those who have toiled to build a business from scratch!
Also, it it totally true when you get older New Year’s Eve is less of thing. I remember being at my Grandma’s house on New year’s Eve when I was a kid. we watched Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo and the ball drop in New York then we had ginger snaps and went to bed. She also told these great stories about childhood celebrations she had when she was younger.
I have some appliance news! It is not super exciting, but the lighting fixture in the kitchen had bulbs go out. There was a lot of blinking and waiting around for it to get brighter. So, alas, they have been replaced with shiny and new 4 ft LED lights. It is so much brighter. There is also a Rhoomba here now, so cleaning hardwood floors should be a bit easier!
Mank is streaming now and is also in some theaters if you are bold enough to go to those. Gary Oldman is terrific in it and if you love classic Hollywood this is right up your alley. Mank is all about the creation of Citizen Kane and the backlash it created.
It also explore the relationship between Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the script. David Fincher filmed it in black and white to do it justice. Cinematically it is gorgeous. Yes there are some liberties taken with the story, but generally, it is a really good film about the making of a cinema classic.
It also is nice to see Herman J. Mankiewicz get some credit since Welles is often prominently in the spotlight with the creation of that film. Sadly, despite his creativity he was a terrible drunk which led to him dying young in 1953.
Some days you just need to do nothing and watch nonsense. I did this recently and revised The Coneheads. It was on the telly and I had not seen it in decades. I figured why not? Surprisingly its themes of home and immigration resonate today as does some of points on law enforcement.
I also forgot that literally everybody is in it; Sinbad, Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler and bunches of others. Even though it is pretty forgettable there are some fun moments in it.
I did recently stumble upon a nifty little film from 1978 called The Silent Partner. Starring Elliott Gould as Miles Cullen, a nebbishy bank clerk who discovers his bank is going to be robbed by a man dressed as a mall Santa. Christopher Plummer stars opposite of him as Reikle, a seriously bad psychopath.
Seeing an opportunity to look after himself, Cullen skims a cool fifty grand from the bank’s till during the robbery. From here things get really interesting as Gould and Plummer have a battle of wits after Plummer discovers he’s been outwitted. Cullen’s life is compounded by his complex relationship with a coworker as well as the arrival of Elaine, a mysterious woman who he he en counters at his father’s funeral. From here the tension gets turned up to eleven as the walls close in on Cullen, forcing him to make some drastic decisions.
This movie totally caught me off guard. I had never even heard of it before, but apparently it has a massive cult following.
Each Christmas I make it a point to watch a few holiday movies that I have not seen before. This year I watched The Bishop’s Wife.
It was a rough movie to make. they had a few director changes. Grant was really picky about details on filming with the sets and dialogue. To add to all of that, Niven, was still grieving over the death of his wife. With all that going on it’s a Christmas miracle that it got made at all.
Niven plays a bishop who is so obsessed with building a new cathedral for his congregation (and a wealthy parishioner) that he completely blows off his wife.
Grant plays Dudley, an angel sent to make things right. Unfortunately, he is too good at his job and his handsome looks and kindness make him attractive to Julia (Loretta Young), the bishop’s wife. There relationship and the wrinkles it causes with Niven’s bishop form the tension of the film. There’s a lot of stuff in here about faith, duty and responsibility. It’s pretty sappy at times but the actor is stellar and the melodrama keeps you watching.
I took the advice of a friend and finally watched Auntie Mame. Despite some totally awkward racial stereotypes it is a real ball of fun.
It is interesting to see how much commentary there is on class, individualism, self worth, feminism, wealth and the importance of family. Despite the comic draperies, there’s a lot of pretty heavy stuff happening here.
The movie is whimsical and silly and funny all at once. Rosalind Russell is on fire throughout the entire thing and she really propels the movie. Everyone has an eccentric relative and her Mame pretty much sets the bar as a partying socialite who is suddenly thrust into raising her nephew. To do this requires a lot of personal growth, stubbornness and tenacity. I love how steely Mame is. She is a fighter who plays by her own rules and it is exhilarating to watch. I suspect that in 1958, when this came out, people may have freaked out.
I have finished Schitt’s Creek. The ending was pretty predictable but still managed to deliver in terms of fun. In a crap year it was such a great tonic for laughter. It also has an emotional gravitas to it the tis nice as well. I am sad to see it end because now I need to find a new comedy to watch.
There is still a lot of stuff to stream. I have made a list of all it since there is so much. I want to see Soul and I am excited about The Prom since I didn’t get to see it when I was in New York two years ago. There is a new season of Cobra Kai as well.
Because I am not going to movie theaters for awhile making a best of they year film list is kind of a nightmare. There are loads of things I am hearing via word of mouth. Things like The Sound of Metal, The Ammonite or the two thousand streaming movies Tom hanks has out right now. So, alas there is no best of film list this year.
That Left Turn At Albuquerque was one of my favorite fiction reads for the year. I read it very early in the year and its a real gem in terms of how the characters are fleshed out and the action unfolds.
Phillips doesn’t make warn and fuzzy characters which is refreshing. They have depth and texture and are very, very grey. If you like really good crime stories with helpings of art, lust and treachery, then this is a book for you. This is some seriously good old school noir.
I also liked Roddy Doyle’s Love. It is rich and frothy and he is a master at dialogue.
In addition to being a homage to pub culture it is a lovely story about friendship and love that tugs on our inner sense of regret. At a time when we can’t go out it’s nice to read a book about going to the pub and hanging out. The book also has Doyle’s rich characters too which are always intriguing.
The Neal Gaiman Reader is also solid. it is a really good collection of his work that fearers excerpts from his books as well as some short stories.
I do not always like books like these because they often play out like a greatest hits collection or a money grab. However, here the material is so imaginative and rich that it is perfect. Even though I have read most of the 52 pieces collected, it is still a great read in that it is well organized and flows well.
I am a big fan of Gaiman so the odds going in were that I would like it. But I was impressed by the selections featured. there were some I had forgotten and the rediscovery was terrific.
I really love The Reds Pinks & Purples. Glenn Donaldson’s newish project is poptastically exquisite. His latest album, You Might Be Happy Someday is one of my favorite records of 2020. It has lush melodies and catchy lyrics.
There is some melancholy too, but, taken as a whole the album is an uplifting experience that needs to be heard. The mixture of lyrics and music is seamless and the results are wonderful.
One of the things I did love about 2020 was that there was so much good music out. There was a lot. I also love how bands did streaming concerts to make connections with their fans. I watched really good streamed shows from OMD, Hot Chip, Fontaine’s D.C. and Cigarette After Sex.
While all of these were amazing, nothing beat Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer. It was simply stunning in every way.
Alone at a piano Cave channels his pain through his art, giving us 22 really amazing tracks. I loved Girl In Amber, Galleon Ship, The Mercy Seat and Into My Arms. Also available as a video, this is worth your time. It is really incredible.
I hate putting faith on hope and thinking the road ahead is gonna be better and all that jazz. I am a pragmatist. However, this year so so awful and terrible that even I want there to be some progress in tackling important social issues and moving back to normal in 2021. But, until it happens I will continue to be worried and aggravated by the stupid, selfish and insipid. The one takeaway from 2020 is that it showed how America is a place that needs a ton of work. I fear that calls for unity and togetherness are just going to be unanswered, It’s sad but it’s true.
For now, I just want to get through the coming year in one piece and in better shape than the tattered mess of the present. I want people to be kind and decent and vaccinated. I want art to thrive and people to be treated fairly and with dignity. I want less poor decisions and more opportunity.
Although I want to play more great music on the radio and absorb loads of cool movies, graphic novels books and stuff, I’d like the world to be filled with compassion and caring. More money would be nice too. I know that it is terribly capitalistic, but seriously who doesn’t want a cushion right now.
2020 totally sucked. It was worse than 1848, 1914 or 1939 all rolled into one. So much ion the pain could have bene avoided and people were stupid, shallow and callous. Good riddance. Please let 2021 be better.
It has been a crazy month. I’ve been quarantined and tested and poked and prodded. I had some kind of bug that fortunately didn’t blow up into something worse. but the stress of all that has been a nightmare. Adding to that are the chuckleheads who still don’t follow any sort of common sense and continue to make things worse. Sigh.
The holiday season means this stupid GMC add is back. Who the Hell gives another person a truck anyway? There are some serious economic headaches happening right now and it is crass to encourage people people to spend their cash or go deep into debt for something like this. Plus who lives like this? Certainly no one I know.
Who needs a truck that big? I know there are people who haul and build and move things but these things look like tanks. These are stupid vacuous people.
A few quick points about Thanksgiving
-Miles Standish was a jerk
-The Pilgrims were religious zealots.
-The last piece of turkey is the most important piece of turkey!
-The Native Americans saved the Pilgrims ass that winter!
-Be thankful and be kind
One of my recent discoveries is the New York Adventure Club. They have been doing these online webinars about different topics related to New York.
So far I have watched ones on Mary Pickford, The New York Subway and NYC in the 70s and 80s. All were excellent. They have pivoted to an online format really well and as someone who used to live in the big city, it is a way to reconnect it at a time when I miss it terribly. For info and a list of tours visit: https://www.nyadventureclub.com
There is a new season of The Crown. I have to say that Olivia Colman is just stunning in it. Gillian Anderson’s Thatcher is macabre and terrifying.
The last thing I want to see right now is Thatcher, yet her macabre performance is simply incredible.
The Mandalorian also continues to make me happy. It is so well written and executed within the Star Wars universe. I am curious to see where all of this is going. They are artfully laying little breadcrumbs lying around to tempt us all.
I think I need to watch The Expanse.
The St. Louis International Film Festival is over for 2020. I saw about 19-21 things over the fest and the programming was varied, informative, daring and compelling. There are some amazing filmmakers out there doing great stuff.
I will probably post of other films stuff later as well, but here are three which I think will eventually come out in theaters or streaming.
I really liked The Bare Necessity. It’s an odd and quirky debut film from Erwan Le Duc that really emphasizes living life to the fullest.
A big hit at Cannes, it is a well acted light romp that makes you feel good during all of this mess we are in.
Citizens of the World was another favorite. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio and starring Ennio Fantastichini, Giorgio Colangeli and the aforementioned Gianni Di Gregorio, it is a calm film about a trio of pensioners who think about bailing on their lives in Rome for better pastures like Bulgaria and the Azores.
Motivated by the high cost of living in Rome and a nagging sense of needing to find fulfillment in their lives they set out on a journey of self discovery. It is warm, funny and I cannot wait to see it again.
Undine is the new film by German auteur Christian Petzold. I loved his previous film, Transit and this one brings some of that cast together into new territories. His films Phoenix and Barbara are also worth investigating.
Franz Rogowski is great in everything and this film is no exception. He’s a master and emoting emotion nonverbally while still being able to be remain intense onscreen.
I have started Scott Eyman’s biography of Cary Grant. I wanted to read something that had politics or heavy history. I have seen a bunch of his movies and after reading a few reviews decided to get this from my library.
His body of work on film is pretty solid and I especially love his stuff with Hitchcock. This has been informative and fun without being over gossipy. As a complete aside, I loved how they had a character on The Flinstones named Cary Granite.
I got asked to do one of these year-end best of music things. It’s been annoying to work on. But it is done.
Here are my favorite 15 records of the year.
Fiona Apple-Fetch the Bolt Cutters-Epic The Beths-Jump Rope Gazers Phoebe Bridgers-Punisher-Dead Cceans Tim Burgess-I Love the New Sky-PIAS Fontaines D.C,-A Hero’s Death-partisan I Like Trains-Kompromat-Atlantic Curve IDLES-Ultra Mon-Partisan Pet Shop Boys-Hotspot-X2 Porridge Radio-Every Bad-Dead Oceans Psychedelic Furs-Made of Rain Cooking Vinyl The Reds, Pinks & Purples-You Might Be happy Someday-Touch Love Rolling Blackouts coastal Fever-Sideways to New Italy Run the Jewels RTJ 4-BMG The Wants-Container-Council Records X-Alphabetland-Fat Possum
I recently watched a streaming concert by Fontaine’s D.C. It was pretty good. Even without a live audience to interact with they still have a raw and exuberant energy about them. Their new album, A Hero’s Death, dropped in July.
Tom yum soup needs to be more of a thing. It is so good on a cold day.