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.