Holiday Sneer

Having spent ages working retail and having a pretty nonexistent family holiday season for the last few decades, I am not a big holiday person. The lights are great, and the kitschy pop culture and fun records of the holiday are also amusing. But, in general, I wish the holiday season was a time of comfort and joy. I am one of those who sneer at the gross excess, annoying car commercials, and the irritating antics of hardcore fundamentalists.

Maybe it is because, as a kid, my parents never overdid it for the holidays. We always had a few gifts, mostly a combination of fun and practical. I was taught to spend the season helping the little guy, those in need, alone or down on their luck.

Twelve years of Catholic school didn’t do much to help either. They rammed Christmas down your throat. It was mass after mass after mass. Having said that, it is nice to hear a proper pipe organ with a good choir.

Overall, the holidays are a bourgeois construct. People lose their damn minds trying to buy stuff. I remember Christmases of the past when there was a clamor for Cabbage Patch Kids, Atari Pac-Man, and hot wheels cars. I must have missed the memo because I wanted other stuff.

Anyway, all I really want for the holidays is for the cadre of idiots out there to put a damn mask on so we can get us over all of this. I also am looking forward to chilling out, watching movies, and maybe having a drink or two. Not too fussy, no oversaturation of consumerism.

I have nothing against the well to do. They can buy all the crappy stuff they want. I just want them to shop at a local business. They can spend till their heart is content, as long as they don’t bother me with it.

Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve been trying to learn more about artists, authors, and bands that have interested me. For various reasons, I have not had the time to learn about them. But with more time at home, I have been able to delve deeper.

I have always been fascinated with the photography of Don McCullin. His work explores the gritty of urban life, champions the downtrodden, and brings the horrors of war to life.

While his photo sessions with The Beatles are amazing, he is best known for his work in the warzones of Vietnam, Syria, and Northern Ireland, where, as a photojournalist, he brought the horrors of ar to the public consciousness.

amazing as well. He also did some photography of the beats, and his travel photographer is pretty amazing as well. His work has a stark beauty to it. It’s not pretty all the time, but it is provocative.

In exciting household news, the air ducts are cleaned. I had not thought about getting it done for a few years but then I saw a thing on TV and decided it ould not be a bad idea. Fortunately, when they came to clean the ducts they were not in bad shape. There were no dead animals, no massive clumps of yuck, and Osteen-like wads of cash. Since the cleaning, the air has been much better inside the crib.

There also is a new showerhead. The old one was kind of limited and dull, this one changes settings and is removable. It’s pretty nice. With the world being so nutty right now, having an amazingly comfortable shower can go a long way.

I picked up 4K Criterion remaster of Citizen Kane. I got that one because the regular blu ray copies had issues with the first disc and you had to send it back and wait for a new one. It was a hassle.

It looks incredible. I didn’t think that much more could be said on the subject of the film, but that is not the case. There is a ton of extra stuff, including The Hearts of Age, a silent film made by Welles in 1934.

Zhang Yimou is one of my favorite filmmakers. His film work includes Shanghai Triad, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, To Live, and so many more. He also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In addition to being a great storyteller, his use of rich colors makes his movies a sumptuous visual treat. Frequently writing about events in Chinese history, his films focus on the tenacity of everyday Chinese citizens in the face of adversity.

His new film, One Second, was pulled right before a planned screening at the Berlin Film Festival. Fortunately, it was picked up by the St. Louis International Film Festival. Screening only once, I was anxious to see it on a big screen.

One Second is a love letter to film and the power it has to bring communities together, and document important events. Superbly acted, the film is about a man who escapes from prison during Mao’s Cultural Revolution to get a glimpse of his daughter who is appearing in a film screening that is screening in a small town. While it lacks the action and tense drama of his more recent work, One Second has some wonderful comedic moments weaved into its nostalgic narrative.

in addition to making the film festival circuit, the film has gotten picked up by a distributor. I have no idea when it is coming out. Most likely in 2022.

Another film I saw at the festival this year was Memoria. An award winner at the Cannes and Chicago Film Festival, it is coming out in the next week or so nationally. Its distribution is pretty weird. Neon picked up the distribution rights for the United States and they are planning for it to be a “never Ending” release in that it will be shown on one theater screen at a time, week by week, across the country.

Memoria is the Colombian entry for this year’s best foreign film Oscar. A hybrid of drama, fantasy, and science fiction, the film was written by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul whose Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was terrific.

Here he has Tilda Swinton starring as a woman visiting Bogota because her sister is in the hospital. While there she is awakened in the night by a strange banging noise. At first, she thinks it is a sleep-related issue or some other ailment. However, after hearing the sound in a variety of places, including a restaurant, she begins to investigate.Being the only one to hear this particular sound disturbs her greatly as she seeks help from various people, including a sound engineer and a man living alone in the countryside.

Despite having outstanding sound mixing and incredible cinematography, the film moves at an achingly slow pace. A lot of film reviewers loved it, but, despite being imaginative and having an unexpected crescendo near the end, the film is drawn out, and crawls to a halt several times.

Swinton is terrific in the film, but audiences who miss a second of things often do not know what is going on. If you blink or miss a patch of dialogue you are lost.

There comes a time when you see a film and want it to be great art, but often are left staring at the canvas and wondering what the images mean. This is interesting, and the theater of the mind is always wonderful, but, here it doesn’t work. I also think the rollout for the movie is pretentious and kind of annoying.

The interesting thing about the current Spider Man film, and its predecessors, is that no matter who is cast in the lead role, they can dodo whatever a spider can

Beach House has a new album coming out early next year. It is called Once Twice Melody and it may be the record that gets them over.

Coming in with eighteen tracks, the band has spent the last three years diligently working on it.

The Umbrellas are an indie band from San Francisco. Their self-titled album was oneof my faovrites for the year. They have a very jangly ’80s vibe going on with a pinch of mid 1990s sugar pop thrown in for measure.

The entire album is filled with terrific melodies and clever hooks. It is a wonderfuk work of indie pop. Not too polished, not too grimy.

Billy Idol has made a Chritmas album. We are doomed. Although it has some nice hooks, it does fall flat.

Even in my youth, I knew there was a lot more to the Rankin/Bass holiday specials than was being let on. While they were made as fun entertainment, nearly all of them have some sort of bullying, stereotyping, and emotional abuse happening. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has the protagonist ostracized for a physical deformity. He is bullied, laughed at, and told he is not worthwhile. Meanwhile, Hermie the Elf is relentlessly taunted and mocked for his life choices.

Then there is Yukon Cornelius. While he seems endearing, he is a pretty greedy guy, driven by a hunt for treasure. He is more accepting than others, but his selfish nature often results in poor decisions. As for Santa, he’s a real piece of work. A blustering autocrat who does not tolerate abnormalities or work delays, he has no interest in Rudolph until he suits his own needs. What a jerk.

The Island of Misfit Toys is pure segregation that implies that if you are not what society thinks of as normal then you should be cast away. Not a wholesome message.

The Year Without A Santa Claus features Santa as kind of a wishy-washy jerk who wants to stay home. He claims to have a bad cold that makes him want to stay home. However, I find it hard to believe that a guy who has made that trip like two million times has never had a cold before. I think he is just burnt out.

That particular special implies that Mrs. Claus is incapable of solving any problems on her own. Well, she proves them all wrong. She is strong-willed, independent, and smarter than her husband. As for the Mizer Brothers, despite their impressive dance numbers, they are reticent fascists who rule their fiefdoms. Depicted as funny, they are uncompromising tyrants.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a noncormmist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Panfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape form tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, thsi behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use siniging storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some tewrrible character traits that are not healthy.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a little better. Here Santa is a nonconformist and a rebel who fights the machinations of authoritarians by being kind. Painfully optimistic, the Santa depicted here uses gifts to gain influence and escape tight situations. While it is clever and teaches kids that they can share, this behavior also implies that people can be bought.

Overall, I think the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials remain entertaining in that they use singing and storytelling to convey the spirit of Christmas. However, they also feature some terrible character traits that are not healthy.

It is interesting that as you get older you just care less and less about the holidays. I think this feeling runs deeper if you’ve worked with the public during the season. they can be stupid, terrible, selfish, and stupid. But, all of that experience makes you more determined and tenacious in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, working in retail also wears you down and makes you cynical. It also opens your eyes to how important it is to move away from the materialism of the season. I also think it helps you become more aware of others by underscoring the importance of kindness during the holidays.

Personally, there is something awful about coming into a store five minutes before it closes so that the staff has to undo a bunch of stuff they’ve started working on to close out the day. It’s just rude. Learn some time management people!

Also, people who come to the theater late are annoying.

I’ve been seeing a few plays over the last month. It is great to see live theater again. It also is heartening that the local companies get it by taking precautions for their audiences. Masks are mandatory and they are checking to make sure folks are vaccinated.

The holidays have brought a lull in freelance work. It should pick back up again in early 2022. But, I am glad to have the break. I can catch up on reading and seeing movies. There is also a bunch of streaming stuff I want to see.

Although I am doing a few things out in the world, I am still masking up and being socially distant. The recent surge has made being alert more important than ever. It is still important to not let down your guard.

Man I hope 2022 is better. My fear is that it will turn out to be 2020-two. I hope I am wrong. Either way, I am looking forward to better things, including more kindness from a cruel world.

Merry Christmas and Get the Hell Out of Here 2020!

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.