(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.
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.
I know one thing, I am mildly happy about is that with all of this stuff going on there are no more stupid happy hours. All they really did was make people run around from place to place to get deals on terrible food or drinks they couldn’t really enjoy because it was still early in the evening.
Then there’s the social aspect. I am always awkward at happy hours. Even the networking one where I am getting to meet people that are actually interesting.
I’m not sure what the issues are but maybe it stems from the forced short term interactions of Catholic school. Maybe it is the fact that they are so short they never let you be comfortable.
Either way, happy hours suck. I think Dante would find TFI Friday’s happy hour to be a purgatory of epic proportions.
I took a walk yesterday. It was nice to have the Sun out and feel its warmth. I stopped to look at some budding limbs on a few trees and enjoyed seeing some flowers. St. Louis is a pretty green city in many ways and lots of neighborhoods have communal gardens and folks who plant their own gardens. Pretty cool. All of this is making me think about being that guy, who has a garden. you know, the weird older guy with all the plants that goes on about nothing all the time.
I think Agatha Christie had some cool characters that were gardeners. I know Sad Cypress and Peril at End House had some. She also liked poison plants from what I recall. That last title sounds like an indie band name.
I think it is interesting that she is one of those 20th century writers who has a legacy that doesn’t involve getting drunk in Paris. Although she was missing for a bit. probably aliens.
So all of you folks who wanted the Roaring ’20s back. Thanks! Speaking of which this is my next book.
I think it will be interesting. Burns usually writes very short, concise books and this one should be fun since I know a lot about the decade in general but not that specific year.
After that I am throwing myself into Peter Ackroyd’s history of England books and with a chaser of lots of Neil Gaiman fiction.
I have a Minneapolis excursion planned for September that is now unlikely to happen. Because of that I was gonna re read a bunch of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was hoping to see his house. He probably wouldn’t be home anyway. If Gatsby were around today I’d punch him in the face.
I think the girl upstairs put her wooden shoes on before she does any household activities. How can one person make so much noise walking across an apartment. She said she had no furniture and didn’t go out. this brings me to a big pet peeve. Every time she uses her cell phone I can hear it. It is always on speaker and she always talks doubt the vacuous jibber jabber that kids today in their mid 20s go on about. She is not deaf. She seems alert and responsive. is she just too lazy to use a phone the proper way? Then there is the rolling cast of cretins she is not properly socially distancing herself with. I have bene using the back door to come in and out so I don’t have to risk the germs. Except to get the mail.
I really miss the English and Japanese gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden. MOBOT is cool. I bet the critters at the St. Louis zoo and thrilled to not have people gawking at them all day.
I have few things I want to get to on the telly. There is Decades, the New Order concert film and Is There Something I Should Know? the hour long doc about Duran Duran. I never really dug Duran Duran when I was young. I have learned to like the first few albums now.
Beyond that Nada Surf has a new album out. Never Not Together is their 9th album. It offers a nice collection of power pop songs.
I have always been hit or miss on them. This one isn’t too shabby. There’s a nice cohesion of melody going on here that is pretty great.
This is one of the movies waiting on deck. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a spy flick from 1965 based on the best selling book. Richard Burton is pretty good in it.
I love John le Carré and this is a really solid interpretation of his work.