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music friday: son of daily mix

This time, it’s Daily Mix 1! Clearly drawn from all the 60s music I play.

Spirit, “Dream Within a Dream.” From the album The Family That Plays Together, which includes their greatest-ever song. This is not that song.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Hot Burrito #1.” “There's nothing new that can be said about dirt.”

Terry Reid, “Rich Kid Blues.” Supposedly, Jimmy Page asked Reid to join “The New Yardbirds”. Reid declined, but recommended Robert Plant and John Bonham.

The Rolling Stones, “Down Home Girl.” Stones Meet Brill Building (Jerry Leiber was a co-composer), faux Southerness appears.

Sly & The Family Stone, “Life.” From one of their lesser-known albums that wasn’t a hit, but it stands up well.

Bonnie Raitt, “Love Me Like a Man.” From her second album, when she was still known as a blues artist.

George Harrison, “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll).” All Things Must Pass was the shit in 1970. Now, I only like a couple of songs from the three LPs. This isn’t one of them.

The Grateful Dead, “Sugar Magnolia.” It’s proof of my lack of Deadheadedness that my favorites of their albums are Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. And I love “The Golden Road.”

David Crosby, “Radio.” From his first solo album in 20 years.

The Who, “Run Run Run.” Pop music from 1966.


film fatales #25: the intervention (clea duvall, 2016)

A group of mid/late-30s friends and family invite two other friends for a getaway, intending to have a “marriage intervention” for those two others, whose marriage seems to falling apart. The obvious comparison is to The Big Chill. There’s even a “Meg Tilly character” who is younger than the others. And Clea DuVall has said she was trying to capture that Big Chill feeling. But The Intervention operates on a much lower key than The Big Chill. The cast of The Big Chill was full of names. Kevin Kline was coming off of Sophie’s Choice. Glenn Close had an Oscar nomination for The World According to Garp. William Hurt worked with director Lawrence Kasdan on Body Heat. DuVall, on the other hand, puts together a fine ensemble cast, but they are more indie darlings than “BIG STARS”. Melanie Lynskey is probably the best known, although I’m not sure ... many of the actors have been in popular TV series, and Natasha Lyonne is a BIG STAR at my house, at least. But the scale is lower, and I think that’s useful. If The Big Chill often crumpled under the weight of making A Statement, The Intervention feels more like a story about a group of characters.

Honestly, the film I’m most reminded of is The Anniversary Party. In that one, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming wrote a script, knowing which of their friends they would be casting and tailoring the characters to their friends, so Kevin Kline plays the husband of Phoebe Cates’ character, who has quit acting to raise their kids, who play “themselves”. I love that movie, which I can’t say for The Intervention, which has a more generic feel to it. For some reason, I didn’t feel closely attached to the characters in The Intervention. I was watching them from a distance, even though I think we were supposed to climb right into the characters.

This is not the fault of the acting, which is fine, and DuVall’s directorial debut is efficient. It gets out of the way in 90 minutes, always a plus in my book. If DuVall continues to pursue writing and directing as well as acting, she has a promising future. But The Intervention is more a good debut than it is a great picture. 6/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


by request: the happiness of the katakuris (takashi miike, 2001)

To some extent, you know what you are getting when you see the name Takaski Miike. About the first of his movies I saw, I wrote, “13 Assassins is also one of the more gory movies you’ll see, if that bothers you (you don’t always see everything, but you know it’s happening, which can be just as bad).” “I have to hand it to Miike”, I said of Ichi the Killer, “he’s committed to his art. If he decides to make a movie about sadists and masochists, then by golly he will, even if he has to stuff it into an otherwise standard yakuza movie.” (According to Wikipedia, “[D]uring its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received "barf bags" emblazoned with the film's logo as a promotional gimmick”.) But it was Audition that I found most “inspiring”:

Miike isn’t pussyfooting around, here … he wants to dig deeply into obsession and misogyny, and he is willing to accomplish what he wants, even if it means throwing narrative coherence out the window, closely followed by “good taste”. Even fans of Audition will admit that it is almost impossible to watch the long final segment of the film, which isn’t to say that segment is gratuitous (although it often is) or unnecessary. In the context of the film, it is the best possible ending. That it is also revolting, that it has inspired plenty of walkouts in theaters over the years, that it is entirely possible that there is less than meets the eye, well, let’s just say it is a complicated movie.

The thing is, while Miike’s films can border on torture porn, that’s not all he’s up to. His ability to create startling, unexpected beauty in the midst of horror is great, and his kitchen-sink approach allows room for comedy, as well. Plus, I should note that I’ve been selective in my choice of Miike films to watch ... apparently he also makes comedies and other movies intended more for families.

But I haven’t seen those, so when The Happiness of the Katakuris was recommended in one of the comments to Ichi, I assumed “the happiness” would be meant ironically. And I came at it mostly unspoiled, as I prefer. So I didn’t notice the advertising tagline that read, “The hills are alive with the sound of screaming”.

Yes, among other things, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a musical. A musical with a natural setting (a bed and breakfast near Mount Fuji), to further push The Sound of Music comparisons. But it’s also reminiscent of other movies that weren’t necessarily musicals: Eating Raoul, for instance, and Moulin Rouge. Night of the Living Dead, too, while we’re at it. Meanwhile, Miike throws in a few Claymation scenes (I wasn’t kidding about the kitchen-sink).

It’s nice to see one his movies that retains the ability to surprise the audience without having to hold our hands over our eyes (not too much, anyway). 13 Assassins remains my favorite, but I haven’t yet seen a Takashi Miike movie I didn’t like. 7/10.


what i watched

Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002). Another example of my favorite made-up genre, “It Wasn’t What I Expected.” Critics have long given Adam Sandler movies poor reviews ... he received several Emmy nominations for his work on Saturday Night Live, but he also has three Razzies and countless nominations in the latter category for his films. His movies are popular, which is why Netflix finances them (contracted now for eight), and they are probably critic-proof. I’ve mentioned a few times that I hated the first Sandler movie I saw (Billy Madison) so much that I immediately gave up on him. In all the years since, I’ve only seen two I can remember: Click, and Funny People. Like Punch-Drunk Love, those movies are somewhat atypical for Sandler movies, which may be why I’ve seen them. Perhaps most important, I like some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies, especially Magnolia and Boogie Nights. I didn’t like Punch-Drunk Love as much as I liked those two, but I liked it more than any other Adam Sandler movie I’ve seen. I’ve admitted before that I see decent acting chops peeking out of his work when he isn’t being an idiot, and in Punch-Drunk Love, he does very well at swinging between a man frightened of his own shadow and a man with terrible anger inside who can explode at any given moment. Emily Watson is good as the love interest, and as usual, Philip Seymour Hoffman makes the most of his small part. I guess this is now my favorite Adam Sandler movie. #27 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (uh, no), and #467 on the TSPDT all-time list. 7/10.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016). I liked Cloverfield very much, but it’s been more than eight years since I saw it, so hopefully I’m forgiven when I say I couldn’t remember it. My wife actually had me beat on this ... when I asked if she wanted to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane, she went on about Godzilla, which is about right (all that came to my mind was the found footage angle). Luckily, despite there being some connection between the two Cloverfield movies, in fact this most recent film keeps its attachment to the original so obscure that it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever seen the first one. I was taken by the adrenaline rush of Cloverfield (“it brutalizes the audience by sticking us right in the middle of the horrified emotions of the characters that only a few minutes earlier seemed so mundane”). I noted that there was no suspense in Cloverfield, which is what sets 10 Cloverfield Lane apart from its predecessor, for it is mostly suspense until the final section. It’s just a different kind of movie from Cloverfield. John Goodman makes a great is-he-a-villain, and the movie is never boring. But it isn’t brutal. And it’s 20 minutes longer than the original, and there’s no reason for that. 7/10.


humans

It was about a year and a half after the end of Season One when Season Two of Humans arrived in the States. While the story isn’t particularly complicated, it does feature lots of characters, and I confess I began the new season not quite remembering all that had come before. After Season One, I wrote:

An English series about a time in the future when robots in human form work as servants for humans. ... It features the usual batch of English actors I’ve never heard of, all doing good jobs, with special kudos to Gemma Chan as one of the “synths”. Oh yeah, William Hurt shows up. Humans is a good combination of social commentary and personal experiences ... I wouldn’t say it breaks new ground, but it does well with the old ground. It’s certainly intelligent enough to maintain interest for another season.

Hurt’s character died late in Season One, but he is replaced in S2, in fame and stature if not in the narrative, by Carrie-Anne Moss. This means there is still one actor in Humans that I’ve actually heard of. Of course, by this point, I know the returning characters, and they are still doing good jobs, with Gemma Chan still worthy of singling out. I’d also toss in Emily Berrington and Ruth Bradley. It may be more than coincidental that all three actresses play synths ... they make more of an impression than the human characters.

Humans benefits from short seasons. There have only been 16 episodes so far, just the right amount to fit the amount of story and characterization Humans offers. I said before that it doesn’t break new ground, and that holds in the new season, as well. The show is well-done, but it doesn’t stray too far from other robots-in-society stories we’ve known. While the synths are shown sympathetically, after two seasons the title of the show still holds ... ultimately we’re watching from the perspective of the humans.

I’m not trying to damn Humans with faint praise. I like the show quite a bit. But it’s just another show about humans and machines that can’t quite live up to the greatness that was Battlestar Galactica. And while the straightforward presentation is helpful to clods like me who have trouble keeping up, it comes across as rather mundane compared to shows like Sense8 and Legion. B+.


my neighbor totoro (hayao miyazaki, 1988)

I watched this a couple of years ago with our ten-year-old grandson, who was kinda bored ... he’s the Star Wars/Lego type. This time, it was our four-year-old grandson, going to a movie theater for the first time. His parents make sure he’s not inundated with media, and Totoro seemed like a nice first trip to the movies.

Here’s what I wrote earlier:

We watched the Disney English-language dub, which I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t really recognize any of the voices, including the stunt-casting of Dakota and Elle Fanning as sisters. It was fine, in any event ... I think I only notice English dubs when they are terrible. I liked the movie as much as ever, even with the semi-negative vibes in the room. I think Princess Mononoke is my favorite Miyazaki film, but to be honest, they all kind of blend together in my mind as the years pass, so I couldn’t really explain my preference. My fondest memories are of Spirited Away, probably because I love the soot thingies. Even the lesser movies are enjoyable, though, and often quite loony. #235 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

That earlier viewing was at home, so one of the biggest differences this time around was being in a crowd, with plenty of parents with their kids. I was reminded of the first time I watched a Studio Ghibli movie in a theater, Ponyo:

The best part about watching this in the theater ... was listening to the kids in the audience. They were enjoying the movie very much, right from the beginning, when the Studio Ghibli logo came on and a kid sitting behind me said to his parent, “it’s Totoro!” You see, I had forgotten Miyazaki makes movies for kids. I assume they’re more like Fantasia, movies for acid heads to enjoy while tripping.

This time again, there were Totoro fans in the audience, and of course Totoro made a lot more appearances this time. It was impossible to watch the movie without trying to imagine what was going on inside my grandson’s head. There were a couple of times when he was scared, but he seemed to enjoy himself, and afterwards, I bought him a cushy Totoro toy:

totoro

I’m always up for watching My Neighbor Totoro, but honestly, the best part of this was the experience of going with Félix.


music friday: still more daily mix

Keeping the theme going, this is “Daily Mix 5” from Spotify.

The Who, “A Quick One While He’s Away.” 66 minutes shorter than Tommy.

Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Captain Lou Albano plays her dad in the video. This led to the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” that culminated at the very first WrestleMania, when Wendi Richter won the Women’s World Championship while managed by Lauper.

Fleetwood Mac, “Only Over You (Alternate Version).” From the “Deluxe” version of Mirage.

Joe Cocker, “Delta Lady – Set 2.” Honestly, it’s hard to separate all of the Mad Dogs releases at this point. “Delta Lady” always sounds good, though.

Rod Stewart, “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It).” Rod Stewart’s first albums were so good, some of us never forgave him for what he became. I saw him live in 1977, and when he sang a snippet of “Every Picture Tells a Story”, I thought truer words were never spoken.

Blondie, “Hanging on the Telephone.” In their early days, I often said Debbie Harry was the Diana Ross of punk/new wave. I didn’t mean it as a compliment. I was stupid. Although when I saw Blondie in 1979, they were blown off the stage by their opening act, Rockpile.

Elton John, “Love Song.” Speaking of dumb opinions, back in the 70s I thought it was easy to find the good Elton songs from the bad ones. The good ones were the rockers.

Ramones, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The first track from their first album. They were kinda like Rod Stewart, in that their first four albums were so much better than the rest. I didn’t hate them for it, though.

The Kinks, “Lola (Single Version, Cherry Cola).” Yes, which kind of Cola mattered.

Heart, “Crazy on You.” I cheated a bit here. Spotify gave me the Dreamboat Annie version, but this one from Midnight Special is too good to pass up. If you ever wondered why Heart got tagged with the “female Led Zep” label, here’s why. Makes sense that they were chosen to do “Stairway to Heaven” at Led Zeppelin’s Kennedy Center Honors. What the heck, here’s that one ... this is the edited version, where the edits are hard to hear, so it’s no big deal. You can hear the full version on an audio-only YouTube video, but the visuals are too important to leave out.


the mirror (andrei tarkovsky, 1975)

I seem to be catching up on Tarkovsky at last. A couple of months ago I watched Andrei Rublev and liked it. The same with Ivan’s Childhood, which I saw a couple of years ago. I still have bad memories of seeing Solaris when it came out ... it might have been a movie date with my wife-to-be, whatever it was, I was bored stiff.

Well, my reaction to The Mirror was closer to how I felt about Solaris. It didn’t bore me as much ... it’s an hour shorter, for one thing. But it feels like a movie that will “improve” with each viewing. Sam Ishii-Gonzales wrote, “[W]hat might appear confused, difficult, or opaque on first viewing becomes something else with repeated screenings. Having seen Mirror a half-dozen times, over a decade or so, in a number of different countries, it now appears to me as simplicity itself.” Your reaction to The Mirror might depend on how inviting Ishii-Gonzales’ remarks sound. Most people who know me understand that I generally resist movies that require multiple viewings to reveal their artistry. On occasion, I do return to movies that didn’t impress me the first time around, and once in a while I even change my opinion. But I am not fond of movies that only connect with me if I watch them six times.

This is not a criticism of Tarkovsky, who as an artist had every right to make his movies the way he wanted. And The Mirror seems like a film he was happy with. For that, I tip my hat. But I found the movie obscure and insular. It switches between color and black-and-white for no reason I could ascertain. It takes place in three different time periods. The same actress plays different roles in different periods. Tarkovsky mixes documentary footage into the film, and includes poetry readings in the voiceovers. It reminded me of the new television series Legion, which makes even less sense than The Mirror (yet I like Legion ... go figure).

The Mirror does have a saving grace: Margarita Terekhova, the one who plays two characters in two time periods. She improves every scene she is in, and she is in a lot of them. I can’t praise her performance enough. But because I was completely lost most of the time, Terekhova’s ability to raise the level of individual scenes is always only at the level of a scene. She didn’t help me understand the movie as a whole.

The Mirror ranks at #29 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.


don't mess with steph

Last night, we were at a place I consider a BBQ restaurant. This is because I’m an old man, and I go there to eat. But it has a full bar, happy hour, and several big-screen TVs, so yeah, it’s not just a restaurant. We were eating as the Warriors played the Thunder, and that game was on all of the TVs. It wasn’t very late, and the place wasn’t very full ... if you’d asked me, I’d say maybe half-a-dozen people were watching the game.

Near the end of the first half, with the Warriors up by 17 points, there was a bit of a scrum. The Warriors' Steph Curry, all 190 pounds of him, was in the middle of the ruckus. The Oklahoma City fans were booing, four players were given technical fouls (two from each team), and the game began again, with five seconds on the clock. The people in the restaurant got a little excited, although not enough to interrupt my rib eating.

The reset came with a jump ball. The Warriors ended up with the ball, just a couple of seconds left. Klay Thompson passed it down court to Steph, who was pretty far from the basket, i.e. just in his range. As the buzzer went off, Steph hit the three and immediately ran off the court to the locker room, leaving the Thunder with a 20-point deficit. Don’t make him mad.

Well, when he scored and exited, the restaurant exploded. This wouldn’t have been unusual in a sports bar. It wouldn’t have been unusual in my living room. But I must say, I was startled when even the people who weren’t paying attention to the game erupted with joy. It was quite a moment.


chuck berry

It is entirely appropriate that a Chuck Berry song was launched into outer space in the mid-70s, so that distant civilizations would better understand America. Elvis may be the greatest rock and roll artist, but Chuck Berry is the one about whom you say, "without him, there is nothing." He was the first poet laureate of rock and roll, and he gave us our best-known anthems. Elvis lived the story of "Johnny B. Goode," but Chuck Berry wrote it ... and there's an alternate history of rock and roll hidden beneath the fact that Berry originally wrote the song about a "colored boy named Johnny B. Goode" but changed it to "country boy" to broaden the song's appeal.

On a personal note, Chuck Berry also headlined the first rock concert I ever attended, playing the Fillmore along with Eric Burdon and the Animals and the Steve Miller Blues Band. Miller's band backed up Berry for his sets, part of which ended up on Berry's album Live at the Fillmore Auditorium. It's not a bad way to introduce yourself to rock and roll shows, watching Chuck Berry.

-- “Chuck Berry”, 2004