Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Music and another Obituary

This year has not been as devastating as last year, but we still seem to be losing people - this week, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave, died, apparently hanging himself in his hotel room. It is very strange, given the circumstances, in the middle of a successful tour, when he seemed fairly content - his family wonders if too much medicine was involved.Whatever the reasons, it is sad. I don't feel the same connection to most of the big 90s bands I had to earlier groups (and some later groups, or smaller 90s acts), but Cornell was noticeable - a spectacular voice, a strong front man for good bands. It is a shame.

Here, then, to start, is Soundgarden playing Black Hole Sun, his last concert:



And Rusty Cage, from 1992:



And Audioslave, Shadow on the SUn, live in Germany:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Allan Fish Online Film Festival

I have been very absent from this blog for quite a while now. At least in the last few weeks I have had a viable excuse - I've just moved, to a different state, a very irksome process. The last week or so particularly have been very busy, lots of work, disruption, and, since I am an old man and did the move myself (with various friends and relations), lingering aches and pains. And a cold. And a lovely stretch of weather more suitable to March than May....

All this, particularly the timing of the move, meant I am not contributing directly to the latest project at Wonders in the Dark - but it is a good one, and I am certainly taking advantage of it.

The first annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival is being held, starting yesterday, May 11, Allan's birthday, and running - quite some time. The concept is that each day, someone wil host and post a link to a film that can be found online, and host a discussion. Details here, in Sam's introduction. This festival is being held in memory of Allan Fish, the fine writer who co-ran Wonders in the Dark with Sam Juliano all those years, who died absurdly young last fall. He was an insatiably curious cinephile, who used the internet to track down obscure and undistributed films - this is a fine tribute to his passion.

So click on over, take a peek, watch some films, and talk about them.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Lafayette! Here We Come!

I've been bad about keeping up with historical posts, but this is worth noting: 100 years ago today the US declared war on Germany in World War I. (The Great War, back in the day.) It was an important act - the US pretty clearly tipped the balance in favor of the Allies, at a time that the Russian Revolution was starting to look like it would tip the balance in favor of Germany. The effects took another year to show up on the battlefield - 1917 would be another miserable year for all concerned, and leave France pretty well neutralized as a force, and the UK not far behind - American troops turning up in 1918 would turn it back. Though just the presence of the Americans in the war, fully committed to the cause of the Allies, and thus to their economic and naval warfare against Germany would have almost as much impact as those fresh soldiers would.

The Germans - well, they were in a hard place in the first world war - submarine warfare brought the US in - but without it, they were going to be slowly starved into submission (while their enemies were not.) Submarines were their best chance to win the war - but they turned the world against them, so they had no chance. One of those things. Wars are never entirely military. Politics and diplomacy never go away - economics never goes away.

As for the US - we didn't get much out of our involvement. Woodrow Wilson dreamed of using the war to bring about a peace that would stabilize the world - that didn't work out (to put it mildly.) There were widespread crack downs on civil liberties in the US - it led to prohibition - it probably helped spread the influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war - and killed 100,000 odd Americans outright. Whether this saved anyone, improved the situation in Europe in any way, is anyone's guess. But off we went,a nd took our place in one of the worst disaster ever to befall humanity.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Baseball 2017

I know I have been scarce lately, but i have not given up completely on this blog. (Indeed, once things are settled, I hope i can get back into this for real. I should: I have been thinking about films - the idea that 2016 might be the year of the decade. There might be something there - if I get around to writing it.) Right now, though, it is time to welcome the baseball season - coming this evening - not a minute too soon. Spring in New England is the usual mess - the morning I thought I'd overslept by two months: yesterday it was snowing; today it's past 50, sunny and perfect. Just in time! It's been a nice spring for baseball - I finally watched a World Baseball Classic, very gratifying - but I am glad for the arrival of the real thing.

Here goes.

Americal League:
East
1 Boston - they look like the clear favorites, though there are reasons to worry. They are already having issues with the health of their pitching, which might be worrisome, though they are deep enough to survive. Take Price and Pomeranz away, and they still can run Sale, Porcello, Rodriguez and Wright out there. They have a great core of young position players, but they also have some holes: do we really trust Sandoval? Mitch Moreland? their catching? do you? Still - they have to be the team to beat here.

2 Toronto - easy to see decline, without Encarnacion, with Bautista and Tulo getting older, but I don't think they are going to fall too far, not with the pitchers they have. i expect them to hang around,a nd be the most obvious candidate to pounce if the Sox run into trouble.

3 NY - lots of question marks here, too, but they seem to be reloading nicely. Can Tanaka and Pineda stay healthy enough to carry them? will their young hitters continue to hit? somewhere in the middle I suspect, low 80s.

4 Baltimore - they should be able to mash; they might have some serious pitching weaknesses. If they find arms, they could be dangerous - no reason to dismiss them, really. Yanks and Jays seem better balanced, though.

5 Tampa - I suppose they can put things together, but they have no margin for error at all, and lots of room for errors. BUt they do have some arms and bats - they could get in the race, though it's a long shot.

Central
1 Cleveland - they come off a very close run for the championship, bringing back a strong lineup, extraordinary pitching (at least if they are all healthy), high ed bullpen - they should take the division and be in the running for the world championship once again.

2 Detroit - getting old, but they have talent - things would have to go perfectly, and they would have to find some relief pitching, but they have the core of team that can win some games.

3 KC - can they come back? Yordano Ventura's death leaves their rotation, already a bit thin, even weaker - the offense disappeared last year, but they have talent out there,that should rebound. Still - hard to see them being good enough to take down both the Indians and Tigers.

4 Minnesota - they wildly over-performed 2 years ago, collapsed completely last year - will they land in the middle? Seems likely to me. Sano and some of the other kids are promising - can they develop? if they do, they might be okay, sooner rather than later.

5 Chicago - they sem to have decided to blow it up, start it over - Dave Dombrowski was more than willing to help them. Moncado couldbe the real deal - maybe not immediately, but stranger things have happened. But I suspect it won't matter - they will find ways to move Quintana, maybe Robertson, Frazier if they can,and put themselves in a place to be relevant by 2020 or so.

West:
1 Seattle - this is brave, but they have to win it someday. This is actually the hardest division to call, I think - any of the three contenders are very capable of inning the division. Still - Seattle added Segura and Smyly - that's not bad. They had talent - Cano and Cruz and Seager, etc - they should be good, and this could be the year they break through.

2 Houston - or Houston could. McCanna and Beltran are old, but they are reliable professionals, and not required to be the best players onthe team:that's Altuve and Correa, maybe Springer.They could use more pitching, I think - Keuchel needs to bounce back, they need to keep McCullers on the hill - but they are in a good spot to contend.

3 Texas - or why not Texas? Maybe lack of pitching depth; maybe aging hitters; maybe the usual swings of fortune. They have certainly swung, from playoffs to dreadful to best record in the AL - thy seem far more volatile, even now, than their competition, who should get their 85 and depend on how many more they can win - Texas doesn't feel like a guarantee to win 80.

4 Anaheim - poor Mike Trout. Of course when you have Mike Trout, you don't need a lot of things to go right to be in the thick of things. Some pitching here, a couple good years from people like Calhoun, they could be - well, a .500 team. Poor Mike Trout.

5 Oakland - unfortunately, they are the type of team that desperately prays their best player is healthy and pitches well, not so they can contend, but so they can trade hi for something. Though usually when I make cracks like that, the team ends up winning the division. Unlikely.


National League:
East:
1 Washington - they won last year which is a reason to pick someone else; but they should be pretty good - Harper is more likely to bounce back than not; they have a fine rotation - they should be there when all is said and done.

2 NY - They could be very good, of course, especially if they get all those pitchers healthy for most of the year. Even without that, they have a decent team - they should be in contention, in position to win. Not the best bet.

3 Philadelphia - I have to have some fun. Why the Phillies? no good reason, but they have some interesting players around, so why not? I don't expect much of the bottom of this division so let's back the long shot!

4 Florida - probably should let them have third, the outfield is too good, they should score some runs - but they are dull and going nowhere.

5 Atlanta - they are going to the suburbs, but nowhere else that I can see. Though Bartolo Colon seems to be able to carry a team, so, hey, who can say?

Central:
1 Chicago - there's no reason to pick against them. Unless a couple pitchers get hurt, they are going to be in the thick of the hunt to win it all again. If anything , with Schwarber healthy, maybe Hayward coming back - they could be better.

2 Pittsburgh - I expect them to come back nicely. Cole is healthy - McCutcheon had a bad year, and those guys tend to come back to the norm - they have a good enough team, they should be around.

3 SL - As should the Cards. I don't see anything about them different than the usual run of Cardinals teams - a bit of luck, they win 98 and the division; a bit of bad luck, 86 miss the wild card. Most likely? 91 and the wild card?

4 Milwaukee - they can hit; any pitching to speak of? not much. I imagie they will be interesting to watch, with Braun and Vllar - the rest, though? I'm not convinced.

5 Cincinnati - another team with some talent around the diamond - Votto, Duvall, Suarez are all decent - but there isn't much else here.

West:
1 Arizona - all right. You have to say one crazy thing a year, and this is mine. Last year, the were the fun pick - but I stayed away and they went straight into the toilet. This year, no one is picking them to do much - but why not? reversion tot he norm, for guys like Greinke? a healthy AJ Pollack? Maybe Shelby Miler comes back - maybe Tajuan Walker steps forward? Lots of ifs, but a lot went wrong last year that shouldn't have - so maybe this year it goes right... More fun than picking the Dodgers to lose in the division series again...

2 LA - I know, they are the best team out here. They should win. The won last year even without Kershaw for a long stretch of time - unlikely to see that again, but they should be fine. Just boring.

3 SF - same story as always with the Giants - great pitching - good players, but thin in the field - not likely to fail, but a lot has to go right to win the division.

4 Colorado - offense! poor pitchers. They shouldn't be awful, but it is going to be hard to get past the teams ahead of them.

5 SD - Another team not really in a position to do much this year.

All Right - Post-seson?
AL: Boston - Cleveland - Seattle & Toronto/Houston - Red Sox of Indians in the series, probably depends on whose pitching is healthy, and who gets hot.
NL: Washington - Chicago - Arizona & - actually, this is tough (since I'm being weird with the D-Backs) - at least 5 more teamsthat are very solid contenders. I'll guess it's the Dodgers and Mets. who comes out? Cubbies, obviously.
MVPs: Al - Trout of course. The usual suspects as runners up - Betts and Altuve and Machado... NL - Harper likeliest, Bryant and Seager and Golschmidt are real contenders.
Rookies: Should have been paying attention - Andrew Benintendi!

And will the Cubs repeat? or will the Sox take their 4th of the millenia? Or is this the Indian's year? or something weird - something really cool? Seattle and Washington? I suspect - Cubs beat Indians, second year in a row.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry is pretty much the point where rock and roll becomes tock and roll, instead of whatever else it was before. I've never loved him the way I loved some of his contemporaries (Elvis, Bo Diddly, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash), but it doesn't matter - he was still the root and cause of all of it. And he put in one hell of a shift - 90 years on the planet, most of it rockin' and a reelin', reelin' and a rockin...



I can't argue with the songs....

Well - maybe I can argue a bit with Rock and roll music - I like modern jazz, even if they play it too darn fast... and - maybe those songs get diluted the more often they're played, with special guests and a horn section and the duck walking and splits and... Though I can't say he didn't act like he meant it,a nd doing a good thing well for 70 years is a thing to be honored ...



So take me back to the 50s, up through the 70s, and let Mr. Berry do his thing - it was a thing to be proud of: Johnny B Goode:



Roll Over Beethoven:



Memphis Tennessee:



And a full concert from 1969:


Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick's Day With Thin Lizzy

Haven't posted in ages - here's a reminder that I am still alive... A bit of something from the old country in honor of Evacuation Day...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Movies! Prizes! Lists!

Best intentions aside, I have not exactly been burning up the blogging wires this year... February has been a - interesting - month.... More on that later, I imagine. Now, though, since we seem to have arrived at the Academy Awards, this weekend, I shall endeavor to address the Oscars, so far as I am willing, which isn't very far. An excuse to hand out my own awards for various categories, really... and so - generally speaking, I'll look at the nominations, say who I think will win and who should (so far as I have opinions on those things), then offer my own slates. I'm not going through the whole list of awards - just the obvious ones. Off we go:

BEST PICTURE:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

I've seen 4 of them - Hell or High Water, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight; have wanted to see at least Hidden Figures and Fences, but my filmgoing habits have been abysmal. The others I can live without (not that I'll avoid them, but don't count on it). Of those four: La La Land was all right, but nothing special - wildly overhyped, since people talk about it as though it were an actual good film, a really good film. I don't understand that. Annoying characters, bland, hackneyed story, not real great music - and weird ideas. But this is not a review of it (though that is something I should have done - oh well), and really, I don't even hate it - just that I find that it's apotheosis has started to get under my skin, especially since it seems the favorite to win. Hell or High Water was a lively little heist picture, lots going for it, though the story was absurd - but for what it was and with that cast, it was quite a fine thing. Not worth considering one of the 10 best of the year. The other two, on the other hand, are certainly worthy. Of the two - I hope Moonlight wins, though I doubt it has much chance. But they are both fine films.

As for what I would have picked? 5? This might look different if I were trying to imagine an Oscar ballot - a ballot that represents what Film Is Today, maybe - 9 films? I'd leave Fences and Hidden Figures in, though I didn't see them; leave Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea; might begrudge Other People La La Land; definitely add Certain women, 20th Century Women, Silence - finish up with Loving. Right? as for my favorites? keeping to English fiction narrative films...

1. Paterson
2. Certain Women
3. Silence
4. 20th Century Women
5. Love and Friendship


ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

I have seen two of those - I would vote for Affleck, maybe in general - he is fantastic. Gosling? the character is so annoying, I couldn't vote for him for any reason. (He's like Llewyn Davis, if the Coen brothers thought Davis was right about everything - obnoxious self-destructive bully who steals his material from better people, and thinks he's doing them a favor. The Coens know he's a prick - they know he does it to himself - they understand that sympathy is not endorsement of bad people; they used to get trashed for despising all your characters, but I don't buy it - they made me sympathize with Roland Turner for god's sake! ... La La Land isn't in that universe.) Now, if Gosling got nominated for The Nice Guys - I'd like that. As for the rest? Garfield is nominated for the Mel Gibson thing instead of the Scorsese thing? oy. Maybe. The rest might well be deserving. Stil have to see Fences somewhere... As for me?

1. Adam Driver - Paterson
2. Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
3. Joel Edgerton - Loving
4. Ralph Fiennes - A Bigger Splash
5. Tom Hiddlestone - I Saw the Light

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

I saw all but one of these. This was a miraculous year for actresses - everyone of them (that I saw) is deserving (Emma Stone's character is underwritten - boy did that film annoy me - but she's fine in it, does all that's humanly possible to save it), and they might not even make my top five. I'd vote for Huppert - I suspect Stone will win... Negga would be great too. My choices? from a very deep pool:

1. Huppert - Elle
2. Kate Beckinsale - Love & Friendship
3. Anette Bening - 20th Century Women
4. Ruth Negga - Loving
5. Sandra Huller - Toni Erdmann

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Saw three of these - approve completely of the nominations (Ali, Bridges, Hedges.) Another deep field, though that might be because trying to parse out who's lead and who's supporting is not as obvious as always - in Moonlight say - how do you choose among the 3 leads? Anyway: I hope Ali wins - he really is outstanding... Me?

1. Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
2. Tom Bennett - Love & Friendship
3. Alden Ehrenreich - Hail Caesar
4. Tadanobu Asano - Silence
5. Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Saw only two of these - can't gainsay any of the choices, though. This is another category that seems very deep, but the depth is not really here. So - Harris or Williams would be fine choices, so might the others... I would have picked these 5:

1. Lily Gladstone - Certain Women
2. Greta Gerwig - 20th Century Women
3. Naomie Harris - Moonlight
4. Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea
5. Paulina Garcia - Little Men

From here on down, I'll be cherry picking categories, just to give the ones I have opinions on...

DIRECTING

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Saw three of these - no real complaints (except the usual stuff about La La Land), though only Moonlight does anything with the direction that adds to the film. Manchester is a writer's and actor's film - Lonergan does his work, to get the most from his script and his cast, but that's still where the work is. Jenkins adds a great deal with the way he films Moonlight. (Indeed, I found the script its weakest part - it's solid, but it's too on the nose sometimes - especially compared to the subtlety of the performances and direction.) Any chance he can win? I hope so - that would redeem a lot o0f things. Gonna be La La Land, though, isn't it? The poor bastard tries, but in the end, for Hollywood drama/spoofs, I didn't just prefer Hail Caesar - I preferred Cafe Society!

1. Jim Jarmusch - Paterson
2. Scorsese - Silence
3. Maren Ade - Toni Erdmann
4. Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
5. Kelly Reichhart - Certain Women

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
13th

Only saw one of these, oddly - did see some decent documentaries, but the only great documentary I saw was I Am Not Your Negro. That is a stone cold masterpiece - though from what I hear, so is the OJ film. From the few I saw, my top 5 (which I ca't pretend competes with the actual pool):

1. I am Not Your Negro
2. Lo and Behold
3. Gimme Danger
4. Tickled
5. Where to Invade Next

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Saw three of them - they all look good, I can't fault La La Land there. I hope Silence wins, it has to win something - Scorsese's best in decades? though Moonlight is also very good. But me?

1. Paterson [a pattern might be emerging here]
2. Silence
3. Moonlight
4. The Handmaiden
5. Jackie

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Saw just one of these. Like I said - I liked almost everything about Moonlight, but I did think the script was just adequate. So I can't say if it should win. I would nominate(with some caveats in case I'm mistaking adaptations from originals, somewhere):

1. Love & Friendship
2. Certain Women
3. Silence
4. Elle
5. The Handmaiden

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

The first category I have seen every single nominee in. Nice! 2 of those seem like obvious contenders - the others have enough going for them (except La La Land) that I have no complaints. Still...

1. 20th Century Women
2. Toni Erdmann
3. Paterson
4. Manchester By the Sea
5. The Nice Guys

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Managed 2 of these - having finally seen Toni Erdmann - it is the best film of the year. It should win this. Salesman might - it is a fine movie, though getting a bit old hat for Farhadi, who has always been something of stretch as a great filmmaker - solid, but not really a master... I didn't see as many foreign films as I would like, but I saw some good ones...

1. Toni Erdmann
2. Elle
3. Salesman
4. Things to Come
5. The Handmaiden

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Another Year Another set of Obituaries

Well, it took a while to get going, but 2017 seems to be taking up were 2016 left off, as far as celebrity deaths go. This week, we've lost Mary Tyler Moore and John Hurt, and those of us who are krautrock fans, lost one fo the great German rock musicians, and one of the greatest rock drummer so all time, Can's Jaki Leibezeit. All this against a backdrop of Donald Trump doing all he can to make the US a laughing stock in the world. Yeah...

Well, I'm not going to dwell on Trump. I am going to dwell on some people I admired very much,a nd who made the world a better place.

John Hurt in the Elephant Man - I am a human being!



And, some particularly fine work from Jaki Leibezeit, and a reminder that sometimes, all of Can feels like an elaborate percussion instrument:



And Mother Sky....



And finally, in memory of Mary Tyler Moore - here's Joan Jett, making it after all...



And Husker Du...



And, I suppose the most famous bit from the Mary Tyler Moore show - Chuckles the Clown's funeral:



The whole episode here...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Films of 2016

2016 in movies, a bit late, though not as bad as last year, and it does let me get some some films in that are taking a while to get to the theaters. I did not have a great year going to the movies - it's a trend that's been building, and one I suspect is going to get a lot worse next year (for reasons maybe to be discussed.) The last couple years have been underwhelming film years - not bad, exactly; there are plenty of enjoyable films, but not as many transcendent ones, it seems. And the transcendent experiences sometimes seem to come from some detail in the film, some resonance, more than from the quality of the film itself. Maybe. Looking at what I saw - there are some fine films on there: plenty of pleasure, all the way down the list - and a few moments that brought back all the joys of the movies. I think I enjoyed this year's bunch of films more than I thought I did...

Whether that's so or now, I have done a terrible job of writing about films. I haven't written a thing about new films in a couple years - not a word last year. (Barely anything the 2 years before that.) Not much about old films either - unless it's for someone else (thank god for Polls!) Anyway: let me try to make up for that, with a few lines about these films - at least the top 10. And so without further ado -

Released in 2016:

1. Paterson - Beautiful and enthralling, based on the wonders of the everyday world - William Carlos Williams its obvious guiding saint - rooted in the world, and the way the world filters into one man's mind. Full of imagery - twins, writers and artists, performances, lovers - doubles and puns and internal rhymes. With nods to other films - Nagase at the end (from Mystery Train), Method Man rapping, Gilman and Hayward talking on the bus about Gaetano Breschi, the anarchist weaver who shot the king of Italy.

2. Certain Women - sharp ensemble piece, three stories almost entwined. Things happen, though nothing too dramatic, and even if something dramatic does happen, it does so quietly, almost apologetically; full of silences and looks; people working; people thinking. Beautiful film with a stellar cast.

3. Silence - best Scorsese film in 2 decades. Intense and driven, and carried by superb performances by all concerned. (Tadanabo Asano's character - weak, constantly betraying, trampling the cross and informing, and constantly coming back, begging for absolution - might be the most interesting.) A very interesting historical film as well - giving voice to the Japanese, in a fascinating tangle - a film by Americans of a novel by a Japanese about Portuguese priests...

4. 20th Century Women - Handsome clever film about a middle aged single mother trying to raise her son - another film bursting with brilliant performances: Bening and Gerwig and Crudup and Faning and Zumann the kid - Bening at the center, but first among many greats.

5. Love and Friendship - Whit Stillman adapting Austen directly, early, obscure Austen - which he describes on the DVD as an Oscar Wilde play written by Jane Austen. Kate Beckinsale is front and center - one of Stillman's monsters, the kind of character Chris Eigenman used to play - completely self-absorbed and likable anyway, you can't turn away, she's so brazen at what she does, always both completely honest and completely false. With a very cool ending, everyone getting what they want - including Lady Susan, who appears to have landed in the middle of a perfectly successful threesome...

6. Loving - Story of the Lovings, whose marriage and lawsuit ended miscegenation laws in the United States. Seen through the couple's eyes, his and hers, with their complimentary virtues, their love. It is beautiful, quiet, building tension without anything really overt happening - the fear and their ability to live around the fear, the way Edgerton squirms around the sheriff, the way they fight back. Not that it's needed, but more proof that Jeff Nichols is one of the great contemporary directors.

7. The Witch - A man is banished from his New England town in the early 17th century. He takes his family into the woods and carves out a farm there alone - but things are not well. The baby disappears - secrets and lies are revealed through the family's misfortune, and they all start going mad. Accusations fly - who is the witch? is Black Phillip the devil? A cool, brooding little film, tight and gripping - family disfunction, religious lunacy, the dangers of the frontier, madness and hormones, all add up to disaster of biblical proportions.

8. Mountains May Depart - Story in three parts: 1999 - a worker and a rising capitalist chase the same girl, until she chooses the money; 2014- the son visits his mother, whose long since divorced the capitalist; 2025 - the son, in Australia, as alienated from his father as his mother, has an affair with an older woman (Sylvia Change, so thus believable)... Melodrama of sorts, a story of misery and loss, a death as the main emotional foundation, with failed love affairs and children who don't talk to their parents the content. Everyone suffers - the rich guy ends up a pathetic loser, collecting guns in Melbourne; the worker - probably dead; the girl alone with her dog - which comes off as rather a triumph, in this context.

9. Elle - tour de force for Isabelle Huppert, who plays a rich woman, owns a video game company, and is raped to open the film - but reacts with a kind of cool numbness that we soon realize is her natural state. The story works in the backstory - her father was a mass murderer, who dragged her into his crimes, making her infamous, creating her shell. She never quite comes out - never quite becomes clear to us - stays strange throughout, as is her way.

10. Moonlight - film in three parts about a black boy/man in Miami (and Atlanta) - Chiron/Little/Black. He's a quiet sensitive boy who runs a gauntlet of trouble for it - called faggot at 9, beaten for it as a teenager, and crusting it over in street hardness as an adult. Revolves around three scenes at the ocean - learning to swim with Juan, a drug dealer who becomes his friend; smoking a joint and experimenting with sex with a friend as a teenager; then talking to the same friend, now a cook, at his house by the ocean as adults. Beautifully shot, acted with grace by the whole cast - handsome, very moving film.

11. Our Little Sister
12. Midnight Special
13. Fireworks Wednesday
14. My Golden Days
15. Little Men
16. Lo and Behold
17. Hail Caesar
18. Things to Come
19. Too Late
20. Jackie
21. The Handmaiden
22. A Bigger Splash
23. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
24. Manchester By the Sea
25. Krisha

Made in 2016 - an interesting list, because most of the best films released were in fact new last year. Usually you get a lot of the best foreign films from the year before showing up sometime in the first 2-3 months of the new year. ast year didn't have as much of that - or I didn't see them...

1. Paterson
2. Certain Women
3. Silence
4. 20th Century Women
5. Love and Friendship
6. Loving
7. Elle
8. Moonlight
9. Midnight Special
10. Little Men

And the annual look back a year - 2015. What I posted at the beginning of 2016:

1. The Look of Silence
2. The Forbidden Room
3. The Assassin
4. Tangerine
5. The Wolfpack
6. Taxi
7. Youth
8. Carol
9. The Big Short
10. Diary of a Teenaged Girl

And how it looks now - not much changed to be honest:

1. The Look of Silence
2. The Forbidden Room
3. The Assassin
4. Tangerine
5. The Wolfpack
6. Taxi
7. The Witch
8. Mountains May Depart
9. Our Little Sister
10. Carol

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Future, Where We Will Spend the Rest of Our Lives

I guess so.

It's kind of a sad thing to revive this poor blog with a post about politics and despair, but that's the world we live in. Boy, 2016 was a shitty year. That seems to be the consensus, and I'm not one t argue. All the famous people dying - and all the great artists who died - all the interesting people who died - it was a year that seemed to bring an endless stream of obituaries and loss... That has picked up in 2017: an online friend died; I found out that one of my closest friends for much of my life, who I'd lost touch with for the last decade or so, had died a couple years ago - been plenty of bad news this year too...

Though let's not kid ourselves: what makes this year look even scarier than last year is Donald Trump. His election put the finishing touches on 2016 - and now we're stuck with him. Of course he makes any day worse when you hear about him - there has never been a time when I knew he existed and didn't wish he did't - but as president? Dear god. How did he win? Like everything else he's ever done - he failed, and was bailed out on a technicality. I worry, though - he's gotten to a point where he can't hope for generous bankruptcy courts and 18th century racists to undo his failures - as president...

Dear god. Friday, Donald Trump is going to become president. The contrast to this and Obama's inauguration in 2008 is almost to much to think about, I remember how that felt: it was a day of wonder - it was hard not to feel optimistic, joyful. The USA had done something we could be unambiguously proud of - we had elected an African-American president - we had addressed, directly, America's original sin, and come out on the right side! Well - fat chance! Obama's election flushed the racists into the open - they howled and gibbered for the next 8 years and gave the Republicans the spine to cripple the country for electoral gain, culminating in what is hard to distinguish from a slow motion cup in the last year. Not confirming Merrick Garland comes awfully close - and then Trump sneaks into the white house, probably with the active connivance of the FBI and Russia - great. A loathsome little braggart pretending he routed his enemies - picking fights with people )John Lewis) whose boots he is not worthy to lick clean - sucking up to fucking Vladimir Putin.... We are well and truly fucked.

Though given how extraordinarily unpopular Trump is, he might do more to strengthen his opponents than to enact his (and the Republican party's) evil deeds - who knows. I'd rather not have to find out.

So that's the world outside. And me? It's odd, in that 2016 was not all that bad, for me, objectively. Things were all right for me, nothing bad happened to anyone too close to me, no relatives or friends dying or getting sick, nothing like that. It could have been all right - but it felt like shit. All the reasons up above, but there's more to it. Some of it, I won't deny, is work - Im not saying much about it, but suffice it to say that I have had my fill of it... But that might just be a side effect.

This blog is not, really, my life, but it does tend to reflect how things are going in my life. Look at those numbers, over there on the right of the page, going down, year over year - does that not signify? It can - I know what I have been writing. I know, back in 2011-13 what I was writing - weekly music posts, simple and routine - weekly film posts, screen shots, similar to the music videos.... Plus director of the month posts for a year, which were basically replaced by band of the month posts in 2013. And film posts - collections of capsule comments, some longer reviews; occasional essays - not just more posts, but more substance. Plus history - especially during the 150th anniversary of the civil war - and the usual occasional politics, sports and whatnot. But over the years, from 2014 on, these things have fallen away - the film posts first - then the history posts (the Civil War wrapped up; I started doing the same with WWI anniversaries, but never as ambitiously) - and finally, last summer, the band of the month posts - and then even the weekly music videos. Since summer, it's been a ghost town here - other than essays for Wonders in the Dark, there isn't much - and when their science fiction countdown ended - it's done. Some lamentations re the election, and a couple anniversaries... and silence.

Easy to blame Trump. Tempting to blame work. I don't know. Something has enervated me, something that has been going on longer than those things. Which has, I think, mostly convinced me to uproot myself, move back up to Maine, see what I can find to do up there. Which is a strong temptation, not to be dismissed. Some of it is the realization that I am not really doing anything in the city I can't do elsewhere - my movie going has declined almost as much as my movie writing. (Maybe not that radically - but it's not anywhere near as much an obsession as it used to be.) I stay at home more - don't eat out as much, don't go to museums as much. I stopped playing softball a couple years ago - the knees and hips were starting to insist - but that's cut down my exercise, and the time I spend hanging around with people. These days, when I hang around with people, it's mainly my brothers and some of their kids online, playing games and sooting the breeze - and they mostly live up in Maine. So - there's a theme...

But whatever I do in the atom world, here among the bits, I have to start writing more. This is not one of those "I'm still alive" posts, "See you next year!" - I hope. There's only so long you can feel sorry for yourself (or your country) - you have to do something. So - you know - nice to see you again! (anyone who might come by here), and I promise to try not to be quite such a stranger. What form these miraculous new literary emanations may take, I don't quite know yet - but I shall try to emanate them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pearl Harbor 75

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A carrier fleet sent planes to attack the American navy base there, and achieved complete surprise, and devastated the American fleet there. It as not just a surprise, but illegal, since translation and decoding difficulties delayed the Japanese embassy's delivery of its declaration of war until after the attack had taken place - probably not very important practically, but important propaganda... At about the same time, Japan launched attacks across the Pacific, in the Philippines and other American possessions, on British Hong Kong and southeast Asia (Malaya), and so on. They swept all before them - by spring they held the Malay peninsular and Singapore, Borneo and New Guinea, they'd taken the Philippines, the Allies were driven back to Australia, and it was in danger. But that was as far as they got.

In the end, Pearl Harbor did the Japanese no good. They did terrible damage to the American battleship fleet, but there were no carriers present - so it did little more than inconvenience the Americans. The attack itself showed this change: a carrier based air force wrecked a host of surface ships - that was the way the war was going to go. Carriers and their planes were going to do the major work: everything else was support. The Japanese made it worse, by concentrating on the ships, and neglecting the harbor - they did not bomb supplies or ship building and repair facilities or oil or armament stores - the port and its facilities were far more important o the Americans than the ships. Attacking the ships had the biggest psychological impact on the Americans, but all of it bad for Japan - it's easy to identify with ships; attacking ships meant casualties were probably a lot higher than if they had attacked facilities - all pissing the USA off and keeping the infamy of the attack in the front of their minds. Attacking facilities would have been far more useful strategically, and probably less harmful politically - though probably not by much. As it was, the US never lost the use of the port, and got most of the ships back in service before the war was over - they ended up pissing us off without doing the country any real harm.

It brought us into the war. We immediately declared war on Japan - a few days later, Germany and Italy declared war on us - almost as big a folly as Japan's attacks, probably. They might have gotten away with not fighting us for a while had they not declared war. Though we were pretty overtly committed to Britain by that time, so we'd have been in the shooting soon enough. And in the event - we took a licking from Japan in those early months, finally stopping their advances at the Coral Sea and Midway, before pushing back, starting at Guadalcanal, and moving on from there, with ever diminishing effective resistance. Though dug in Japanese could exact a terrific toll on their attackers - but they were increasingly isolated as the war went on, as Japan's navy and especially their naval air forces were destroyed. It was a carrier war - though lots of infantrymen had to die to convince the Japanese they were beat...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Remembrance

Armistice day is on us again. 98 years since the war to end all wars ended, and the world immediately began preparations for the next war. It's a hard week to find anything good to say. World War I isn't the central event of American history the way it is in modern European history - the Civil War is. But we're still fighting the Civil War - Trump ran and won as much against the results of the Civil War as anything else. When both the Civil War and WWI ended, the losers set about instantly to try to undo the results, and refight the wars if they need to. This country still hasn't accepted the results of the Civil War...

All right. This is about Armistice Day - Veteran's day in the US - we can, should, honor veterans today, but we should also keep the spirit of early remembrances of the day, and the hope that somehow, this horrible cataclysm might move people to work against wars. Remember the sacrifices, remember the sheer horror of The Great War, and try to do something to stop it from happening, over and over again.

And, today - remember Leonard Cohen. This year - it's parade of good and great people dying (as well as a few monsters) just never seems to stop. Cohen was another of those musicians with a long, deep career and a massive body of work that I dipped into almost at random, never quite embracing the whole thing - but loving the parts I knew. So - we're heavy on the early stuff below, because I had them going obsessively there for a while... He's also someone who's songs could absolutely transform a movie: McCabe & Mrs. Miller is the most obvious, but everybody knows in Exotica was a jolt as well... He will be missed; and reading this new, this week, is a fucking stab in the gut...

So: video - start with Cohen doing his part for Remembrance day, from last year - reciting In Flanders Fields:



And songs - the ones that got me, and kept me the longest. Suzanne:



Bird on a Wire:



The Stranger, from McCabe and Mrs Miller (the title sequence):



And the Partisan:

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What Now?

I don't know how this happened. You could see it was close, there were plenty of reasons to panic, but generally speaking, the polls still favored Clinton coming into yesterday, and everything I could see that might not show up in the polling seemed to favor her even more. Turnout - her GOTV operation, and general campaign competence - early voting - the increased numbers of blacks and hispanics voting, the gender gap - all things that might not be obvious, but should nudge the numbers a little bit her way.

But none of them paid off. What happened? I don't know - all I have are that white people really are evil, and more of them are evil than I thought... and decades of making politics seem meaningless have paid off in an electorate that places identity politics and weird talk about "change" or whatever the fuck Trump people voted for ahead of self-interest. That core of poorer, less educated white people that voted for Trump are hard to take - they will suffer and suffer badly in the next four years, and they will probably still find ways to blame the Democrats. I think the core of this problem is that Trump convinced people it was more important to make the other guy suffer than to benefit yourself. That and working very hard through the years to obscure the policies that do benefit people, and how they benefit them. Well - they will have to live with their votes now - though I'm sure the GOP will continue to work very hard to make them blame someone else, while the people in charge clean out the till.

As for the results: good god this is terrifying. The markets are already plunging. I don't know if it would have helped Hillary Clinton all that much to run on the fact that Wall Street wanted her to be elected - but - the economic and financial professionals obviously did want her elected. She did promise as much stability as a government is able to give to the economic world - easy as it is to demonize capitalists, money is going to change hands - keeping that system functioning is a good part of what governments do. What will happen now? It's hard to see any good coming of it: the GOP is likely to gut many of the safeguards against economic collapse, they will certainly stop the progress being made toward a real economic recovery (like movements to raise the minimum wage). The recovery is decent, but it's always been fragile, making do without the kind of help governments should be providing - now, the government will begin actively working against it - it bodes ill. I think the question is not will there be a recession, but when will the recession start? and will it turn into a depression? Republicans have no idea how to handle economic collapse - they turn to "austerity" and make them worse, almost by instinct.

Or maybe worse. Maybe Trump isn't as stupid as he acts - maybe he (like more conservatives than are willing to admit it) knows perfectly well that Keynsian economics works, that you spend your way out of a depression. But the right wing method of spending your way out of a depression is to start a war - at least, ramp up your military. They are as Keynsian as any liberal, when push comes to shove, but they have to wrap their spending in the prospect of killing foreigners. This is not a recipe for long term success as a country. Who will we invade? Mexico? Syria? Iran? Jesus Christ....

That is that. Let's attempt something optimistic: how does this not end in the apocalypse? (I guess people were right about the Cubs and the world series, huh?) Well - this is certainly going to heighten those contradictions - 4 years of Trump and the GOP could bring out Democratic voters in droves. It's happened before - Hoover led to FDR, Bush led to Obama - that, plus the natural tendency of politics to oscillate could have the Dems back in charge of the Senate by 2018, and might bring another Democratic landslide in 2020. It's possible... Or - being forced to govern might change the GOP, or more likely, break it. It's one thing to obstruct and resist and manipulate voter anxieties for your own electoral gains: it's another entirely to make the decisions and have to face the consequences. If they repeal Obamacare, and people see just how much good it did for them - they might find out you don't always want what you think you want. Or even before - it's not as easy as they think to go after social programs - Bush couldn't do it after 2004, even with all three branches of government - being in charge again might start breaking up some of the party discipline the GOP has maintained in the last few years. Could happen. Add in the fact that Trump is incompetent, lazy and likely to wish he'd lost before the week is out, and things might not degenerate as much as they could.

But those are thin threads to hang on. And looking at this election, the lesson the GOP might take is that they can do absolutely anything, cause any amount of suffering, and be able to blame it on Moslems or Mexicans of blacks or Jews, and keep their core voters voting for them.

That is terrifying.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Election 2016

Well, election season is down to the end. I vote tomorrow. I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, which should be obvious. It's easy to get caught up in how bad Donald Trump is - and he is very very bad - but this is a positive vote too. Clinton was never my first choice, but she was always a solid pick. Most of what she will do I support whole heartedly - even when she doesn't go as far as I'd like, she'd move policy in the right direction. (Sure I'd prefer a real, universal, public health insurance system - but I'll happily take a better hybrid system...) Even where I don't like her policies (She is far too bellicose for me - she was dead wrong on the most important vote of her life, the vote for the Iraq war, and still seems more inclined to favor war than other Democrats...) she is almost unimaginably better than any Republican she could run against. The personal stuff against her is almost all bullshit - people have been trying to find something against her for decades,a nd never manage to find anything more than some carelessness with email - a problem almost everyone else in Washington shares. At her worst, she's still better than any Republican, and plenty of Democrats.

So I'm with her. And yes - I'd be with her even if she were far worse than she is. Parties matter more than people - that's always been true, and party politics have become hard as a rock in the last 20 years or so. But I'd be with her even if the parties were a lot less rigid than they are - she's better in every way than anyone else in this race from day one except Bernie Sanders, and maybe Bill Weld. (Though she'd get my vote over Weld on politics.) One of the effects of the Republicans doulbing down every 2 years on their neo-confederate authoritarian robber baron core is that almost all the serious political disagreement and policy debate occurs inside the Democratic party. The race between Sanders and Clinton raised interesting choices - policies vs. experience, incremental vs. drastic changes, which economic issues to address first - all those are real choices. None of the Republicans offered useful policies in the least. Tax cuts and threatening minorities and women is pretty much the sum total of their platform. That and refusing to govern, unless they are completely in charge.

(I have to expand on that a bit: when they hold the presidency, they work very hard to concentrate power in the hands of the president. They did so all during Bush's years, giving the presidency more and more power all the time. When Obama won, they carried this on, through the simple expediency of refusing to participate in government. They obstruct what Obama and the Democrats tried to do - and they continue to concentrate power in the presidency. f they win it back, things will not go well for the Republic. It's not just the horror of Donald Trump that would make it so - it's their theory of government. They are, genuinely, neo-cofederate authoritarian robber barons - they want a strong, single source of power; that is their model. That has to change, as much as their commitment to racism, xenophobia and misogyny, is they are to be worthy of holding power again...)

So I guess this is an easy one. Vote for Hillary Clinton; elect a woman president, and make history; be proud of your country; and give us a fighting chance to actually be a country worth living in.