Author Archives: W. Brad Robinson

My Worst and Best Movies of 2023

It seems that I’ve spent at least 130 hours watching movies this year. Here’s what I thought about them.

The Three Worst Movies of 2023 (that I saw)

Cobweb (2023 US version)

If you look at the trailer to this it seems interesting. And it does a good job establishing a spooky atmosphere. Basically if you just jumped in on any scene without knowing what was going on in the rest of the movie it would be okay, even great. But it’s the plot as a whole that bogs this whole thing down. 

Basically there’s this kid, Peter. His name is Peter, and he eats pumpkins, because he’s got a pumpkin patch outside his house. It’s a very spooky pumpkin patch.  He doesn’t have a wife, because he’s twelve, but there’s someone else that’s living in a pumpkin shell of sorts (a wall wallpapered with pumpkins) and the movie is all about Peter’s relationship with this person, his parents, and the kids at his school. 

I don’t think I’m spoiling things too much by saying that pretty much all these people betray Peter at some point. If you watch the trailer you get that much. But at no point is there any hope for Peter or the other characters. This isn’t the Korean film Parasite, where the people living in the wall are mostly good people driven to desperation. No, the being in the wall is pretty much a jackass all the way through. This isn’t Carrie where the parents are awful but the kid rebels against them in terrible, but cathartic ways either. The parents are a bit stupid maybe. I’d say at eight years old or so it’s time to start telling your children about the dangerous and violent family members that might show up to threaten them at some point. But the parents aren’t the bad guys really, they’re just a bit crazy and…dumb. And this isn’t The Shining either. Peter doesn’t really have any clever tricks for getting away from anyone or any moments of real agency. He just runs scared from one problem to the next. 

So it all just ends up being a frustrating mess. It’s not all bad by any means. There are great visuals and the wall person is super creepy. But it’s like three monkeys playing in a three piece suit rather than one well-dressed gorilla.

three monkeys in one suit. Image 3 of 4

A Haunting in Venice

This is an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot film, which is…fine. I mostly liked the earlier installment of Murder on the Orient Express. Kenneth Branagh does a good job with the character. He’s much more believable than Steve Martin in the Pink Panther. But, while the Orient express moved at a pretty good pace and went to some unexpected places (for me at least, since I hadn’t read the book or seen the earlier film version), A Haunting in Venice just kind of sits in the same damp waters and seems stuck with the tired locked room mystery format that every Agatha Christie inspired book, show, or movie has used for the last several decades.

Great actors of course. It’s worth watching for that reason I suppose. And I didn’t know whodunnit until they revealed whodunnit. So I guess the ending was unexpected? But was it really? Because I knew going in that nothing was going to be as it seemed. Everyone was going to turn out to be shady for one reason or another, and the whole thing was going to be a lugubrious dance of misery. 

And that’s what I got. 

So I’m not a fan. Also the film wanted to have it both ways with the supernatural aspects. If you want a film with actual ghosts in it, sorry, there aren’t any in this film. If, like me, you like to see a scientific explanation of initially inexplicable things, though, sorry, you’re not going to get that either. You see the trick is EvErYbOdY’s DrUgGeD! That’s it. That’s what’s causing the spooky stuff. Well, that, and someone is living in the walls. 

Didn’t think of it before, but there’s a lot of commonalities between A Haunting in Venice and Cobweb. People are living in the walls and everyone is awful. Even Poirot comes across as overly arrogant and judgmental in this movie. 

My favorite part was Michelle Yeoh. Her character Joyce Reynolds was the most interesting thing in the movie. But…she dies in like, five minutes. So no love there. And I suppose it’s possible for an Asian woman to be living in Venice in 1947 and working as a medium, but that does seem a bit odd, and I would have liked a bit more backstory there. Instead, it’s not even remarked upon. Also she has a daughter and there’s some sort of secret servant who helps her, and the servant guy has his own drama, and I kind of wanted to know what was going on there, but oh someone else died. I guess we have to move on. Okay.

 

The Nun II

Buy The Nun II + Bonus Content - Microsoft Store

You know how sometimes you’re walking around a dark place and you see something out of the corner of your eye that looks like a creepy face?

That’s this movie. 

Just that, over and over again. And somebody is possessed but not all the time, just when it’s convenient for the plot, and someone else is able to defeat the evil thing that makes creepy faces by believing _really_ hard. 

Aside from that it’s mostly like the first fifteen minutes of the Sound of Music, but the nuns never quite get around to singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

 

The Three Best Movies of 2023 (that I saw)

Godzilla Minus One 

Bunch of Godzilla this year.  I’ve been watching the Monarch TV show, which is about Godzilla too, but that has a very different feel to this. 

This was a homerun of movie. It’s got a lot DNA from the first Jaws movie. But it’s also got a bit of Logan (or Shane). And a bit of its own magic too. 

Unlike a lot of earlier Godzilla movies, which are mainly about running away from Godzilla while someone tries to explain how Godzillas are people too, this one isn’t trying to say anything about nature conservation or even the horrors of atomic warfare. Instead, this is about what it means to have honor, what it means to have a family, and how to deal with loss and change. 

Godzilla isn’t this delightful creature that happens to be destroying things in this movie. Godzilla has all the personality of a hurricane and just as much mercy. It is something awful and gargantuan that can’t be destroyed or even understood completely. Godzilla stands for something a bit different in every movie. In this movie, I think it stands for guilt.

The movie centers around a would-be kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima. He lands on a island to refuel his plane after what was supposed to be a suicide mission. Then Godzilla shows up. And it’s Godzilla. No amount of artillery is going to do anything but make Godzilla angry. But the engineers want Shikishima to use his plane’s guns to shoot the giant lizard. He gets in the airplane…and he can’t.  He ends up escaping out of the airplane just before Godzilla destroys it.

We know that shooting Godzilla wouldn’t have helped, but Shikishima doesn’t. And beyond that there’s the fact that he didn’t suicide himself at the enemy like he was supposed to. The guilt he feels is truly something awful and gargantuan that can’t be destroyed or even understood completely, just like Godzilla itself. 

That’s just the beginning of the movie, and Shikishima spends years dealing with his guilt and the destruction caused by Godzilla. To be clear, the movie isn’t bogged down with these personal scenes, there is plenty of action and even some comedic moments. But there is enough of an emotional core that it feels like the stakes are real. And the ending works on multiple levels.

 

Oppenheimer

Great acting, great directing, complex characters and a masterful depiction of an important time in history.  Enough has probably been said about this movie already, but I thought it was great.

I think overall it’s a great example of how to depict an imperfect character sympathetically. A different director might have portrayed Oppenheimer much more negatively, but Christopher Nolan, while not shying away from Oppenheimer’s multiple immoralities, also doesn’t spend much time judging them. Somehow, despite almost murdering someone, cheating on his wife, and having a hand in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, he still seems like the protagonist. Sure, there are people who complain about him in the movie, but aside from them having a point, there isn’t much weight put on their statements. 

One of my favorite parts of the movie is a sequence where Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his wife Kitty(Emily Blunt) are dealing with their child. The kid cries a great deal and they simply can’t deal with it. They try for a while, but eventually they give the child to a friend to care for, saying that they’re awful people. As much as that might be true on some level, I am totally with the Oppenheimers at that point in the movie and it’s more a moment of humor rather than anything melodramatic. Also it shows how the characters of Robert and Kitty are on the same team, which might not quite be how the real life Robert and Kitty were, as the actual story is a bit more complicated (https://www.vulture.com/2023/07/oppenheimer-historical-accuracy-what-really-happened.html). 

The relationship between Robert and Kitty in the movie is an odd, but endearing complication. Despite Robert cheating on Kitty, she stays with him, but she also doesn’t take any guff from him. She’s extremely independent and has a massive amount of spine, which is shown not only in the scenes with Robert, but also in the scenes where she is interviewed about her and Robert’s ties to the communist party. Emily Blunt and Christopher Nolan did a great job of putting some flesh on what could have been a two dimensional character.

Florence Pugh does a great job with her character of the mistress too. And of course so does Robert Downey Jr. I could spend all day recalling all the wonderful little moments and performances. 

Great stuff.

 

Asteroid City

I saw this movie at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Tennessee, which is a small theater that mostly shows independent films and sometimes has plays or comedy acts. It’s a wonderful theater that was recently refurbished. I had a cup of wine while I watched the movie and I had a great seat. 

So it could be that that’s why I loved it so much. I bought the DVD version of it, and I have to say that the film really needs HD quality to hit right. I think it also helps to watch it by yourself and not with anybody with a low attention span. 

It’s a Wes Anderson movie, and Wes Anderson movies are perhaps an acquired taste. I didn’t care for Rushmore, and the Royal Tennenbaums was a bit dreary. But It could also be that Wes Anderson has gotten better. The Life Aquatic was great. Tale of Dogs was delightful. The French Dispatch was amazing. These are, of course, my opinions, and as much as I harbor them, I also feel like if I was a slightly different person, I would hate Wes Anderson’s movies instead of loving them. 

I think the sticking point is how characters are portrayed. They’re kind of…not. Performances are extremely flat and almost monotone. For most of them you could put a costume on a robot and get the same effect. On the other hand, as much as that’s largly true, great actors can take the flat monologues and do some marvelous things with them. One of things that comes to mind is when Gweneth Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tennenbaum’s corrects her father on what her middle name is. The emotion she puts in the words “It’s Helen,” is masterful. 

In a way I think it’s a bit like anime. In the Japanese style of animation, most things are kept still. The only things that move are the parts that absolutely must move to convey the action. Dialogue costs nothing so, at least in earlier anime, there are often long monologues interspersed with quick scenes of action. It’s the same with Wes Anderson movies, except it’s more that so much care is put into the sets and costuming that putting any energy into camera work or high drama seems counterproductive. 

I love the oddness, the celebration of absurdity, and more specifically how things can seem so absurd and yet make sense as natural progressions from the plot and characters. Asteroid City has buckets of all that.

The movie is about…hmm…

Okay so there’s about four different layers to this movie. Maybe more. The main character, sort of, is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) a photojournalist who is taking his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and three daughters to the titular town to attend an astronomy convention where Woodrow and other children will present their inventions. Augie’s wife has died, but his kids don’t know this yet. As he enters the town, his car breaks down in a bizarre way, and he has to call his father-in-law for help who has some things to say about him not telling his children about their mother. Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a renowned actress and mother to one of the children presenting at the convention, is staying in the room next to him and there are some sparks of attraction there . Later, at the convention, a spaceship comes and steals the asteroid. Augie takes a picture of the alien, and things progress from there.

BUT Augie is really a character in a play called “Asteroid City” being written by a fictional playwright called Conrad Earp (Ed Norton). The actor who is playing Augie is struggling to figure out his character’s motivation as the play starts production.

AND the production of the play “Asteroid City” is the subject of a fictional television documentary series hosted by a narrator (Bryan Cranston).

ALSO a lot of time is spent with Woodrow getting to know the other kids at the convention, the inventions they’ve come up with, and the games they play to pass the time. 

FURTHERMORE, the audience of the movie (ie you) is sometimes addressed directly, breaking multiple fourth walls at once.

But Augie is the center of the movie, and if you have to know what the whole thing is about, I think he’s the key. He doesn’t know what his motivation is, as his actor reveals. He has just lost his wife, has to figure out how to tell his children, and has to figure out whether he can start a new relationship or not. 

During a key moment of the movie, when tensions reach a boiling point, Augie’s actor leaves the set of “Asteroid City” and leaves the studio, going out onto a fire escape in a busy city street in the snow to think. The scene, like all scenes with the actors, is in mostly black and white while the Asteroid City scenes are in startling color. Also Asteroid City is very much a desert town with a double digit population and not a city at all; so the contrast is even more pronounced. While Augie’s actor is on the fire escape he sees the actress who was going to play his wife in a scene that got cut (played by Margot Robbie in the best cameo ever) She has the whole cut scene memorized and she runs the lines with Augie’s actor, which finally gives him the motivation he was looking for. 

Asteroid City has a happy ending. And I don’t mean just that things turn out well, I mean that I was filled with joy and my face was smiling for a long time after watching it. There are so many side characters and extra bits (like the road runner that keeps showing up at odd moments). It’s a bag of movie candy for my eyes and brain. Just lovely. 

Other Movies I saw in 2023

Movie IMDB rating My rating
Asteroid City 6.6 9.1 see above
Oppenheimer 8.4 9 see above
Godzilla Minus One 8.4 8.5 see above
John Wick: Chapter 4 7.7 8.1 Great, brutal action. Ending a bit of a letdown
Gran Turismo 7.2 8 Surprisingly good. Like Rocky with cars.
Nando Fodor and the Talking Mongoose (and the other Roald Dahl shorts on Netflix) 5.3 8 Delightful. Wes Anderson used to greatest effect.
The Old Way 5.5 8 Nick Cage doing what he does best
They Cloned Tyrone 6.6 7.9 A bit racist, but in a fun way. Some good sci fi too.
Rebel Moon Part 1: Child of Fire 5.8 7.8 Some awesome moments. A little over long but worth watching
The Killer 6.8 7.5 David Fincher contract killer movie. Masterful direction, plot a little too subtle for a higher rating
No One Will Save You 6.3 7.5 Lovely, thought provoking creepy alien movie. But why don’t the aliens wear pants?
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 7.3 7.3 Fun movie, doesn’t take itself too seriously. I liked the gelatinous cube.
65 5.4 7.1  Mostly well done, but the protect the girl plot is getting a bit old.
Renfield 6.4 7.1 Fun movie, but there’s a turn at the end that kind of wrecks the emotional stakes…so it didn’t pierce my heart
Five Nights at Freddy’s 5.5 7 Liked it more than I thought I would. Some parts were a bit weak, but I enjoyed it.
Barbie 7 7 The rules of the Barbie universe bother me too much, but yay Margot Robbie. Yay bright cheerful sets! Yay funny and witty dialogue!
Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse 8.7 7 Too many Spider-men. Would like a Miles Morales only, or a Spider Gwen only story. But fun with a neat twist.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 7.9 7 Nice to let the old brain take a vacation now and then.
Meg 2: The Trench 5.1 7 Low budget and the seams show, but a very good giant shark movie
The Covenant 7.5 7 Kind of tired of war movies, but this is a great one about honor and keeping a promise especially when it’s hard.
Heart of Stone 5.7 7 Gal Gadot vehicle, but she’s a decent driver. A bit like Mission Impossible with a lady lead.
Albert Brooks: Defending My Life 7.5 7 Documentary about Albert Brooks’ career and a bit about his life. Responsible for a lot of great comedy movies.
Extraction II 7 7 Very much a sequel. It was good action. I don’t remember anything about the plot.
The Family Plan 6.3 7.3 Super charming movie. The family sticks up for each other, which is nice.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie 7.1 6.9 A lot of people liked Bowser, but I didn’t. I liked the humor and brightness, but I still want a real villain.
The Retirement Plan 5 6.9 Nic Cage movie, so it’s fun, but there was a side character that didn’t get the arc he deserved.
The Flash 6.7 6.8 Turn your brain off and it’s fine. It takes some effort though. If you watch Bollywood, that’s the level of silliness we’re talking here.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods 6 6.8 I miss Chuck.
Cocaine Bear 5.9 6.8 It has some trouble finding a lane sometimes, but for the most part, it’s fun comedy-horror type entertainment.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial 6.8 6.8 You have to be in the right mood for this, but it’s an excellent courtroom drama movie.
The Creator 6.8 6.7 Why don’t they just stick a thick wooden pole into those giant holes in their heads?
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts 6.1 6.6 A movie based on a game of capture the flag with robots that look like animals.
No Hard Feelings 6.4 6.5 It’s a bit cringe at times, but ultimately funny and endearing.
Evil Dead Rise 6.5 6.5 No humor. And innocent people die, which I don’t like . Truly creepy, brutal horror though.
Blue Beetle 6 6.4 I would rate this higher than the Flash, except…it doesn’t have the Flash in it.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 6.1 6.3  I absolutely love the worldbuilding they did for the quantum realm. But the movie’s focused on other things, which, largely, sucked.
The Nun II 5.6 5.5 see above
A Haunting in Venice 6.5 4.5 see above
Cobweb 6 4.4 see above

So that’s the year in movies for me. I hope you’ve had a good 2023 and a better 2024.

 

Mid July 2023 Top 5 Billboard Songs

My takes on the top five songs on Billboard (on July 17 2023)

Screen cap of the five songs at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of July 15, 2023

Billboard Hot 100 screen cap (From https://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/)

#1 Vampire- Olivia Rodrigo

My goodness the bars on this one! Great rhymes. Outstanding voice. That rise in pitch and crescendo in the chorus-excellent. Feels raw, but sounds sleek.

I was a bit confused by the music video. She’s singing at an awards show, one of the lighting rigs breaks and hits her, then for some reason security comes up on the stage. Then she runs away from them on to the street until at some point she seems to be flying…huh? Is she a vampire now? Why was she running away? Why did security try to corral her in the first place? Maybe this is making reference to some real life drama I don’t know about or something. There are just a lot of open threads with the depicted narrative. I would like to see some kind of fan video where some dweeby looking vampire sells parts of her to a Dr. Frankenstein who puts her together and brings her to life, only for her to kill Frankenstein and put a stake in the heart of the vampire dweeb. But that’s just me.

#2 Last Night- Morgan Wallen 

Not a fan of this one. Wallen’s voice is a bit nasally for me and the lyrics are repetitive. I do like some of the rhymes though.

#3 Fast Car- Luke Combs (link to youtube video, still image with audio)

This is a cover of Tracy Chapman’s song. I liked the Chapman version better, but this was a neat take on it. I was thinking maybe Combs would change the lyrics the first time I listened to it, but then he said he could get a job as a “check out girl,” which was a bit disconcerting. Combs’ voice is pleasant. Reminds me of a good whiskey.

#4 Calm Down- Rema & Selena Gomez

This one has been on the charts for awhile. It’s a good one. Even in the supermarket it makes me want to sway to the beat. Rema’s dialect and/or stylistic patois gives new life to the English of the lyrics allowing for some surprising rhymes reminiscent of reggae. As for Selena Gomez, I like the show she’s in with Steve Martin and Martin Short “Only Murders in the Building,” but I don’t really like her character in it. I haven’t seen any real reason to dislike SG, but I’m still not sure if she’s a raisin cookie or chocolate chip. At any rate, “Calm Down” is a great song. Singing it is probably not an effective means of ending an argument though.

#5 Flowers- Miley Cyrus

I have a new respect for Miley Cyrus since I saw her episode of Black Mirror. She did a great job in that show. This song is…okay. My main problem with it is the feeling of existential dread that creeps up on me as I listen to it. Because the premise of the song, that “I can buy myself flowers” while played as empowering also seems a little… petulant maybe? Not sure if that’s the best word. Unconvincing? And maybe a little scary? Sure you can by yourself flowers. Sure you might not need someone to do things for you. But I think it’s nice when they do. Isn’t it? Please don’t delete everybody, just because your boyfriend was awful, Miley.

Watching MC in her music video dancing and exercising all by herself, I first think holy crap she’s beautiful! And then I think. Oh, that seems lonely. And then I wonder what type of apocalypse took everybody. I’m a big fan of a different song about flowers and taking pleasure in solitude, “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” by the Statler Brothers. That song isn’t so much about not needing a specific person as it is just not needing to go out and party with people though. Perhaps “Counting Flowers on the Wall” is a celebration of introversion, while “Flowers” is more a depiction of introversion as a coping mechanism. Anyway, I’m happy for Miley Cyrus’s success, and I hope she’s doing okay.

(please don’t delete everybody)

 

Movies and Shows of 2022

Thought I’d do a blog on the movies and shows I saw in 2022 and what I thought of them. Too many to cover thoroughly, but I’ll make a few general remarks. Ratings are out of 10, but it is fairly impossible to get a 10. It’s basically what I think the IMDB rating should be.

Movies

movies I’ve seen My rating
Top Gun: Maverick 8.5
Everything Everywhere All at Once 8.4
See How they Run 8.3
The Banshees of Inisherin 8.1
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 7.9
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery 7.9
RRR 7.8
Prey 7.8
The Lost City 7.7
The Batman 7.7
Slumberland 7.7
Spiderhead 7.6
Uncharted 7.5
Nope 7.5
Werewolf by Night 7.5
Crimes of the Future 7.4
Thor: Love and Thunder 7.4
Wyrmwood Apocalypse 7.4
The Bad Guys 7.1
Thirteen Lives 6.9
Samaritan 6.9
Black Adam 6.9
Death on the Nile 6.8
Elvis 6.8
Ambulance 6.7
Beavis and Butt-head do the Universe 6.6
Doctor Strange 2: In the Multiverse of Madness 6.5
Morbius 6
Gone in the Night 5.5
RIPD2:Rise of the Damned 4.9
Enola Holmes 2 4.5

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) - IMDb

On the movie side of things I think the best movie of the year was Top Gun:Maverick.  In order to get to 8 a movie has to wring some kind of emotion from me. Maverick managed that in two ways, with the intensity and thrill of the action and with the pathos of the scene with Val Kilmer. Was it great? Yes. Was it a favorite of all time for me? No. Not quite. As good as it was, and it was very good, it didn’t exactly break any new ground and it was mostly just a fun experience with some touching bits of nostalgia that hit the right notes without bumping into the furniture. 

Everything Everywhere All at Once was a fun movie, and touching too. It actually had a point to make and it made it well. Michelle Yeoh is great. Best movie about taxes I’ve ever seen.

See How They Run has Sam Rockwell in it, and any movie with Sam Rockwell in it is going to be at least interesting. What starts out as a silly mystery starts becoming more complex though and the movie does a good job of rewarding you for being clever. A lot like Knives Out but with less cynicism. 

The Banshees of Inisherin - WikipediaThe Banshees of Inisherin isn’t for everybody. It’s one of those movies that I didn’t exactly like as I was watching it, but couldn’t get out of my head afterward. It’s a bit metaphorical. Like a parable or fable. It’s completely ridiculous, terrible, and yet at the same time reflective of a harsh truth of humanity. Colin Ferrell is great in it. You say “Hey it’s Colin Ferrell!” at first, but then pretty quickly, even though his accent isn’t that different or anything, he stops being Colin and just becomes Padraec, this somewhat dim Irish everyman who you’re kind of rooting for, at least at first. At the same time you can sort of see why someone might want to throw their fingers at him. Along with the main plot, which is strange and tragic enough, there’s also a chilling sub plot concerning a side character that I didn’t fully get until after a few nights laying in bed thinking about the movie. I missed it mainly because the focus is on Padraec and his perspective, and the guy misses things. That said the people who are ostensibly the intelligent ones in the movie miss things too. I’ve been a fan of Brendan Gleeson since seeing him in the show Mr. Mercedes, and he does an excellent job as Colm, a violinist and composer struggling to break free of his dull life. Kerry Condon plays Siobhan, Padraec’s sister who feels many of the same pressures to leave the small island town of the movie that Colm feels. And you want her to go do things and be successful. But…wow…that subplot bites into you when you catch its implications. Anyway, probably enough people have said things about the movie already. Colm throwing his fingers at Padraec’s door should be a meme though if it isn’t already.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent - Rotten TomatoesThe Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a Nicolas Cage movie. If you like Nicolas Cage, you’ll like the movie. There is a lot of Nicolas Cage in it. There’s also a good bit of Pedro Pascal of Mandalorian fame as well. But mostly Nick Cage. Even the parts he’s not in have his essence vibrating through the frames. I happen to like Nicholas Cage quite a lot so I liked the movie, but it was almost too much for me, so if you dislike Cage, you might want to steer clear. Just be aware…Nicolas Cage is in it. You know that scene in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich goes inside John Malkovich’s head and ends up in a bizarre world where everyone is John Malkovich and all they say is Malkovich all the time? Nicolas Cage isn’t in that movie, but he is in this one.

 

TV Shows

Evil 9.2
Andor 9.2
Wednesday 9.1
Rick and Morty 9.05
Bob’s Burgers 9
Yellowjackets 8.95
House of the Dragon 8.9
The Patient 8.9
Severance 8.8
Star Trek:Lower Decks 8.8
The Resort 8.7
The Sandman 8.7
Ghosts 8.7
The Peripheral 8.7
Ozark 8.6
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities 8.6
Raised by Wolves 8.5
Stranger Things 8.5
The Bear 8.4
Reacher 8.2
Britannia 7.9
Russian Doll 7.9
Peacemaker 7.8
Halo 7.7
Love, Death, and Robots 7.6
Solar Opposites 7.6
Archer 7.6
Resident Alien 7.5
The Flight Attendant 7.5
Shoresy 7.5
Harley Quinn 7.5
Los Espookys 7.5
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showdown 7.4
Better Call Saul 7
Locke & Key 7
Barry 6.9
Kevin Can Fuck Himself 6.9
The White Lotus 6.9
Titans 6.9
Mythic Quest 6.9
Dr. Pimple Popper 6.8
Vikings: Valhalla 6.8
The Umbrella Academy 6.8
Willow 6.8
Floor is Lava 6.7
Inventing Anna 6.7
Night Sky 6.5
Hacks 6.4
Westworld 5.5
DC’s Stargirl 5.2
Killing Eve 5.1
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law 5
The Woman in the House Accross the Street From the Girl in the Window 4.9
Our Flag Means Death 4.9
Archive 81 4.8
Irma Vep 4.5

Pretty much anything above 6.5 is watchable. Dr. Pimple Popper sounds like it would be a horrible show, but it is legitimately interesting.  And the score here refers only to the season that aired in 2022. Westworld had a great first season but this one was a slog. Same story with Killing Eve. And I wanted to like Better Call Saul more than I did, but for me the magic left the show when the story arc with the brother ended. If it’s marked less than 5, it means I couldn’t finish the season, which for me is a pretty good indication of it sucking, but there is a chance I just got distracted or missed the terrific thing that happened one episode after the one I watched. I barely got through She-Hulk, but I did.  Hoping they do better next season. There was a good part or two in the show, but it isn’t what you thiiink.

Evil (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDbEvil is a great show, currently in its 3rd season. A bit like early X-files but with demons instead of aliens. Also a touch of Scooby-Do. Mostly serious, but the characters are all likable, even the bad guys. And there are lovely touches of humor at times that range from Twilight Zone like irony to down right absurdity. Even so, the show stays grounded. By the current season, the show has given up on trying to keep it ambiguous whether or not supernatural stuff is going on. There absolutely is something strange in the neighborhood. Still, it’s all very subtle. And the crazy thing that seems to be going on often gets disproven only for it to end up being a deeper, more insidious and…evil thing that has erupted to the surface. It also deals with some serious philosophical questions that are rarely covered in most shows. The main characters of the show are comprised of an atheist raised as a Muslim, an agnostic psychologist, and a Catholic priest, and everyone’s beliefs and identities get challenged on a regular basis. At one point the atheist gets into a relationship with a woman who turns out to be a cult leader. And there’s a succubus who tries to eat the Catholic priest’s soul. Arguably the main character is the agnostic psychologist, Kristen Bouchard. She’s perhaps the most well adjusted…except she ends up murdering somebody. Katja Herbers who plays Kristen is superb at picking up all the conflicting nuances of the character. Mike Colter (who played Luke Cage if you’ve seen that) is great as the seemingly unflappable priest, and Aasif Mandvi as the atheist is a delightful voice of reason amid all the woo. Michael Emerson, who was excellent as Finch in Person of Interest, plays the main villain, although part of the joy of his character is that he is far from the most powerful person in the show. It’s a bit difficult to recommend to some people, because it is inherently blasphemous, but as Eddie Murphy once pointed out in A Vampire in Brooklyn: “Evil is good!”

 

Wednesday - Rotten TomatoesI watched all of Wednesday in about a week. A delightful, bingeworthy show. Jenna Ortega is great as Wednesday. Emma Myers is great as Enid the werewolf with lycanthropal dysfunction. The plot they stole from the musical Wicked is great. There were some problems, though. There was a point or two where Wednesday antisocial tendencies got a bit hard to take, but the show rescued itself by assuring us that yes, these are actual problems that Wednesday is dealing with, because as gifted as she is, she is still a child who has things to learn. I don’t like Luis Guzman as Gomez. Gomez should be fit. Antonio Banderas would have been perfect. I might just be thinking of him because Catherine Zeta-Jones is Morticia, but I don’t think I’m wrong. John Leguizamo. He would have worked too. Maybe those people weren’t available and they still wanted some sort of name…Manuel Lin-Miranda!. Sorry.  Guzman does well enough as the dad from Encanto…I mean Gomez. Aside from the flashback episode, where we’re supposed to believe he can use a sword effectively, it doesn’t matter much in the overall show. The set design, side characters, the plots, that dance scene, and Thing, who wins the MVP award…all of it was great. I want more of it please. 

Rick and Morty - Rotten TomatoesRick and Morty went off the rails, such as they were, a season or two back and it’s still off the rails, but I’m still enjoying where it’s going in season 6. Mostly. The claymation episode was really really bad. I don’t understand how someone can spend so much time incrementally adjusting pieces of plasticine one frame at a time to tell a story so horribly pointless. But I don’t consider the claymation episode to be in any way canon so I’m not counting that in my analysis. My favorite episode so far is probably “Night Family,” where Rick uses a device to get his body to do exercises and chores for him while he’s sleeping The rest of the family starts using the device too, only of course things go wrong and the night versions of themselves end up trying to take over their lives. Good stuff.

 

Ghosts

So there’s this show, a comedy, about a young couple. The woman has a relative she knew nothing about that dies, leaving her this mansion, and rather than sell it off, she and her husband decide to turn it into a bed and breakfast. Things go fairly well at first but then she has an accident. She hits her head and is knocked unconscious. She wakes up in the hospital and she finds that for some reason, now she sees dead people. Ghosts. And they aren’t the silent type. They aren’t something she can ignore. She goes to the mansion she and her husband now live in and discovers that, of course, the old mansion has a multitude of ghosts. They each have their own personalities, some of them have abilities that cause things to happen in the living world, and because she and her husband went all in on the mansion, there is no way for her to escape to some remote place where there aren’t as many ghosts. She, her husband and the ghosts have to learn to exist together, dealing with all the quirks and hijinks that ensue. Sound interesting?

Great. Now you have to decide. Do you want the story set in the US? Or the UK?

My answer to the question is… yes.

Thankfully the show I just described exists and there is both a UK and a US version. I’ve watched them and I like them both, though if pressed, I’d say the UK version is better.

Ghosts (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

UK version of Ghosts

Ghosts (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb

US version of Ghosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both versions have wonderful characters from different walks of life and time periods that learn and change throughout the series. It’s always fun to see a caveman bickering with a boy scout in the UK version. Or a Viking trying to impress a hippy chick in the US. And there’s always the humor of Allison/Samantha seeing things and knowing things that others can’t and trying to make it seem normal. Another thing that both shows have is the feeling of the husband and wife really being there for each other. The set up isn’t that one of them is the “good” one and the other is the bad one. There isn’t a smart one and a dumb one either. They both have their faults and their quibbles, but they care about and admire each other, and that’s always nice to see. The other ghosts have a similar vibe with each other, even though that often gets strained because of their many disputes

The differences of the two versions are intriguing to explore. One of the first differences you notice is that in the UK version there are six episodes to a season and sometimes a special holiday episode, a format familiar to fans of other BBC shows like Dr. Who. I suppose six episode seasons work well enough. The actors don’t have to be on set for as long. The writers don’t have to rush to get ideas out on time. You can have a good arc that starts and ends in six episodes if you plan for it. But for me, it always seems too short. Just when I get settled into the show it seems, it’s over. So point for the US there. But the UK version has a better grasp of the tone of the show I think.

For example, both shows have a ghost character who was a scout leader in life, but who died when a child shot an arrow through his neck. Both versions also portray how this event occurred. In the US version you can feel the writers and directors and everyone straining to squeeze humor out of what, for a child, would have to be a traumatizing and horrendous event. In the UK version though, they just sit right in and go, stretching the death scene out into a marvelous example of physical comedy. The Brits know how to mix tragedy and comedy right, I guess. Must be all that Shakespeare

 

Ghosts how did they die? What we know about the deaths

UK version of the Scout leader Ghost: Pat Butcher, played by Jim Howick Credit: BBC/Monumental/Guido Mandozzi

Pete Martino, the Scout Leader ghost in the US version, played by Richie Moriarty

US version of Scout Leader: Pete Martino, played by Richie Moriarty Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve watched the UK version already, though, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the US version. It does start off a bit shaky, and where it does the same things as the UK, the UK does them better. Still, the US version quickly grows away from the UK version, and for all its flaws, the performances are a bit brighter in tone and the story lines are unique enough that you can appreciate it as its own thing. I’m a big fan of Rose McIver from iZombie and she is great in this show, giving Samantha a brightness and optimism that’s charming even if I sometimes miss the more sardonic tone of Allison. And Utkarsh Ambudkar,  the actor who plays Samantha’s husband Jay  is a treat too. The episode that sold me on the US version was the one where Jay is attempting to fix an exposed wire in the house and gets electrocuted while one of the ghosts passes through him, causing the ghost to possess him. The way he adopted the mannerisms of an uptight colonial woman was an unexpected delight. 

So sure, it’s a little ridiculous that there are two versions of the show. You wouldn’t know from the accent she uses, but Rose McIver is from New Zealand, so she’s not even a real USian. There are even people speaking with English accents still, because several of the ghosts are colonists. The UK version of Ghosts was great and there really was no logical reason why they needed to make a US version. But all the same, I’m glad they did.

When You Sleep

Winter sunrise

AI generated image from DreamStudio

I’m writing this in December, which generally means Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, New Years Eve and probably a bunch of other holidays I’m ignorant of… are about to take place. It’s the end of the year and the preparation for a new one. In the west, most people are either pulling out their favorite Christmas tunes, or putting on their earmuffs so they can avoid having to listen to them. For me though, in my neverending quest to establish a soundtrack for my life, I’ve decided that Christmas songs should not only be strictly for December, they should be relegated to only the second half of the month. Mind you, I’m not against hearing the occasional Christmas song earlier, but I’m not quite prepared to take an aural bath in the holiday season until it gets a bit closer. 

So what then should be the theme for the first half of December? I would say there are two main themes of this time of year. One is questions, as in “what the heck was that year we just had all about?” and the other, somewhat related, is wonder, as in “wow! That year was a trip wasn’t it?” and “Holy crap it’s cold” and “Snow! Yay!” or “Snow! What a pain!” So with those admittedly general themes in mind, I put songs together into a early December playlist (called “Questions” you can find it on YouTube). This year, the song at the top of my list is “When you Sleep” by the band Cake.

psychedelic hands

AI generated image from DreamStudio

“When You Sleep” is a delightful song. It starts off with a bunch of plucky stringed instruments frolicking around a simple base melody that rises and falls in pitch in a steady ebb and flow. The only percussion is an infrequent sibilant brushing. This all evokes the breathing of a soundly sleeping person. 

The first line of the song is “When you sleep, where do your fingers go?” And that’s just not something you generally think about, but it’s an intriguing question. Fingers are about grasping things, working with things, and also feeling…in a tactile sense of course, but more metaphorically in a visceral sense. If you can grasp something, you can understand it. You are able, to a degree, to take some ownership of it. But where does this ability go when you are asleep? What can you do? What can you accomplish? What do you feel? And what can you understand when you’re sleeping?

The answer isn’t “nothing.” We dream, even if we don’t always remember the dreams we have. Whatever we may strive for in life, there is something under the surface that we all reach for. What is that?

As the song explores some of these questions more instruments join in, notably the trumpet (played by Vince DiFiore) which plays above the established melody like some winged creature taking flight over the water. 

The lyrics continue:

Do they tremble on the edge of the bed

Or do you fold them neatly by your head?

Do they clench like claws against your own skin

When you’re living your day all over again?

What kind of person are you? What are you going through?

The chorus repeats and now there’s a call and response thing going on with the other band members yelling out “When you sleep!” after the lead singer says the other parts. We are fully in the realm of dreams now, what was hidden is now in full view.

Do they play guitar in a Latin bar?
Are they strangers or lovers?
Do they drive your car?

There are a lot of Cake songs about driving and cars. Cake is a great band to listen to on a commute for precisely that reason. Probably their most popular song is “The Distance” which expands on the metaphor of a race car driver (among other forms of conveyance) that keeps going after the race is over. There is also “Satan is my Motor,”  “Carbon Monoxide,” and “Long Line of Cars.” Even the song “Dime” has a stanza that describes a dime sparkling among roadside trash under an overpass with afternoon commuters. This fixation on cars probably has something to do with Cake being based in California, which is notorious for its car traffic. Their home base is Sacramento, but of course anyone in entertainment ends up in LA a lot and that’s a city where there’s a lot of driving. Of course people drive in other cities too. I haven’t done any statistical research on it or anything, but there was an Oscar-winning movie (Crash) about how the only way to meet people in LA is to get into a car accident with them. So presumably it’s a thing. 

I would say for McCrea, cars are representations of the ego, although a complicated version of the concept. In the song “Satan is My Motor” he talks about how he has “seats that selflessly hold my friends and a trunk that can carry the heaviest of loads,” but that “under my hood is internal combustion power.” So there’s a little id in the idea too maybe. Or at least there is an acknowledgment of multiple facets of being. A car for McCrea, and probably for most people to an extent, is a representation of one’s identity. So are you yourself when you dream? Or are you someone else?

Are they swimming submissively

Sex acts of life

Or just cutting through jello with a very sharp knife?

An interesting dichotomy presented here. Another Cake song “Italian Leather Sofa,” which is mostly a fun romp about a rich couple’s lack of F’s to give, has the lines “she’s got a serrated edge that she moves back and forth/  it’s such a simple machine, she doesn’t have to use force/ When she gets what she wants, she puts the rest on a tray in ziploc bag in the freezer.” Using a knife is being neat and controlling. Everything in its place and organized. Contrast that with swimming submissively, being immersed in emotions or troubles.

McCrea has conflicting feelings about knife wielders, I think. As much as he seems to mock them in “Italian Leather Sofa,” and perhaps “You Part the Waters,” his description of his ideal girl in “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” includes that she “Uses a machete to cut through red tape.” A knife seems to be analogous to control. Are you out of control and passionate in your dreams? Or do you dream of things being easily manipulated?

As if to answer this question, the song then launches into the bridge:

Now Zeus was a womanizer

Always on the make

But Hera usually punished her that Zeus was one to take

At this point I just want to step back a bit and say that there just aren’t that many songs out there that incorporate Ancient Greek mythology into their lyrics. There’s this one and “I’m Your Venus” and that’s about all I can think of. I’m sure there are some out there, but I don’t think any of them are that popular. Thinking of things like Pandora’s box, Icarus and whatnot it seems like an untapped resource.

But anyway, what are we to make of this? How does this answer the question or explore it further? There are a couple ways to interpret this. For one Zeus and Hera could be thought of as two aspects of the same person. That there’s a passionate, boundless aspect and a more controlling, restraining aspect. Similar in a way to the idea covered by Nietzche and other philosophers about the duality of the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects. Apollo represents the light and righteousness, but also rules and order, while Dionysus is darkness and subversion, but also freedom and passion. It also fits an Eastern idea of yin and yang, or the Native American idea of the two wolves in the soul

Another way to look at it though would be that the singer (which is to say, the “speaker” of the poem of the lyrics and not necessarily McCrea himself)  is like Zeus, having his way with women, while the particular woman of the song ( the “you” here) is plagued by some emotional backlash, the “punishment” unleashed by Hera for Zeus’s misdeeds.

Or it could be that the “you” in the poem is like Hera herself, planning revenge against the singer’s exploits.

There’s a prolonged harmony of the question at this point and a musical interlude with more wordless vocalizations.  Also, there are some bells in the background, which are a little jingly? Almost Christmas-y. Which is another reason why I think this song fits December. Finally the lyrics continue:

Are they pulling out weeds from the dusty soil

But then never rewarded with the fruits of their toil

Are they scratching their nails on the chalkboards of death

Only seeking attention when everyone in the room has left

I love the instrumentation here with some distorted piano(?) sounds plinking in as if to represent the weeds getting plucked, and then later descending in pitch to incorporate the darker thematic tone of the end of the stanza.

Hera on a chalkboard of death

AI generated image from DreamStudio

Frustration seems to be the common thread here. I find the “chalkboards of death” line particularly poignant, though. When I first hear it, I think of a Grim Reaper teaching a class or or something, but it’s not Death with a capital D. It’s regular old death. The chalkboards don’t belong to Death, rather they are representations of death itself. A black, blank void. And your fingers, representation of your struggles to feel and understand, are scratching against it. Fighting it desperately. But scratching nails on a chalkboard is something immensely irritating and it’s something you do to get attention. Only there isn’t anyone around when you’re sleeping. You are screaming against the void and no one can hear you, but more than that, you don’t really want anyone to hear you.

In another nuance, it’s not really “you” who’s doing this, but your fingers. So if there’s no one in the room, who are your fingers seeking attention from? That would be…you. Your desire to feel and understand is struggling against the void of death and begging you to pay attention. 

Or is it? Maybe you’re just having a good time, flying or being naked or whatever. 

The song goes back to the first question, of whether the sleeper keeps their hands folded or if they tremble on the edge of the bed. It’s as if we’re coming back to reality from the world of dream. 

Just a great song. 

Anyway, these are just my current thoughts. I could be way off base on some things. I hope your December questions lead to beautiful and wondrous answers.

 

Elestial Quest

So occasionally I run into words I don’t know, and I put them in a list to look up later. Today I looked into the word “elestial” (not a typo (at least not anymore)) It’s used to describe crystals that are naturally etched and are made up of faceted columns that come to points at the top.

"Elestial" Amethyst

“Elestial” amethyst. From “https://www.geologyin.com/2014/10/elestial-smokyamethyst.html”.

But most people who use the word are more concerned with their ability to connect people spiritually to the Akashic record of the universe…or something like that.

From my google searches, you can apparently start a small fight among gem lovers by using the word in a sentence, with all the serious gemologists poo poo-ing the crazy new agers who use “elestial” when…”horizontally striated hexagonal prisms terminated by a combination of positive and negative rhombohedrons forming six sided pyramids” would do. Normally I’d be on the side of the scientists, but elestial just sounds way better and I can see using it to describe other things. Like Superman’s fortress of solitude for instance.

But I’d kind of like to know where it came from, just in case there’s some extra nasty connotation I’m not aware of. Or maybe a cool connection to someone who was otherwise lost to history. I got two leads from Reddit. One person said that it was named after the “Lost City of Elestia.” I tried looking that up and came up with nothing but My Little Pony fanfictions. (By the way, if you’re bored sometime, look up Friendship is Optimal. It’s a trip.) The other lead, which is probably more likely, is that someone just dropped the c off of celestial and started describing crystals that way.

But when did they start doing that? I used Google trends to see if there was any time when the term picked up steam or something. It’s been pretty flat for along time, but there was a peak in January of 2004. Or maybe that’s just when Google trends started monitoring things so maybe everything has a peak there.Google trend for elestial

I have this idea that some shaman or mystic out in Arizona or Colorado started selling pamphlets about elestial crystals at some point and the term caught on. I just wanted to look up an easy definition before going to bed because I was too tired to do any real work, but not ready to sleep yet. Only now I can’t sleep because I want to know who the name of the guy or gal who started calling crystals elestial was. Just so I can relax a little I’m going to pretend it was a guy named Herman Bellfeather. Was he crazy? Was he a genius? Maybe a little of both. He’s mostly a recluse now, but you can still find him walking around San Francisco occasionally, muttering to the seagulls.

Information Processing Model of Cognition

Just as an excuse to blog more, I’ve decided to post a blog about random bits of information I’ve come across. Today I read about the Information Processing Model of Cognition from the book Cognition: Theory and Applications by Stephen K. Reed, published in the year 1982.

Cognition Textbook fr1982

Cognition is defined according to this book and most psychologists as processes “by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used” (Ulric Neisser 1967)

This covers a lot of ground, but all the elements here are interrelated in big spaghetti tangle so it’s difficult to make sense of one part without considering the others. Perhaps the most popular way of doing this is the Information Processing Model.

The idea with this model is that information goes through a sort of assembly line of brain regions where it is processed for storage and prepared for retrieval.

The book offers the diagram from figure 1.1 as a basic outline of how information gets processed

Stages of an information processing model fr. Cognition 1982

Perhaps the most interesting part of this, admittedly rudimentary bit of information is the “filter” and the “selection” stages. At the time of the writing of the textbook, there was considerable debate as to how mental attention operated, with some people saying that the brain blocked certain sensory information from getting to the parts of the brain responsible for recognizing things at all, while other people said that the brain recognized things well enough, but then other parts of the brain cherry picked the parts it wanted to keep, and let the other parts be forgotten. Most had come to the uneasy compromise position of saying that both types of filtering occurred, and so both are present in this model.

What does this imply for people with Attention Deficit Disorder and other similar issues? Is the problem with the filter or the selection? I haven’t done the research yet, but my feeling is that the primary problem is in the selection area. If you notice, the arrows in the diagram go in both directions. So if there’s a problem at the selection stage, a person would have trouble recognizing information from memory as well as from their current situation. And this matches the things I’ve heard anecdotally from people diagnosed with ADD.

What do you think?

I’ll try to find some more current information and post it, but if you have any ideas, questions, or information, leave a comment.

 

June Playlist

My themes for June are dance songs, telling people what to do (because that’s what a lot of dance songs end up being), observations about the universe (because telling people what to do is basically advice and advice usually involves making observations about things) and the moon (because it rhymes with June). June is a month about attempting to explain the world through dance. So bees. Bees fit into June as well. And the wind. Because the wind teaches things to dance.

M79- Vampire Weekend

This is a nice bright happy sounding song. And I like a good use of strings. It’s a new addition to my June playlist, so I haven’t spent much time analyzing it. 

Here are the lyrics:

“No excuse to be so callous
Dress yourself in bleeding madras
Charm your way across the Khyber Pass
Stay awake to break the habit
Sing in praise of Jackson Crowter
Watch your step along the arch of glass”

The lyrics aren’t entirely positive, but overall, the song seems to be about embracing multiculturalism, which is something I agree with. It reminds me a little of Cake’s Mr. Mastodon Farm which advises to “take swatches out of all material.”

 Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest

(recording of song with picture)

Interview with the song writer Sherm Kelley where he explains how he came up with the song. He and his girlfriend basically had a terrible experience getting attacked on a beach and he wanted to imagine a world where that sort of thing didn’t happen. Interesting interview, but it might mess up the song for some people. 

This fits two aspects of the monthly theme: the moon, and dancing. It’s also just a wonderful happy song, even with its tragic back story.

We like our fun and we never fight
You can’t dance and stay uptight
It’s a supernatural delight
Everybody was dancin’ in the moonlight

Video for Toploader cover of the song. This has more of a November feel to it.

Lizard #3 – Go! Go! 7188

This is a live version of the song. I prefer the singing in the recorded version, but the live version is great for the guitar solo and and for the feeling of general awesomeness. The name of the song is Tokage Sango, which literally translates to lizard number 3. And on the surface, the song appears to be about a lizard.  But In a bizarre, very Japanese fashion, the song also seems to be about coming to terms with one’s limitations and one’s place in the universe.

Tokage sangou tokage sangou
Shippo no kireta HAchuurui
Tokage sangou tokage sangou<
Onaka aohikari HAchuurui

KIRAKIRA to hikaru ano buttai wa nanda ? 
Kinou arukidashita kono jimen ni wa shiranai nomo ga
Takusan aru sa

Ore to kage kuro to kage tsuite kuruna ore tokage
 

My translation:

Lizard #3 Lizard # 3 
With the bright blue belly
Lizard #3 Lizard #3

With the cut off tail

What is this sparkling and shining thing?
Yesterday I didn’t know what it was that I saw<
It’s a lot isn’t it?

Me and my black shadow and my lizard self that I cannot control.

The Wind – PJ Harvey

She dreamt of children’s voices
And torture on the wheel
Patron Saint of nothing
A woman of the hills
She once was a lady
Of pleasure and high born 
A lady of the city
But now she sits and moans
And listens to the wind blow
Listen to the wind blow

This is a great song. Spooky and innovative and yet with a groovy beat. The lyrics are also intriguing. Before I saw the video the imagery I got was of a craggy hill in Scotland or maybe New Zealand where some lonely church stands weathered by time and neglect while some hermit woman sit contemplating dark things. The video is neat its own right, placing Catherine the protagonist of the song in the cityscape of New York and emphasizing the contrast between the bustle on the surface and the serenity of the high places. 

This is the kind of song you want to hear again right after you hear it the first time. It’s a novel compressed into the poetry of song and you can’t figure out exactly what it’s about, only that there is something that pulls you in. 

It’s also kind of an anthem for introverts.

Other June Songs

I Bet That You Would Look Good on the Dance Floor – Arctic Monkeys Live video

The Weight (Take a load off, Fanny) – The Band This is a version of the song done with the Staple Sisters.

The Boys of Summer – Don Henley 1984 music video

Hey Ya – Outkast Official music video.

The Dark of the Matinee – Franz Ferdinand Official music video. Great direction on this one IMHO

(Give Me Back My) Bunty Bunty – The Bombay Royale Live

Bee Girl – Pearl Jam Music only

How about You? (I like New York in June) – Frank Sinatra music with moving pictures

Little Acorns (Be like the squirrel girl)- White Stripes Music with Spanish subtitles and timed visuals.

Clarissa – Mindless Self Indulgence Music with lyrics. Some offensive content.

Discoball World- David Garza Live version. The recorded version is better I think, but this has video.

Spiderwebs – No Doubt Official music video. Ska Gwen!

Tom the Model (Do What You’re Gonna Do) – Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man Music video. Beth Gibbons is the lead singer of Portishead. Excellent stuff.

Handbags and Gladrags – Rod Stewart Live

Derelict – Beck Live video. Nice and weird. The vocals are a bit rough though.

In this City – Enon Music video

May Playlist

The themes for May are Dreams, wishes, and graduation as well as Hispanic songs (for cinco de mayo reasons)

Andar Conmigo

Artist: Julieta Venegas

Why it’s a May Song: Cinco de Mayo, dreams and memories

This is a fairly simple song really, but that’s part of its beauty. “Andar conmigo” literally means “go with me,” and more colloquially it means “date me.” But this song uses both senses of the phrase. It seems to be not only an invitation to start a relationship, but an expression of a deeper philosophy. The singer is inviting the listener to experience all that life has to offer with her, rather than merely offering herself. It seems very Daoist to me. Aside from the Spanish language aspect (IE Cinco de Mayo), I think it also fits the theme of dreams and memories. She speaks of telling the story that’s inside her, a story that still continues. 

Here are the lyrics with translation:

Hay tanto que quiero contarte

Hay tanto que quiero saber de ti 

Ya podemos empezar poco a poco 

Cuéntame, qué te trae por aquí

There is so much that I want to tell you

There’s so much I want to know about you too

We can start right now little by little

Tell me what brings you here

No te asustes de decirme la verdad

Eso nunca puede estar así tan mal

Yo también tengo secretos para darte

Y que sepas que ya no me sirven más

Don’t be afraid of telling me the truth

That never can be as bad as you think

I also have secrets to give you

And you should know they don’t serve me any more

Hay tantos caminos por andar

Dime si tu quisieras andar conmigo

There are so many ways to go.

Tell me if you would like to go with me x4

Estoy ansiosa por soltarlo todo

Desde el principio hasta llegar al día de hoy

Una historia tengo en mi para entregarte

Una historia todavía sin final

I’m anxious to release everything

From the beginning to today

A story I have inside me to give you

A story that still has no end

Podríamos decirnos cualquier cosa

Incluso darnos para siempre un siempre no

Pero ahora frente a frente, aquí sentados

Festejemos que la vida nos cruzó

We could tell each other anything

Including to give ourselves for forever a forever no

But now, face to face, here are feelings

We can enjoy what Life has put before us

Martha -Tom Waits

“Those were days of roses,

Poetry and prose and Martha

All I had was you and all you had was me”

One of the themes of May for me is graduation,which goes beyond pomp and circumstance to any song about momentous life changing events and looking back to how things were back when you were a different sort of person. Along those lines, there is no greater song in my opinion than Martha. This song is the story of an old man catching up with a woman that was a girlfriend of his from 40 years ago. This song really covers all the wistful, beautiful sadness that the passage of time creates.

Oddly, this is a song that Tom Waits wrote as a young man in the early seventies. Tom Waits worked as door man and piano player at a bar and you can hear a little of the Billy Joel piano man in his style here. Later on Tom Waits became a move character actor and moved into a different style of music where he sounds like some demented carnival barker, which is fun, but I always prefer his more melodic tunes like this one.

Almost all of Waits’ songs have an arresting narrative quality. This one in particular has this intriguing character of an old man regretting letting the love of his life go some forty years ago. You think of all the time and experience that have occurred and yet…And yet…

Where did Tom Waits get this story? It seems too vivid to not be in some way real. In his youth, Waits worked many odd jobs, and he would write down “phrases and snippets of dialogue he overheard”

He might have generated the story of Tom Frost and Martha from one of those conversations. I have an alternate theory though. Think of it as a lie that might accidentally be true. Perhaps Tom’s mother Alma was the Martha of the song. Perhaps Alma named Tom after her Tom Frost. Alma raised her children after separating from Waits’ father when Waits was 10 years old. Did Alma tell her children stories of an old flame she had when she was younger? Did Tom Waits simply put to words and music a fantasy of his mother’s of her old lover catching up with her?

Probably not, but I like it as a conspiracy theory.

While Strolling through the Park one Day (the Fountain in the Park- Hit Co. Masters)

I was strolling through the park one day

In the merry merry month of May

This video is from a guy who sings all the parts of a barbershop quartet by himself. It’s a nice version but it’s not the one I listen to on playlists. The version done by the Hit Co. Masters is a little longer and has some instrumentation. 

This is, of course, that song sung by various characters in Looney Tunes cartoons. “I was strolling through the park one day, in the very merry month of May.” One cannot create a thorough list of May songs without including it. 

Almost Like Praying 

Artist: Lin-Manual Miranda and MANY others

Why it’s  a May song: (Puerto Rico so it’s vaguely related to Cinco de Mayo, but it’s also about a prayer for the people of Puerto Rico so it’s like a wish or a dream)

I first heard about this song on an episode of the podcast Song Exploder . Miranda talked about wanting to do something for the place he grew up after it was devastated by hurricane Maria. Wired magazine had a good article on this and how badly it was handled and what people did to solve the problems that arose because of it. Miranda, being a song writer, did what he could do, which was write a song and get everyone he knew to help with it, and then give all the money he made from it to the relief effort.

Miranda is best known for his work on the musical Hamilton, which is extremely popular, but doesn’t really seem like something I’d be into. I’m not a fan of rap music generally, although there are exceptions. More specifically any attempt to combine education with rap has always struck me as being particularly dumb. But I haven’t seen Hamilton; so I might find I like it after all. Almost like Praying has a section or two of rap, but it is mostly a melodic work consisting almost entirely of the names of the cities of Puerto Rico. As an amateur poet I find the skill with which Miranda managed to group all the cities into rhyming patterns  impressive. He also uses several styles of music from musical, to rock, to rap, to reggaeton. Even without the humanitarian aspect, the song is simply interesting and fun to listen to. I only know one or two of the many artists involved, but that too is intriguing. Finally I’m a fan of Steven Sondheim, mostly from Sunday in the Park with George, but West Side Story is a neat one too and the repeated use of the line from the song Maria was an elegant and well-implemented device.  

Full Playlist

Here’s the full Youtube playlist followed by links to individual songs:

April Playlist

Shelter from the Storm – Bob Dylan 

I’ve heard newborn babies wailin’ like a mournin’ dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
Come in, she said I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

A marvelous song that’s been in a lot of things and has had many things said about it. I first heard this on the soundtrack to Jerry Maguire, but It was originally on Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks which came out in 1975.

This is an epic song full of symbolism told with delightfully surprising rhymes and references. 

But what is it about? 

To me this song is about love, and in particular how it sustains us through hardship even when all we have is the memory of it.

There’s a good chance the woman in the song might be Sara Dylan, to whom Bob Dylan was married when he wrote the song. The marriage was falling apart, and he could have been mourning the loss of how things used to be. Sara Dylan was born Shirley Marlin Noznisky to Jewish immigrants from Poland, but according to Bob Dylan biographer Robert Shelton (sourced originally in wikipedia) she “had a Romany spirit, seeming to be wise beyond her years, knowledgeable about magic, folklore and traditional wisdom.”

It’s reasonable to suppose that Sara might be the woman born at the same time God was, but it also could be about Dylan’s mother. The song seems to describe a birth into a nurturing environment after living several harsh lives. Sara was a mother already when Dylan met her so it could be that both things are true. To put it crassly, Dylan may have had mommy issues. Or it could be the song isn’t autobiographical at all and it’s about a fictional man recalling a fictional woman. For the sake of discussion I’ll call the lady referred to in the song as “the Goddess.”

The verses are not sung in chronological order, but the singer seems to be telling the story of his life after being asked by someone “Is it helpless and forlorn?”

He talks about other lifetimes, times when he suffered in numerous ways before he found this Goddess who might have been a lover, but who was also something of a mother figure.

Then there was a time of blissful childhood or something like it where he was always safe and warm.

Then people tried to tell him who to be ( they gambled for his clothes) and he didn’t like that so he decided to leave, and the Goddess let him (he bargained for salvation and she gave him a lethal dose).

Growing into adulthood, life was hard and he encountered adversity ( he offered up his innocence and got repaid with scorn).

He currently lives in ” a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm.” Where, regardless of whether one hopes to learn philosophy (becoming a preacher riding a mountain) or learn street smarts (become like a deputized horse walking on hard nails) in the end all that matters is that time is short and you’re going to die eventually (it’s doom alone that counts). But even in this dire situation, to answer the man’s question, the singer repeats “Come in, she said, I’ll give ya, shelter from the storm” There was one time he found love and acceptance, and that alone is enough to make up for whatever hardship he has to endure.

The one-eyed undertaker hasn’t gotten the singer yet. He still walks in this country that seems foreign to him, but someday he will cross the line and succumb to the razor’s edge that beauty walks along. And if he lives in this world again he vows to always do his best for his goddess.

I’m almost entirely sure I got that wrong, but that’s what I’ve come up with for what the song is about. What do you think?

Fire, Water, Earth, and Air – Julie Felix

“And as I grow the earth below explains where the rains comes from.
From clouds that borrow joy and sorrow, that’s where the rains come from.”

This song is vast in scope, encompassing the elements of Earth, and weather, and states of human existence. I would like it for that alone, but then you factor in the surprising internal rhymes of the lyrics, the thrumming native american sound of the music, and Julie Felix’s clear, confident vocals, and it’s just a marvelous, wonderful song.

There is, of course, a hippy undercurrent to the song. One expects there will soon be some one along to say that we should protect the squirrels or eat nothing but rutabagas grown in reclaimed sewage. But I prefer to take the song at face value, as a celebration and appreciation of nature and life. I don’t disagree with people who say we should preserve the environment, but I think where such people can go astray is when they see themselves as separate from it. We are part of the environment, part of nature. It is foolish to destroy nature to preserve ourselves, but it is equally foolish to destroy ourselves to preserve nature. A body needs both a brain and a stomach to function.

I’m a Dog – Crash Test Dummies

“But it seems the thinkers you call greatest are
The sort who often fall ill young, or pine away
How can they help but drag the species down?

Like many Crash Test Dummies songs, this one offers a unique perspective on a seldom explored aspect of life. In this case the song is from the perspective of a dog wondering why humans venerate people who don’t seem to live good lives
The dog, being a dog, is essentially a hedonist, appreciating the physical pleasures of life like brushing up against a cow’s leg and having breakfast with the master in the morning. He marvels at humans who try to control their instincts and be civilized, when all it seems to do for people is make them miserable

There is an added layer of irony here in that Brad Roberts, the lead singer and lyric writer, is, himself, an example of the poets the dog is criticizing. 

Other April Songs

I’ve made a YouTube playlist, which you can see here:

It has the songs I described above plus the following:

One song that’s missing though is this one:

Mr. S – Letter People

Everyone should know about the Letter People. Words are made of Letter People
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