Categories
film thoughts writing

Film, its imminent death and hopeful resurrection…

We watched “Ad Astra” last night.

Like pretty much everyone, we are watching some missed pieces during this pandemic and associated quarantine. We worked through “Tales from the Loop” last week, and while I was perusing the watchlist Friday afternoon I realized there were a few movies on HBO that we had missed at the theatre for various reasons we could take in as well. I sat Saturday and watched “Ford v. Ferrari” and thoroughly enjoyed that, so yesterday I decided to watch “Ad Astra”. I am not always in the mood for the genre it represents, or that I thought it represented, science fiction is often a let down on film, when the studio doesn’t choose a visionary to manage their millions of dollars and instead drops it on someone who’s better off making a football film, but has been reliable for them. There have been thousands of words written and entire Youtube accounts dedicated to folks lamenting the current state of affairs in the film and hi end series business, and it’s pretty unlikely that I have anything particularly unique to add to the dialogue, but these are a few of my personal thoughts. I’ll post my opinions of the actual films on separate pages.

Film and “TV” in general are obviously blurred together these days. Since Netflix became the streaming juggernaut it is, and actual broadcast TV has declined to the point of needing life support, I think I should define the two. I say “TV” in reference to content created with the home viewer as the primary audience, and film as that created for the theatre and big screen experience. You can make a solid argument that they are the same, but even if it isn’t budget and production quality any more there is still usually a palpable difference. In a sense, the big shared universe franchises, and things like 3 “Hobbit” and three “Lord of the Rings” films are not so different from serialized “TV”. The market dictates that even films are made with an eye on the subsequent streaming market from the start. I suppose a more accurate term would be “serialized content” since it doesn’t really matter where we are viewing it anymore.

The whole business seems to be about 50% dedicated to cashing in on nostalgia, and I’m not totally against that. So many really solid stories were let down by abysmal budgets, or in the case of almost all sci fi, the pretty sad visual effects available in the 80s and 90s. They were at best less than stellar, or more likely, never made at all. Some original sci fi has real potential, consider Larry Niven’s “The Smoke Ring” series, which was talked about but never materialized, or, for contrast, the disappointing vision of “Dune” that did come to film. I’m all for some re imagining of a few of the real classics, as long as they respect the source in the process. I don’t need to see a CGI version of “The Last Starfighter”, it wouldn’t improve on the story, and the effects were part of the joy, but I am stoked to see Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune, with a real budget, and (hopefully) less studio interference.

Who didn’t love the new “Battlestar Galactica Series”? The original was a weekly appointment view for me when I was a kid even though it was the campiest thing ever made after the Gil Gerrard “Buck Rogers”. The reboot came at a time when these things were just getting off the ground, and it was made for a modest budget, making the most of every penny they spent to create a gritty take on the original, without completely disregarding it’s lore and texture. Sci Fi made it as a two hour movie first to test the waters, and found such an enthusiastic audience that it ran for seven seasons. On that note, serializing a few classic movies isn’t the worst idea either. We’re all waiting to see what Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series looks like, and I am really enthused with what I’ve seen of the upcoming “Foundation” series. The story telling options a season of 40 minute serials gives writers opens up whole new depths to character development and deeper plots.

Some recent classics like “Firefly” are probably not firing up anytime soon, but just imagine if that franchise had found the type of rebirth that “The Expanse” did with its switch to Amazon Prime and it’s dramatic budget increase. The world of “Firefly” is rich and well developed, and perfect for a spin off shot.

We’ve generally been let down by serial adaptations of films, but when the writers use a well known and popular universe of an original film or franchise as the starting point rather than the characters and plots themselves, we’ve gotten some really good work. I submit the first season of “The Mandalorian” as the obvious candidate. It’s a familiar universe, the writers don’t have to spend three episodes world building, and we get to scratch the nostalgia itch in the process. A similar series based on material not so well known to the general viewing audience requires a good bit more in the way of exposition dumps to get us involved. Instead, “Mando” hit the ground running.

Original series that don’t dig into a known universe, but rather a general since of nostalgia for a period, like “Stranger Things” are new and popular also for very solid reasons. An engaging cast paired with stellar writing from the Duffer brothers made the most surprising and entertaining non franchise series I’ve seen in twenty years. We completely stumbled onto that gem by sitting around in the house alone the year it was released just surfing the Netflix recommended list. We even started it reluctantly, saying “well, we can always turn it off” and ended up watching all night. Having grown up a child of the 80s, the universe it is set in was instantly familiar to me, and different enough from our current that it gives the writers some license to not be 100% gritty and realistic. The obvious nods to classic horror and sci fi films just iced that cake.

I think (and I say this all the time) that were in a golden age of serialized content, and even though the film industry is on life support as far as creativity goes, she’s still hanging in there, releasing the occasional gem for us to dig into. I have high hopes that we’ll get some greatness in between the industry bean counters stepping in and wrecking things. Those giant blockbusters that everyone rushes out and drops 25.00 a ticket on creates profit that pays for riskier but quality work like “Knives Out” and “Ex Machina”. Maybe I’m painting with too optimistic a brush, its a weakness of mine for sure, but things don’t seem to be so bad right now.

Categories
thoughts writing

Independence Day

It’s “Independence Day”.

I like to take these holidays and do something that celebrates them in a way I feel is appropriate to the intent of the holiday. The 4th of July represents a day (an observed day, as nothing really happened on the 4th, the vote was held on the 2nd) where a group of American miscreants who felt they weren’t being respected by those who held authority told same authoritarians what they could with their rules and their unjust laws in an astoundingly articulate way.

Everyone reading that feels like that statement applies to them and their unique world view, and to an extent, it does. See, the way things look to me in our little social experiment of a country these days is that folks are all really angry that everyone else doesn’t see things the way they do. That’s the gist, distilled down to the purest possible base. It doesn’t matter if it’s skin color, taxes, religion, whatever, we’re in a place in America right now where we don’t think it’s ok for someone else to see things differently.

The thing is, the very fact that we see things differently is basis for the freedom and independence we celebrate on this day. If those folks back in the late 1700s hadn’t decided that things just weren’t working the way they were, there’s a pretty solid chance we’d of all stayed subjects a good many years longer. Different people and groups of people have thoughts independent of one another, diversity if you will. It kinda led to the birth of this nation.

Americans have a long history of making a big statement in the name of their views about things. We’ve had a couple of events that could wear the name “Civil War”. The obvious one in the 1860s and more recently, the one in the 1960s. While the civil rights movement of the 1960s doesn’t usually get the title “war” it was a vastly more powerful and effective statement on the situation in America at the time. The folks in power did everything they could to continue to force their unjust rules and laws down the throats of those who were “ruled”. They tried to silence those who disagreed with them, violently when they thought necessary. The right side won that one too, and they did it without destroying half the country in the process. The independent thoughts and differing opinions of a minority of Americans at the time led to the biggest change this country had ever seen without an associated armed conflict. Things still aren’t perfect, but they are much better, and I would argue, improving all the time.

The government isn’t always right. Neither is your neighbor Ned. Neither am I, and neither are you. We would do well to listen to the voices of dissent, the minority reports and the people we just don’t agree with. It broadens our thinking, and exposes us to points of view we may not have developed on our own. We might not be swayed, they may still sound absurd after you’ve heard them out, but the thing is, we’ve given them the respect of hearing their position. We owe this to each other as Americans, (and would be Americans). We can all stand to learn some things, and a little respect goes a long way.

If you’re not happy about things, absolutely go out there and state your case. Protest is the American way. If you don’t understand why people are protesting, give them a listen. A real listen. Maybe you don’t end up agreeing, but no one can say you didn’t hear them out. Whatever you end up doing, I hope you all have a fine day, wave the red, white and blue, and act in a socially responsible way. Enjoy your freedom, it was hard won, don’t try to take it away from others. It’s pretty simple.

Don’t be dicks to each other.

As for me, today is my daughter’s birthday, and she’s a powerfully independent girl, so I will be As for me, today is my daughter’s birthday, and she’s a powerfully independent girl, and very dear to me, so I will be celebrating that as much as anything else. Happy Birthday Belle, and America too.

Categories
writing

Tuesday – Keep Calm and Carry On

There is a lot of stress in the world right now. Unease mixed with outright fear, I think even those who are professing anger and disgust are deeply afraid inside that this will turn out to be everything they say it is.

The bottom line is, the British were right, Keep Calm and Carry On. Thats all you can do. In that vein, I’m enjoying my Spring Break mornings, the kids are sleeping in, the dog is relaxing on her bed, and I’m enjoying some coffee, and catching up on reading. I subscribe to a few literary journals, but I read mostly, “Gulf Coast” published by the University of Houston that I’ve been reading since about 1993. Back then I didn’t plan to be a communications guy, or an english major, I just liked the poetry and the fiction. It’s fully edited, published and managed by the student body of the U of H English department, though it was originally founded by the Blumenthals.

A few years ago I learned that Austin Community College publishes a journal as well called “The Rio Review” and I find that I enjoy it equally. The Rio still has some of the raw creativity that I originally enjoyed in Gulf Coast, but with suitable polish to prevent it being a garage journal.

The University of Texas has a number of journals, each with an area of focus, but I like “Bat City Review” most consistently, as its focus is on creative writing, both fiction and non.

There are so many writers out there with wonderful voices that will never find widespread publication just by nature of the writer’s market these days. We’ve all read stories of the literary journals of old where a writer such as Arthur C Clarke made a solid living publishing short stories in science fiction magazines before publishing a novel, but those days are seemingly behind us. I think that most of us these days just write for our own satisfaction. Sharing our views with the world outside of the shout chambers of the internet, and satisfying that creative urge that drives us all in some way.

If you enjoy creative writing, and you can live with the occasional rough edge, you should absolutely pick up your local university’s journal, it can open your eyes to great gems out there hidden in the creativity crushing muck of the modern world.

I wrote this post while listening to Herbie Hancock’s “Takin’ Off”, which was his first release, and dropped some pieces like “water melon man” into our laps. For which we should be ever grateful. I enjoy that defining track as much as anyone, but I find “Alone and I” and “Driftin” to really speak to me. A lot of folks today only really know Herbie from his later works, during the MTV era, like “Future Shock” and some of the other techno jazz stuff, but he’s as classic as Miles or Coltrane behind all that.

Have a Nice Day.

Categories
music thoughts writing

Nostalgia? Nah, life appreciation.

I find myself jamming to some older music lately, and it puts me in a certain mindset. Today I’m listening to Stone Temple Pilots “purple” in its entirety.

STP Purple Album Art
Purple Album Art

This was released when I first arrived at Fort Bragg in 1994, and it was the soundtrack to the first few years I spent in the Army. I was already married to Samantha by then, so this doesn’t hold any memories of love lost, young flings, or anything like that. Those are usually the strong emotions that drive nostalgic feelings, at least for me. Just now “Flies in the Vaseline” kicked on and I was suddenly buoyed and feeling energetic. You could make a solid argument that this was exactly the response the music should elicit. It’s simple, hard hammering guitars, and booming drums, are obvious, but I think it’s more than that because when I was listening to this in my CD player or more often on a cassette, I was 22 and at the peak of my life, I did everything full bore. So when it came on, it brought at these powerful memories of excitement, happiness, energy spent doing the things young warriors have done for literal centuries.

One of the things I’ve been enjoying lately is listening to albums all the way through. Streaming music has led us to stops and start listening, like listening to the radio all the time rather than popping in a CD and hearing what the artists were saying overall. A lot of music is written with that in mind, the idea that each song is a single, standing on its own merits (or usually lack of them). I’ve always enjoyed the full bore theme albums a lot of less well-known bands release, Coheed and Cambria come immediately to mind with almost all their work, but specifically to my taste, “The Afterman”. Any single song on it would make little sense without the others. You need to listen to it from start to finish, not on shuffle. But that’s not the only way full listening has appealed to me, its also the little gems that disappear into recordings when they don’t make it as a single. Literally, EVERYONE knows “Interstate Love Song” from “Purple” and that song carries more memories for me than almost anything released in the 90s, but there are some others, “Still Remains” is fantastic and very much like a combination of 70s rock and “Foo Fighters” boom.

Pick a song and sing a yellow nectarine

Take a bath, I’ll drink the water that you leave

If you should die before me

Ask if you can bring a friend

Pick a flower, hold your breath

And drift away

She holds my hand, we share a laugh

Slipping orange blossom breezes

Love is still and sweat remains

A cherished gift, unselfish feeling

Scott Weiland and Janin
Weiland and Janina

The story is that Scott Weiland wrote the song for Janina Castaneda, his first wife, and there is a constant thread through STP music for her, with “Sour Girl” and “Interstate Love Song” also written for or about her. By now everyone knows Weiland was a heroin addict of the highest level, it ultimately having taken his life. The unfortunate reality is that it probably also led to some of his (and the era in general’s) finest writing. The despair brought on by destroying your own life, and that of someone he loved let to some breathtakingly raw and open writing, and despite STP getting billed as the “Commercial answer to Nirvana” by a lot of self-important critics of the time, I’d say that after “Core” they did just fine. You should listen to “Purple” all the way through, from start to finish, and take in the lives, and emotions that wind their way through it.

Categories
music thoughts writing

Jay-Z “Blueprint”

One could make a strong argument that what this album brought to New York on September 11th, 2001 (the original release date) is a bit of what’s missing from America right now. A little bit of a plan, one that doesn’t fly by the seat of the pants, or appeal to nothing more than the base emotions of a group of the uninformed masses. The back and forth lurch the country is making on any given day in any given week is giving us all a collective case of motion sickness, when we aren’t going anywhere in particular it seems. No blueprint.

There is a lot of baggage wrapped up in the back story of this release, with Kanye West having produced half the tracks, there is the weight (for better or worse) that his name lends to things today, that may not have been present when it was released. “Takeover” in particular drips with his influence, but not in a bad way in this listener’s humble opinion. Sampling Jim Morrison adds some excitement to a track that might just be self-aggrandizement with a different artist and producer mix.

Its’ important to remember that when this album was released, Kanye West was not the universal clown celebrity we know today, he was not married to a Kardashian, had not yet stormed the stage at the MTV Music Awards, had not yet proclaimed himself the voice of the nation, nor had he established his undying love for the reality TV star we elected president a few years ago. While I could go on and on with his publicity stunts, the reality was that he was a young and hungry music producer that did some fine work on this and a few other (Ludacris) albums, in the same early 2000s era.

I think my favorite track on the album is “U dont Know”, which was produced by “Just Blaze”. The Motown soul connection is heavy in this one, despite the sped up, almost falsetto chorus line. This is a theme that has appeared in a few other Jay-Z tunes, most notably “Otis” from “Watch the Throne” where he and Kanye worked together sampling the man himself called out in the title within the song.

Another big standout is “Renegade” produced by Eminem, who also accompanied Jay-Z on the recording. It’s missing some of the juvenile flavors that Eminem likes to sprinkle into his recordings, enough so that I, as a grown man, can listen to it without looking around to see who’s watching (judging).

Motherfuckers

Say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels (bling bling)

Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?

See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined

That same dude you gave nothing, I made something doing

What I do through and through and

I give you the news, with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view

Those lyrics are straight and to the point unfortunately I think, they are also often underappreciated for their accuracy. Jay-Z’s universal popularity means that much of the intellect in his writing is glossed over by the pulp populace. Folks that listen to his recordings because he is currently the person they are told to listen to. When you listen to his words, when you dig into the thoughts and emotions of the writing, he is without a doubt the equal of any of the more heavily lauded poets of the literary world.

Categories
critic music thoughts writing

A little John Coltrane

In honor of the release of “Blue World”.

Tidal’s review and backstory

Categories
thoughts writing

Enlightenment

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. 
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. 
Although its light is wide and great, 
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. 
The whole moon and the entire sky 
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. 
Dogen