Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League is a fun super hero film and Zack Snyder is a great director. There, I said it


Justice League
Well, yes, this is too predictable, perhaps, but I saw Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, and yes, predictably (perhaps) I enjoyed the film quite a bit. I will skip the usual apologies fans of the film have made in the face of (predictably) negative reviews to the work, the "it's not a perfect film, it has some problems, but it's lighter, has great character interaction and there is good humor in it to..." I read that so many times this last week in comment sections following printed and on line reviews that it's become something like the lines of dialog in a favorite movie you see over and over and over again and yet again after all those times, where your lips move in sync with the characters on the screen as they mouth them. I say that because that while I agree with the sentiment, my principle reason for enjoying the film is because I think Zack Snyder makes enjoyable comic book movies; he understands comic book aesthetics more profoundly than any other director currently working , definitely more profoundly than critics and a good many comic movie enthusiasts give him credit for. 


Without going into his body of work for a lengthy, film class lecture kind of thing where you might think that I expect you to take notes , I'll assert plainly that Snyder succeeds, to my satisfaction, because his movies resemble the florid, visually stunning, sense jarring, thematically complex and often incomprehensibly plotted graphic novels that have emerged as a seriously considered format in the industry. Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, Batman v Superman , derided by reviewers and crabby fan boys for being too long, too slow , too dark in tone , theme and actual color scheme and and unrepentantly grim in pessimistic in outlook, are elements that have impressed me with what's going on with the level of storytelling across all the comic book publishers of note, but DC especially.

One of the reasons I like Zack Snyder movies, especially his comic book adaptations, is that they play on the screen fairly closely to the experience of actually reading comic books. Flashy cuts, extended action sequences that are supposed to be at high velocity but which are slowed down effectively to create tension, stunning , effects laden vistas that provide the grand off-planet elaborations of a Jack Kirby--Snyder pretty much does all this and does in a dark/grim tone that has been the DC Comics world view for decades. Plot holes, lack of Strindbergian depth in characters, murky plot lines, unclear villian motivation? The lauded comic books from which Synder draws his ideas are guilty of all this, famous for it actually. What he does with Justice League, even in its comprimised and truncated state, is wonderful entertainment, a fast headlong dive into action, banter, visual splendor, with out a wasted moment. There are faults to find, sure thing, you betcha , you bet, but an application of an over prescribed skill, the willing suspension suspension of disbelief, helps the more finicky among us to enjoy the film while it's playing. I recieved my money's worth.


 He has, of course, taken liberties with canon and adjusted his  borrowings to fit the more narratively  constricted needs of movie making--absolutely no one can afford to adapt a comic book story line in its entirety-- but he has done so with flair and daring and has, I believe, constructed a credible, compelling, dark and grim DC universe, reflecting that company's house style, and brings us, at last, to Justice League, a lighter, yes, a faster paced, yes, a funnier, yes, movie than than the filtered strains of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche pessimism that characterized the previous films he directed. The films are an evolution of circumstances, from being hopelessness and dispirited and becoming  to actual hopeful  and  revitalized spirit .

 In short, spoiler free if you haven't seen the previous Snyder DC adaptations, these are superheros who have something to fight for,  to defend and protect the world with a conviction that, I think, is effortlessly conveyed here. Justice League moves quickly , with swiftly conveyed introductions of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg as the team is brought together for the first time, the action sequences have a balletic beauty only Snyder accomplishes, and the interaction among the heroes , especially in how   they learn to work as a team and in the dialogue, yes, full of jokes, is attractively presented, without a sour note being heard. Justice League, I am offering in this belated note, is a good time at the movies, a super comic book movie who has, to my thinking,brought that adolescent experience of 'theater of the mind" while reading new or old comics under the bed sheets, with a flashlight, to the screen. He , like many of us, remembers that experience and does wonderful work here and else where to bring to movie theatres where you all should be , right now, watching Justice League and having a raging good escape from what  is inane and ugly in this reality.


Ironically, it's been a common complaint with Synder's super hero films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman especially, is that they are too long and leaden in pace, and yet the relatively two hour running time of Justice League has drawn the reverse complaint, too short and too rushed, just as fervently. Obviously the nearly three hour lengths of the first two films bothered me not at all since I'm inclined to appreciate Snyder's dually Wagnerian, eye popping aesthetic, but I do think that the shorter two hours for Justice League works much to its advantage. That is to say,this film had a briskness that prevented it, for me anyway, from seeming weighed down at all. Plot inconsistencies , not enough background on the new characters, an underexplored method toward Superman's revivification --all common complaints of the new picture and, perhaps, they have merit worthy of longer discussion. 


But since this is a comic book movie geared, I'm sure, to emulate the tone and thematic depth of the DC print versions of these characters--Snyder and company are adapting a Superman and Batman et al, not Tolstoy , not Faulkner--I picked up on the dynamics of the action, which are, of course, very comic booky and an element that made this a pleasurable experience. And since this an origin story involving the creation of a long standing fictional institution and the introduction of three additional heros DC and WB want to make into stand alone franchises, we have to consider exactly how much time to dedicate to the narrative side streets and background information for the birth of the JL and who and what the new characters are about. My guess is that had what hard core fans of the individual characters considered to be a deservingly full introduction been included, the movies run time likely would have pushed past three hours. The movie would have been a slog and weighty , too much so even for my Snyder-tolerant mind set. Movies, especially super hero movies, should move, if nothing else.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Monkee Bidness


Image may contain: 3 people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments and indoor
'I disliked The Monkees from day one because at the time I was a serious teen who wanted to be Rolling Stone rock critic and considered "our music" done by "our artists" to be a new art for; following, I put together my own home made aesthetic criteria , actually a free floating borrowing of a half dozen other critics opinions and tastes, convinced that it was my duty to protect and preserve the one true and undiluted thing , the music. Let me beat to the punch regarding that last sentence: I was indeed full of myself, intoxicatingly so. Nonetheless, The Monkees were the antithesis of that; my friends and I howled and mocked and denounced the fellows as much as we could, but they sold records anyway. The synthesis of this dialectic, I suppose, was that counter-culture ideas, attitudes and styles, from fashion, music, politics and the like, had been absorbed by mainstream culture. I think Marcuse referred to the process as "repressive tolerance", the notion that the System can neutralize radical impulses in a restless and dissatisfied population merely by allowing their rebellion to express itself through institutional channels. What i do recall is that Frank Zappa, the maestro of rock avant garde and someone the pure of spirit thought was far above the temptation to sell out, appeared as himself in their one feature film "Head". It pays to remember that the Mothers of Invention were not a hippie collective in which everything was done collaboratively. The band, rather , was a business concern of Zappa's and the musicians were on salary to play his music the way he wanted to hear it. Zappa the entrepreneur appreciated , no doubt, the conceptualization and execution of the Monkees as a product created to fill an under served niche even as Zappa the serious artist dismissed their tunes.




Even in movies, the dead should remain dead


Saw’s Billy the Puppet; Han Solo; Superman; and Colin Firth as Kingsman’s Harry
So little of what passes as cultural commentary on the internet is trivial and distracting like an itch you can't scratch that it comes as (very) mild surprise that one of the opinioneers delivered a grouse worth considering. An uncredited scribe in The Guardian mentioned and elaborated on an element of many super hero films that is , perhaps, killing interest in the genre: viewers cannot depend on a character remaining dead if he or she gets killed . The story makes the point that there have been so many deaths-and-miraculous-resurrections of characters that a viewer's willing suspension of disbelief refuses to kick in; it becomes more a matter of plot mechanics than catharsis.

It is one thing that Superman, presented to us as deceased in Batman v Superman, reenters the action in the upcoming Justice League  , since DC has generally made sure the Man of Steel was represented on screen in Christ like terms since the  beginning. It just makes sense just to remain consistent with the analogue and to consistent as well with the comic book canon; Superman simply must come back from the dead. Every dead character returning to the narrative fold, though, kills the fun of these things. Which brings up the point this piece strongly suggests, the nagging question as to why audiences continue to bother showing up for these things. I know it's been predicted often,  but there is a tipping point for this material. We're saturated ,carpet bombed, pummeled with creeps in capes destroying fictional cities and a fantastic and devastating fall off in attendance looms sooner than Hollywood might think. This is to say the studios need to diversify their crops.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Forever Changes" was released 50 years ago!

Chickenbone Slim's "The Big Beat" (album review)

THE BIG BEAT--Chickenbone Slim
Chickenbone Slim is the alter ego of longtime San Diego bluesman Larry Teves, bassist, vocalist, and songwriter who many remember as the leader of the popular area blues band the Boogiemen. The Boogiemen was a crackerjack jump blues band in the style of Little Charlie and the Nightcats and, a bristling, swaggering bunch of dedicated blues hounds filling taverns throughout the county with their combustible, guitar and harmonica-driven approach to hard blues swing. The Boogiemen are no more, alas, but Teves is on the scene again in the guise of Chickenbone Slim, with a new disc, The Big Beat, which continues the blues orientation.   

As expected, there is a difference in this recent incarnation, which is that Chickenbone is more than the brawny bluster of riffing over the changes and singing about drinking, smoking, and driving around looking for kicks; the blues are here—the backbone of the Teves-penned songs—but there has been growth. Life has happened, experiences have changed tone, and responses and reactions cut a bit deeper. These are songs from one who’s been through a few situations, has fought his way out of some tight spots, problematic circumstances where it’s something different each time that rocks this blues man’s world. Following suit, the bluesman Chickenbone goes for a broader musical palette, beginning with the swerving, off-kilter strut of the title song “The Big Beat.” A seasoned narrator finding similarities in following the drummer’s accents and the flow of one’s bliss, a message underscored and firmly moved forward with the brash harmonica punctuation from multi-instrumentalist Jon Atkinson. The mood becomes more laconic with the strutting and stirring ‘Long Way Down,” a rueful recollection of paying the cost to be the boss, the popping rhythms nicely framing the spare, stinging, and appealingly gruff guitar work from Scot Smart. “Hemi Dodge” goes the other way stylistically, a country jaunt, a road song braced on lonesome harmonica moans and Chickenbone’s sly, galloping guitar.

Chickenbone intones the song in a comically talk-sung manner, a deadpan that very much made me think of a man sharing the wisdom of his experience mere minutes after his most recent disaster. Folk, funk, swing blues, and the swampier varieties of soul and funk inform this refreshing variety of styles. Chickenbone Slim, nee Larry Teves, brings us the blues from neighborhoods where most of us actually live. He plays a rangy kind of music, writes songs with the terse and sharp wit of someone who knows the meaning of living paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s punchy; it’s full of inescapable hooks, cutting guitar and gold-toned harmonica wailing. The Big Beat makes you glad you got out of bed and poured that first cup of coffee.

(This originally appeared in The San DiegoTroubadour. Used with kind permission.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan

I
t's not enough that we have the same first name and the same Irish second initial, my attraction to Berrigan's poems was the rather unbelligerent way he ignored the constricting formalities in poetry and rendered something of a record of his thoughts unspooling as he walked through the neighborhood or went about his tasks. "Where Will I Wander" is the title of a recent John Ashbery volume, and it might well be an apt description of Berrigan's style; shambling, personal, messy, yet able to draw out the sublime phrase or the extended insight from the myriad places his stanzas and line shifts would land on. The world radiated a magic and energy well enough without the poet's talents for making essences clear to an audience needing to know something more about what lies behind the veil, and Berrigan's gift were his personable conflations of cartoon logic, antic flights of lyric waxing, and darkest hour reflection , a poetry which, at it's best, seemed less a poem than it did a monologue from someone already aware that their world was extraordinary and that their task was to record one's ongoing incomprehension of the why of the invisible world. Things To Do In New York City:

"Wake up high up
frame bent & turned on
Moving slowly
& by the numbers
light cigarette
Dress in basic black
& reading a lovely old man’s book:

BY THE WATERS OF MANHATTAN
change

flashback

play cribbage on the Williamsburg Bridge
watching the boats sail by
the sun, like a monument,
move slowly up the sky
above the bloody rush:
break yr legs & break yr heart
kiss the girls & make them cry
loving the gods & seeing them die
celebrate your own
& everyone else’s birth:
Make friends forever

& go away "  --Ted Berrigan

Thor: Ragnarok is the distraction we require


Image result for thor ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok nearly lives up to the hype, with the accent being on Marvel's patented triplicate move, slick action, lots of jokes and a particularly intense emphasis on making sure the movies from their studio tie into together. It wouldn't be unfair to say that the movie would be incoherent for plot and character if one hadn't seen a long string of other Marvel brand films, in the right sequence. Perhaps part of the promotional hype should have been for Marvel to own the potential impenetrability of this film's core rationale for those other less familiar with this connected universe and provided for them a list of titles to view beforehand. All the same, Thor and Hulk seem less Avengers than they do Hope and Crosby of the 'Road" movies. Is the ramped up comedy a good idea? Yes, since is this is only good Thor movie of the three that have been made. The laughs were honestly achieved from character interaction , personality clash, the whole shot, and the humor were managed much, much better than the repetitive joke-fight-joke-joke-fight tedium of Civil War. Marvel movies are Disney movies, after all, and franchise films are required in this studio to very much resembling in style and tone what was made before; for them, judging their movies becomes how well the individual directors made the house style entertaining and just a little different. The present movie is an inspired variation on the formula.

For special effects set pieces, this effort is among the best of the year, diluted a notch or two for crowding too many into this two-hour movie. It works much better than the previous EF fiesta Valerian, which I thought was merely busy despite the amount of money spent constructing that confounding mess. Thor: Ragnarok has the benefit of character recognition--despite what I've already said about potential plot incoherent, the host of characters are known commodities, and well portrayed, full of plausible quirks and comic nonchalance. Matters move along briskly, the spectacle builds well, and the decision to use the design ideas of comic book genius artist Jack Kirby and Thor co-creator is a way to differentiate this picture from the three tepid films in this franchise. It has the psychedelic visual style of Kirby used to good and effective measure here. 

This isn't the game changer for the Marvel Universe that fans are hoping for--for all their polish, crafted fury and a sense  of ongoing wit, Marvel films have fallen prey to a lurking Disneyism that has all but infiltrated the rebel spirit of the comic book ethos and has made each hit they produce to be otherwise indistinguishable from the one    before it. Spectacular effects, superb editing, snappy dialogue, in that order or similarly changed   up to minuscule degrees, are what dominate this connected universe, and there is a mounting tedium in their ongoing slate of releases, which explains why the punchlines are ramped up in this production and that the small amounts  of self-reflective dread and existential moments are removed or reduced to all but inconsequential plot requirements. If that's the case, it works on its own terms, a distraction from real-world headlines that inform you that the world is filled with awful people doing hideous, heinous, ugly things to other people. This was a hoot, a laugh, a nail-biter, the entertainment we need. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

MOHAVISOUL: Hometown Blues (album review)


You may find yourself scrutinizing the information on the sleeve MohaviSoul's new release, Hometown Blues, to see if any members hail from regions that would qualify them as authentic mountain folks. It turns out to be a case of simulacra, but it is worth remarking that this ensemble has a sound that is not what you'd find in the usual soundtrack of a surf-and-sun , postcard-perfect day. MohaviSoul is making music that's catchy and obviously, honestly informed by a love for the Old Schoolers and the legacy they left for the world.

Neither laboriously beleaguered  nor overly sunny, these are stories about the simple ironies and unexpected pains and pleasures a life brings us. MohaviSoul is a bluegrass band, storytellers of woe and joy and love found and lost as their heroes seek fortune and adventure and a better chance around the bend. Formed in Ocean Beach, the beach area’s last outpost of the ’60s idea of being distinct and true to one’s one Thing, the interplay of guitars, fiddle, and dobro are bittersweet counterparts to the plaintive vocals of guitarist Mark Miller and mandolin player Randy Hansen, both of whom are also MohaviSoul’s principal songwriters. They are palpable rustic; their chords and taciturn lyrics seemed to have been written in the dusty patina that would fall on the old,  corroded truck these metaphorical minstrels would use to drive state to state  searching for another day's wage. 


The tunes are sufficiently rustic and soulfully rendered, a sequence of tales reminiscent of depression and dust bowl days; long, dry highways; train whistles; large regrets; and small joy. There is a strong, persistent sense that one shoulders their burden and moves onward, stoic, strong, accepting of what one has been handed throughout their adventures before and afterward. There is, as well, a remarkable lack of the pessimism one would expect from a genre predicated on a world view that borders on the bleak and despairing. The allure of bluegrass and mountain music and the appeal of Americana music in the largest sense are the tales of indomitable spirit and the willingness of the heroes to persevere and greet the next day, lessons learned, with a song and a strong, purposeful stride.

Superbly backed by the interlocking and buoyant mandolin from Hanson; the banjo work of Jason Weiss; and the subtly bittersweet colors, tones, and accents given us by special guests John Mailander on fiddle and Will Jaffee on dobro, the songs of Miller and Hanson are clear and poetically plain spoken, oftentimes declaring that whoever is listening to the varied tales of hardship, heartache, and the lot needs to heed the simplest advice: don’t sweat the chump change. “Gettie Up,” sexy as it sounds but more practical than it is randy, tells us to get on the beam when life becomes the trudge, while “Stay Tuned,” a spritely, rollicking ramble, simply and subtly warns us to be pleasantly surprised when different and better outcomes result from what at first appears to be a grim and final dead end. MohaviSoul’s music is swiftly seductive, full of foot tapping, shoulder moving tempos, simple music accomplishing profound emotional effects. 

(This originally appeared in slightly different form in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with Kind Permission).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Netflix Cancels House Of Cards Amid Kevin Spacey Controversy




From Bleedingcool.com I learned that Netflix has canceled its flagship series House of Cards , fallout from the recent allegations of inappropriate sexual overtures allegedly made by to a  then 14 year old actor Andrew Rapp. Season 6, forthcoming, will be its last.It would appear that we're in for sustained period of all manner of celebrity--movie star, mogul, director, politician, novelist, poet, artist, professor, corporate leader--being exposed as sexual predators and over all creeps. Spacey maintains, so far, that he was too drunk to remember anything inappropriate going on with a 14 year old Andrew Rapp, mentioning that he was drunk and things are hazy, but the damage is done to his career, starting with House of Cards,his Netflix political drama. His character is a man who does anything in his power to achieve his ends. The character , Frank Underwood, has wracked up so many outrages that I was worried this show would go on forever without this fictional being made to pay for his sins. Seems circumstances developing from real life, the realm that, in itself, serves justice in unexpected ways on a time schedule not disclosed to those of us impatient for payback; Spacey has lost his hit show and perhaps his livelihood, at least for a while. How all this pans out in the long run is anyone's guess, although it's a predictable outcome of all these allegations that the media, social, print and broadcast, will move onto other less exploited outrages they can in turn cover with sensational headlines and little sympathy or comprehension.Even as reader attentions are drawn elsewhere, there remains a hope that this is not just another passing controversy and marks a profound change in the culture, which is that sexual abuse will not tolerated by anyone in any corner of our land, by anyone, anywhere. One hopes this evil stops here. So the question becomes whether , after more revelations, exposures and screaming headlines, will this topic be dropped as interest wanes, or are we willing to change the way we treat each other? I am not optimistic.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best movies of 2017 so far, Part 1




1.Blade Runner 2049
Not a film I anticipated with any great optimism, as Ridley Scott, the director of the first film, a masterpiece recognized only after its unspectacular theatrical performance and the oh-hum reviews, was an erratic director, to be kind. He was very capable of making movies that while boasting an attractive style, would let you down with half baked story lines and conventional Hollywood endings, whether they be     upbeat or bleak by the end of the last reel. Fortunately, smarter judgment prevailed and director Dennis Villeneuve--Sicario, Arrival, Prisoners-- was brought on bard to extend the replicant saga. Fittingly, the film is a luscious, lovingly detailed and poetically blurred vision of a polluted and decimated Los Angeles and western United States, and the enticing and confounding issues that arise from the creation of very human like androids to essentially function and exist as nothing other than a disposable slave class remain with us. The smart matter here is that the right story elements are drawn from the original film,the right characters are brought back to furnish       us with ideas as to how matters have changed over thirty years , the mysteries have deepened more so , and the mysteries remain. BR 2049 has all the issues the lured us in from the original motion picture, but it is its  own majestic,dystopian saga. It is equal parts meditation, philosophical debate, action movie, love story and, above all, a mystery, all the strands perfectly fused together seamlessly. This film is a masterpiece.



2. Wind River
Related imageDirector Taylor Sheridan slowly, ominously unfolds a murder mystery on an Indian reservation in the hard cold winter  of Wyoming , a drama with a muted , slow build, like the most emotionally complex of pieces of music, which  brings together a tracker (Jeremy Renner)_ and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson).Less a mystery, actually,than an effectively tooled investigative procedural, the investigators, a pair from realities alienated from each other in thinking and personality --one taciturn,deliberate, the other vocal, questioning, proactive--sift and probe and poke through generations of male culture,both white and Native American and makes you  how the worst aspects of human inclination--seeking power, dominance, submission, exploitation--are made worse tenfold at the local level with the merciless scramble for diminishing resources. Political implications aside, this is a beautifully shot film--snow capped mountains and forests have rarely been photographed this beautifully --and the choice to lens many wide shots to give a scope of the bigness of the land and the harshness of the  weather serves as a poignant contrast 

3.Baby Driver

Writer and director Edgar Wright, we've read, has directed a heist film that is as much a musical as it is a crime comedy. Well, yes, in as much as the title character, actually named Baby Driver, loves to prepare special mix tapes while dancing , highlighted frequently in this film. The steps actor Ansel Elgort executes in these scenes are fairly  elegant indeed, Astaire like to a degree.  Don't let that stir you    off, though, as what Wright creates is in keeping with previous work , which is zany, witty,  subversive of the genre he's working in, but never so busy   with his technical virtuosity that he forgets to bring the fun the audience came for. Our hero is a fantastically gifted getaway  driver indentured to a ruthless crime master .Finding love at last, Baby finds himself attempting some impossible ploys to free himself of teh clutches of his boss so he  can go off and find happiness and some kind of normalcy after a life   of forced criminal activity. Not an  original premise, but it's merely the  starting point    for Wright, he subverts the cliches , veers in another direction other than where you expect him, expands and contracts the minimal plot particulars, and keeps matters moving, moving , moving with a quick but sure sense of how to keep the many balls he has in the air from hitting the floor. Wright also draws fine performances from Jamie Fox, Jon Ham and the ever effusive Kevin Spacey as the harshly ironic crime boss. Expect double, triple and quadruple crosses here as the matters pile on, and expect many a "WTF?" moments and to burst into laughter at unexpected moments. Baby Driver is an exercise in    exhilarating virtuosity.
4.Paterson
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch at his best, a seemingly trivial and glancing examination of a Paterson, New Jersey  bus driver also named Paterson whom we get watch as he goes about his day, waking up next to his   wife, clocking into work, driving his route around the downtown area (it seems), listening to rich chunks of fascinatingly inane small talk from his passengers and, most telling, having lunch. Paterson the driver, living in Paterson the city, echos the legacy of Paterson the epic poem by William Carlos Williams, the great American poet and and a Paterson native son. Paterson, the driver,  writes poetry on his lunch break, and in the course of the film viewers have the only film about a poet I remember that showed the writing process in effective movie terms. The poem, in the driver's hand writing, appears on the screen as he composes and we listen to the poem in his voice being created; revisions are made, lines and words crossed out, new phrases are introduced, what begins as seemingly prosaic and ordinary becomes something extraordinary , worh noticing, an idea beautifully expressed and preserved in words. This is the beauty of Jarmusch at  his best, finding rich and resonating veins from the   everyday, bits of modern life uncluttered and made just slightly odd. Humorous, touching, perfectly disarming , this movie is also particularly in small pleasures that are matter of fact,   bits of surprise with no fanfare, one of which    is that the Paterson the driver/character living in a city named Paterson which is also the title of an important American poem is portrayed by Actor Adam Drive. Intended  or by coincidence, I think  that is very, very cool  in a satisfying small way.

5.Colossal
Related imageColossal, a fine indy film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The premise is this: a young woman loses her job and boyfriend in NYC and, unable to find work and broke as well, moves back to her home town to stay in her parent's empty house. At the same time, a giant monster begins to destroy Seoul , Korea . The woman realizes after a while that she has a mysterious but very direct connection with the monster destroying a city a half a planet away. Science fiction, romantic comedy and psychological thriller in a well executed fusion of what would conflicting genres, writer and director Vigalondo does not merely mash together disparate kinds of pop culture, but instead weaves them together. Without going into tidbits that would spoil the film, I would just add that the script is as tightly constructed as it is wildly imagined and it requires to suspend our disbelief a little further and, in a more challenging aspect, to suspend it in ways not usually demanded of us as viewers. Think of this: if one's actual life seems to slip, merge, evolve and abruptly change tones, perceptually, from being a comedy, tragedy , romance and soap opera in the course of month, a week, a day, why wouldn't this also hold for a fictional , more fantastical world? Colossal does , I promise, contain all the elements I've mentioned, and they are pertinent to the story being told, but this a narrative with the varied genre restrictions removed. For all that seems fantastic and scary, the players and their situations and how they respond to the changes that happen to them are, (ahem) human, all too human. Odd, quirky and defying genre expectations, this is splendid and engrossing story, with a perfect ending to seemingly unresolvable complications that you didn't see coming. Fine performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

6.Wonder Woman
Related imageDirector Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual super hero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares, the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think.  A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Adopt as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is quite good here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance. Gadot hasn't the broadest range as an actress, a fact that led the objections to her being casted in the role of the defining super heroine, but what she does here is akin to what other limited-commodity screen thespians have worked well with, which is to perform splendidly within the limitations. An imaginatively creation of both alternative history and alternative history, stylized grandly but not overbearing, exhibiting recognizable emotion and conviction among the characters yet avoiding preachiness and sentimentality, and above all else, sufficiently, effectively, efficiently action packed,

Poetry as symptom



Ezra Pound, Locked Away | The American Conservative:

This is a fascinating article from the American Conservative, not a publication I normally peruse, let alone read. This article lured me in, the sort of click bait that snags me every time, an essay concerning the treatment of poet, translator, critic and would be culture overlord during his decade long stay in a mental illness ward rather than stand trial for his pro-Fascist broadcasts emanating from Italy during the 2nd World War. Pound even then was a controversial figure, as widely praised as he was condemned by literary tastemakers. Rather than place him on trial for treason, federal prosecutors dropped the hot potato and had him declared him insane, not fit to stand trial for any charges brought against him. Part of what makes this story interesting is the whole issue of who has the power to declare others mentally ill or otherwise unqualified for due process, as well as who has the power to define and enforce standards of normality and deviance.

 The discussions naturally filters into the idea of art being something less than an expression of imagination from which literate populations can benefit and instead be used to demonstrate states of mind that must be removed from the population and, following suit, any conversation about the nature of the nation. The hearing used to determine Pound's sanity accepted testimony from doctors, at the behest of the poet's lawyer, who swore that evidence of Pound's derangement required no further research than to the poetry itself. Only a madman would write this balderdash, and such a mind is the sort to insanely promote the efforts of a national enemy. It is a slippery slope that still concerns all of us who regard access to artists and the unfettered results of their imaginations a right.I encourage a read of this pertinent essay. The issues it raises, beyond the matter of Pound's sanity and resulting malignity , continues to deform the discourse on culture, politics, who gets to influence decisions over the way we collectively assess matters of art and social need through the way language is guided away from any sense of precision separate from a loaded agenda. This matter lingers like a festering wound the lot of us keep  picking the scab  from.

Babbling from the Art Opening;Art, democracy, history


Image result for painters studioA young painter who is given to creating huge canvases blessed with sub-Cubist line drawings somewhat highlighted with fading coloration that suggest a cross between Robert Motherwell and an anemic Peter Max opined, over drinks, that democracies are anti-art. Where this came from I don’t know, as I wasn’t in her conversation, but it is a topic that I thought about for about an hour, on the way home, my head alive with half-formed ideas needing a keyboard for elaboration. This is among the benefits (or curses) of not drinking, you tend to remember every idea that comes to you. I thought, regarding the comment from our young abstractionist, that the matter of democracies being “anti-art” is less that democracies are anti-artistic than they are resistant to the notion that aesthetic concerns and artistic expression are reserved for a cultivated elite. Democracy rejects this sublimated priesthood on principle, and opens the arena, the galleries so that more who wish to do so may engage in the intuitive/artistic process and keep the activity alive in ways that are new and precisely relevant to the time--this is the only way that the past has any use at all, as it informs the present day activity, and allows itself to be molded to new sets of experiences. 


Art is about opening up perspectives, not closing them down, and that is the democratic spirit at its best. Otherwise, the past is a rigor mortised religion, and history is an excuse for brutal, deathwish nostalgia. One advances into their art with no real concern about making history--their obvious concerns are about making their art, with some idea of what it is they're advancing toward, and what past forms are being modified and moved away from. But the judgment of history--as if History, capital H, were a bearded panel viewing a swimsuit competition--will be delivered piecemeal, over the years, after most of us are dead, and our issues and concerns and agendas are fine dust somewhere. The artist, meantime, concentrates on the work, working as though outside history, creating through some compulsion and irrational belief that the deferred import of the work will be delivered to an audience someday, somehow.


That is an act of faith, by definition. The artist, painter or otherwise, also cast their strokes, with brush or mallet, with the not-so-buried-dread of the possibility that the work will remain unknown, shoved in the closet, lost in the attic, and they will be better known for their day job rather than their manipulation of forms through a rarefied medium. History, for that matter, is not some intelligence that has any idea of what it's going prefer in the long run--the best I can offer is that history is news that stays news, to paraphrase a poet, which implies that the painter who survives the tides and eddies of tastes and fashion and fads will the one whose work has an internalized dynamic that is felt long after the brush is dropped and the breathing stopped. History, however, it comes to be made, and whoever writes it, is a metaphysical dead end the better art makers sidestep, and instead make the punch and panache of their invigorated wits count in the strokes of the brush, the curl of the paint scudding over the surface, the blurring and clarifying of forms, shapes, colors and its lack: painting, coming from the modernist angle that still seems a sound and malleable way of handling the hairier knots on the chain, comes as where the world ends, the limit of what the eye can see, the forms the eye is blind to but the mind, muddle that it is, tries to imagine in a sheer swirl of perception. It is about the essaying forth of projects that strive for a moment of perfection that suddenly dies with the slightest re-cue of temperature, it is always about the attempt to convey a new idea. The articulation of the fresh, original perception may end in inevitable failure, but the connections made along the way, the bringing together of contrary energies made the attempt and its result worth the experience.

This seems to be the material that the shrouded groves of History recalls, the earnest and frenzied striving of artists who are too busy with their work to realize that history may, or may not, finally absolve them of strange rage for paints and brushes.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Flattery gets you half way there

HOW MANY PALTRY, FOOLISH, PAINTED THINGS
(Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)
How many paltry foolish painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days,
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.
Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
To have seen thee, their sex’s only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng
,

Michael Drayton’s ode speaks to posterity, speaking to what he believes is the likelihood that this fair woman will be remembered, gloried and virtually worshipped as womanly perfection in ages yet to come by virtue of his poem. The ladies who now clutter the streets “shall be forgotten” by poets and this miss will be the envy of women of future elegant pretense because Drayton’s directly addressed ideal is “their sex’s only glory”. A harsh judgment, but it plays to vanity and a person’s feeling of being unjustly ignored. There is resentment here to be exploited and Drayton’s technique, effective or not, is a masterful piece of exploitation. It takes a man, after all, to make the world aware of the genius of the woman who has taken his arm in companionship, in romance, in matrimony. The woman is anonymous, a cipher without the right man to make the powers that are innate in her bosom radiate fiercely, proudly, for the world to praise and to cater to. “So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,/Still to survive in my immortal song.”

This is to cleverly say that the woman will be remembered forever because of the man’s immortal song, which is also to say that only a man, this man, could have written. Without the man’s words, his voice, the woman being seduced is unknown, without the power he extols in the lyric, which is to say that she is without her own voice, bereft of even a language to command. I rather like the wit and spare and adroit verbal sharpness that mark both of these poems; graceful, preening, softly boasting and flattering the women to whom they are addressed in terms that bestow qualities exceptional , unique, miraculous to behold, these are the testimonies of horn dogs working their way into a woman’s favor. And, perhaps, the respective beds they sleep in. Rather classically, both these quick witted sonnets display less the feeling of spontaneity , of genuine play, than they do the feeling of a well constructed presentation, an argument mulled over, finessed and converted into a poeticized template intended for the means of endearing oneself to women by appealing to their perceived vanity. This makes you consider the old cartoon line when Olive Oyle says to Popeye and Bluto , as they try to woo her , “I bet you say that to all the girls.” The speakers, the wooers, the orators that profess the unqualified beauty , brilliance, charm, grace and sublimity of their objects of affection , deliver their testimonies with it in mind to present themselves in an exceptional light; the sonnets are, in essence, sales pitches, imbuing the speakers with qualities compatible with the ones they’ve ascribed to their ladies dearest without so much as one self-glorified personal pronoun being used in either of these artfully cantilevered proclamations. It’s a subtle argument to be made that requires the most skillful of tongues, that the qualities , the talents that are being attached to the would be betrothed have not been noticed by the the rabble, the masses, those who live a penuric existence, and that only the men who have broached and spoke to the subject of the ladies beauty are intelligent, sensitive, caring, dynamic enough to speak these truths. It is artful indeed, requiring a fine a balance, of knowing when to let one’s voice trail off, to end on a soft syllable, awaiting a response. This is bragging through the flattering of another. The intended audience, I’m sure, is for an audience that considers itself literate and therefore possessed of an elevated sensibility regarding what I think both these verses are about, really, seduction. But we do have the experience , as readers, of getting a vicarious thrill and find ourselves imagining to be the speaker in either poem, no less than small boys imagine themselves to be a super hero with great powers in the fight against immediate evil.

The works seduction both ways, upon the women who are listening and to the readers who are literate and , we might assume, a tad shy and less quicksilver in their effusions of love, honor, grace. It is a way of being that readers, male overall, can fancy themselves as possessing their object of desire (“object” being the operative term) taking ownership of a would-be lover’s (sexual or courtly) self esteem because the virtues outlined in these cleanly articulated metaphors and allusions would not have come to mind and, further , would not have existed had not been for the innately superior senses of the male. Even the women in the poems, the ones who stand apart from others of their own gender, are chattel nonetheless. While I think the function of the sonnets are morally insidious–this is a world where women are lesser beings and have no selfhood, no definition in the absence of men who control them–it is a kick to realize that it is the male of the readership who is also being played with the sweetness of these words, in the words of internet, “owned”.  

By chattel , I mean to say that the women of this historical period, even the ones singled out for plain-tho-generous praise in verse, are considered property. From Merriam Webster’s On Line dictionary ” something (such as a slave, piece of furniture, tool, etc.) that a person owns other than land or buildings.” While I do believe that the real world sensibilities were a saner as regards the treatment of women, but there is the tendency in cultures dominated by the will, wishes, wiles and whinings of men to treat women as if they were accessories, an extension of a man’s personality and little else. In the grander rhetoric of love poems and protestations of virtues bordering on sheer virtuosity, we realize that that the man who seeks to woo may as well be talking to a car salesman as he describes the vehicle he’d like to drive off the lot and bring home where he keeps his other stuff. On occasion I am of the mind that love poems of the period were , in essence, projections of fragile egos confronting a Hobbesian universe where life was nasty, brutish and short. Again, this is a seduction that works in two different directions, to an audience that wishes to think well of itself and the ability of their cultivated readings and wit to make disruptive realities remain at bay, or at least out of mind, and , of course, for the women addressed directly, bluntly and yet with a spare poetry that resembles a truth the subject has denied. A woman can indeed sing the verse for a man and have no real confusion as a result if the situation were our current period, the here and right now. 

It’s a dubious proposition that a woman to man address , at least in what there was of the public sphere, would have done well with a readership , or listenership, as the case may be. Drayton’s verse survives because the word choices travel well through the centuries and the changes in how the culture leans. So yes, a woman may serenade a male with few changes to this lyric, but such was not always the case. I have my doubts Drayton had adaptability on his mind when he wrote his song; the constraints of songwriting likely had more to do with its gender-less brevity. And yes, all seductions need willing partners for their to any kind of dominant/submissive relationship, but we must remember all the same that it is men writing these verses, not women, and that it is a world of moral, aesthetic and philosophical imperatives that are created by generations of male poets. We may turn all of this on its head all we may care to and say a is really y, but that is really knee jerk deconstruction at best.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

LOUISE GLUCK AND THE MUCK SHE INSPIRES


The length of In the Cafe, appearing this week in Slate, would have you think that author Louise Gluck is a monologist. That's not the case, we find; a skilled monologist will have a point or an effect they achieve, more often than not. Gluck's poem long lines are merely that, long, un-inflected, without snap or spice. Instead, we have a droning account of a male friend who happens to be a serial romancer--a sensitive male who absorbs portions of women's lives and energy over a period of time and then leaves them for the next adventure. It's not that this isn't worth writing about, but this is more topic drift development, an exercise in killing time. Gluck doesn't even go through the pretense of trying to make this intriguing as poetry and offers up the stale device of disguising undistinguished prose in irregular line breaks.

Gluck's long-form poetry is part of the disparaged School of Quietude,as Ron Silliman has called it. the conservative conglomeration of professional poets who's careerism controls the major book contracts, literary awards and plum teaching assignments who's market-pleasing style, a gush of self-infatuated musings that prefer to leave the reader hanging in murmuring waves of uncommitted relativism--the sort of work that doesn't move you to think beyond your conventional wisdom but leaves you anxiety-ridden in the decorated fringes of your misery. The attitude, among the worse offenders, seems to be gutless, indecisive, reflective rather than reflexive, passive rather than active in the world. One appreciates stillness and the sharply observed detail independent of an interfering ego, but that is not what Quietude, in the worst of it's the world, is about; the poets seem to be bothered that they were cursed with compositional skills. You read them time and again and come away with the idea that a requirement among this coterie is to speak of themselves in their work as attempting to have an experience. You can feel the shrug since the poet dropping his pen, you can nearly hear the soft swearing under his or her breath about the perception being too hard to convey with wonder, awe, as a miracle in itself. That is to say, complacency wins again and the prospect of changing one's loathsome circumstance is too frightening. One would rather suffer with what they know rather than dare a single footstep in another direction. The worst of this kind of poetry, I've heard, is like a three hour forced tour of your own living room.

Hers is better described, perhaps, as the School of Drone, a kind of outlining of unexceptional incidents involving straw figures wherein a reader suffers what would have been a tolerable three minute on-air NPR essay about a diminutive epiphany stretched egregious lengths. that provoke involuntary teeth grinding. One doesn't really care about Gluck's portrait of a man-in-process; she attempts a neat inversion in maintaining, toward the end, that this man wasn't wasn't a bastard nor a feckless creep. By the time she grapples with her reasons for having sympathy for her comrade's quest for enlightenment, we are out of sympathy with her tale. This becomes the melodrama you switch the channel from.It's cut-rate of D.H.Lawrence, but without the erotic intensity. She does, retain Lawrence's rhetorical bulk. Like him, she sounds like she's trying to talk herself into believing her basic premise as well as the reader, a trait that makes "In the Cafe" a dry lecture that hinges on a vague and brittle point. This poem is the equivalent of the bore at the party who continues to prate although everyone else has gone home and the lights are turned off.

Adding to the despair over this poem's glacial pace is the promise of the first lines, which are bright, with a hint of witty resignation; It's natural to be tired of earth./When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven. It's a perfect set up for a story of every man's quest for the place where he might find contentment in love and spirit. But where there might have been a telling comedy that provides the moral that our expectations undercut what we assume is our virtuous yearnings instead turns into a drab recollection. No time is wasted in weighing down the promise of the first two lines with the leaden grouchiness of the second two:.
You do what you can do in a place
but after awhile you exhaust that place,
so you long for rescue.
This gives the whole game away.I wonder if this would have worked far, far better if Gluck had written this as a short story. The prose -quality of these lines might have bloomed a little more, breathed a little more air, the scenario might have been more compelling. The first lines are terrific and they could have been a poem by themselves, a condensing Gluck seemingly wants nothing to do with. Being succinct has amazing advantages.It provides an ending, a place to land. Gluck and other writers --myself at times--often mistake raw length for more substantial writing. Some writers have the gift to go long and reward the patient reader.Most do not, and few of us are Proust, few of us are Whitman, few of us are early Allan Ginsberg.

Special Edition--Jack DeJohnette


Image result for special edition jack dejohnette
SPECIAL EDITION--Jack DeJohnette
Considering the line-up on this disc- drummer De Johnette , one of the best· rounded jazz drummers anywhere, alto sexist Arthur Blythe and tenor saxist and bass clarinetist David Murray , and bassist Peter Warren ,you would have thought it would have been a significant breakthrough record, one of those legendary sessions that chart new directions in the art. This ensemble, though, had no intentions of blazing any new trails, as the music stays safely in the boundaries of what we've heard before. the confident tone which he sustains through the wildest stretches of his soloing, an unpredictable style that finds nuance and unexpected inroads in a solo space. Blythe, on the other hand, exploits the alto sax for all it's worth, often changing moods from the whimsical and lyrical, to the soulfully anguished. De Johnette plays solidly under their playing, rumbling like Philly Joe Jones one moment, accentuating hard-rock bass· drums another, and continually fragmenting and piecing back together rhythms as the music flows onward. Bassist Warren seems the odd man Which isn't to say that this record lacks spark. On the contrary, Special Edition is fresh and lively, highlighting first·rate at the hands of Blythe and Murray. Throughout the disc, their instruments join in a variety of harmonic settings the fusion-tinged "One For Eric," the rhythm and blues riff of "Zoot Suit," the ethereal texturing on John Coltrane's tone poem " Indian-and at key points branch out to establish their own personalities. Murray, alternating between tenor sax and bass clarinet, offers a strong, confident tone which he sustains through the wildest stretches of his soloing, an unpredictable style that finds nuance and unexpected inroads in a solo space. Blythe exploits the alto sax for all it's worth, often changing moods from the whimsical and lyrical, to the soulfully anguished. De Johnette plays solidly under their playing, rumbling like Philly Joe Jones one moment, accentuating hard-rock bass· drums another, and continually fragmenting and piecing back together rhythms as the music flows onward. Bassist Warren seems the odd man Which isn't to say that this record lacks spark.  Throughout the disc, their instruments join in a variety of harmonic settings the fusion-tinged "One For Eric," the rhythm and blues riff of "Zoot Suit," the ethereal extemporizing on John Coltrane's tone poem " India"-and at key points branch out to establish their own personalities. Murray, alternating between tenor sax and bass clarinet, offers a strong example of the gravitational allure open-ended improvisation can result in it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece

The box office hasn't been promising for Blade Runner 2049, the long-anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott's  1980 science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner. That's entirely unfortunate, because director Denis Villeneuve's take on the story, originally inspired by Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is a sequel in the best and truest sense. Villeneuve works closely with screenwriters  Hampton Fancher, Michael Green and draws upon the right story elements from the first film realization of this dark forecast, the right characters are reprised, the right social issues highlighted again through a bleak, rain and shadow cloaked landscape, both urban and otherwise. It's a simple notion that nearly all artistically and thematically coherent sequels --Godfather 2, Aliens--share: enough material for plot possibility,the justification to continue the story told so far, and the instinct to have the next chapter stands on its own , a work onto itself, not a mere reiteration of melodramatic effects or punchlines from what had worked previously.Ridley Scott never again directed a film as beautiful or as provocative as film Blade Runner, his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Much has been said of the film's look, an evocation of Los Angeles in a future time, with smart and stylish renditions of classic film noir style. If nothing else, this film does make fine use of the extremes of light and dark, with a muted, earth-toned schema for the matters in between that suggest the competing sediments of rust, dust, soot and chemical pollution, a suitable palette for a thriller set in the future. More than the look, however, is the set of issues the movies manage to cogently engage, from the spiritual ---the rogue androids quest to meet their creator and so extend their lives--to the sociological and philosophical. Immigration, urban cluster fucking, the mashing of cultures, the unprincipled introduction of odious technologies into the consumer marketplace, untried, untested, consequences be damned. He's directed other noteworthy films--The DuelistBlack Hawk DownGladiator, Matchstick Men, and the much more recent efforts Prometheus and The Martian. come to mind--but none of them have the combination of ideas, tone, or visual allure that made Blade Runner a singular work; the odd thing is that it is that rare instance of when an elegantly designed vehicle contains  any number of ideas that are substantial enough for a half-dozen discussion groups and a surfeit of monographs. This follows Philip K.Dick's fascination with how populations are willing to relinquish their humanity--the kind of inventive, curious, adventurous humanity that isn't afraid of hard work, using its brain, or risking death in the cause of finding out more of the world. In his novels technology is seen as the means through which the human being becomes less human by having the burden of having to use his Free Will less and less. As the machines take on more of what was exclusively the domain of flesh and blood, the tragedy that befalls those who've chosen convenience and leisure over a grittier essence doesn't seem tragic at all; it is hard to empathize with the products of pure leisure who haven't a care except for the entertainment of their senses.In the plot, theme, and, especially in the fabulously rendered and supremely controlled visual design which fuses a film-noir sense of bleak anxiety with an unequaled elegance--Blade Runner 2049 is my best film of the year. Yet audiences are not showing up to fill the theater seats. Why? It reasonably is said that 35 years too long for a sequel come out. Much as I think this new film is a splendidly and lyrically executed effort and convincing continuation of the previous film's storyline, it's not ;unlikely that those not intimately involved with the film like we BR aficionados don't have much invested in whether self-aware androids have the right of self-determination or whether Decker was a replicant himself or how a society becomes, less and less subtly, a master-slave society the more of a society's resources are depleted. These aspects were very apparent and powerfully conveyed in Scott's script and visual narrative, but since the film tanked in 1982 at the box office, it's particulars of  a paranoid, dystopic world seemed to be familiar only;y to the dedicated cineastes, there was not the kind of Star Wars (or Game of Thrones) anticipation of what is doing to happen next. What's especially tragic is that the no-show audiences, the current generation of internet content streamers who've little invested in getting deeper into the magnificent , dark murk that is the world inhabiting the darkest recesses of P.K.Dick's steamiest fever dream , are missing out on a film that is full chapter in an ongoing story, the most recent incidents in a fantasy of societal collapse. It's a masterpiece on its own terms, the vision of a particularly sharp and visually astute director, a canny screenplay, and an amazing visualization of a film-noir style, with high contrast light and shadow creating moody, angular atmospherics amid  the decrepit architecture of once great cities surrendering their concrete, steel and glass back to the earth .Not a reboot, not a tricked out and tone deaf "re-imagining", 2049 picks up from where the previous film's storyline stopped thirty years previously. Or rather, the previous tale is revealed as a compelling element after we're already immersed in a new story concerning a second generation "blade runner", agents of the Los Angeles Police Department specializing in the destruction of older, artificially intelligent androids who, because of their sentience have rebelled too often against their wholly human orders, have been targeted for unforgiving elimination. Or, in the film's brutal euphemism, "retired".  It suffices to say that Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is to the original film what The Godfather 2 was to the first Godfather film.  It's a masterpiece in tone, image, mood, atmosphere.