Being Julia (2004, István Szabó)

Categories: 2004 and Movies.

I haven’t read the novel (I gather it’s one of Maugham’s lesser regarded works) but I feel like the edge that I have always felt in his writing is present here, which is no small accomplishment. Benning gives a bravura performance in the title role (though everybody’s good) and the production design is excellent. But it’s all a little All Above Eve. 7/10 Read More

Riley goes to Colombia Day 8 – February 17, 2016

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

This morning we had a flight to Medellin. We were sitting in the airport wondering why everyone was lined up for their flight 2 hours too early. We decided “well, I guess that’s what they do here” and got in line. Only once we were in line did we realize it was for the earlier flight. It was a short flight, but it was a nice one – there wasn’t much of a ceiling so we were able to see the coffee plantations on our descent into Medellin. That seemed like a real treat until…well, I’ll tell you in a Read More

Behold the Lamb (2011, John McIlduff)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

This is one of those movies where quirky characters – who don’t like each other – spend a day with each other and learn some kind of profound lessons about life. If this was an American movie it would come complete with a particularly quirky score. I don’t like these people, but though I learn more about them and they grew on me I’m not sure why I care about their hijinks and their life lessons. It’s well made and all that, but I am just bored of these types of films, even Irish spins on them. 6/10 Read More

Amy aka Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story (2015, Asif Kapadia)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is a documentary about Amy Winehouse, her life, short career and struggles with fame and substance abuse. As a society, we always seem to gravitate to those artists we lose early in life, but in this particular case it seems that more of the story is about the problems of fame (and, particularly, the awfulness of the UK tabloids) than the music, as Winehouse apparently didn’t produce very much music in her lifetime (if the movie is anything to go by). It’s a tragic story that we’ve heard many times before: music is salvation from personal demons but the Read More

Blackfish (2013, Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is an affecting documentary about the problems of keeping Orcas in captivity for human amusement. It is completely one-sided (though that might be a ridiculous thing to say, given that there is no other side, as far as the orcas are concerned) but that is in part because Sea World wouldn’t participate. The film raises questions about whether or not humans should be keeping animals (particularly large mammals) in captivity and, more specifically, working with them in close proximity. The main whale this movie focuses on had injured people before it killed someone. Other whales have also. It’s fair Read More

Salt (2010, Phillip Noyce)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is one of those movies where everyone is double crossing everyone else and, if you think about the triple cross at the heart of this movie…well, it sure doesn’t make much sense. Everything is competent: there’s a great cast, giving their all, and the production values are high. But the plot is dumb and the feats required of Salt to accomplish everything she sets out to are superhuman. I could take this or leave it. It’s yet another action spy movie and I really don’t know why it’s any different than any other. 4/10 Read More

Angels & Demons (2009, Ron Howard)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is one of those movies where even a little bit of a thought unravels everything. Tom Hanks’ character makes insane “deductions” and everyone (rightly) thinks he’s insane, yet somehow the plot machinations always bear him out. It’s utterly ridiculous stuff, especially the climatic scenes where there’s literally no way that anyone could have possibly set up such elaborate clues or interpreted them. Frankly, the high production values are literally the only thing that saves this from being an utter disaster. 3/1o Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 7 – February 16, 2016

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

This morning we went to Playa Blanca. There was more than a little confusion: Nobody picked us up despite the pledge yesterday that we would be picked up. We could have walked four times before we finally got in a cab. First, our hotel called them and they said they were on their way. Then our hotel called again, and we were told to take a cab. We waited close to an hour before they told us they were waiting for us, but only after our hotel had called them twice. (Fortunately, the tour company paid for the cab. We Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 6 – February 15, 2016

Categories: 2016 and Travel.

The day before, we were hoping to figure out how to get to a beach, but we had contacted a tour group but had not heard anything. (The beach situation: beaches a few miles away in Bocagrande, on the same peninsula – rendered an “island” by a canal – but in a Miami Beach-type setting. Alternatively you can take boats to islands further afield. Cartagena’s old city does not have beaches.) Not knowing whether or not we would be going to a beach today or tomorrow, we went to the Modern Art museum. Yes, another modern art museum. This one Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 5 – February 14, 2016

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

Valentine’s Day. One of the cool things about this hotel was the breakfasts. Every morning we had a choice of “American” or local breakfast, and I ate the local every day: empanadas, arepas, a local sausage and limes. Plus, fresh fruit juice! Good stuff. This morning we walked over to Castillo de San Felipe, which I have read is one of the largest Spanish style forts in the New World, if not the largest. Even walking over after breakfast, it was already fucking hot. (Though, as with the entire time we were in Cartagena, there was a breeze, albeit a Read More

American Experience: The Poisoners Handbook (2014, Rob Rapley)

Categories: 2014 and TV.

This is a fascinating history of both the emergence of forensic science in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, but also of homcidal (and accidental) poisonings in NYC. It’s a useful reminder about how much we take for granted in the criminal justice system but also in our food and other safety laws – we’re protected now, but we once weren’t, when people were able to sell radium-based “tonics” and cosmetics, for example. (Jesus tapdancing Christ.) Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and it’s on Netflix. 8/10 Read More

The Yes Album (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

For most of my prog-rock listening life, I have not fully gotten Yes. I don’t know what it is about them, but of the Big 6 they were long my least favourite. This has changed as I got older, as I have come to find ELP extremely inconsistent and Tull to be more than a little repetitive, but I still don’t love Yes. And I still can’t understand why. I should love them, as I love aspects of what they do, but I don’t. This record is the earliest of theirs I’ve heard so far, but it actually sort of Read More

Tapestry (1971) by Carole King

Categories: 1971 and Music.

First off: this is not my kind of music at all – the songs, the instrumentation and arrangements both not my thing. That being said, the band is good for what it is and there are lots of star guest appearances (if Mitchell and Taylor were stars at the time) that blend into the background. King’s songs are certainly decent, though I’ve never been a fan. But for me, the thing that makes this listenable is King herself, who certainly appears to be living/feeling these songs in a way in which most “soft rock” performers absolutely do not. This may Read More

Crazy Hose (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Depending on how you count, this is either Crazy Horse’s debut, their second album or their third album: there’s The Rockets album from 1968 and there’s their first collaboration with Neil Young from 1969. I haven’t heard The Rockets’ album, but the Neil Young album is one of my absolute favourites. There are two things missing from this record: Neil Young the songwriter (present on only two songs) and Neil Young the guitarist (entirely absent). The band has compensated by featuring Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and others. (I had no idea that Crazy Horse wasn’t a trio when it was Read More

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, Scott Glosserman)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

MILD SPOILERS This film begins as the horror movie equivalent to the classic 1992 Belgian black comedy Man Bites Dog. It’s literally the same concept: a documentary team follows a serial killer around. However, the additional conceit here is that the audience sees what the horror movie would look like, were one being made. Does that sound a little confused to you? Because it is. And that latter part is soon dropped, as the film becomes more of a conventional horror (comedy?) movie when Leslie Vernon and the documentary team have their falling out. There are a number of really Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 4 – February 13, 2016

Categories: 2016 and Travel.

The first two mornings at the hotel, we’d had regular food for breakfast: eggs, waffles. But today we got tamales! They were pretty good. We had a super fast ride to the airport, as it was a Saturday morning and apparently the awful traffic virtually disappears on the weekends. So we got to the Bogota airport a little early and spent time wandering around the domestic departure side. As airports go, Bogota isn’t bad. It’s certainly nicer (cleaner) than Panama. The flight was pretty quick – just over an hour, I think. My first impression of Cartagena was that the Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 3 – February 12, 2016

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

This morning we took a cab ride to Monserrate, a mountain that overlooks Bogota. For the first few minutes of the cab ride, we worried he was driving us up the mountain, as we had to go up high to get on a beltway that runs along the hills. The cabbie took us to the station where we could catch a funicular up the mountain, or a gondola. The gondola didn’t open until noon, but that was fine with us because we both wanted to take the funicular. (Jenn took pictures from it; I did not as my camera doesn’t Read More

Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same (2012, Jay Karas)

Categories: 2012 and TV.

This is the first of Burr’s specials I’ve seen. Burr is funny and provocative. He has a pseudo-folksy wisdom that he uses to say things that offend (that even offend me, which is hard). I may not agree with much of what he has to say – I think comparing domestic violence to gold-digging is, um, fucking stupid – but I appreciate his provocativeness, and his willingness to call out hypocrisy. I do think he’s wrong about a lot – like so many men who believe men somehow have it hard nowadays he utterly fails to put himself in the Read More

Bill Cunningham New York (2010, Richard Press)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

Bill Cunningham is an interesting guy. He has some interesting theories about style and fashion – subjects that I couldn’t care less about but when he talks about them I listen. However, I can’t help but feel a certain way about some of these New York City documentaries. Now, I’m not one to invoke the term “cultural imperialism” but when I watch movies like this one, so obsessed with one New Yorker (or one scene in New York), I have a hard time taking them as seriously as the filmmakers and interviewees intended. Because, unfortunately, most of the people in Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 2 – February 11, 2016

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

After breakfast, we took another long cab ride to a mall, where we met Loon, our guide, for a tour of one of Bogota’s big food markets. We tried the following over the course of the morning: 1.Breakfast Sancocho de pescado  Fish soup made with plantain, yuca and potatoes. Arepa de queso – Colombian arepa filled with gooey double cream cheese [better in Bogota than Medellin] 2. Fruits Feijoa – Green, bubblegum tasting fruit Granadilla – Sweet passion fruit Pitaya – Yellow dragon fruit Mangostino – This was the final one we ate that looked like garlic cloves. 3. Fried stuff Read More

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012, Drew DeNicola, Olivia Mori)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is a thorough and engaging documentary about the seminal power pop band Big Star. It’s definitely on the fawning side, but it’s idiosyncrasies as a film, and the willingness for the interviewees to discuss the negative aspects of the idols’ personalities, make for a more engaging film than you might suspect. It also works as a bit of a selective history of the Memphis music scene, so it’s of interest even if you’re not necessarily a Big Star fan. 7/10 Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 1 – February 10, 2016

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

We got up sometime after 4 AM, though I was up from 1-something until 2-something, due to my usual anxiety about leaving for a big trip, and because I was anticipating the alarm going off any minute. We took the Union-Pearson Express, because it’s pretty much the only option at 5:30AM (unless you want to spend an hour+ on the night bus or spend $60 on a limo). I was pleasantly surprised by the trip – and fascinated by the route – but it is still incredible to me that a new, separate train was judged the best solution, not Read More

The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

Note: I haven’t seen the original film. Many years ago, I watched Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear and hated it. I have no idea if that teenaged opinion is valid, but I think the experience scarred me for a long time, and so I avoided this remake. (Also, I didn’t like the previous two films he made.) But, if Hollywood is going to remake a film, this is probably how to do it. (Though I say this in ignorance.) Scorsese’s rather incredible skill as a director is fully on hand here, as he deftly handles the two competing stars and Read More

Riley Goes to Colombia – Prologue

Categories: 2016, Personal, and Travel.

I spent most of the last two weeks in Colombia; it was my first visit to South America. Why we went to Colombia is a long story. The short version is that I wanted to go on vacation – it’s been two years since my last trip abroad – and the GF had heard great things about Colombia. And so we went. We went despite lots of people expressing their shock that we would choose to go to Colombia, and others expressing their fears. (What we found was that, if the person had been to Colombia or knew someone who Read More

On Writing (2000) by Stephen King

Categories: 2000 and 2010.

I have never read a single Steven King novel or short story – I know, I know – and I don’t write fiction, but this book was recommended highly, and I figured I would give it a try given the struggles I am experiencing with my current project. King is an engaging, entertaining writer. He is so extremely relatable, it’s easy for me to imagine how his characters in his novels connect with people. The mini memoir/autobiography that opens the book is so good it makes me want to read a full autobiography (even though much would be lost on Read More

Friends Seen and Unseen (2004) by The Charlie Hunter Trio

Categories: 2004 and Music.

This band plays pretty traditional jazz for the 21st century – sure, there hints of more radical stuff, including odd syncopation and some relatively out playing by Ellis. But, for the most part, this is pretty mainstream jazz., primarily rooted in the blues. What makes it more interesting is Hunter, who is a phenomenal player who manages to play both bass and rhythm or lead at the same time (on his custom guitar). Ellis’ range of instruments also helps create a wider variety of experiences for us. So this is basically just above average mainstream jazz. It’s good, but it’s Read More

Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996) by Tortoise

Categories: 1996 and Music.

Whether or not Post Rock actually began in 1994 with [i]Hex[/i] is something we can argue about, but you could say that Post Rock, for Americans, started with Tortoise. Now, I’ve never heard their earliest albums, but it’s hard not to look at this record – with its suite-like 20 minute opener, and its genre hopping between krautrock, math rock, electronic music, and other styles – and not see the foundation of American post rock and, particularly, that brand of post rock that is most influenced by electronic music (and minimalism). So, to my ears, this is a foundational record Read More

Atomizer (1986) by Big Black

Categories: 1986 and Music.

It may seem like a weird topic to bring up, given what Big Black does and sounds like, but I find their first album to be a little less impressive than Songs About Fucking. It feels, to me, as if there are stronger songs on Songs, even though that’s an odd thing to say about a band whose sole reason for existence is to pummel/offend. I guess I feel like the second album is the more “mature” statement (an odd thing to say, I know). But this is still unrelentingly aggressive and metallic (for the time) and I think we Read More