Pole to Pole (1992)

Categories: 1992 and TV.

This remains the definitive Michael Palin travel documentary and probably the best series of its type at least until the Long Way Round. Palin seems more honest and human here than he does in later series; less like a host and more like a traveler. It’s an incredible journey that is not without its problems; he takes some pretty incredible risks by the end. And his reflections are, though hardly philosophical, at least thought-provoking and universal. Watching this, I feel like Palin is the Theroux of TV. 9/10 Read More

Democracy’s Dilemma (2003 MIT) by Robert C. Paehlke

Categories: 2003, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a pretty excellent summary of the issues facing us human beings when globalization is only thought of in economic terms. Paehlke’s strength is that he is moderate; too often we hear either “Globalization is evil” or “Globalization is great” and obviously neither is true. Paehlke approaches the subject from a perspective that is normally fairly anti-Globalization so this is too his credit. His remarks are well taken until the last few chapters. There, though he tries to be practical, he gets a little utopian. I think some of his hopes for productivity are not just humanly impossible (in Read More

Sarhara (2002, John Paul Davidson)

Categories: 2002 and TV.

This is an entertaining and fairly informative travel documentary. I do agree that sometimes he gets in the way of his own role when he is trying to be funny, and I feel like this is a little more apparent than in Pole to Pole. It’s still good to watch and it makes me pretty desperate to travel to Africa ASAP. I find Palin’s latest career to be pretty much the greatest job ever and I wish I could somehow steal it from him. 3 months traveling around a single desert. Amazing. 7/10 Read More

Acnalbasac Noom (1973, 1982) by Slapp Happy

Categories: 1973 and Music.

So apparently this is the original album, which was rejected by their label and then re-recorded and released as the appropriate name. Then the original was released in the early 80s, or something like that. I haven’t heard the polished second version so I cannot judge whether or not it was the right decision by the record company but my personal bias would say ‘probably not’. What we have hear is catchy but odd-enough pop rock with utterly unique vocals and enough quirks to keep things interesting. It’s hard to know what a record company would have been expecting from Read More

Mr. Brooks (2007, Bruce A. Evans)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

This is a neat and fairly unique approach to the serial killer genre which may or may not have been lifted from Season 2 of Dexter. The alternate conception of the whole issue is great, but it is marred a good deal by two things: An opening title slide, which tells us what we are in for, as if a producer or distributor decided we were too dumb to figure out the conceit ourselves. And, second, the denouement, which feels completely out of character with the rest of the film. But otherwise, this is certainly an interesting take on an Read More

Until the Light Takes Us (2008, Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

Here is a subject seemingly perfect for a documentary: why the founders of Norwegian black metal were compelled to commit the crimes that they did. And here are interviews with many of the principals which would also seem great fodder for a documentary: they are remarkably candid. And yet the film just doesn’t work: it is badly edited and paced, horribly over-scored (sometimes with music that seems ridiculously inappropriate to the subject), features some truly ridiculous location titles (“Oslo, Noway” is followed by “Oslo, Norway”…) and barely gives any sense of context if you are not from Norway, or if Read More

Winter’s Bone (2010, Debra Granik)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is one of those movies where everything is pretty much note-perfect. The only thing I think holding me back from giving it higher marks is that it lacks a bigger message, which is hardly a criticism. Here we have a realistic heroine, always a rare thing. And enough subtlety – which in this film is entirely appropriate – to keep us in suspense. Really nothing I can say against it. A great film. 9/10 Read More

What is Neo-Conservatism?

Categories: Philosophy, Politics, and Society.

Since before the recent US election the use of the term conservative has been driving me crazy. To tell you the truth, it has driven me crazy since I learned about ideology in university over ten years ago, but now that I have a blog, and now that I am inundated daily with misuse of the term, I figured maybe I should try to get my consternation out there. The word conservative is used by media, public and politicians to describe a particular ideology or set of beliefs that isn’t conservative in most ways, and this is extraordinarily frustrating to Read More

Food, Inc. (2008, Robert Kenner)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is an important movie that is made fairly well, though it is pretty episodic (which, as someone else noted, has become a bit of a cliche in expose documentaries nowadays). It is essential viewing for anyone who is sceptical of the reasons to eat local / organic. However, one big flaw is that, like so many other expose documentaries, it is completely one-sided. Yes, multiple companies declined to be interviewed for the film, but am I supposed to believe that not one single advocate of industrialized farming wanted to sit down with the filmmakers to explain their position? Instead Read More

Bottle Shock (2008, Randall Miller)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

Apparently nobody making this film was sure whether they were telling the story of a family wine-making enterprise in 1970s northern California, or the competition they happened to win. As a result, the movie veers between the two stories very haphazardly. We get scenes that belong in one of those movies mixed with scenes that would belong in the other. Characters disappear for an eternity because of the editing. We have a romantic triangle subplot that does absolutely nothing for the film. And this is a pretty unfunny comedy. Perhaps they should have stuck to docudrama? 5/10 Read More

Looper (2012, Rian Johnson)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

Like all time travel movies, this one falls apart a little if you think about it too much. So I guess the key is: don’t think about it. If you don’t think about the problems inherent in time travel, then you get a very enjoyable sci-fi thriller, with enough brains and twists that it is entertains but doesn’t make you feel stupid. It’s a nice balance with what is and isn’t “futuristic” as well, something that so many sci-fi movies fail to get right. At the end of the day, though, I can’t help myself, and I find that the Read More

Dexter (2006)

Categories: 2006 and TV.

Normally I would reserve my thoughts about a TV show until I have seen more of it, but I finished the second season of Dexter last night and I gotta say that I’m having a hard time convincing myself I should watch any more. I am already quite annoyed about how he constantly gets away with it – I knew I would from the beginning – but now the show is just getting absurd. The finale felt like it belonged on a different program: a big climax that stretched my already stretched credulity to new heights. 6/10 Read More

Complete Organ Works (2003) by Maurice Durufle, performed by Friedhelm Flamme

Categories: 1926, 1930, 1932, 1942, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1971, 2003, and Music.

The pipe organ must be one of the seriously neglected instruments of 20th century “classical” music, at least from the perspective of us musical naifs. I mean, even though there are plenty of notable organ and organ-centric compositions, very few of those have actually made it into mass awareness. The little bit of organ music we know is baroque. This is a welcome corrective. And, unlike so much famous organ music, here the critics can’t complain that the “organ isn’t old enough!” or anything like that, as 20th century organ music is performed on a 20th century organ. The music Read More

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1965) by Yukio Mishima

Categories: 1965, Books, and Fiction.

At some level I think that this is about the potential problems inherent in a society accepting the truth of our objective reality, and embracing the philosophy of existentialism (at least in its least systematized forms). Mishima seems to be suggesting that not only will children be unable to grow up properly – or morally – in a world free of the goals and rules of tradition, but he seems to suggest that even many adults will have similar problems. And though it is implicit, he seems to suggest that society needs its old myths. At least I think he Read More

Hitler’s Children (2012, Chanoch Zeevi)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is a fascinating, albeit brief, look at the lives of the grandchildren (and one child) of some of the most prominent Nazis. The documentary is pretty skewed to one set of them – the filmmakers either omitted the descendants who deny the holocaust or failed to convince them to appear on camera – and so we only get those who feel the legacy of their ancestors. We are left with some interesting questions about whether they should or not, though they clearly do. But what might have been more powerful for us would have been an examination including those Read More

Big River Man (2009, John Maringouin)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This should be a great documentary. You have the makings of something special with a character as whacky as this guy, and with a team of supporters some of whom as are crazy. The biggest problem, beyond the fact that the film is organized poorly, is that the director decides – seemingly at random – to try to enter the minds of the crazies, and we are treated to some wannabe Space Odyssey effects and other things which in no way help the film. Oh well. 6/10 Read More

Greenberg (2010, Noah Baumbach)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

I just saw Frances Ha and I can’t help but compare the two films, even though I shouldn’t. Both are the least significant films Baumbach has made (perhaps slightest is the better word). They’re still engaging movies but they lack the import of his earliest films. This one seems even less significant than Frances Ha. Frances Ha is nicer to look at and feels like it is an attempt to get at something about hipsters. Greenberg just feels like a portrait of one guy’s potentially life-changing vacation. As such, it’s fine; it’s well acted, it’s funny, it’s unnerving. But it Read More

The Goodies (1970)

Categories: 1970 and TV.

This is mildly amusing now. I can imagine that it was significantly funnier at the time, but I still can’t shake how much better (funnier, cleverer) comedy Monty Python was making at pretty much the exact same time. There’s certainly some satire here, but it’s fairly tame, and the physical (and tape-manipulated) nature of much of the comedy undermines much of whatever satirical edge there might be. 6/10 Read More

On the virtues of taking it slow in music

Categories: Music.

Nowadays people put out a song – a single song – on the internet and they are buzzed about as the next great thing. Here is one of my favourite bands performing something like 6 years before their debut was released: Yes, it’s extraordinarily rough (though it is better than anything ever performed at my high school) but I think we can learn a few things from it. First, Camper Van Beethoven was apparently a huge influence on early Mr. Bungle. But you don’t care about that. The real things we can take away from this are: most teenagers are not capable Read More

Debussy: Piano Music Vol 1 (1995) performed by Roy Howat

Categories: 1915, 1995, and Music.

To my ears, the Etudes really don’t sound that difficult on first listen, but then I can’t even play “Heart and Soul” on a piano. That’s a joke, that. The Etudes are apparently some of the hardest to play in the repertoire, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. I do know that they sound like few Etudes before them (at least those that I heard). And the Images are similarly out of step with tradition, albeit more so. Here are piano pieces that in many ways threw out tradition yet, because they never broke with tonality like some other Read More

The Great Transformation (1944) by Karl Polanyi

Categories: 1944, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Despite two very serious flaws, this is a major, important, path-breaking and near-classic work. First Polanyi proves that capitalism is just historical contingency; something that probably desperately needed to be said back then, since even the biggest critic of capitalism thought it was necessary. More to that point, Polanyi destroys all notion that there is anything “natural” about capitalism and free markets; that is to say he removes any doubt that individual business and contracts were the natural state of man – as alleged by many classical economists – and that only government had been holding us back. The second Read More

Young Miles (1945-50, 2001) by Miles Davis et al. (1945-50, 2001)

Categories: 2001 and Music.

For die-hard fans of Miles, or for people really interested in how cool came out of bop, this is probably pretty near essential. For other people, I’m guessing it is totally inessential. What we have here are many – though hardly all – of the recordings Miles participated in from 1945 through 1950 – excluding those collected on albums like Birth of the Cool and Conception – with Bird, Diz, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Tadd Dameron and Sarah Vaughan – among others – and of course with Miles as leader. Nothing here – beyond the Birth of the Cool alternates Read More

The Raps and the 3

Categories: Basketball and Sports.

Chisholm makes some good points today about the Raps and their inability to fill the 3 spot. Now admittedly it’s early in this year, but things still look like the same old same old. I was always of two minds about JJ. I loved him at times and hated him at others. But after 5 games (an incredible sample size), it looks like the Raps done fucked up: Fields: 21.4MPG; Per 36 minutes: 4P, 5.4R, .3B, 2.7A, 1S; .237TS%, 1.4PER $6,250,000 JJ: 24.6MPG; Per 36 minutes: 6.7P, 5.3R, 1.8B, 2.3A, 2S; .308TS%, 4.4PER; $2,812,006 JJ is off to a pretty mediocre start Read More

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997) by John Coltrane

Categories: 1961, 1997, and Music.

When Coltrane and his “quartet” recorded these performances, he was just releasing Ole Coltrane, so I think it’s safe to say that much of what was heard here came as a shock to anyone in the audience who wasn’t constantly seeing him live. And even when the LP version came out the next year, much of it still probably sounded about as out there as anything could that wasn’t free. I mean, My Favorite Things came out about six months before these were recorded and as much as that album is radical in its own way, it is still very Read More

I’m crying on the inside this morning

Categories: Baseball and Sports.

Lowry went down with ankle sprain last night. Hopefully it is nothing serious. Lowry’s line so far per 36 minutes: 21.2P, 7.3A, 3.5S, 6.7R, .6B; .703TS%, 30.9 PER. Now I know that it’s a (very) poor sample size but jesus fucking christ that is amazing. If I had extra cash I would buy his jersey right now. But now he’s hurt. And I am sad because I know he has a history. Boo. Read More

The Big Year (2011, David Frankel)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

This film had the potential of being a penetrating dark comedy about obsession, or a slapstick comedy driven by obsession, or even a drama. It is none of these things. Rather it is a middle-of-the-road comedy with very few jokes (okay, very few jokes that work) and a ton of sentiment. That’s not to say it’s terrible: the characters are actually pretty well developed and, not only that, the results of the competition are a) believable and b) not subject to movie cliches. But if you are going to make a dramedy, you should make a dramedy and not throw Read More

Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

Spoiler Alert. This is basically the American 2010s version of the Last Wave, only with paranoid schizophrenia substituting for Aboriginal lore. And I think its nature as a re-imagining of that movie (deliberate or otherwise, they are so similar I think we can think of it that way) helps us deal with what we might see as a problem. Because this is either a fantastic examination of schizophrenia that falls apart disastrously at the end or it is about the onus of knowing the future, as with the Last Wave. And if we think about it in terms of the Read More

RIP Elliott Carter

Categories: Music and RIP.

I have come late to Carter’s work, having only heard most of hist string quartet cycle in the last year. I must say that I was extremely impressed and really interested in hearing more. Carter’s music – at least his music of the ’60s – breaks boundaries – and perhaps that’s why it is most notable – but Carter was able to give this boundary-breaking some kind of emotional resonance that someone like me, with no knowledge of music theory, can hardly express. I don’t know how he did it. But when I hear something like his first quartet I feel what Read More