Tokarev aka Rage (2014, Paco Cabezas)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Somewhere in this movie is an interesting comment on these mindless revenge thrillers starring middle aged men rampaging through American or European cities, usually because a child was killed or abducted. I can see the germ of that idea. And it’s an idea I love. I want to see that movie. However, this movie is stupid. It’s all kinds of stupid. Nobody behaves like normal people. Cage’s character completely changes when his daughter is killed. Danny Glover is the worst police officer of all time, apparently. (Especially in a smaller city, such as Mobile.) The script is bad – things Read More

Violin Sonatas: Franck; Grieg; Janacek (2010) by Vadim Repin, Nikolai Lugansky

Categories: 2010 and Music.

This is a strong collection of mid-to-late Romantic violin sonatas, all of which feature piano accompaniment. Janacek’s sonata is a really stirring and incredible piece – the piano accompaniment in the first movement is more interesting than the violin. Listening to this, part of me wishes I could have heard his earlier attempts though I doubt they would be as interesting. Fantastic. Grieg’s second sonata is, for me, a marked improvement upon his first, despite it being written only a couple of years later. It is one of my favourite Grieg pieces that I have heard so far and kind Read More

Abbey Road Medley’s Isolated Vocal Tracks

Categories: Music.

As you know, I have written a book about how the Beatles are the Greatest Rock Band of All Time. Well, someone on Youtube stripped away all the music from the famous medley on Abbey Road (with the exception of the click track, the odd tambourine, and the piano on “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Golden Slumbers”, for example – no doubt because of the way the songs were tracked) and it’s illustrative of the thought that the Beatles put into everything they did. For example, you can here the different ranges that McCartney sings in (in particular) but also the Read More

Grieg: Songs (1993?) by Anne Sofie von Otter; Bengt Forsberg

Categories: 1993 and Music.

This is a collection of Grieg’s songs that includes both Haugtussa and other songs from his numerous sets, picked, I guess, arbitrarily. Haugtussa is the highlight for me and a reason to rate this set higher than just an arbitrary collection of a composer’s songs should be rated. This is a strong cycle and, though I am not normally a lieder fan, it strikes the same chord in me that some of Schubert’s has (that’s not to compare them musically, of course). Particularly, the 8th and final song (“At the Brook” in English) just slays me. Had I any musical talent, I would Read More

Grieg: Piano Concerto; Holberg Suite (1988) by Various Artists

Categories: 1988 and Music.

This is one of those extremely annoying compilations where there is virtually no information: we know the performers of the pieces but not when or where. Labels like Quintessence get their hands on recordings that don’t have copyright protection in North America and release these recordings to unsuspecting consumers (such as libraries). When someone like me listens to this music, it’s annoying to know so little. I don’t know the music and so I cannot really comment on the performances. (Though I can comment on the sound quality: it is shockingly good given the label.) The Concerto is a definite Read More

The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (1997) by Grant Green

Categories: 1997 and Music.

This compiles the first three albums Grant recorded with pianist Sonny Clark before the band was expanded to a quintet later in 1962. Interestingly, none of these albums were released until 1980 (in Japan) which, given the quality of the music, it’s really hard to understand. First we have Gooden’s Corner, recorded in late 1961, with both Nigeria and Oleo from January of 1962. (Again, all released in 1980, in Japan.) Burt the set isn’t presented quite like that, as Nigeria leads off the collection with the other two following chronologically. Nigeria is outstanding stuff, despite being full of standards, and makes Read More

Violin Sonatas: Bartok / Strauss / Grieg (2011) by Vilde Frang

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is a strong collection of mid-to-late Romantic (and early modern) violin sonatas. The Grieg is light and happy but does contain some interesting twists (like the apparent false ending of the first movement) to keep it from merely being a pleasant listen. It’s still pretty nice and light and, as that’s not my thing, I have a hard time loving it. The Bartok is everything I love about his chamber music. It is daring and difficult (for its time) and just an inventive joy. One of the great violin showcases of the first half of the 20th century I Read More

The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is an entertaining and deliberately silly comic book film that still managed to not entertain me as much as it should. Though I laughed out loud a few times (4? 5?) I also watched a few scenes thinking “I know this is supposed to be funny, but I am not laughing.” I am not sure whether it was the timing or the direction but some jokes fell flat. Particularly most of the music-cue ones. Now, usually I would be just happy to see a non-serious comic book film, but I had been led to believe by the hype that Read More

Millioniare (1999, Janet Gleeson)

Categories: 1999, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a brief, cursory biography as these things go. It’s certainly interesting but the predominant feeling I am left with after finishing is “I want to know more.” Gleeson says she didn’t want to get bogged down in financial details to make this accessible to the general reader but the problem is that her thesis is significantly hurt by her unwillingness (or inability) to discuss the financial moves of Law in greater detail. This is much more a portrait of a person than it is a discussion of the legacy of his behaviour. I would have liked more detail, Read More

Does Saku Koivu belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Categories: Hockey, Sports, and The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke.

Career: 18 seasons, 16 quality 255G, 577A for 823P, +10 in 1124 games 82-game average: 19G, 42A for 61P, +1 3 year peak (’03-’07): 20G, 51A for 71P, -14 Playoffs: 18G, 41A for 59P in 80 games, +2 Adjusted: 283G, 629A for 912P Adjusted 82-game average: 21G, 46A for 67P Accomplishments: Masterton (’02) Scored 20 goals thrice Tallied 50 assists twice, 40 assists six times Scored 70 points twice, 60 points thrice, 50 points nine times Top 10 in APG (’97) 1 All-Star Great Teams: Top 3 forward on one Olympic runner up (’06 Finland) and two bronze medalists (’94, ’98 Finland), Top Read More

99 Homes (2014, Ramin Bahrani)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a devastating portrait of the housing crisis and its affect on the average American. Bahrani sets us up for a typical American film, in the first shot, in which the protagonist and antagonist meet in a violent confrontation as the normal rules of society break down. But he doesn’t go that way and instead he gives a much more realistic portrait of what the financial desperation of foreclosure does to people and also what the crisis encouraged others to do. There are two moments in the film that are perhaps slightly to preachy, when two speeches feel a Read More

Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009, Michael Tollin)

Categories: 2009 and TV.

This documentary feels a little too personal at times – Tollin worked for one of the teams – and I was worried that it would be one of these “I made this film for myself” types of documentaries where the filmmaker is too involved. It also starts out with too much Howard Cosell (he uses one of his programs too much). But the story is so interesting, and the interviews are so compelling that you sort of forget about that part. (And, to his credit, Tollin only sporadically includes his stuff with Trump.) Really enjoyable. 8/10 Read More

Im Labyrinth des Schweigens (2014, Giulio Ricciarelli)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a movie that starts off feeling like a conventional legal thriller – almost like a Grisham adaptation – only its a docudrama based on the first German investigation into the crimes at Auschwitz. The film gets stronger as it goes along, though it does resort to typical legal thriller cliches in ways that grate on you. And the score doesn’t help. Fortunately it features universally strong performances and it ends on a strong note. And obviously the story itself is compelling. But there are way too many legal thriller conventions for me to really like this a lot. Read More

Peer Gynt Suites; Karelia Suite; The Swan of Tuonela (1965, 1976, 198?) by Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Helsinki conducted by Okko Kamu

Categories: 1976 and Music.

This is a compilation of two major romantic orchestral suites – one by Sibelius and one by Grieg – buttressed by an excerpt from another of Sibelius’ suites. Unfortunately this isn’t the complete Peer Gynt as this was recorded prior to the discovery of the complete score in the 1980s but this still contains all the “big tunes” that we are familiar with. It’s hard for me to try to objectively judge something so famous,. The music is classic, most of it has become so popular that it is etched indelibly on our minds. It’s hard to really know what Read More

Dvorak; Poulenc; Grieg (2009) by Marie-Josee Simard, Marie Fabi

Categories: 2009 and Music.

This is an interesting recording that takes three well known sonatas (two violin sonatas, one of which at least is among the greatest of the twentieth century, and one flute) adapted for vibraphone. I am really open to this kind of stuff and I must say that I think this really works and I am glad someone out there is breaking convention and taking risks. Better yet, she’s Canadian. And interesting recording. 8/10 Read More

King’s Ransom (2009, Peter Berg)

Categories: 2009 and TV.

This is a pretty standard documentary that fails to shed much light on the most famous hockey trade of all time. Berg doesn’t give us enough context – I must assume that most Americans don’t really get how important hockey is and what Berg tells them isn’t enough – and he spends two much of his film “interviewing” Gretzky as they play golf, almost as if to say “Hey look! I am playing golf with Gretzky!” Disappointing. 6/10 Read More

The Band that Wouldn’t Die (2009, Barry Levinson)

Categories: 2009 and TV.

This is a fascinating documentary about the Baltimore Colts Band that refused to stop playing after the Colts left town. The reason I didn’t quite like it as much as I should is that this is very much half the story. It’s great these people love football this much. I’m glad for them. Good for them for persisting. But it’s hard to take a completely positive stance knowing how much pro sports leagues gouge city and state budgets and this film virtually ignores that. 7/10 Read More

The 50 Year Argument (2014, Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Scorsese and Tedeschi’s film about the New York Review of Books is not a documentary about the magazine so much as it is a love letter to it. (To be fair, in the subsequent conversation, Scorsese said he wasn’t interested in “conventional” documentaries – that is documentaries as journalism. Rather he wants to make Cinema.) Also, it is, unsurprisingly, a movie that treats New York as the centre of the universe over the last half century. Both of these things are things I dislike: I dislike such bias and I dislike anything that is overly “New York is the Greatest Read More

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014, Roy Andersson)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is the third of Andersson’s trilogy about “being human” or something like that. I haven’t seen the first. I have seen the second, You, the Living. I feel like Andersson is a “Love him or hate him” director. Having just said that, I didn’t love or hate this movie. I understand why people love him, but having now seen two of his films I feel like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. His shtick is unique, but it still feels like a shtick to me: odd, exaggerated tableaux – some of which are quite funny – put Read More

En chance til aka a Second Chance (2014, Susanne Bier)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a difficult film that I had trouble figuring out my thoughts about because of its hopeful and not-so-difficult resolution. Fortunately, the wife and I talked it out and I’ve come around. This is a film about people pushed to emotional extremes by depression, loss addiction and the like and its about the bad decisions that people make when pushed to emotional extremes. But it is also about hope – hence the title. As someone who has always found (Hollywood) films too hopeful, sometimes I have trouble dealing with hope when it is done well, simply because I have Read More

Natural Resistance (2014, Jonathan Nossiter)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mondo Vino and so I guess I was looking for more of the same. Well this is a very different film (as well it should be). Nossiter says he wasn’t intending to make this movie and unfortunately that is all over the finished product: it feels rushed, rough and frankly almost amateurish for someone who has been making movies as long as he has. I get that some of that – perhaps of all of it – is intentional, but it was more than a little jarring. What we get is some really engaging conversation – evidently Read More

The Best That Never Was (2010, Jonathan Hock)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is a heartbreaking story of missed opportunity that highlights the truly messed up nature of the US amateur sports system. I know there are far worse stories than this but watching a film like this makes me feel guilty for enjoying March Madness while this bizarre slave labour system posing as education continues to rake in huge profits on the backs of unpaid teenage athletic prodigies. No wonder kids want to go pro after what happened to Marcus Dupree. I mean, no wonder. This is my first 30 for 30 episode and after watching this one I definitely want Read More

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012, Rupert Sanders)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

So I was under the mistaken impression that this was from some graphic novel. Had it been, I might have been a little more certain as to why this existed. I guess someone decided we needed a new, darker version of Snow White, a movie I haven’t seen in decades. I’m not exactly sure why we needed this but apparently we did. The film has some interesting set pieces – relatively speaking I guess – and if you were ever concerned with the mythology of the original story, I guess this is an interesting revisionist take. But frankly I don’t Read More

Impunity (2014, Jyoti Mistry)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is like the South African, avant garde Badlands. If you like how that sounds, you should check it out. All though kind of hard to fathom in its early scenes, and a little clunky in some of its attempts at Meaning / Symbolism, this film is, on the whole, an effective, if overly arty examination of violence as a social problem in South Africa and, really, in any society with pretenses to being civilized. In certain circumstances, violence can come easy – too easy – for some people and once you’ve done something that society won’t forgive, there’s really Read More

While We’re Young (2014, Noah Baumbach)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I think this is Baumbach’s film since The Squid and the Whale or perhaps even Kicking and Screaming (my favourite Baumbach movie). It’s certainly his funniest since his debut. Baumbach has once again used hipsters, but this time instead of creating a tribute to the French New Wave like with Francis Ha, he has used this to deal with something that hits very close to home for me: what happens when you get old and you don’t end up where you imagined you would be. Baumbach’s portrait of this mid-life crisis (for lack of a better term) is extremely hilarious Read More

Cut Snake (2014, Tony Ayres)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Cut Snake is an interesting but flawed attempt to update classic Hollywood film noir with more characterizations (for lack of a better word). We’ve got some classic tropes: a mysterious man “without a past” so to speak, a femme fatale (only, in a neat twist, this one’s a man!) and bad decisions. Unfortunately, the film sticks too much to the traditional formula. It would be nice if the ’70s Australian setting and the more modern love triangle were paired with an ending that didn’t reek of White Heat or The Public Enemy. The film is also over-scored and this competes Read More

The Dust Bowl (2012, Ken Burns)

Categories: 2012 and TV.

This is Burns’ shortest major TV doc yet and, as with his other more recent work, it is significantly stronger than some of the longer documentaries, if only because there is so much less to pick apart. The film is very much in the same tone as his other films – it very much bears his mark as a filmmaker – but unlike previous films (save The War obviously), the people who lived through it are here to tell the tale, and that gives the film a great deal more power than his films that rely solely on celebrities reading Read More

Aoxomoxoa (1969) by the Grateful Dead

Categories: 1969 and Music.

This is the first Dead studio album to come after the ridiculous mindfuck that was Anthem of the Sun. This is much more representative of the Dead as a band (and, with hindsight, we can say especially as a band in the studio) but it’s far less interesting as a record. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s just not crazy and life changing. In retrospect we can view it as a transition from the psychedelia and avant rock of their early records to the country and roots of the next year. But for the most part Read More

Spinning Plates (2012, Joseph Levy)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is an interesting an affecting portrait of three sets of restauranteurs in very different stages: one restaurant has been open for 150 years, one for about 6 but has been judged the best in the country, and one is newly opened. The film manages to find connections between the vastly different situations in Chicago, rural Iowa and Tucson, and we see that “success” isn’t really a solution to ambition or to medical problems or accidents. The reason I dock it some marks is because, as the film progresses, one of the restaurants gets considerably less attention. There’s a reason Read More

King Solomon’s Mines (1985, J. Lee Thompson)

Categories: 1985 and Movies.

This is one of those wannabe Raiders of the Lost Ark films, even though it is based on a novel from about 100 years earlier. But unlike some of the other ’80s adventure revivals, this is practically a copy of the Indiana Jones series, albeit with more (attempts at) humour. One could interpret it as a parody, but parodies are usually more clever than this. This film appears to just attempt to ape most things about Raiders (including the score, which is horribly derivative) without actually making fun of the movie in any obvious way. It’s more goofy Indian Jones rather than satirical Indiana Jones. This film isn’t remotely Read More