Bhutto (2010, Duane Baughman, Johnny O’Hara)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

One of the defining characteristics of human beings that is that we are flawed, imperfect creatures. All the “Great Men” of history were actually just human beings; sometimes they did things we might view as great, but they had their problems. There isn’t a single major political leader in history who hasn’t done something awful. Read More

The Seeds (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This has the reputation as the Greatest Garage Rock Album* (*of American Garage Rock in the ’60s). And I guess that’s either excluding Black Monk Time because that record was made in Germany or because the people believe this debut to be the best haven’t heard Black Monk Time. Not being a Garage Rock connoisseur, I don’t know how this compares to other American Garage Rock records of its era, but I know it’s not Black Monk Time. And I guess that’s the thing that makes me find this so underwhelming – I have heard far more interesting American Garage Read More

From Fear to Eternity: The Best of 1990-2010 (2011) by Iron Maiden

Categories: 1990, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2011.

I accidentally picked this up thinking it was a compilation of their ’80s music. Ah well. I learned a couple of things from this record: First, Iron Maiden has a formula and they stuck to it (at least on the songs considered their “best”). Second, I should never get a live Iron Maiden album. It’s pretty clear from listening to this record that Maiden is just milking their sound for all its worth. Sure, some of these songs are pretty catchy and everything is very professional and competent, but so many of these songs follow the exact same formula. And Read More

Sour Grapes (2016, Reuben Atlas, Jerry Rothwell)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

It’s a rare thing for a movie to be both funny and suspenseful. It’s a far rarer thing for a documentary to be both funny and suspenseful. I was vaguely aware of what this film was about going into it – wine fraud – but the filmmakers construct their material with such skill that they have you laughing out loud and sitting on the edge of your seat (as much as you can in a wine fraud case) in turns. This is an exceptionally made film which balances are glee at seeing rich people get taken advantage of with a Read More

Senna (2010, Asif Kapadia)

Categories: 2010, Movies, and Sports.

This is a captivating and engrossing film about Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian Formula One driver who some believe was the greatest driver the sport has ever seen, but who died young, before he might have broken some records. The film does a good job of making us understand why Senna had appeal outside of his sport in addition to within the sport and manages to make a lot of the Formula “drama” more interesting than I normally find it. (I am just getting into the sport and I enjoy the racing, not the bickering.) It also does a pretty good Read More

71 (2014, Yann Demange)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a mostly stellar thriller set in Belfast in 1971. I think this would have been an exceptional movie had a surer hand with more experience directed it. Though tense, I can imagine a better (or more experienced) director making a more tense film. While I’m at my nit-pikcing, the framing device of the child feels incredibly inauthentic for 1971. (Were their single parent British privates serving in Belfast then? Maybe, but I doubt it. There might have been one.) But otherwise this is a pretty great first film and I look forward to seeing what the director does Read More

Hannibal Buress: Comedy Camisado (2016)

Categories: 2016 and TV.

Probably like many people who don’t pay a lot of attention to stand up, I first heard of Burress after the Bill Cosby thing blew up. In this Netflix special he deals with that, and does his particular brand of observational humour. Burress has an odd and sometimes endearing delivery (though sometimes it seems less effective). I found his material to veer from pretty damn funny to so out of my experience that I wasn’t even sure what the joke was. But, for the most part, it was funny, and a few of the jokes were really good. 6/10 Read More

Blue Jasmine (2013, Woody Allen)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

I have known a few people like the main character in my life; nobody who had this kind of wealth, but multiple people who have been unable to comprehend and deal with the world as it is, who have compulsively lied, and who have been unable to control themselves. And I must say, Blanchett nails it. There are moments in this movie that I have essentially experienced in my life (albeit without all the past financial history) where I have tried and failed to help someone like Blanchett. (I’m being a little kind to myself, as whether or not I Read More

Ian Sabourin Counter Tenor (2014)

Categories: 2014 and Music.

I was sitting on a bench waiting for Jenn to leave her work when I heard this incredible voice (a counter tenor, it turns out) all around me. I thought it was coming from multiple speakers, it was so powerful. After looking around a bit, I saw a young man singing. What impressed me particularly was how he was using the building to resound his voice. I mean, we were on Bloor street. You’d think the voice would have just disappeared into the rush hour bustle. Anyway, I bought his CD because it’s pretty rare that I’m startled by a Read More

A Little Too Cozy Live at Studio 42 at the CBC May 20, 2016

Categories: 1790s, 2016, and Music.

On Friday we saw a modernization of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, an opera I have never heard before. This adaptation sets the opera in a reality show where contestants are supposed to pledge their love to each other without actually meeting, similar to the original plot I assume. This is a bawdy one – I’m not sure if the original is this way – but it mostly works. Occasionally some of the jokes (whether blue or cultural reference-based) feel a little cheap, but mostly it’s consistently amusing. The one issue I had with the whole thing is that the TV Read More

The Cunning Little Vixen (1952, 2005) by Leos Janacek, performed by Wiener Philarmoniker conducted by Charles Mackerras, featuring Lucia Popp, Eva Randovám, Dalibor Jedlička

Categories: 1923, 1952, 2005, and Music.

This opera is considered by some to be Janacek’s greatest achievement and it’s easy to understand why. Though significantly lighter in tone than his other operas, it sounds more radical and more forward-thinking, musically. The use of the soprano as this bizarre little interruption (for lack of a better word) is really weird and I don’t know that I’ve heard things like its spoken parts before. And then, of course, there is the music that sounds like Bernard Herrmann’s source for Psycho. It’s a pretty cool piece. Not quite among the greatest operas of its era, in my opinion, but Read More

Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger (2014, Joe Berlinger)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Somebody once said, it’s not integrity that matters, it’s the perception of integrity. One of the reasons people freak out at the more minor of political scandals – the ones where there are only hints of impropriety, or where bureaucrats or politicians are accused of over-spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when the budget is in the billions or higher – is that the assumption of integrity, the appearance of integrity is violated. We are supposed to be able to trust our government and the perception of corruption is, in some ways just as bad as corruption itself. Read More

Iris (2014, Albert Maysles)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I struggle to view fashion as a true art. I don’t wear clothes so people will look at me or think about me. I wear clothes because of social convention and because I live in Canada. But as I get older I recognize that a substation section of the population does view clothes as art. And some of these people have interesting things to say. One of these people is Iris Apfel, New York “style icon.” She’s an interesting woman and I can see the appeal. The film around her is kind of directionless, like so many of these movies Read More

Merchants of Doubt (2014, Robert Kenner)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a compelling film about how corporations and lobby groups use pundits to undermine scientific consensuses that would otherwise hurt their profits. The examines the bag of tricks both the tobacco industry and the oil industry have used to fool the American public about both the short and long term health risks of the use of their products, including making the conversation about economics, not science, and outright lying about scientific studies and consensus. Read More

A Most Violent Year (2014, JC Chandor)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Chandor’s skill is that he can take realistic situations that seem like might not have enough drama for film and turn them into gripping films. Like the best filmmakers of the American Renaissance, Chandor can take wrest drama and suspense from something like minor corruption. This is a film that unwinds slowly, so slowly that it is hard to see the descent at times, much like in real life. And instead of having a romanticized mob world of ’80s New York, we get a vision of the moral costs of doing business as usual. This is a fine film and Read More

Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I struggle with so many of Spielberg’s film because, even though he is very good at many things, he can rarely trust his audience, to treat them as adults. This is the rare Spielberg film that doesn’t feel second-guessed, that doesn’t feel like Spielberg had a freak-out about whether or not his audience would feel down at the end, and I guess that’s because of the source material (“punched up” by the Coens, which doesn’t hurt). A true story with a happy ending is perhaps more up his alley than a story – true or otherwise – where he feels Read More

Still Alice (2014, Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize Hollywood films for their lack of connection to the real world. There is nothing wrong with this movie per se; there are some good actors doing good work and even Kristen Stewart is decent.  But this film doesn’t exist in the world that I live in. Maybe once a successful (and gorgeous!) linguist got Alzheimer’s at 50. Maybe that happened. I doubt it, but maybe it happened. An alternative might be to tell a story that many people throughout the world are experiencing – that is, the onset of Alzheimer’s for a normal, Read More

The Great Train Robbery (2013)

Categories: 2013 and TV.

I like the conceit of this very brief miniseries (two episodes): first, tell the story of the crime, then, tell how it was solved. And the results are reasonably good, the show is well acted and reasonably well made (for TV, of course). There are a few issues with the direction – particularly in the second episode – but overall it’s entertaining and avoids the usual desire to spice things up. Whether or not this is an accurate telling, it feels accurate. Worth your time on a lazy long weekend if you’re into true crime stuff. 7/10 Read More

The Crash Reel (2013, Lucy Walker)

Categories: 2013, Movies, and Sports.

If you have a child (a teenager) who doing or is interested in playing or participating in a sport that involves serious risk of head injury, you should make your child watch this movie. There are lots of moving and penetrating accounts out there of what life is like after a head injury however I have never seen a full length feature to cover this topic this well. Though this is the story of Kevin Pearce, it is really the story of any athlete whose successful career is derailed by a traumatic head injury and has to learn to accept Read More

Drone (2014, Tonje Hessen Schei)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a brief but compelling examination of the issues around the United States’ use of drones for “targeted killing.” It is a pretty conventional talking head documentary merged with a conventional documentary of the style where they follow people around, but the subject matter and a number of the interviewees are compelling enough that this doesn’t matter. I for one haven’t seen the issues summarized in a better, more accessible fashion, so this film is appreciated. 7/10 Read More

The Fifth Estate (2013, Bill Condon)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is a great and an important story, and it’s a story that deserves a great film, full of great actors. This film gets the latter part right – there are a whole lot of excellent actors in this film doing great work, sometimes major actors in really minor roles – but the film around them is pretty close to a disaster. It touches all the usual points these movies touch – especially all the beats the Hollywood versions of these touch, including work pulling a man away from his romantic life, and that typical shit – but it touches Read More

A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) by Radiohead

Categories: 2016 and Music.

This is the most orchestrated album Radiohead has made since Amnesiac – and it’s considerably more orchestrated than that. The near-omnipresent orchestrations – with strings often scored to sound like other instruments – makes this record sound new and different (more often than not) compared to their last effort. The songs are still very much recognizably Radiohead, but I feel like they’ve replaced the traditional density of their arrangements (regularly combining traditional rock band instrumentation with non-traditional, and programmed noises) with an even more traditionally dense sound, that of a (large) string section. And that’s refreshing because I thought the Read More

Janacek: Glagolitic Mass, The Eternal Gospel (2014) by Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tomas Netopil

Categories: 1914, 1927, 2014, and Music.

This set collects two of Janacek’s choral works, a mass and a cantata. The setting for the Glagolitic Mass (i.e. the Mass is in old Slavic) is a great, bombastic thing. This is the original version, which is apparently performed less frequently. I always find masses the most dense of orchestral music and have a hard time digesting them in just three listens, but this thing just pulsates with seemingly radical ideas – certainly radical for church music. It’s among the cooler 20th century masses I’ve heard (though I haven’t heard many). The Eternal Gospel is a triumphant but modern; Read More

Káťa Kabanová; Cappriccio; Concertino (1977, 2006) by Leos Janacek, performed by Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Charles Mackerras featuring Elisabeth Söderström, Peter Dvorský, Naděžda Kniplová

Categories: 1921, 1925, 1926, 1977, 2006, and Music.

This set pairs a Janacek opera with two of his chamber music pieces. It’s an odd pairing, but in the era of the CD it was a regular thing when an opera failed to fill out two discs. Káťa Kabanová is considered Janacek’s first “mature” opera but I think I like it less than Jenufa. It’s still pretty appealing and very clearly of a different ilk than so many of the 19th century operas that proceeded it. It’s not as radical (and, therefore, to me, not as interesting) as the kinds of things people like Debussy and Berg were doing Read More

Jenůfa (1983, 2007) by Leoš Janáček, performed by Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras featuring Elisabeth Söderström, Wiesław Ochman, Peter Dvorsky, Eva Randová, Lucia Popp

Categories: 1902, 1983, and 2007.

This is an opera where it’s probably for the best I can’t understand the words, given that it’s about infanticide. The music is high Romantic, but infused with Janacek’s usual folk inspirations, including some idiosyncratic vocalizations and relative realism (realism is always relative in operas) – ‘realism’ such as the knocking on the door and the borderline talking. I particularly like the third act. This set also includes “Jealousy,” which was written for this opera but not used and later published as a separate pie.ce 9/10 Read More

Beyond Outrage (2012, Takeshi Kitano)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

The sequel is more of the same: tons of people getting shot (and occasionally stabbed) because of some perceived offense. At least there’s a little character development this time, but the parade of creative death scenes feels less creative. I just don’t really get these films; they’re like typical American revenge movies transported to Japan and the incomprehensible (to me) Yakuza culture, but with barely any attempt at character development. I guess the idea is the Yakuza setting is supposed to give us our character development, but that sure doesn’t work for me. 5/10 Read More