Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Prewitt loved the songs because they gave him something, an understanding, a first hint that pain might not be pointless if you could only turn it into something.

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

pain | 6:22 pm CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books
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Few people in the history of written advice have actually been qualified to give it.  There’s no Ph.D. program or certification course or license for the role.  Which means that nobody is ineligible to give advice, either.  … Take Ann Landers and Dear Abby.  Those columns were written by a pair of twins whose parents named them Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther, which establishes off the bat that good judgment isn’t hereditary.  Initially the twins answered letters together under the Ann Landers name before Pauline went rogue and pitched her own advice column to The San Francisco Chronicle.  … For decades the sisters competed viciously, tracking the number of newspapers syndicating their columns and sniping publicly about one sister’s nose job and the other’s writing abilities.  Isn’t it funny to think that decades of Americans relied for behavioral guidance on a single pair of unsportsmanlike twins with inverse names?

— Molly Young, reviewing Asking For a Friend, Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money and Other Burning Questions From a Nation Obsessed, by Jessica Weisberg

advice | 8:39 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, entertainment, play
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Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Every Step You Take was released thirty-five years ago today and almost instantly pulled in a shit-ton of money for The Police.  It was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, the UK Singles Chart for four weeks, and the Billboard Top Tracks chart for nine weeks.  It won a Grammy for Song of the Year, and for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  It was voted Song Of The Year in the 1983 Rolling Stone critics and readers poll.  It was the best-selling single of 1983 in the United States, and the fifth-best-selling single of the decade.

And, in an interview with BBC 2 in 2009, Sting, the song’s writer, characterized it as “… very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite. One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.'” I loved the vibe of the song when I was a kid, probably because I was a creepy little fuck then, and only later came to realize how skeevy it sounds.

Anyway, happy birthday to song about spending way too much time thinking about, watching, following and otherwise unhealthily obsessing on an ex.

… aaannnddd now it’s stuck in my head.  Dammit.

Another Song Bites The Dust | 5:01 pm CDT
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Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Outdoor hugging starts today! (reference to the JoCo song First Of May, the clean version, in which he replaces the word “fuck” with the word “hug” and inserts ad-libs to explain lines such as, “taking each other’s pants off – becauseit’shotoutside”.  He said he made the change when his own kids grew old enough to ask embarrassing questions about his songs, and because there are an increasing number of kids on his fan cruise. The first time I heard him sing this version was on the cruise last year, but when I looked for a recording of it on YouTube I discovered he’s been singing this version since 2004!  

outdoor hugging | 7:16 am CDT
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Saturday, April 14th, 2018

For years, I’ve wanted to see the science fiction film “Solaris” by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky because I’ve heard so many good things about it and because I love the book it’s based on, a sci-fi classic by Stanislaw Lem. Last night I finally got the chance, thanks to Cinematheque, a program at the University of Wisconsin that screens out-of-the-ordinary films and does it for free. The guys who chose the movies are the same guys who program the Wisconsin Film Festival. And while they were making announcements the last night or two at the WFF, they mentioned that they would be showing Solaris on Friday night. B and I stopped by last night after dinner to catch the show.

I have rarely been so disappointed by such an eagerly-awaited show. Drab and boring, one scene after another drags on for way too long. I was willing to put up with that in the opening scenes when the main character, Kris Kelvin, was wandering around the countryside to take a last look around before blasting off into space, but what was I meant to learn from watching a long, lingering shot of traffic moving through the ramps and tunnels of a sprawling megacity, followed by another long, lingering shot of traffic moving through tunnels and ramps of a sprawling megacity, followed by another long, lingering shot of traffic moving through the tunnels and ramps of a sprawling megacity, followed by another … I could do that a hundred more times and it wouldn’t be as awful as having to sit through it was.

Reviews of this movie are overwhelmingly positive, I think. I’m not entirely sure, because most reviews tend to sound like word salad:  “Tartovsky examines what it means to be human by emphasizing the interconnectedness of humanity, while simultaneously contradicting the same interconnectedness by highlighting the passive ennui and lugubriousness of modern life.”  That’s not a verbatim quote, but it’s not too unlike what I read afterwards, trying to figure out what people like about this movie. Just FYI, I still don’t know. Or rather, I did find a few reviews that weren’t totally incomprehensible, but I didn’t see the amazing and wonderful things they saw.

In plain English, Solaris is not poetry in cinematic form. Overall it is drab.  The writing is not bad but the pace is dreadfully slow. The acting was wooden and failed to get me to feel any sort of empathy for the characters.  I sat through all 166 minutes of it, hated a lot of it, resented the rest of it for wasting my time, and after sleeping on these thoughts I would only add that I never want to see it again.  In short, Tarkovsky’s Solaris is BORING and I’ve never been so relieved to get up from my seat and bolt from the theater. For the cherry on top, My Darling B agrees with me, and she’s never been wrong.  

Solaris (Tartovsky) | 9:07 am CDT
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Friday, April 13th, 2018

Yesterday was the closing day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the only day we saw not one, not two, but three really good movies. I’ve never rated so many films five or of five. Must be getting soft.

“Celebrating Sacred Twins In Africa” 6-minute documentary that showed some highlights of an annual celebration of twins and their mothers. 3 out of Five

“I Am Not A Witch” Shula is accused of being a witch, so she’s sent to a government-sponsored farm where witches are kept and exploited by a corrupt official. Describing it makes it sound more interesting than the experience of watching it.  One out of Five

“More Worlds Of Tomorrow” was a collection of animated shorts so quirky that My Darling B made a daring escape from the theater in the middle of one of them. “My Burden” featured dancing animals singing about how happy they will be after the burden of the futility of life is lifted from their shoulders. “The Amazing Neckbeard” showed how a cape-wearing nerd can be a hero.  “Obscurer” is a lot like a fever dream I had when I was sick in bed for three days with the flu, complete with creepy dolls, murmuring voices and unreadable graffiti. (This is the on B escaped from.) “The Tesla World Light” is a supposed letter from Tesla begging J.P. Morgan to fund Tesla’s work because he’s in live with a bird. “A Woman Apart” examines the thoughts of a sheriff who is wavering momentarily as he is poised to carry out the hanging of his friend, accused of being a witch. In “165708” a young woman gazes out across lily pads – that’s all I got from this film. “The Servant” wonders whether a frustrated artist is a cockroach and vice-versa. And in “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden Of Other People’s Thoughts” a girl faces her future with the confidence only youth can bring after she’s confronted by her emergency backup clone.

“The Guilty” A 911 operator works against time to save a woman abducted by her ex-husband. Smart, tense movie with an unexpected twist. Five out of Five

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”  I know I’ll be stating the obvious when I say this documentary about how Fred Rogers developed his TV show is one of the most heartwarming films you could ever hope to see, but what else could I say? It’s Fred Rogers! Five out of Five

“Hearts Beat Loud” Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a record shop owner who decides to close his store the summer before his daughter Sam is due to go to college. He and his daughter, played with a lot of life by Kiersey Clemons, not only have a great relationship, they also make good music together. When Frank suggests that Sam take a year off to write music and perform with him, just like he and Sam’s mother used to do, Sam has to yank him back to reality. An unexpected pleasure and a great film to end the fest on. Five out of five

WFF Day 8 | 5:32 am CDT
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Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Beautiful weather again this morning: sunny and clear, 42 degrees on the thermometer, same as yesterday morning. And once again I’ll spend the day in a darkened room staring at a flickering screen. How crazy is that?

On the other hand, I’m not going to the office.

Yesterday’s films:

“Amarillo Ramp” was twenty-four minutes of abstract scenes shown while discordant music blared and garbage cans rattled in the background. I watched maybe seven minutes of it, just the opening scenes of faded store signs and desert vegetation trembling in the wind, then closed my eyes and dozed off. One out of Five.

“Rodents of Unusual Size” Nutria are an invasive species of rodent that weigh up to 20 pounds. This documentary film does an excellent job of explaining how they infest and destroy the wetlands of Louisiana, how people have gotten used to the nutria and how they deal with them, from the people who shoot every nutria they see to the people who keep nutria as pets. Apparently they’re pretty good in stew, too, if you can get past the idea that they look like big rats.  Four out of Five

“Western” A drama about the clash between rural eastern European culture and modern western European culture.    Meinhard is a German working on an infrastructure project in Bulgaria. He has no family, no friends, and is trying to work out some trauma he experienced in war.  Despite a language barrier, he strikes up a friendship with Adrian, one of the villagers. Three out of Five.

“Life and Nothing More” Regina is a single mother struggling to raise a three year old and a fourteen year old, Andrew, who’s going through a rocky, rebellious phase. This was a well-made drama that was only improved by the spectacular debut performance of the woman playing the lead role.  Four out of Five.

“Joe Frank – Somewhere Out There” Before I watched this documentary I had never heard of Joe Frank. All I know about his much-loved and celebrated radio shows I learned through this documentary. I would probably be reviled for saying this, but his odd style of ruminations about life, death, time and space reminded me of the quirky observations of Jack Handy, but without the funny punchlines. Three out of Five.

WFF Day 7 | 8:43 am CDT
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Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

We saw just three films yesterday, and they were not our favorite films.  That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

I think probably “Hitler’s Hollywood” was made for people who are so hardcore about film they study it the way biologists study rats or fruit flies. As an exhaustive catalogue of films, directors, and actors from the years of the Third Reich, it seemed to be a pretty good film, but the total significance of it was lost on me. Three out of Five.

“First Reformed” Ethan Hawke as a priest suffering a crisis of faith, Amanda Seyfried as the good woman who saves him with a kiss. I mean honestly, does a story get more contrived than that? One out of Five.  

“You Were Never Really Here” Joaquin Phoenix hits lots of people in the head with a hammer while trying to forget something awful that happened to him while he was a kid and also he loves his mother but she’s a little weird and he suffocates himself with plastic bags as a coping mechanism but he’s really good at hitting people in the head with a hammer and there’s lots of loud edgy music and so much blood if you like blood this is your movie and did I mention the fake suicide?  Sorry if I spoiled that but it was just more gratuitous blood and gore and didn’t mean anything, you’ll get over it. One out of Five.

WFF Day 6 | 7:49 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

We’ve upped our game!  4 movies yesterday, starting with “Saving Brinton,” about Mike Zahs, an Iowa farmer who finds a treasure trove of silent films, magic lantern shows and other bricabrac from the era of silent movies in the basement of an Iowa farmhouse. Zahs tries to get someone to preserve them, but when no one is interested, he moves the whole collection into his house (“my wife was not too interested in having it in our house”) and bits and pieces of it on the road to put on shows across the county.  Finally he gets help from the University of Iowa, and ultimately ends up in Bologna Italy, showing one of his films, thought to be lost forever, to an appreciative crowd. Four out of Five.

“Don’t Forget Me”  An anorexic girl meets a psychotic boy. I’m not quite sure what happened after that. I liked many scenes but felt lost in others, especially in the final scenes. I liked the boy quite a lot, but the girl was churlish and bigoted and there wasn’t much at all to like about her. If she had one good quality, it was that she spoke to him honestly about her eating disorder, telling him he would just have to accept that she would always have it and would probably die from it. In the closing scene of the movie, she is planning their wedding banquet: nothing but food that is white, and lots of ice. He listens passively to her, looking trapped. Good acting, anyway, and beautifully shot. Three out of five.  

“World of Facts” I really liked this one a whole lot but I’m not sure how to explain why, even after sleeping on it.  I was fascinated by the way it used film to tell a story in a way I’ve never seen before. Lots of shots that lingered on faces or minute details that almost, but not quite, went on for too long, and many were very abstract, the kind of camera shots used in “experimental” movies that have annoyed or bored me to the point that I walked out, but in this movie they were compelling.  Dialogue was sparse – no, concise would be a better word. And there was a bar scene that every man in America should watch if they want to learn why women think men are creepy jerks. Five out of Five.

“American Animals” was a caper movie with an interesting twist: It really happened.  Not exactly a documentary, although all four of the college students who were involved in the caper were interviewed. Their motivation: they did it just for the thrill of it, which would have been typical for teenagers if they had TP’d a house, but in this case they stole rare books worth millions of dollars, with the ultimate goal of selling them to a buyer in Amsterdam.  Spoiler alert: they get caught because, duh, they’re kids. The heist is reenacted in a devastatingly comic manner that I couldn’t help liking even while I knew they were doing Bad Things . Five out of Five.

WFF Day 5 | 7:46 am CDT
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Monday, April 9th, 2018

Take Richard Pryor near the peak of his career, put him in a caper movie with Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto, and what have you got? Well, in the case of “Blue Collar” you have probably the most tragic waste of time and talent of 1978. This movie is a manic-depressive roller-coaster that rolls from the whacky comic antics of three zany buddies to the gritty portrayal of union corruption on a factory assembly line, and like a roller coaster it never really gets anywhere. And I really DID NOT need to see Harvey Keitel in tighty-whities. One out of Five.

“Wisconsin’s Own By The Dozen” was a mixed bag of twelve short films by Wisconsin directors. You never know what you’re going to see at one of these, but there’s usually at least one film that makes attending worthwhile. In this case, I thought it was “She’s Marrying Steve,” about a woman going to the wedding of her ex. Although it was maybe just a little too quippy in one or two places, overall it was well-done and the ending was heartwarming. Among the other films, “A Voicemail” was as emotionally honest a rendering of a phone message left to say “I miss you” as you could ever hope to see. “Experiencing OCD” is a simple and declarative depiction of how one woman experiences her affliction. I’d give each of these Four out of Five. “Marieke,” a straightforward look at a Wisconsin cheesemaker, and “Outrun The Night,” an animated short that illustrated the scariness of nightfall, Three out of Five.

“Three Identical Strangers” This was a documentary so extraordinarily convoluted, you literally wouldn’t get away with making it up if you were writing fiction. Triplets separated at birth are reunited nineteen years later when one of them shows up for his first day of school at the same small technical college his brother attended the year before. A buddy puts them in touch with one another, their story makes the local paper, then a national paper picks it up, and the third brother sees the story. But that’s not the most outrageous part. Their happy reunion takes a dark turn when they learn more about the reasons the adoption agency that placed them separated them at birth in the first place. Five out of Five.

We had planned to see “Vanishing Point” as the final film of the day, but we were still suffering a 70s movie hangover headache from “Blue Collar” that was so bad we just didn’t feel we could take a chance on another one, so after “Three Identical Strangers” we hit the road, stopping at Salvatore’s pizzeria for a pie and some beer.

WFF Day 4 | 7:58 am CDT
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Sunday, April 8th, 2018

We watched only four films yesterday.  It’s like we’ve already given up trying to squish as many film as we can into each day.   What kind of losers are we, eh?

The amazing Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the subject of our first documentary film of the day, “RBG.”  My Darling B had probably the most concise review: “They didn’t hit one wrong note in that whole movie.” And B had probably the most endearing reaction: she cried tears of joy through almost all of it, so heartwarming and inspiring was the story.  For myself, I can’t wait until we can buy it on DVD to watch it again. B doesn’t want to wait that long; she wants to watch it when the film fest shows it again on Wednesday. Five out of five.

“The Blood Is On The Doorstep”  In 2014, Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney shot Dontre Hamilton to death in front of more than a hundred witnesses.  Manney was apparently walking a beat when he found Hamilton sleeping on the pavement in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee. Two pairs of officers had already spoken to Hamilton that morning; the second pair to be called to the scene asked the woman who called them to stop because Hamilton wasn’t doing anything wrong.  When Manney found Hamilton he asked him to get up off the ground and began to frisk him. Hamilton turned, Manney grappled him, and when the officer raised his billy club, Hamilton grabbed it and twisted it from the officer’s hand. Manney later said Hamilton struck him in the head. In his frantic radio call for help after the shooting, Manney said he didn’t know whether or not he’d been hit, and asked an officer at the scene if his brains were coming out of his head.  In photos taken of him immediately after the shooting, there were no signs of injury to Manney, other than a scratch on his thumb. Manny shot Hamilton 14 times. Four out of Five.

“Dinner With A Murderer” was everything a humorous short should be: tightly-written, well-acted, and beautifully filmed.  Four out of Five.

“Ironwood” was a comedy buddy movie sort of like “Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle,” in which a mismatched pair of college buddies go to interview for the same job and try to outdo one another while they simultaneously try to sabotage each other’s chances.  Hilarity should have ensued, but the humorous vibe of the movie never connected with me, which felt odd because virtually everyone else in the movie theater, including My Darling B, thought it was lots of laughs. Two out of Five.

“Brewmaster” was about people who love beer: love to drink it, love to talk about it, love to brew it, and love to use their enthusiasm to encourage other people to enjoy beer.  Four out of five, and not just because I’m a beer-lover.

WFF Day 3 | 7:56 am CDT
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Saturday, April 7th, 2018

“12 Days” was a somber, repetitive, and apparently pointless film that gets its title from the period of time a person can be held against their will in a psychiatric ward before they must be allowed a hearing before a judge to determine if they were rightfully interred. The film opened on a scene of a slow walk down the corridor of a psych ward that went on way too long.  I mean, we were watching a full three, four minutes of an empty hallway. Maybe to establish the mood? Then they showed the first interview with no explanation and no follow-up, and then several more minutes of the slow walk down the corridor. Then the next hearing, and more hallway. Several of the people clearly needed help, such as the guy who heard voices, but the woman who wanted to die was very reasonable and the soccer star appeared to be tranquilized to the point that he was barely conscious; how is that a fair hearing?  A little more expository material would have been helpful. Although to be fair, the last fifteen or twenty minutes may have been devoted to a detailed reveal of the point of the film, but I walked out to get some fresh air. The film is over when I’ve had enough. Two out of Five.

“Under The Tree” was billed as a very dark comedy and it was SOOO DARK and a little comic so I suppose they weren’t being wilfully misleading, but I had to stretch my imagination to see the comic stuff.  I mean, I chuckled a couple of times in a “what the hell?” kind of way, but there were scenes other people in the audience were laughing at that I felt like crying over. This much tragedy is normally found only in Russian films.  A very short synopsis (spoiler warning): Two houses, alike in dignity, in fair Reykjavik where our story is set. In the one house, a recent death in the family that the matriarch is drinking her way through while the patriarch watches helplessly.  In the other, divorce and remarriage. The wine-swilling matriarch of the first house resents the new bride, apparently for no reason other than she resents everybody’s happiness, and from that resentment a series of unfortunate escalations grows until everybody lies dead in pools of their own blood.  As I said, very, VERY dark. Four out of Five.

“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”  Woman gets everything she ever wanted, loses everything but the kids in the economic crisis, spends the rest of her days sleeping in the library of one kid’s house among hundred of shoeboxes filled with the bricabrac of her life, pining for death and an end to her suffering.  One of her kids makes a film about how great her life was. It was billed as a film about a “mischievous” “hilarious” woman, and maybe she was, but what I got from this film was that she was a packrat with kids who put up with way too much of her nonsense. I’d let my mother in my library if that’s what it came to, but all those shoeboxes would’ve ended up piled in the yard, doused with gasoline and turned into the biggest pyre ever. Two our of five.

“Cold November” Good acting, bad cinematography, and a weak story about a life lost and coming of age.  The film focuses on Florence’s coming of age, a story told entirely in the context of her first deer hunt, which is as central to the lives of families in the Midwest as high school football is to people in Texas.  There’s another story about how her family is dealing with the death of Florence’s cousin, Sweeny, but it’s so disjointed that I never did work out how they were related until after the film when I could talk about it with others.  Way too many of the film’s scenes were shot in hand-held shakey-cam. Bring your Dramamine. Two out of Five.

“A Woman Captured” A fascinating documentary about Marish, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship by Eta, a woman who forces Marish to work day and night in her house through the simple expediency of belittling her, beating her, and making sure Marish has no money and nowhere to go.  It’s not institutional slavery, but it’s something like it. The filmmaker spent a year and a half documenting Marish’s miserable life with Eta, but also Marish’s escape and her very happy reunion with her daughter. Five out of Five.

WFF Day Two | 9:55 am CDT
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Friday, April 6th, 2018

Yesterday was the opening day of the Wisconsin Film Fest.  I didn’t take the day off from work, but My Darling B did. Didn’t get her out of the office, though; she still had to go in for a ten o’clock meeting.  That’s just how awesomely important she is: The DMV can’t go on without her at the ten o’clock meeting.

She went home after she was done with that nonsense, did some very important things (napped), then returned to the office to pick me up after I bolted at quitting time.  

Opening night ceremonies consisted of a catered party before the show, which was all right but we probably paid too much for it.  The noshies were not bad, the beer was pretty good, but the venue was too small for the fiftyish people who sardined themselves into it.  And it was too loud: when an acapella group of college students came in to sing us a few songs, the attendees wouldn’t shut up. I moved as close as possible without getting into their faces and yet I was able to hear only one song, and even then I think I was filling in because I knew the words.  

Then, on to the show!  This is the 20th year of the Wisconsin Film Fest, so the director of the first film fest (can’t remember his name & can’t find it on the internet) came out to give us a little talk about the festival’s history, followed by Ben Reiser, the festival’s PR man, who usually comes out to thank all the people who made the festival possible and somehow makes it sound like a standup routine.  A panel of jurists interrupted Ben to hand out the Golden Badger awards to three talented film makers, after which the acapella group from the party filed on stage to sing their arrangement of Ice & Snow, the song featured in the opening sequence shown before every movie at the 2014 film fest and which has become the theme song of every opening sequence ever since.

Finally, the movie!  Or movies, because there was a short (“Elemental”) before the feature film, “Mountain.”  The short was a guy dancing, filmed in various outdoor settings. I liked it, but it really wasn’t much more than that.  “Mountain” was sort of a video collage of mountains and the crazy things people do on and around them. And they were pretty much all crazy things: aside from the obvious (skiing, snowboarding), they climbed up them with bikes over their shoulders, then rode the bikes down at breakneck speed; they jumped from helicopters onto peaks overloaded with snow and rode snowboards ahead of the avalanche they started; they skimmed the rocky flanks of mountains in their wingsuits; they climbed hundreds of feet up the sheer, granite walls with no ropes for safety; and always, always they hurt themselves doing it.  But, presumably, they kept on doing it, because people are stupid. Willem Dafoe read a voiceover script that took a stab at explaining the how and why of all this, and he sounded great, but I’m no closer to understanding why anyone would want to snowboard through an avalanche.

Fun bit o’ trivia: Willem Dafoe was born in Appleton, Wisconsin – same as your friendly neighborhood Oman.

WFF opening night | 10:31 am CDT
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Sunday, January 21st, 2018

I’m about halfway through Monty Python Speaks, a sort of oral history of the show, the movies, and everything else Python.  I happened to find a copy while I was at the library trying to convince the desk clerk I returned the copy of The Geek Feminist Manifesto that I checked out last year.  While she was on the phone talking to the branch that alleged I kept the copy for myself, I wandered over to the shelf of staff picks and my eye was immediately drawn to the obviously Gilliam-influenced cover art of the book, flipped it open, and started reading about how the Python boys got started in comedy, how they got together for the series, how they wrote material, how they filmed it and, eventually, how they started to get on one another’s nerves.

I’m a total geek for this stuff.  I took the book home and I’ve been reading it almost non-stop ever since.  Right away, an odd thing happened: I was reading about how they developed characters for the sketches and they kept on naming a character I couldn’t recall ever hearing about.  I’m a pretty hardcore Python fan.  I can’t recite whole shows from memory any longer (I could when I was a teenager, though), but I can tell you all about the sketch you’re going to see if you show me the first five seconds of the video.  Yet somehow I couldn’t recall this Mr. Neutron guy they kept mentioning, so I searched the internet and of course I got my choice of about ten thousand videos to watch.  It was an episode from Monty Python Season 4 I couldn’t recall ever seeing.  It kind of rocked my world.  I was so sure I’d seen them all.  So now I’ll have to start at the beginning and watch them all.  I’m going to get very little sleep this next week.

Mr Neutron | 6:13 pm CDT
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Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

I’m washing a ton of dirty clothes today, and that means I’m folding a ton of clothes, too, and THAT means I’m watching a movie while I fold clothes.  Today, I’m watching Twelve O’Clock High.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, but it’s not enough.  I’m still not tired of it, and I haven’t memorized all the lines yet.  I like to play favorite scenes over and over to make sure I’ve got the sound of the lines right as well as the words.  If I could deliver the lines where Savage chews out Gately as devastatingly as Peck did, I could die a happy man.

Today’s favorite scene was Savage meeting Cobb for the first time.  If you’ve never seen the movie, Savage is a general sent to take command of an army air force base in England during the early years of World War Two.  He is played to perfection by Gregory Peck.  I would like to say this is the role Peck was born to play, but I know he likes Atticus Finch best of all his roles, so I’ll say only this is *a* role he was born to play.  Maybe I can get away with that.

Cobb is a pilot in one of the units stationed at the base.  Savage wants to give Cobb the job of Air Exec, which would make Cobb second-in-command of the base, but Savage would like to know more about Cobb’s character first, so he goes looking for Cobb in the officer’s club the night he arrives.  The club is a quonset hut with a fireplace at the far end and a tiny bar to one side in the middle.  Someone is banging out “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” on the upright piano right next to the entrance.

Peck strides manfully to the bar and barks, “Beer!” at the bartender.  As Savage, Peck barks a lot in this movie.  He’s good at it, too.

A major who had been standing in the foreground, just to Savage’s left, glances at the general’s star on Savage’s shoulder, then looks down into his beer as he decides he doesn’t want to make small talk with a general and wanders away, leaving Savage standing at the bar just one other officer, a major in a flier’s jacket and cap, slouched against the bar next to a half-empty shot glass of scotch.  The major has his back to the general.  Savage doesn’t know it yet, but this is Major Cobb, played by John Kellogg, who is about to steal the scene from Peck.

Peck looks the major up and down, then narrows his eyes at the major’s cap.  Military personnel do not normally wear any kind of hat indoors, which is handily telegraphed to the audience by the fact that nobody else in the club is wearing a cap.  Savage says evenly: “Remove your cap in the club, major.” He delivers the line just sternly enough that anyone would know it’s an order, but not so sternly that it’s a big deal, yet.

This is where it gets good: Kellogg swivels his head in Peck’s direction with enough of a glassed-over look in his eyes to give you the idea he isn’t drinking his first shot of scotch.  He looks the general up and down and says, with enough disregard for the general’s rank to get noticed, but not enough to get him into trouble, “That’s regulations, is it?”

Before Peck answers, he stands a little straighter, a little stiffer, and he looks a little more serious.  He clips his words a little shorter. The major has obviously ticked Savage off a bit.  “It is,” Peck growls.  He growls a lot in this movie, too, and he’s as good at growling as he is at barking.

Kellogg stands up straight, turns toward Peck and slowly takes the cap off his head, chucking it onto the bar between them.  Then he scoops up his drink and tosses it back.

Savage picks up his own drink and downs a gulp, narrowing his eyes as he watches the major’s carefully balanced demonstration of defiance and obedience.  Then his eyes widen a bit as he notices the major’s name tag, a tiny strip of black cloth with “MAJ J.C. COBB” in gold letters barely half an inch high on the left breast of the jacket.  It’s almost invisible, and Peck’s reaction is so subtle that I missed this part of their interaction so many times.  Really well-played.

Kellogg scoops up his hat and makes as if to go when Peck delivers his next line in an inviting, even friendly tone of voice, “Have another, Major Cobb,” he says, and Kellogg pauses long enough to let it register that he realizes he’s not in trouble, that he really is being invited to stay.

“Scotch,” he says to the bartender, and starts to dig out some change from his pocket, but Peck beats him to it, laying one of his own coins on the bar.  “I’ve got it,” he says.  (I love it there used to be a time when you could pay for hard liquor with loose change instead of folding money.)

“No regulation against buying my own, is there?” Kellogg says, not asks, a little proudly.

Peck says flatly, “That’s right,” and regards Kellogg with an icy look that reads: Are you sure you want to get into it like this?

Kellogg seems to waver for a moment but slaps his change on the bar after deciding he’s made his bed, now he’s going to lie in it.  The bartender takes his money and sets a shot glass in front of him, and Kellogg settles an elbow on the bar.  Peck grins at him but Kellogg doesn’t seem to notice, gazing straight ahead as he sips a bit of scotch from the glass.  His expression says, I refuse to stick my other foot in my mouth.

The next day, after Cobb apologizes to Savage for the snark, Savage tells him admiringly, “You gave it to me straight.”  These scenes where manly men beat on each other (sometimes literally – The Silent Man holds the gold standard for this) to size one another up are cliche, but I still love them, especially when they’re played as well as this one.

regulation | 4:38 pm CDT
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Sunday, December 17th, 2017

I’m a huge fan of the 1966 R&B hit song “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations, not that I heard it all that often before 2006. I came late to my appreciation of classic Motown music, but I love it now and this is one of the best.

Been thinking too much about the lyrics, though, and you know what that means: TIME FOR ANOTHER SONG TO BE RUINED!

I know you wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you go
If I have to beg and plead for your sympathy
I don’t mind, ’cause you mean that much to me

Whoa! “I refuse to let you go?” No means no, dude! Don’t be a creeper!

Ain’t too proud to beg and you know it
Please don’t leave me girl, Don’t you go
Ain’t too proud to plead, baby, baby
Please don’t leave me, girl, don’t you go

Let’s talk about relationships that are based on begging, because this guy begs a lot. I get that it’s supposed to be romantic, this notion that he’ll crawl through the mud for her, but how’s that relationship going to endure? It’s not, because neither one of them will have any self-respect. If she caves in and stays with him, she’ll hate herself for caving, and he’ll hate himself for giving up his dignity. Begging is not the way to go. Not that he’s going to stop doing it.

Now I’ve heard a cryin’ man is half a man with no sense of pride
But if I have to cry to keep you, I don’t mind weepin’
If it’ll keep you by my side

Well, now we have a complete lack of dignity with a generous helping of emotionally manipulation on the side. Very nice.

If I have to sleep on your doorstep all night and day just to keep you from walking away
Let your friends laugh, even this I can stand,
’cause I wanna keep you any way I can.

Okay, this has veered wildly into the world of the weird. I mean, is he LITERALLY sleeping on her doorstep to stop her from going anywhere? Because I’m pretty sure that’ll get him arrested just about anywhere in the world. And what kind of friends has she got if all they do when her ex behaves like this is laugh? Not very dependable friends, if you ask me.

Now I’ve got a love so deep in the pit of my heart, and each day it grows more and more
I’m not ashamed to call and plead to you, baby
If pleading keeps you from walking out that door

And now he’s making harassing phone calls.  Dude, we’ve all been there. You can survive this, but only if you put it behind you.  Stop already.

another song bites the dust | 7:00 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

On this day in 1954 Raymond Chandler’s wife Cissy died.  Chandler was arguably one of the greatest mystery writers in American history.  If you don’t believe me, read The Lady In The Lake.

Chandler wrote this about Cissy after her death, in a letter to a friend:

I have received much sympathy and kindness and many letters, but yours is somehow unique in that it speaks of the beauty that is lost rather than condoling with the comparatively useless life that continues on. She was everything you say and more.  She was the beat of my heart for thirty years.  She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound.  It was my great and now useless regret that I never wrote anything really worth her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her.  I planned it.  I thought of it, but I never wrote it.  Perhaps I couldn’t have written it.  … Perhaps now she realizes that I tried, and that I regarded the sacrifice of several years of a rather insignificant literary career as a small price to pay, if I could make her smile a few times more.

 

cissy | 8:46 am CDT
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Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Here’s a fun bit o’ trivia about me: I can enjoy the shit out of a story in a book or on television, but nine times out of ten I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the characters no matter how much I liked the story. In fact, the odds that I won’t remember names get better the more I like it. “I just read this fantastic book about these guys, ah, I forget their names, but the story was gripping!”

For instance, I giddily enjoyed the whole first season of Stranger Things and was maybe halfway into season two before I could tell you the names of any of the characters. When a friend of mine was telling me how much she liked Stranger Things, “But I just want to smack some sense into that Nancy,” I wasn’t sure at first who she was talking about. I knew all the kids and could keep them straight in my head, I just didn’t know their names. Dustin was my favorite character starting with the third or fourth episode, but if I had to ref him in conversation, he was just “the kid with the curly hair” until sometime after he found the slimy thing in his trash can.

If I’m reading an especially thick book with more than three or four characters, I have to make a list of their names on the back of a bookmark with a brief note about who they are and maybe what they do. If I don’t, I end up flipping back through the pages looking the last time they appeared in print, which sort of breaks the spell. I’m so looking forward to the day when we all have little computers in our heads and our memories become searchable, but for now, I’ll have to make due with bookmarks.

Names are my particular blind spot when it comes to books. My Darling B’s is a bit different: she can’t remember the plot of a story six months after she’s read it, unless you’re talking about A Prayer For Owen Meany, or The World According to Garp. She knows those books by heart, but even then it’s only because she’s read them over and over. I’m pretty sure she read Garp at least half a dozen times. Any other book, no matter how much she liked it, is a complete mystery to her a month or two after she finished reading it. She loved A Man Called Ove, for instance, but she lent it to a friend at least six months ago and although I’d guess she still remembers the bare outlines of the story, if you quizzed her on any of the finer points, she’d be clueless. If she ever reads it again, it’ll be a new story to her.

names | 8:50 am CDT
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Thursday, November 30th, 2017

These are the songs I loved when they were first released but I’ve heard them enough. I’m not here to ruin them, it’s just that I’ve heard them so many times that I wouldn’t care if I never heard them again. Or, really, I’d rather not ever hear them again. It’s time for them to retire, preferably forever, from the airwaves.

Crocodile Rock
When our local oldies station plays an Elton John song, nine times out of ten it’s this song. They used to play Yellow Brick Road a lot, but not so much any more and there’s no way they played it more than Crocodile Rock. I’d bet the farm that no other Elton John song has been played as much as Crocodile Rock has. And the crashing shame is, it’s not even one of his best. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s a fun song, but it’s not so good that it deserves to be played umpty-million times. I don’t get why radio stations play it so often, unless maybe they got it on sale.

Hotel California
I’ve never understood what it was about this song that made everybody so ga-ga over it. I like the Eagles, but this song is just so … average? A nameless traveler pulls into a hotel late at night, checks in and verse by verse discovers the place is haunted by the souls of all the other travelers who pulled in and were trapped there forever. Wow. Might have been scary if it were shot in glorious black and white as a Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner, but as a pop song it’s had its run.

We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions
I know I’m going to hell for this. I don’t doubt for a second that Queen is an awesome band and their songs are iconic. Everybody who grew up in the 70s had at least one favorite song by Queen. Unfortunately, it was probably this song. I just don’t get it. Why not Don’t Stop Me Now? Why not my favorite, Somebody To Love? Why not even, so help me, Fat Bottomed Girls? Why does We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions deserve to be played whenever it’s time to honor Freddie Mercury or Queen? They had so many other, better songs.

Hey Joe
Speaking of other, better songs, Jimi Hendrix was way better than Hey, Joe. It’s a good song and all, I’m not saying it’s bad, but it seems like the few rare times I hear Hendrix on the oldies radio stations, it’s always Hey, Joe. They need to knock that off. Play Cross Town Traffic once in a while, or Manic Depression. Even Foxy Lady, which seems to be their other go-to Hendrix song. Anything but Hey, Joe.

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Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Our after-dinner entertainment on Thanksgiving was the Michael Jackson music video Thriller. Fun Fact: Tim had not seen it before then. Amazing, I know. Now his life is complete. To think we came so close to being complete failures as parents.

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Saturday, November 18th, 2017

We went to see Justice League Friday night with some friends. Fun movie. If you’re into superhero movies, then you will enjoy this. Grab some popcorn and go.

No spoilers here, but some general observations on superheroes, if I may:

The “what if” element of comic book superheroes has always been fascinating to me. What if you could shoot laser beams from your eyes? What if you could fly? What if you were unbreakable? What if you could punch something so hard it would go into orbit? It’s some pretty far-out imaginary thinking, and it’s fun to do! They gave Superman all those powers, and he’s been superheroing with them for, what, going on eighty-five years now?

I can still enjoy comic books – I’ve got quite a few issues boxed up in the basement, and I dig them out from time to time – but I can’t look at superpowers as anything but magic now.

The Flash was one of my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. Guy can run so fast you can’t see him go by. Trouble is, the friction he’d have to generate to go that fast would trench the ground from the spot where he started to the place where he stopped, and he would leave a trail of superheated plasma in his wake that would incinerate everything around him, to say nothing of the multiple sonic booms shattering everything that wasn’t already in flames. Also, he wouldn’t be able to corner for shit. His turning radius at Mach 1 would be measured in miles, so in the city he would have to run in a straight line and any taxi or pedestrian that got in his way would be flattened (or incinerated, but we already covered that).

Why would I want to spoil superheroing like this with facts? I wouldn’t if the movie hadn’t brought it up first. Batman noticed the Flash wore a heat-resistant costume, presumably to protect him from friction with the air, ignoring that the costume was held together with what looked like piano wire. Pretty sure that would fall apart before he hit the speed of sound. Also, the Flash covered every part of his body with heat-resistant material except his face. So I guess his face is indestructible. And Barry Allen (the Flash’s alter-ego) said his crazy-fast metabolism made him hungry, as he was gobbling down a pizza. That must be one high-octane pizza. It takes orbital rockets about five minutes to burn through tons of explosives, but he can run faster than the eye can see after fueling up on sausage and mozzarella. Cool cool.

Batman is my son’s favorite superhero. Timbo says that’s because Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s just really strong and good at fighting, and he’s got a lot of gadgets. I say, he does have a superpower: he can stop time. It’s the only way to explain how he has enough time to build the gadgets. If he couldn’t stop time, he would spend his whole life building those gadgets and never have any time left over to get out there and fight crime. Now I know they sort of explained that Wayne Industries has an armaments division that cranks out his toys but, if that were true, then Batman’s superpower would have to be mind control, because how else would it be possible that he could use all those impressive gadgets in full view of the public and nobody would ever point at the latest news broadcast on a TV set in a bar and yell, “Hey! That looks just like the bat-shaped jet plane we made only one of at Wayne Industries!”

Sticking with Batman for another minute: He’s got to have some kind of regenerative powers, or he’s unbreakable, because no human being, no matter how bulked-up or highly trained, can take the hits he can, then get up and walk away. Even if his costume is some kind of body armor, there’s a limit to how much punishment it can take for him, and Batman is taking hits in this movie that would definitely kill your run-of-the-mill mortal being, no question. Put it this way: If you were inside a can made of an indestructible material and I pushed you off the top of the Empire State Building, when I opened the can you would be nothing but jelly and a pile of broken bones. It wouldn’t make any difference that the can didn’t get scratched or dented. That’s what’s happening inside Batman’s apparently indestructible armored costume whenever some super-powered being punches him across the room and he comes to a sudden stop against a wall. He would be oozing out of every seam of his suit instead of staggering to his feet groaning to bravely face his attacker again.

And there’s that face problem again: Batman covers ever part of himself in an armored costume but his face? None of the bad guys ever think of shooting him in the face? He never gets shot in the face by accident? Seems like a pretty poor costuming choice for the sake of a little face time.

Superman’s powers are really very easily explained: He’s an alien. Aliens can do things so advanced it looks like magic. How else to explain how he’s flying? Hell, he’s clearly levitating in these movies. Levitating! He can control gravity with his mind! And he can not only make himself fly, he can make other things fly. One scene in Justice League showed him carrying a building intact through the sky. There’s no way he simply picked it up in his hands. A building is made to stand on its foundations; it isn’t engineered in a way that would let anything grab a small part of it and pick it up. Superman had to be controlling the force of gravity! That’s a pretty awesome superpower! And pretty much all the superpower you need, when it comes right down to it. No superbaddie could touch you if you could send him flying into space or crashing into a mountain just by thinking him there. Funny Superman never does that, though. He mostly only punches. Which is great eye candy, but still puzzling.

Justice League | 12:52 pm CDT
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Friday, November 10th, 2017

I Want You Back by the Jackson Five is one of my favorite Motown songs ever. I really don’t want to ruin it, but I don’t know how to explain what’s going on in with this guy and his ex without making him sound like a jerk, and that, in fact, kind of ruins the song.

His jerkiness starts with the first two lines of the song:

When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd

This has to be the most roundabout way of calling a girl ugly that I have ever heard in a pop song. He is calling her ugly, right? I can’t think of another way to interpret that.

Then he goes straight into regret, but it seems to be more the kind of regret that she’s with someone that’s not him, instead of regret that he was a jerk to her:

But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took
Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look

Oh, baby, give me one more chance (to show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart?
Oh, baby, I was blind to let you go
But now that I see you in his arms (I want you back!)

See, I’m not sure if he really expects her to take him back, or if he’s just crying in his coffee. He called her ugly, admitted to himself that she’s with someone now who thinks she’s beautiful, and he’s all wahh-wahh, gimme a chance. Dude, too late. You had your chance, and it sounds to me like you blew it.

Trying to live without your love is one long, sleepless night
Let me show you, girl, that I know wrong from right
Every street you walk on, I leave tear stains on the ground
Following the girl I didn’t even want around

So … he’s stalking her now? Is that supposed to be romantic? I mean, the first line of that verse sounds like the kind of poetic language guys use when they’re being romantic, but the second line sounds like an empty promise. He already showed her he didn’t know wrong from right; he ditched her because he thought she was ugly. Then some other guy thought she was worth seeing and suddenly he’s all, Hey, I want you back. Makes me think he doesn’t know wrong from anything.

And then those last two lines — the tear stains thing is all poetic again, but he’s following her everywhere. That’s not normal. That’s weird. Dude. Just stop.

another song bites the dust | 6:30 am CDT
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Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Watching this made me so happy.

Just watch | 6:45 pm CDT
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Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

We binge-watched the entire second season of Stranger Things last weekend, making us the two people in the whole nation who didn’t see it within the first twelve hours after it was released. Procrastination: it’s not just our middle name, it’s our mission in life!

Loved the second season and, I have to say, I was prepared for a let-down, because I the first season was so much fun that I didn’t see how they could pull off a second season as good as the first. Better Call Saul was the last one we watched that just kept getting better and better. It doesn’t happen that often.

That said, I’d be perfectly happy if they didn’t make another season, because this one tied up all the loose ends rather nicely (except that one in the icebox) and even gave us an (almost) happy ending.

I think my favorite scene was toward the end of the second to the last episode: The monsters are closing in. The kids are holed up at the Byers’ house with Hopper. Dusty whips out a Dungeons & Dragons manual to explain the hive mind of the monsters by describing how a character in the game works: “The mind flayer: It’s a monster from another dimenson.”

Hopper: “None of this is real. It’s a kid’s game.”

Dusty: “No, it’s a manual. And it’s not for kids. And unless you know something that we don’t, this is the best metaphor —”

Lucas: “Analogy.”

Dusty: “Analogy.” Beat. “THAT’S what you’re worried about?”

Of course that would be my favorite scene.

Most disappointing scene: The one that never happened, when one of the dog-monsters ate Max’s douchebag brother. Was so waiting for that scene.

Second most favorite scene: Dusty goes to the Wheeler’s house to look for Mike, has this conversation with Mike’s dad at the door:

Dusty: “Is Mike here?”

Dad: “No.”

Dusty: “Where the hell is he?”

Dad: “Will’s”

Dusty: “What about Nancy?”

Dad: “Allie’s. Our children don’t live here, didn’t you know that?”

Dusty: “Seriously?”

Dad: “Am I done here?”

Dusty: “Son of a bitch.” (walks away shaking head) “You’re really no help at all, y’know that?”

I just realized the thing these two scenes have in common is Dusty, who happens to be my favorite character in the show.

And my favorite reaction in the show was from Lucas, after Max got her first look at one of the hounds from hell and asked him, “Are you sure that’s not a dog?” Such a perfect “Are You NUTS?” look he gave her.

Stranger Things | 6:30 am CDT
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Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Most mind-blowing thing I learned last week:

This guy …

… and this guy …

… are the same person! Holy shit!

I went on a business trip last week that seemed to last a whole year, because that’s how much of your life gets sucked out of your soul when you’re behind the wheel of a car for three days driving on the interstate and backroads, getting stuck in traffic jams caused by oh my god another construction zone, and sleeping in one anonymous hotel after another. Thank goodness I don’t have to do that again for a while.

The one good thing about the trip was a travel companion who liked the same movies I liked and grew up on the same songs I grew up on. To pass the time, we played the “Who’s your favorite actor?” game, and we took turns playing songs from our phones through the car stereo and singing along, me always slightly out of key (thank goodness she didn’t mind. At least I think she didn’t).

One of the songs that kept coming up on her playlist was All Good Things from the musical Godspell, and each time it started to play she told me “That’s Victor Garber,” like I should’ve known a singer named Victor Garber. I was pretty sure I didn’t, but only because I didn’t know Victor Garber the singer was also Victor Garber the actor. I didn’t even know he could sing! It’s not like he ever broke into song in Legally Blonde or Sleepless In Seattle. And why would I ever have connected the kid in the blown-out afro with the gray-haired guy in Titanic? In my defense, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only person who has remained this blissfully ignorant.

So last weekend I got reacquainted with the music of Godspell. I had the album once upon a time and listened to it so incessantly that I learned the words through osmosis, although not always the right words. The version of Godspell that bubbled up from my memory was filled with lots of Whoa Nipsey Russel and Elvis Is A Watermelon, because my LP didn’t come with the lyrics printed on the liner, dammit. I didn’t have a decent stereo to play it on, so I learned to sing lots of words that I knew were wrong but I would have to make do with them because I couldn’t figure out what the right words might be.

What’s interesting to me about this alternate version of Godspell is not only how comically wrong I was about the words but that, after all these years, I could recall the wrong words so clearly. I mean, these are songs I haven’t thought about in more than fifteen years, and yet each and every misheard word came back to me as clearly – or, rather, as garbled – as they did when I pressed my ear against a tinny speaker back in high school, straining to learn the words, any words, to the song.

Just as a for instance, one of my favorite songs was All For The Best, sung in two parts by Jesus (Victor Garber) and Judas (I don’t know). I could easily decipher the words of the part Garber sang, but I got the words to the other part almost entirely wrong. The way I heard it, it went something like this:

Some men just want to live at ease, doing what they please, richer than the bees are in honey
Never growing old, never feeling cold, pulling pots of gold from thin air
Your bets from every town, bets are shaking down, bets are making mountains of money
They can’t take it with them, but what do they care?
They get those sandy pots of meat, pushing down the street, outside on the street where it’s sunny
Summers at the sea, which are warmer treats, all of this when we have progressed
But who is the land for, the sun and the sand for?
You guessed, it’s all for the best!

But now I have the internet! I can look them up! Which I did, and was astonished to discover that I actually got some of the words right! But the words I got wrong were oh so comically wrong:

Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please, richer than the bees are in honey
Never growing old, never feeling cold, pulling pots of gold from thin air
The best in every town, best at shaking down, best at making mountains of money
They can’t take it with them, but what do they care?
They get the center cut of meat, cushions on the seat, houses on the street where it’s sunny
Summers at the sea, winters warm and free, all of this, and we get the rest
But who is the land for, the sun and the sand for?
You guessed, it’s all for the best!

I think “sandy pots of meat” is my favorite mis-heard lyric.

If there’s a down side to this, it’s that I’ve had All For The Best playing on a loop in my head ever since. Well, sort of a down side. That was one of my favorite songs, so I’m not entirely bummed that I can now sing it the right way.

Mind blown | 6:30 am CDT
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Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

I brought a big box of CDs along on our three-day road trip last week so we would never be out of fresh songs to listen to. Turned out we reserved the only damned car in the DOT fleet that didn’t have a CD player.

But good luck was with us: Each of us had lots of our favorite songs saved on our phones, and the car was a late model with a stereo that would connect to our phones so we could play our music loud.

The most amazing thing about long road trips? How easy it is to get someone to sing along with Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ when you’ve been trapped in a car staring out the window at endless miles of concrete for hours and hours.

songs for the road | 6:30 am CDT
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Thursday, October 26th, 2017

I’m here to ruin another song for you! Or maybe not. The song I’ve been thinking about today is Undercover Angel by Alan O’Day. Ever heard of it? It was on the radio constantly in 1977 but I haven’t heard it since I graduated from high school. So maybe you haven’t heard it, in which case I won’t be ruining it for you.

Likewise, I won’t be ruining it for you if you’ve heard it but, like me, you’ve always thought it was more than a little weird that a pop song about a guy’s wet dream made it all the way to number one in the charts. That’s really what the song was about. The songwriter himself, Alan O’Day, described the song as a “nocturnal novelette,” which I guess he thought was a kind of sly way to say it but I thought was about as sly as sneaking into a woman’s locker room by crashing through the wall with a truck.

Here’s the first thirty seconds of the song; what does this sound like to you:

Crying on my pillow, lonely in my bed
Then I heard a voice beside me, and she softly said
Thunder is your night light, magic is your dream
And as I held her, she said, See what I mean?

I said, What?
She said, Ooo-wooo wooo-weee!
I said, All right!
She said, Love me, love me, love me!

Undercover angel, midnight fantasy
I’ve never had a dream that made sweet love to me
Undercover angel, answer to my prayer
You let me know that there’s a love for me out there

So either a total stranger snuck into his bedroom while he was crying and boned him, which doesn’t seem likely given the actual words of the song; or a literal angel appeared and likewise there was boning, which doesn’t strike me as likely, either, given what I was taught in Sunday school about angels; or he dreamed the whole episode, which seems most likely to me because he was in bed, at night, crying about how he was soooo lonely.

Full disclosure: I was the kind of angsty teenage guy who was so bunched up about girls that I mostly lived my so-called social life in my own fantasies. The idea of getting it on with the literal girl of my dreams held an admittedly adolescent appeal for me. I didn’t think it was necessarily weird to write about it; god knows I did some of that myself, but I thought it was unquestionably weird that the repressive culture I grew up in would elevate a song about boning a dream girl (or an angel; which would be weirder?) to the highest tiers of musical fame.

Further disclosure: I like this song. Still. I liked it then, because of the aforesaid social fantasy life I lived, and I still like it now, mostly because it tells me that, no matter how awkward adolescence was for me, it was just as awkward, maybe more so, for other people. Say, other people who are song writers, for instance.

another song bites the dust | 5:00 am CDT
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Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Pop Music Confession Time: I think John Cougar Mellencamp’s old songs get better and better every time I hear them.

Tangent: I know he’s John Mellencamp now, and I’ve heard he doesn’t much care for the “Cougar” name, but I’m an old dog and his old name was stuck in my head just now, and I include it here because I’m a pedantic completest.

Another tangent: I specify Mellencamp’s old songs, i.e. the songs he recorded in the 70s and 80s, because it turns out he’s been recording right up to the present day, but I didn’t know that until I googled his name as I was writing this drivel. Until just now, all the Mellencamp songs I knew about were pre-1984.

So when I say I think his old songs get better and better, I’m talking about Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. I don’t know how to account for this. I didn’t like his songs much when they were popular on the radio forty years ago. Truth to tell, I didn’t like his songs at all except for Jack & Diane, which was insanely popular in spite of the fact that nobody I knew liked it. I had to enjoy Jack & Diane in private; turning it up when it came on the car radio invited an instant egging.

Then, for many years, Jack & Diane was the only Mellencamp song I heard on the local oldies radio station, with maybe an occasional Hurts So Good thrown in every couple of weeks just to remind us of the Mellencamp That Was, same as they did with Elton John and Crocodile Rock. How many times have you wanted to kick a radio across the room in a Hulk rage, hollering “HE WROTE OTHER SONGS!”

And now, for maybe the past five, ten years, I’ve been turning up the old Mellencamp songs when they come on the car radio and belting out the tunes

Random Bit O’ Trivia: I learned to sing along with Jack & Diane in the age before the internet, when the only way I could learn the words was by listening to the song, usually through the tinny speaker of a cheap stereo set or, even worse, a car radio, then by comparing what I learned with what my friends learned and either accepting the mistakes they made or continuing to sing the mistakes I made. Now, forty years later, I can look up the words to any song, if I remember to, but very occasionally I will still just ask somebody, as I did recently when My Darling B and I were singing along to Jack & Diane. The line in question was: “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can / changes come along real soon, make you women and men.”

I turned to My Darling B and asked her, “What’s he say there? Because I always heard, ‘Changes come along real soon, make you swim in a van.'”

Such a look she gave me.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” I shot back. “You’re the one who thought ‘Roam if you want to’ was ‘Whoa, Nipsey Russel.'”

John Cougar | 5:00 am CDT
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Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Here’s a weird confession, and it’s weird not because it’s going to shock anybody or change the history of the world; it’s weird because it’s hardly a confession at all. I really like the songs of KC and the Sunshine Band. I don’t like them so much that I ever bought any of their records, not even so much as a single, but I turn up the volume and sing along whenever one of their songs is played on the radio. I even do the disco-dance finger-pointing thing. It’s muscle memory at this point. Why fight it?

I’ve always known these were kinda cheesy songs, but you know what? They’re easy to dance to, even for a guy with two left feet like me, and girls loved to dance to them, so I got out there on the dance floor and danced my brains out. And now, forty years later (geeze Louise!), I can still get My Darling B to do a fun little disco-like jig in the kitchen when I’m Your Boogie Man comes up in my playlist, and my friends and I do a sing-along when Shake Your Booty comes on the car radio. After all this time, KC still inspires us to have fun. How great is that?

Random bit o’ trivia: When the song Get Down Tonight was popular (1975), the cheerleaders at our high school wanted to sing it at a rally before a game but were forbidden from uttering the line “make a little love.” The line was apparently considered way too scandalous as written, so they left out the word “love” to satisfy whoever was doing the forbidding, which to my mind was way more suggestive.

sunshine | 9:37 am CDT
Category: entertainment, music, play, story time
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Saturday, October 21st, 2017

I’m going to ruin another pop song, buckle up!

The song is Aimie by Pure Prairie League, and before I get started I want to say that I’ve always loved this song, and I mean always, from the very first time I can remember hearing it. I sang along every time it came on the radio, I eagerly awaited the next time I would hear it on the radio, I turned up the volume on the radio every time I heard it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve bought copies in every format since vinyl records.

And I’m probably going to ruin it for you now. I don’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself, but I can’t help but think about the meaning behind the words every time I sing it, and I get more uncomfortable with the meaning every time I sing along. My discomfort starts with the very first two lines:

I can see why you think you belong to me
I never tried to make you think or let you see one thing for yourself

The only thing I can make of this is that he (I’m assuming it’s a he because I’m assuming Aimie is a she; I could be wrong, but let’s go with that for now) is a controlling asshole. I mean, there’s not a whole lot to go on here, but there sort of is. He never let her see a single thing for herself? That’s cretinous behavior.

The idea of women as possessions has always made me uncomfortable, too. I mean, I get it that “you belong to me” is sort of like saying “we belong together,” but it’s not, it’s absolutely not at all the same. “We belong together” is a sweet sentiment; “you belong to me” turns a sweet sentiment into a statement that sounds like I hold title to your body and soul. It’s kind of creepy. And I think that’s the meaning of the first line of the song. Why else would Aimie leave him? Oops, spoilers.

But now you’re off with someone else and I’m alone
You see, I thought that I might keep you for my own

The classic “BUT” of pop songs — she was in his life, he didn’t treat her right, she’s seeing someone else and now he’s feeling regret. Is it regret that he treated her wrong, or regret that she’s not with him any longer?

And there’s that creepy idea again of making her into one of his possessions. Not something like, “we could be so good together,” but “I might keep you for my own.” Squick.

Aimie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer

I love singing along with the chorus of this song, but it’s not exactly the most rock-solid of commitments, is it? “I could stay with you — could happen, maybe, or maybe not. For a while, anyway. Maybe longer than a while. But I’m a guy, and we don’t like to hang around. That’s just how guys are.” I’m digging a lot more out of those lines than maybe the songwriter intended, but it was a common theme in pop songs of the 70s that guys don’t stick around much, so I don’t think I’m reaching here.

Don’t you think the time is right for us to find
All the things we thought weren’t proper could be right in time
And can you see which way we should turn, together or alone
I can never see what’s right and what is wrong

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here. I’m not even sure he knows what he’s trying to say. He wants to get back together with Aimie; that’s in there for sure. I’m a little bummed that he’s using the “I can never see what’s right and what is wrong” excuse to dodge responsibility for treating her badly. I’m alarmed he’s proposing that she might come to think the way he treated her before they broke up will be “proper,” given a little time. If it was wrong then, why wouldn’t it be wrong a year from now? There’s at least one good reason Aimee broke up with him, is what I’m saying. Probably more than one.

Also, just to be way too nitpicky (and I might as well, since I’m ruining the song already), none of those lines end in words that rhyme.

Now it’s come to what you want, you’ve had your way
And all the things you thought before just faded into gray
And can you see that I don’t know if it’s you or of it’s me
If it’s one of us, I’m sure we both will see

“So you’ve had your little fling; doesn’t that make everything that passed between us all right now?” Um. No? I love this song, but I hate this verse. Maybe it was just a fling, but I feel it’s really quite presumptuous of him to assume that’s all it was. Maybe she’s off with someone else better than him, and she knows it.

I keep fallin’ in and out of love with you,
Fallin’ in and out of love with you
Don’t know what I’m gonna do …

Again, the level of commitment here would not inspire a whole lot of confidence in me, if I were to put myself in Aimie’s shoes.

I haven’t enjoyed ruining this song. I still love singing it — I was singing it in the shower just this morning, but I’m never going to be able to stop thinking the guy in the song was a jerk to Aimie and that she’d be a fool to get together with him again. Stay true to yourself, Aimie!

another song bites the dust | 11:21 am CDT
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Monday, October 16th, 2017

[This is one of my favorite passages from Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi. In it, Twain describes one of the earliest days of his training to become a riverboat pilot at the hands of Horace Bixby, a crack pilot and Twain’s teacher:]

Now and then Mr. Bixby called my attention to certain things. Said he, ‘This is Six-Mile Point.’ I assented. It was pleasant enough information, but I could not see the bearing of it. I was not conscious that it was a matter of any interest to me. Another time he said, ‘This is Nine-Mile Point.’ Later he said, ‘This is Twelve-Mile Point.’ They were all about level with the water’s edge; they all looked about alike to me; they were monotonously unpicturesque. I hoped Mr. Bixby would change the subject. But no; he would crowd up around a point, hugging the shore with affection, and then say: ‘The slack water ends here, abreast this bunch of China-trees; now we cross over.’ So he crossed over. He gave me the wheel once or twice, but I had no luck. I either came near chipping off the edge of a sugar plantation, or I yawed too far from shore, and so dropped back into disgrace again and got abused.

Presently he turned on me and said: ‘What’s the name of the first point above New Orleans?’

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.

‘Don’t know?

This manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a moment. But I had to say just what I had said before.

‘Well, you’re a smart one,’ said Mr. Bixby. ‘What’s the name of the next point?’

Once more I didn’t know.

‘Well, this beats anything. Tell me the name of any point or place I told you.’

I studied a while and decided that I couldn’t.

‘Look here! What do you start out from, above Twelve-Mile Point, to cross over?’

‘I — I — don’t know.’

‘You — you — don’t know?’ mimicking my drawling manner of speech. ‘What do you know?’

‘I — I — nothing, for certain.’

‘By the great Caesar’s ghost, I believe you! You’re the stupidest dunderhead I ever saw or ever heard of, so help me Moses! The idea of you being a pilot — you! Why, you don’t know enough to pilot a cow down a lane.’

Oh, but his wrath was up! He was a nervous man, and he shuffled from one side of his wheel to the other as if the floor was hot. He would boil a while to himself, and then overflow and scald me again.

‘Look here! What do you suppose I told you the names of those points for?’

I tremblingly considered a moment, and then the devil of temptation provoked me to say: ‘Well—to—to—be entertaining, I thought.’

This was a red rag to the bull. He raged and stormed so (he was crossing the river at the time) that I judge it made him blind, because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-scow. Of course the traders sent up a volley of red-hot profanity. Never was a man so grateful as Mr. Bixby was: because he was brim full, and here were subjects who would talk back. He threw open a window, thrust his head out, and such an irruption followed as I never had heard before. The fainter and farther away the scowmen’s curses drifted, the higher Mr. Bixby lifted his voice and the weightier his adjectives grew. When he closed the window he was empty. You could have drawn a seine through his system and not caught curses enough to disturb your mother with.

cub pilot | 5:00 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Woman goes into a big, dark house with creaky wooden floors and heavy doors that go boom when she closes them. Just your basic soul-eating house. Woman slowly wanders through every room of the house, doesn’t turn on any of the lights. Ghost appears. Of course it does. I mean, what did you think was going to happen? Woman doesn’t see the ghost at first, because it always materializes in the air behind her somewhere, then fades away. Then, when it’s time to really scare the piss out of her, it … turns on a faucet. Yeah. Ghosts have the awesome power to disappear, float in the air, walk through walls, make spooky noises. This one can turn on faucets.

This was the ghost in a movie we saw at the Wisconsin Film Fest. The movie was “Personal Shopper,” and the woman was kind of pointlessly looking for the ghost of her brother, who died earlier that year. The woman says she’s a medium, and she eventually sees the ghost in the spooky house, but she’s the kind of medium who gets her information about ghosts from, just to name two sources, a movie about a seance, and the internet. Because where would you possibly get better information about the realm of spirits?

The first time the ghost turns on the faucet, it was kind of scary because I didn’t know what that noise was at first. The woman had to wander through most of the rooms in the house to find the tap that was running, because it was just a thin trickle and a bit hard to hear. Then the ghost opened the bathtub spigot all the way, and I was thinking, “Okay, he’s really good at turning on the water. What else can he do?” I mean, it’s not an especially malevolent activity, is it? It’s not even scary, after the first time. First time was, Oooo, what’s that noise? And the second time, meh.

It turned out the ghost did have a few other tricks up his sleeve: he could scratch the table, and he could tear up a piece of paper. Really scary stuff. (Full disclosure: I walked out halfway through the movie, so maybe it got a whole lot better after that. My Darling B stayed; she said it didn’t get any better. I trust her.)

all wet | 7:31 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Monday, April 10th, 2017

I read Ann Leckie’s debut novel “Ancillary Justice” about a year ago, which means I don’t remember how long ago it was. In the bible, they would’ve said “forty days and forty nights.” It was a long time ago. So long that I don’t remember all the details of the story now, but I do remember that I liked it and wanted to read more of Leckie’s work.

Luckily for me, “Ancillary Justice” is the first volume of a story Leckie eventually expanded into three volumes, the seemingly-standard trilogy of the fantasy and science fiction genre. She called the second volume “Ancillary Sword” and the third “Ancillary Mercy,” which is better than Roman numerals but still just confusing enough to my tiny little brain to make me stop and carefully look over all three volumes to make sure I was buying the right one. It doesn’t help that all three volumes have cover art that looks more or less the same: needle-nosed jet aircraft with razor-like wings painted in bright, primary colors.

After flipping through the first dozen pages or so and feeling certain that I knew which was the first and which was the second, I took my purchase to the check-out counter. It wasn’t until I was outside the store, headed back to the office, that I realized I’d put the wrong book back on the shelf and checked out with “Ancillary Justice,” the first book in the series, the one I’d already read. *facepalm* Too late at that point to turn around and ask them to swap it; I had just enough time to get back to my desk, no more.

I swung by the book store right after work, found the copy of “Ancillary Sword” that I meant to buy, tucked them both under my arm and headed for the checkout. Halfway there, I remembered the receipt that I’d tucked into the pages of “Ancillary Justice,” which I’d probably need to return the book, so I riffed through it, expecting the receipt to pop right out. It did not. Slowing my brisk walk to a slow amble, I started flipping through the pages a bit more slowly. Still couldn’t find it, so I flipped through it again, even more slowly this time. No joy.

By then, I was at the counter. “Hi,” I said to the young lady waiting there. “I bought this book —” holding up book “— earlier today, but I meant to buy this book —” holding up other book “— which is the second in a three-book series. I’d like to exchange one for the other, if that’s okay?” She said that would be no problem, so I began flipping through the pages again, explaining as I did that I was looking for the receipt. She waited patiently but, when I failed for the third time to find it, I asked her if we could just swap.

Apparently she couldn’t do that, not exactly, but she could process the first book as a return, give me store credit, and I could use the credit to buy the second one. Seemed needlessly complicated to me, but whatever. So she did all the hocus-pocus she had to do with the register, I signed a credit slip, she put the credit on a card, then charged the second book against the credit, and somehow I ended up with a couple bucks on the card. Don’t know how, but it was okay with me. I thanked her, scooped up the book, and headed out to the car.

Went to tuck the book into my backpack: It was “Ancillary Justice.”

Back into the book store. She looked at me sideways while she was finishing up with another customer. I smiled and waggled my fingers at her. When it was my turn, I flashed the cover of the book. She didn’t get it. Of course she didn’t. It looked just like the other book. “We got the books mixed up,” I explained, sliding it across the counter toward her. “I need the other one.” She gave it to me reluctantly, as if i was pulling a fast one on her. She didn’t seem entirely convinced I knew what I was talking about. But I finally got the right book. At least, I think I did.

Ancillary Mixup | 7:26 pm CDT
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Sunday, April 9th, 2017

The Freddie Fender ballad “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” has been playing on a fucking loop in my head for the past 48 hours. I loathe this song in capital letters: LOATHE. I can’t say why; it’s one of those gut reactions that makes me instantly change the radio station. I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I have loathed this song since it was released in 1975. I would’ve been fifteen years old then, growing up in a tiny rural town that was smack in the middle of Wisconsin. The local radio station played just about anything, but music by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash were featured prominently. I remember hearing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights” what seemed like every fucking day, although I’m sure now that’s an exaggeration. Although maybe not.

I have just learned that Freddie Fender was born with the name Baldemar Garza Huerta. That’s about the coolest name I’ve heard in my life. I can’t imagine why he wanted to change it. I want to have a son right now just so I can name him Baldemar. Also, Fender was in a band called Los Super Seven, another very cool name, and another band named Texas Tornados, which is a cool name but not as cool as Los Super Seven.

“Before The Next Teardrop Falls” is stuck in my head because I watched a documentary film about a guy with Aspberger’s who sang through his nose in that atonal way just about all of us do when we want to sing but there are a lot of people around so we try to make it look like we’re not singing by not moving our lips and by looking out the window pretending to be interested in the clouds. This guy wasn’t pretending not to sing, though. That’s just the way he sang. He knew all the words to “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” even the ones in Spanish, and he sang them with such deep, emotional feeling that I couldn’t help but be touched by it.

I still hate that song, though.

That’s not the only song that’s been stuck in my head this weekend. Another is “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, and it’s because of another film I saw this week (I was at the Wisconsin Film Fest with My Darling B last week, so I saw a lot of films; bear with me) called “Frantz,” about a young French soldier who travels to Germany to meet the family of the German soldier he killed during The Great War. It was “great” in the sense that it was really big, not in the sense that everybody thought it was a lot of fun and we should have another one again as soon as possible, even though we ended up doing just that. This is why choosing the right name is so important. “Baldemar” — good choice. “The Great War” — not such a good choice.

Back to the film: One of the principal characters of the film, a young German woman who was engaged to the German soldier who was shot by the French soldier I mentioned earlier, travels to Paris to find the French soldier because … it’s complicated. Anyway, she’s in a cafe in Paris when a couple of French soldiers come in for coffee and everyone stands up and sings “La Marseillaise” because what else would you do, right?

If you’ve seen “Casablanca,” you saw almost the same scene: Victor Laslo leads the customers of Rick’s Cafe in a rousing verse of “La Marseillaise” to flip the bird at the Germans who are after him. What they didn’t do in “Casablanca” was subtitle the words to the song, I guess because they figured everybody knew what it meant back then. I didn’t, and I never looked it up, either, thinking it was the usual stuff of national anthems: “We’re the best, you guys suck, our country is better than your country.”

But the version of “Frantz” we saw was subtitled, and they went on subtitling the words to the anthem during the cafe scene, so this is the first time I’ve heard it and known what they were singing about:

Arise, children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood soak our fields!

The camera kept flitting from the puffed-up French people singing their yoo-rah-rah song to the uncomfortable face of the German woman, who spoke fluent French and knew just what they were saying. And there were a few disgusted-looking women in the crowd who did not stand up and did not sing; I assumed they were mothers of French soldiers who didn’t go for all that yoo-rah-rah crap.

“Kind of a different effect when you know the words to the song, don’t you think?” I whispered to B, who agreed.

While I’m on the musical theme, the last song I want to tell you about isn’t a song at all. It’s a kind of music: jazz, sort of. One of the duds we saw at the film fest was a musical review called “The King Of Jazz,” featuring the Paul Whiteman band. The final number was how they imagined jazz was created: a whole bunch of white people from Russia, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and every other northern European country sang ethnic theme music (“Every laddie has his lassie” for the Irish people, that sort of thing) as they descended into a melting pot. Paul Whiteman gave the pot a stir, the sides of the pot swung open, and for one terrifying moment I thought the musicians and dancers were all going to come out in blackface singing “Mammie”! Instead, they sang what I guessed was supposed to be a jazz number, which was about as jazzy as any song can be when there isn’t a single African-American involved.

musical | 10:11 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

I was on the sofa with a book this morning, curling up into a ball, tighter and tighter, for more than two hours before I realized why the house was so goddamned cold: It’s Tuesday. I’m not normally in the house on Tuesday morning. I’m usually at the office, more’s the pity, so the smart thermostat at home is programmed to turn the temperature down to sixty-seven degrees after seven o’clock and keep it there until four, when it cranks the heat back up in anticipation of our return home. I’d forgotten to turn the thermostat up when I got out of bed and that’s why I was curling up into a ball so tight that I would’ve collapsed into my own gravity well if I hadn’t figured it out when I did.

I’m at home — well, not right now; right now, I’m in the library writing this drivel because they’ve got a damn computer that works and I don’t — because it’s day six of the Wisconsin Film Festival, so instead of going out into the world to be a productive member of American society, I’ve been slouched in the chairs (benches, medieval torture devices) of various darkened movie theaters around town, watching more movies in one week than I’ll probably watch the rest of the year. We’re shooting for thirty this year (B counts it as thirty, but it’s really more if, like me, you count the shorts separately, because they’re stand-alone films, right?), a slightly less ambitious schedule than last year when we saw something like thirty-five films, even by the weird way of counting that B uses. We used to arrange our schedule so that we crammed in as many movies in a day as we possibly could; this year, we’re taking it easy and today, like yesterday, we’re seeing just four films, when we could have probably squeezed in five or six a day if we wrestled with the schedule for hours. We didn’t feel like pulling our hair and gnashing our teeth this year, hence our more relaxed schedule.

We were at the Sundance Cinema from eleven in the morning until ten at night yesterday, which is nice inasmuch as we didn’t have to dash across town, hunt for a parking space, trudge through the rain or go without food or beer (Sundance has a concession stand that sells hot sandwiches and several brands of beers from local breweries; the downside is that the prices are just this side of extortion), although I have to say that being cooped up in one theater all day long leaves my head foggy at the end of the day. When I have to run from one theater to the next, at least it gets my legs moving, my blood pumping, and I have to blink at the sunlight a little more often, which is not a bad thing.

This has been a good week to stay inside all day. We’ve had rain for three, maybe four days *shrug*? So we’ve been invoking our head of the line privileges, a benefit of buying the all-festival pass instead of getting individual tickets for each showing, which is a royal pain in the neck when you’re trying to buy tickets to thirty-plus films. Actually, it’s typically a pain in the neck to buy tickets to just a handful of shows, because the on-line ticket-selling vendor is almost always instantly overwhelmed by the volume of people trying to log in and buy tickets the day they go on sale. We had pretty good luck the first year we did it that way, not so much the next year, and the year after that we threw our arms in the air and got the all-festival passes. It turned out that cost less than buying the individual tickets anyway. We found out about head-of-line privileges later but only invoked them when the line captains all but twisted our arms to take us to the front of the line, leading us past dozens of grumbling ticket-holders who’d been waiting to get in. But this year, waiting in line outside the Barrymore, I watched as people butted in line ahead of us, clustering around others who held a place for them, or crowding in behind friends who waved them over, shouting, “YOOO-HOOO! Join us!” After seeing at least a dozen people do that shit, I went up to the line captain, showed her my pass, and asked her how that head-of-line privilege worked. And we’ve been jumping to the head of the queue ever since, which came in especially handing last night because all the films we wanted to see were in theaters where the line was outside. We were warm and dry even as the rain fell all through the day.

Another plus to the Sundance theaters is their seating: big, plush chairs with so much leg room that you don’t have to stand up to let people get by and you can stretch out during the movie, a sharp contrast to, for instance, the clamshell seats in the Chazen Theater where my knees are firmly butted up against the back of the chair in the next row in front of me. God help you if you have to excuse yourself to the washroom from a seat in the middle of the row during the show. At Sundance, there’s enough room to walk past them without turning to one side and standing tippy-toe. There’s even a tier of seats in the middle of the theater with a handrail you can put your feet up on; the competition to snag those is fierce, with many a harsh word spoken between people who seek them and others who “reserve” seats for friends who aren’t actually present in the theater yet. I’ve never had the moxie to try that. A woman at one of the showings last night was holding at least half a dozen seats (I couldn’t tell exactly how many she was laying claim to with her outspread arms) and had to absorb more verbal punishment to do it than I could have withstood in a year; the resentful glares alone would have reduced me to a withered husk.

in the dark | 10:01 am CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Sunday, March 5th, 2017

If memory serves, I bought my first copy of The Caine Mutiny at a used book store in Lincoln, England, in 1999 or 2000. It was a pretty beat-up, water-damaged Penguin paperback edition and I read it as though I was possessed by it, all in one week. (400 pages in a week is pretty good for me.) Full disclosure: I didn’t read every word. The first time I read it I was put off by the love story, so I skipped over all that and only read the parts that had to do with MEN AT WAR, because that’s the kind of guy I was then. I’ve since read the novel from cover to cover many times and so far I appreciate it more every time (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t keep picking it up to re-read it).

Just in case you’re confused: The novel does, in fact, pivot around a mutiny aboard a naval vessel during the war in the Pacific, but the story is about the main character of the novel, who is not Humphrey Bogart, in spite of the movie you might have seen. (I kind of wish I’d never seen that movie. I still hear Bogart’s voice when I read the novel, and although Bogart did a fine job of playing Queeg, it’s the wrong voice for Queeg. John Fiedler’s voice would have been perfect; he may have been a better casting choice, too. But I digress.)

The book opens and closes on Willie Keith, who enters the story as a spoiled mama’s boy with little sense of direction but ends up as a confident, strong-willed young man who’s going places. The story is not told from Keith’s point of view, but he is present in almost every scene; events turn around him and their importance is impressed on him, building his character piece by piece. That I ever thought his story was boring enough to skip over should show you what I lack in the way of appreciation for good writing.

The Caine Mutiny is also amazing for being semi-autobiographical. Author Herman Wouk served as an officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers (one of them named the Zane) during the Pacific war. One of Wouk’s duties was as the ship’s communications officer, same as Keith and Thomas Keefer. Keefer was also an aspiring author who spent much of his off-time (and a bit more besides) writing a novel. It’s impossible to read the novel without imaging that many, if not most of the episodes in it are anecdotes from Wouk’s experience aboard ship during the war.

I still have that first Penguin paperback; it’s parked in a place of honor on the top shelf of my bedside bookcase and I’ve read it cover-to-cover at least three times, but still take it out now and again to read my favorite passages at bedtime when I’m not sure what to read. (The speech by Barney Greenwald at the end is one of the best.) I’ve since bought at least two hardbacked copies. I found the first one at a resale shop in Madison and read it several times before giving it away to a coworker who seemed interested in it, but I’m pretty sure he never read it. I went looking for the second copy at Powell’s bookstore while on vacation in Portland OR and found a first edition in its original dust jacket (squee!). This is the second or third time I’ve read it. I’ve read a couple other Herman Wouk novels (Winds Of War and War And Remembrance spring to mind), but haven’t enjoyed any of them more than The Caine Mutiny.

The Caine Mutiny | 12:58 pm CDT
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Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

I picked up a copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre the last time I was at the resale store. I’ve wanted to read it since I watched the recently-made movie with Gary Oldman, and I have to say I could follow the plot of the movie a lot more easily than the book, which is not surprising. A movies about two hours long, while the book is something like four hundred pages and took me a week and a half to read. I couldn’t have lost the thread of the movie if I’d tried, but there was so much going on in the book that I kept turning back the pages to figure out who the characters were talking about. So I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. And I’ve never read spy fiction before; I thought it would take to it easily, but that wasn’t the case. Maybe it’s an acquired taste.

spy world | 9:25 pm CDT
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Thursday, February 9th, 2017

I thought I would spend my lunch break today reading the latest book of fantasy and speculative fiction from Kameron Hurley, The Stars Are Legion. I ordered it last week, or thought I did, and when it didn’t show up on my doorstep and I didn’t get an email from Amazon about it, I checked the website last night and discovered I forgot to hit the “buy” button. D’OH! So I fixed that, but then I had to wait DAYS to get the book, which didn’t satisfy my desire to read it RIGHT NOW.

But wait … what’s this? A note at the bottom of my receipt that reads, “Would you like to read this book now?” I clicked on the “Hell, yes!” button and it was downloaded to my Kindle. Oh Happy Day! I read the first chapter right then, even though it was way past my bedtime.

Took the Kindle to work with me this morning. Flipped it open as I sat down with my microwaved leftovers. Tapped on the icon, turned the page, and … blank screen. Turned out that I’d been reading a “sample” of only the first chapter. No more.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m glad that I got to read as much as I did, but it was a GIANT BUMMER after looking forward all morning to reading another chapter or two. And now I gotta wait until tomorrow for the hardcover to arrive on my doorstep. *sigh* Well, if I gotta, then I spoze I gotta.

bummer | 9:59 pm CDT
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Sunday, January 8th, 2017

B and I saw the musical La-La Land two weeks ago in Sun Prairie and she’s still singing songs from it. She’s already bought the soundtrack so we can play it over and over at home, and I think she wants to see it again, too. I’d gladly go see it again if she asked me. And I know we’ll buy a copy of it when it’s released on DVD. That means it’s probably pretty good, right?

The film is about the relationship between an aspiring actor, played by Emma Stone, and a musician who wants to open his own jazz club, played by Ryan Gosling. They meet while they’re pursuing their dreams in Hollywood and, because this is a musical, they frequently break out in song to explain what they’re doing and why.

I love musicals, but it took a while for me to warm up to this one, and I’ll quickly add that I believe the reason was mostly technical. The opening number, Another Day of Sun, is a fabulous overture performed by dozens of people on an on-ramp of a Los Angeles freeway. The camera slowly pans over backed-up traffic and stops at a car where a woman sings the opening lines, which I could barely hear. Her voice, and the voice of every other singer in that number, was drowned like a sack of kittens by the music. There are few things that infuriate me more than somebody trying to drown a sack of kittens, and infuriated is not a good emotion to start a musical with.

The next number, Someone In the Crowd, suffered from the same problem, as did many of the other numbers, so my infuriation with this technical problem never entirely went away. I’ve since heard the soundtrack (as noted above, B replays it obsessively on Spotify, trying to learn the words) and I have no trouble at all hearing what the singers are saying, which leads me to believe that the theater’s sound system was somehow fucking it up.

So I was not really digging this movie until the scene where Stone and Gosling are walking along a road overlooking LA looking for her car and Gosling tells Stone that he’s not attracted to her. Stone returns fire, telling Gosling she’s not only not attracted to him, she’s double-anti-attracted to him, so there. All sung in verse, naturally.

I’m such a sucker for scenes like this. Boy meets girl, boy tells girl they’re not made for each other, audience can clearly see that boy and girl have a chemistry that will inevitably draw them together but, first they have to dance around it. And dance they do. In wing tip shoes, no less. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds flirted circles around each other just like this in Singing In The Rain.

After that scene, the movie had me. I even got all weepy-eyed for the ending. I’m a sap for romance, even if it doesn’t end the way I want it to (sometimes especially if it doesn’t end the way I want it to), so I couldn’t help myself. And there must be a lot of other people out there like me, because there was hardly a seat left at the screening we went to, and we had to check around at several theaters to get tickets for that. Glad we did. It was well worth the trip.

La-La Land | 9:49 am CDT
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Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Netflix viewers of the movie Spectral gave it four and a half stars. I am now a Netflix viewer of the movie Spectral, and I say that’s at least four stars too many.

The setup seemed promising: wraithlike beings haunt a war-torn European city, killing heavily-armed and armored soldiers by merely running through them. Invisible to the naked eye, the soldiers are given the ability to see them through an advanced imaging system they wear attached to their helmets. Their weapons, however, are entirely ineffective against this deadly menace.

Enter Mark Clyne, one of the megaminds developing superweapons for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency; the only real government agency that sounds like something out of a comic book). Clyne invented the goggles that allow the soldiers to see the ghosts that are killing them. Now he joins a Delta force team to figure out what the ghosts are.

Here’s where the movie lost me: In a matter of a few hours, Clyne re-engineers a camera he brought with him, “reversing the polarity” so it projects a beam that makes the wraiths visible to the naked eye, even when he’s not pointing it at them. As long as the projector’s on, it seems to light up every wraith within eyeshot. Makes perfect sense.

The wraiths shamble like old-school zombies through the streets until a platoon of heavily-armed soldiers show up. Then they go turbo zombie and mow through every single soldier in a blur until, of course, only Clyne and his plucky group of Delta force commandos are left; then the wraiths hang back, moaning spookily, or jumping around like a pride of crazed chimpanzees, but not advancing until the soldiers make a break for it. And then the wraiths run just fast enough to appear to be fearsome, but not fast enough to actually catch anybody.

After the Delta force are evacuated to a mountaintop castle where they can crash headfirst into despair and squabble amongst themselves (“We can’t fight them! We don’t even know what they are!”), Clyne not only figures out what the wraiths are using no more evidence than the mighty thoughts in his mighty brain, he then goes full-blown Tony Stark and, overnight, finds enough electronic gadgetry stockpiled in the castle to cobble together a plasma cannon and hand-held plasma rifles for each and every soldier.

And then they go kill all the zombie-wraiths with untested weapons because of course Clyne was not only exactly right about the wraiths, he also flawlessly assembled every one of the plasma cannons in one sleepless night.

Well. *shrugs* OH-kay!

Spectral is on Netflix. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spectral | 12:01 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Weirdest thing that happened to me last weekend: I heard Barry Manilow on the radio. That never happens. Never. I listen to two stations that brag they play the best of the 70s, but they must be using a definition of “the best” that I’m not aware of. Either that, or the people who program their music didn’t do a minute’s research on what was considered the best of the 70s. I’m assuming they didn’t grow up in the 70s either, because if they had done either of those two things, then they would know they’d have to play Barry Manilow every single flippin day. And I know this because I was a teenager in the 70s who listened to a lot of pop music, as teenagers do, and I can tell you I heard Barry Manilow every single flippin day.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Barry Manilow fan. I never bought any of his albums or singles. But neither do I dislike his music. It was fun to listen to, it was easy for me to learn the words to the chorus so I could sing along, and I could even dance to it as much as I could dance to any music (which is to say, not so much dance as rhythmically twitch and jerk, usually in time to the music). I could listen to it again, while on the other hand I’ve had my fill of Peaceful Easy Feeling, or We Are The Champions. I think I’d be all right if I never heard either of those songs ever again. I guess I’d be all right with never hearing Mandy again, but I would get up out of my overstuffed chair and do the mambo if I ever heard Copacabana again. And I wouldn’t care who was watching.

Oh Barry | 1:34 pm CDT
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Monday, December 26th, 2016

I saw Rogue One last week because I am nothing if not a completest. I’ve seen every single one of the Star Wars movies, so at this point missing one would feel like missing church.

I’d like to say it was as good as Star Wars (or, if you’re going to get pedantic on me, “Star Wars: A New Hope”). I can’t say that, but only because Rogue One and Star Wars are not the same kind of movie. Comparing the two would be like comparing apples to asteroids that end all life on earth. Star Wars was good, rollicking fun, a movie in which the good guys won and the bad guys lost and it was all smiles and sunshine in the end. Nobody in Rogue One was doing any rollicking. The good guys beat the bad guys, but I would hesitate to say they won, exactly. And everything was not all sunshine and smiles in the end. Put in the context of war movies (my brain is full of war movies), Star Wars had the bounce and weight of Operation Petticoat, compared to Rogue One’s gritty Generation Kill vibe. And I think I have to make that distinction because Rogue One is not a movie I would have shown to my four-year-old, but we watched Star Wars together and had a great time.

Not to say I think Rogue One is a bad movie. I enjoyed it for what it was, a reboot of the Star Wars franchise with new characters (and a few old characters) in familiar settings. But I wasn’t completely won over by it, either. It went for realism, sacrificing swashbuckling, and didn’t get a firm grip on either. And I loved Star Wars for its swashbuckling. But I have a feeling this movie wasn’t made for fifty-six-year-old me, so maybe the target audience ate up the gritty rebootedness of Rogue One the same way I ate up the corny swashbuckledness of Star Wars.

A few other minor quibbles:

There were a lot of people coming and going in the first half-hour of this movie, so many that I honestly had more than a little trouble keeping track of them, but I figured out pretty early that almost everybody was talking about the Death Star, and after I twigged to that, I stopped trying to keep track of everyone and just waited for them to mass and attack, because that’s what the rebel forces do when a Death Star shows up.

Almost every character had a completely forgettable name. This is most likely my problem more than the movie’s, but it annoyed and distracted me. I wasn’t sure what the name of the woman was until almost the end of the movie. Sometimes it sounded like Jen, sometimes like Jid (it turned out to be Jyn), and I was sure her family name was Ursal until the credits rolled.

Because the events in Rogue One led up to, and then immediately connected with events in Star Wars: A New Hope, several characters that appeared in Star Wars reappeared in Rogue One. Some were just for fun: C-3P0 and R2D2 made a cameo appearance, and so did the rat-faced guy who bumps into Luke Skywalker in the cantina in Mos Eisley. The rat-faced guy was probably played by a look-alike, which wouldn’t have been hard to pull off because his face was mostly latex and putty. C-3P0 could’ve been played by anybody, for obvious reasons. But Moff Tarkin, the commander of the Death Star, played a major part in Rogue One, and as Peter Cushing is dead twenty-two years last August, the movie’s makers decided to go with a computer-generated Tarkin rather than a look-alike for Cushing.

I am amazed by CGI characters when they can be done convincingly. Rogue One’s Moff Tarkin was not. He hid in the shadows almost constantly, giving me the impression that not even the film’s makers had confidence in his performance, and when he stepped out into the light, he seemed flat and immobile. CGI Princess Leia was even less convincing than Tarkin; she might as well have been a cardboard cutout, and that’s why it made a difference to me. I’m used to seeing CGI characters in video games, but no amount of familiarity is going to make me accept them when they look like cartoons in a live-action movie. I thought that, if they were going for gritty realism, they should’ve found some look-alikes, but then this movie probably wasn’t made for fifty-six-year-old me. I’m guessing its target demographic was more satisfied than I was.

Rogue One | 12:01 am CDT
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Friday, December 9th, 2016

“I had no idea, until I became a war worker myself, how low wages actually were. When my skimpy little paycheck of $23 a week came to me, I wondered how on earth I could ever live on that in wartime Washington if I were forced to pay my own room, board, transportation, doctors’ bills and other necessities out of it. Then I would look around the shop and wonder how the married women and mothers – the majority there – could support their children and parents as well as themselves on these wages.

“Not only do the women start at a low wage – they stay at it. At the Washington yard and at the other navy yards in the East and West, there are no automatic raises. Raises were accorded on some indeterminate basis. Promotions to supervisory jobs seem to be unknown not only at Washington but elsewhere in navy yards. Equal pay and promotions for women are one of the government standards of employment supported in writing by the Navy Department and seven other federal agencies. The navy yards themselves seem to be unaware of the fact; nor do they observe other standards adhered to on paper by the Department.

“I quickly adapted myself to eating sandwiches held between grimy hands. The yard gave us 20 minutes for lunch, but at least five minutes were gone by the time you had raced and waited at the understaffed canteen for cold,k watery chocolate milk or cola drinks (no coffee except on the midnight shift). The government standard of 30-minute lunch periods, hot lunches and a decent place to eat them is ignored by the Washington yard, which is nearer being the rule than the exception.

“I had mistakenly thought before going to work at the yard that minutes were precious in production. Once on the job, personnel officers and posters proclaimed the need for punctuality and perfect attendance. I was naturally surprised to learn after one day’s work that the main method of disciplining these “precious” workers was to lay them off for as much as a week at a time.l If you were one minute late in the morning, you were made to stand idle for one hour and be docked accordingly. If you forgot to tag in upon arrival at work or at lunch time, after three offenses you were laid off for a day.

“The women whom I met at the yard would stand for practically anything – five months without sleeping in a bed, a solid year on the graveyard shift so as to be home with the kids during the day, the double job,k indigestible lunches, long hours and no promise of a future after the war – all for miserably low wages. The longer I worked side by side with them, the more I admired their endurance – but the more I seethed to see them organized in a union that would help solve their problems. And the more I saw the necessity for really planned production, planned community service, labor-utilization inspectors, planned community service, labor-utilization inspectors, labor-management committees that function and are recognized, and a program to educate the workers about the issues of the war abroad and at home. I admired the patience of the women who stuck by their jobs, day after day, though it was obvious that their usefulness to the war effort was cut in half by the very working conditions which they endured.”

— Susan B. Anthony II, writing in The New Republic, May 1, 1944

I just came home from a visit to Half Price Books, where I scored a copy of “Reporting World War II Part Two: American Journalism 1944 – 1946,” an edition from The Library of America. One of my many dreams would be to line the walls of my house with shelves, and to stock those shelves of all the books published by The Library of America. Each sturdy, clothbound volume, clad in The Library’s trademark black dust jacket, seems to be just the right size to hold in one hand. The text of each page is set in a compact, clear font, and each volume comes with a ribbon sewn into the binding which you can use to mark your place. They are designed to be, and indeed are, classy books for a home library.

I’m especially happy to have found this particular volume because the people of my generation tend to glorify the second world war in a way that borders on indecency, and reading the work of Ernie Pyle, Bill Mauldin, Lee Miller, Edward R. Murrow, John Hersey and their like is such a bracing antidote to the most romantic notions floating around out there.

Which is not to say the men and women of “The Greatest Generation” didn’t do amazing things; they did. But I’ve never read a first-hand report that made them out to be any more than ordinary people who were doing what they were more or less forced to do until the war was over, which wouldn’t be soon enough, as far as they were concerned. Life during the war years was very hard; nobody thought it was all that glorious or romantic, and they said so.

I’m glad The Library of America put this volume together, and I’m going to look for Part One.

“The Greatest Generation” | 3:16 pm CDT
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Saturday, August 27th, 2016

When B asked where I wanted to go to dinner for our anniversary, I suggested Lombardino’s first thing. We hadn’t been there in months, probably in more than a year. They haven’t changed a thing, thank goodness. There are still pinups of Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollabrigida in the men’s room (B says there’s a movie poster and a potted plant in the ladies’ room; doesn’t seem fair) and they still bring you such a big pile of pasta and sauce when you order the spaghetti bolognese that you have plenty left over for lunch the next day. I wasn’t even tempted to try to finish it, not after our traditional appetizer of calamari.

The Cinemateque has reopened for the season, and they’re showcasing the work of Brian De Palma, starting with Dressed To Kill, which we went to see last night. I left the theater wondering if it was a film that used to be good but hasn’t aged well, or if it has always been a bad film. I’m leaning toward “always been bad.” Renowned film critic Roger Ebert praised Dressed to Kill for being “Hitchkockian,” but B and I described it with terms such as “cheeseball,” “unintentionally funny” and “laughably bad.” I saw Body Double when it came out in theaters and I remember just enough of it to think that maybe Brian De Palma has this one cheesy movie inside him that he keeps making over and over that brought audiences to the theater because it was chock full of sex and gore.

Even so, B wants to go see more of the De Palma movies they’re playing through the rest of the season (except Mission: Impossible, which I’m not a fan of, either; nobody makes Jim Phelps out to be the bad guy and gets away with it!). I’m willing, but only because they’re going to screen Carrie, which I’ve never seen all the way through before, and The Untouchables, which I’ve seen two or three times and I’m looking forward to seeing again. They’re also going to screen a documentary that appears to be a one-on-one interview with De Palma, and I always go for those behind-the-scenes films.

B wanted to stop at the Robin Room before the movie, where they were serving cubanos by special arrangement with a guest chef. We discovered at the last minute that they didn’t start serving until seven o’clock, the same time the movie started, so we had to fall back and regroup. We ended up at Buraka, an African restaurant on Willy Street. It used to be a place that served Jamaican food when it was called Jolly Bob’s, but it got new owners this summer and a complete makeover.

I can’t recall the dishes we ordered because they had native names; mine was something like “darowot” and B’s was maybe “tippi.” Both were spicy dishes, mine with chicken and hers with shrimp. I didn’t think they very spicy at the time so I wasn’t too worried that I might have trouble sleeping, but by the time we were headed home from the movie I was singing a different tune and even stopped at a drug store for some Pepto Bismol I could chug before bed time. I like spicy food, but most of it doesn’t like me very much.

The Pepto worked, but I woke anyway to the roar of pouring rain. It let up after a while, just before the cats went berserker crazy and started running back and forth through the house. After they got that out of their systems and I started to drift off to sleep again, I snored loudly enough to jolt myself awake not once, but several times. It was not a restful night, and was made less so because my back ached and there was a shooting pain from my right hip down the outside of my thigh. I hate getting old.

jumble | 1:44 pm CDT
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Thursday, June 30th, 2016

What was such a great big deal about The Revenant? I thought it was okay, but just okay. It really wasn’t that much different from any Clint Eastwood movie about the wild, wild west. Hard times. Mountain men. Betrayal. Death. Vengeance. Get me something with Lee Van Cleef and I’ll enjoy it a whole lot more.

I thought the bear attack looked great, but I honestly didn’t have the horrified visceral reaction that most people seemed to feel about that scene. Honestly, all I could think was, Wow, they made that look good. That looks really good. How did they do that without having an actual Grizzly bear maul Leonardo Cappucino? Because obviously they didn’t do that. And I knew it probably had something to do with cables and camera angles, but I knew that if I were to aspire to that level of technical photography, I would be dead of old age before I had it in the can. But I never once thought: Ouch. I’ll bet that hurt. Maybe I’m just a block of wood, as far as that’s concerned.

So three stars, just because it looked so good.

The Revenant | 7:56 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 5th, 2016

I see that A Room Of One’s Own is for sale. It’s one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Madison, and I hope it finds a buyer because I would hate for Madison to lose another bookstore. I would buy it myself, except that I would have to rename it Go Away, I’m Reading, which I realize isn’t very inviting but I gotta be me. I would sit in an overstuffed chair in the corner, always reading a book but always happy to take your payment for the book you wanted, and to hand you change from the dented gray metal box on the end table beside the chair, but if you asked me a question I would have to answer, “Hang on, I gotta finish this chapter.” Or, if I knew that finishing the chapter wasn’t going to be enough, “Go away, I’m reading.” So I have a pretty good feeling that I wouldn’t be in the bookstore business very long. Still, it’s a pleasant enough fantasy.

Go Away | 10:19 am CDT
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I quite like this one, too.

SHOWTIME! | 7:58 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I just can’t get enough of this video.

WORK! | 1:09 pm CDT
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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. The day before, we had seen Isabelle Huppert in “Louder Than Bombs,” a movie where her character committed suicide. Although she’s a wonderful actor, I’m kinda apprehensive about seeing another Isabelle Huppert movie now.

Just before the son killed himself, he wrote a letter to each of his parents, beseeching them to visit one of several different tourist spots in Death Valley over a period of a week. If they did this, he promised that they would see him.

His mother seemed to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out didn’t and plainly said so, but went along with it, apparently to make his mother happy.

The first two-thirds of the movie painted a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of the mother and father as they tried to come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie, however, it turned into kind of a stupid ghost story, and everything that came before was pretty much ruined. We were so disappointed coming out of this movie. Three out of four.

We had about an hour and a half to while away between “Valley of Love” and our next movie, “Under the Sun”, so B and I walked across the street to have a beer on the patio at the Great Dane. Among the other things we talked about (what a beautiful day, isn’t this beer delicious, etc), I made sure that I told B, “You know what? If I ever off myself — and I’m not thinking about it, just so you know — and I leave a note or a letter behind, please just burn that shit. Don’t read it to find out why I did it or to find out if I had any last dying wishes. Just toss it.”

I wasn’t kidding. Because there’s no explanation for a suicide, and it seems to me that anybody who wants one is probably looking for assurance that they weren’t the one that tipped him over the edge. It’s the only way the question, “Did he leave a note?” makes sense to me. If you didn’t know a person well enough in life to know why he decided to kill himself, a note’s not going to bring you up to speed. The only way it’s going to help is if it says, “It’s all on me, not on you or anybody else. I love you. Good-bye.”

Valley Of Love | 7:00 am CDT
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Thursday, April 21st, 2016

“Sunset Song” was a period piece about the hard life of a young Scottish woman. That’s pretty much it. Looks great. Story’s well-written. Liked the acting. Gave it four out of five.

The documentary “In Transit” was interviews with several random people traveling cross-country on an Amtrak passenger train. Three out of five.

“Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect” was a documentary about one of those chefs who owns several restaurants that are so popular you have to call years in advance to book a table. Going to one of them is not a meal, it’s an event, and the chef spends hours a day hunched over each and every dish, carefully arranging sprigs of rosemary around thinly-sliced beef. This guy is more into food than anything else, probably even more than his family, but his wife seems to be okay with that, until about midway through the film when chef announced that he would be closing one of his restaurants. In a brief clip, his wife says something like, This will be great, he’ll have time to spend with the children and help me around the house. My first thought was, Clearly you do not know this guy as well as you think you do. I’ve been watching him for barely and hour and I already know he’s not going to let up on the gas at all. And sure enough, in the scenes that follow he opens another restaurant in what looks like a great big church and as the film closes, he’s bustling around the kitchen. I’m not a foodie so I didn’t care much for this film, and gave it three out of five. B happens to be a foodie, but she thought it could have been better, and gave it the same.

“Operation Avalanche” was a found-footage comic documentary that followed two new recruits to the CIA who learn, pretty much by accident, that NASA won’t be able to figure out how to land on the moon until 1971 at the earliest, so they hatch a plan to fake the moon landing. I just know that some day footage from this film is going to be used in a moon-hoax conspiracy video. Four out of five.

WFF Final Day | 10:00 pm CDT
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