A few years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the first of such for 2016.
Are we thawed out yet? If so, let’s continue, shall we?
Maybe this is somewhat related to the resurgence of vinyl in my music life, or that it’s caused me reach out and read a broader spectrum of bloggers out there. Either way, it brought Bruce Jenkins and his writing from his VINYL CONNECTION blog Down Under to my inbox, and I’m happier for it. Case in point, his January list that looked back upon 2015, which starts us off:
“Best album packaging
Readers may remember that I wrote about Starfire, the new Jaga Jazzist album, with great enthusiasm; its meld of rock, jazz and progressive styles was adventurous and refreshing (though quite demanding in places). I thought about seeking an interview, communicating with their record company and trying Facebook. Nothing. No matter, the album was terrific and it was fun devising the questions (thanks for your input, Joe!)…”
Might as well get the controversy going early in this quarterly series. You know who you are, but let me say that Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9 , has a point when she writes that…
“It’s kind of bizarre that anybody even needs to be reminded that Avatar is a good movie. It’s still one of the most successful movies ever, and it’s had a huge influence on film-making in the past five years. It had largely positive reviews, including a lot of raves. People all over the world were dressing up as the Na’vi, those blue catlike aliens, and this film’s story of resistance against corporate oppressors became a massive symbol.”
Well, somebody had to do it, and I’m sure glad it was the likes of Roderick Heath, someone I’ve highlighted more than a few times in past Year of Bests posts with regards to the wonderful Ferdy on Films blog. Taking on one of the most talked about year-end films of 2015 and comparing the work to its decades-old predecessor a few forgot to mention during awards season:
“Both Man in the Wilderness and The Revenant wrestle with Glass/Bass’s journey as a tale replete with religious, or at least spiritual, overtones, but also present the hero himself in a state of deep crisis about his belief systems, an insistence that suggests just why Glass’s story fascinates them, as Glass travels as far, physically and in terms of life force, from other men as it’s possible to get and then begins his return. Iñárritu loads his take with images of both shamanic and Catholic concepts of rebirth, as Glass crawls out of the grave, emerges from a ritual hut after surviving a bout of sickness, and later is disgorged from the belly of a horse he climbed into to keep warm.”
Okay, I’m not above-playing favorites — heck, I learned from the best, my grandmother, about that. Aurora, who writes the splendid Once upon a screen movie blog, is a good friend (and fellow TCM Classic Film Fest-goer). So when she wrote about one of my all-time favorite romantic-thrillers, featuring two unsurpassed film legends, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and enjoy the hell out of it. You should too:
“Charade is Peter Stone’s first screenplay and it’s top notch. As mentioned it presents an entertaining story with equal parts adventure, thrills, romance and comedy with crisp dialogue throughout all suited for its stars who were also prone to ad-lib now and again. I imagine one of my favorite lines in the movie is ad-libbed – when Reggie asks Peter how he shaves “there” as she touches the cleft in his chin. Jaysus! But anyway…wait, I need a moment…it’s worth noting that screenwriter Stone also has a cameo in the picture as a young man in the Embassy elevator telling the story about a poker game to another man. His voice is not heard, however, because for some reason it was dubbed with the voice of director Stanley Donen.”
Confession…besides enjoying the popular arts of movies, books, and music, I like reading about technology. Including that of our own military…because…I’m a guy. Especially so, if it’s bad…and expensive. Nothing teaches better than failure. So, when author Dan Ward posted an op-ed on the War is Boring site about the latest Star Wars film and a disturbing tendency of ours, it fit a unique niche with me.
“What stood out in Episode VII as particularly realistic is not just the fact that the Death Star Starkiller Base is unable to contribute much to the fight before it is spectacularly reduced to a smoldering cloud of space debris, although that is of course the most likely outcome. No, the most realistic thing in this latest film is the fact that the bad guys built another mega weapon.”
Welcoming back Charlie Jane Anders and another io9 article, this time celebrating what Star Wars fans kind of ignore about its rivalrous franchise now hitting its 50th anniversary, Star Trek. It really was groundbreaking and has withstood the test of time. Here, she listed out ten reasons (and achievements) explaining why that is:
“1) Scripts by the biggest science fiction writers of the day
Even the later Star Trek series didn’t really do this, although you have the occasional story by someone like Peter S. Beagle. But it’s still pretty mind-blowing that the writers of the original Star Trek included Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Jerome Bixby, Norman Spinrad, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, and others. And a few other famous science fiction authors nearly wrote for Trek as well. Among successful TV shows, only The Twilight Zone even comes close to that record. Also notable: Trek was always open to new writers, including over-the-transom submissions for several years, and a lot of television’s best scribes got their start at Star Trek University.”
As an old projectionist for a short time during the ’70s, video projects like the one Matt Dickey did will always warm my heart. Along with causing moi to share it out:
“I was a projectionist for the Hateful 8 70mm Roadshow. Here’s a video of my experience! Equipment: Christie AW3 platters retrofitted for 70mm, film cleaners, DTS sound, and a Century JJ projector.”
Dr. Glen Berger currently is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business coach, artist coach, and young person’s mentor. But, at one-time, he was a fledging studio engineer for the legendary A & R in New York City. Here on his blog, in a future chapter of his memoir arriving later this year, he documents one of the rare “punk” recording sessions at this studio, and the unique experience it was:
“One by one, the band straggled in with an extended coterie. To the last of ‘em – lead singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, and drummer Jerry Nolan – these guys were no joke. Like Killer, the band dressed in their satin drag 24/7. They, and their entourage, immediately started trashing the place. As they plugged their instruments in and futzed around, warming up, while I ran around, moving a mic, replacing a broken set of cans, the band coagulated into some kind of congealed mess.”
Always glad to include the work of one of my all-time favorite actors (Barbara Stanwyck), and featured by one of my favorite bloggers, friend, and fellow TCM Classic Film Fest devotee (Kellee Pratt). So a return visit to the Outspoken and Freckled blog a must:
“It’s only in the last 26 minutes of the film are we introduced to the only man who sees through her schemes, George Brent as Courtland Trenholm grandson of the founder and new President of the bank. Well, at first. Even when she’s booted to Paris to take a job instead of a scandal bribe/payoff, she manages her wiles to make the ultimate con- charming and then marrying Trenholm. He honestly loves her and in the end, she discovers he’s the only man she loves too.”
“If Chuck Klosterman can learn to love (or at least begrudgingly like) The Long Run and to downgrade Frey from genocidal dictator status to seeing him as an actual musician, is there hope for others trained to see the Eagles as the anti-indie enemy? Probably not, given how entrenched both sides are. Ken Burns should probably prepare a montage on the Eagles-related Facebook status updates tearing friends and families apart, with detractors claiming the Eagles represent the sum of all human evil and defenders lamely replying that those 150 million records didn’t sell themselves.”
With the return of the X-Files in 2016, along with Mulder and Scully, someone had to do the definite summary of what and when it all occurred. I give you two of Ira Madison‘s best (here on Vulture):
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO
An alien spacecraft crash lands.
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO
An alien poses as a Negro League baseball player, Josh Exley, in order to stay on Earth and enjoy life. An Alien Bounty Hunter kills him for abandoning his people. (Episode: “The Unnatural”).”
“88. “Quagmire” (Season 3, Episode 22)
Of course this show did a Loch Ness monster episode. But what’s surprising is how the episode manages to actually be about Mulder and Scully’s relationship, using the monster as a metaphor. Episodes like this are beautiful treasures.”
It’s a given, I have a predilection for the Western genre. Growing up during the ’60s and television of the period will do that to you. So, when my good friend J.D. Lafrance decides to throw a light on one of the greatest of that decade on his Radiator Heaven blog, sure as shootin’ it will find its way on to this quarter’s highlight reel. “If they move…kill ’em!”:
“No one made films like Sam Peckinpah. Tough, uncompromising, violent, nihilistic. He was a filmmaker unafraid to explore the darker aspects of human nature and often with a romantic streak. The Wild Bunch (1969) is all this and more – a no holds-barred western about a group of men being pushed to the margins of society because of the changes of the modern world circa 1913. Their way of life was no longer tolerated by the powers that be – if it ever was. The film follows a tight-knit group of outlaws with nowhere to go, pursued by one of their own to the inevitable bloody conclusion.”
It was with utmost sadness for many of us Angelenos when the city announced a famed and historic structure was to be demolished. An overpass that has been not only used by so many longtime city dwellers, and appreciated for its design and classic appearance, but for its connection to film in so many movies. A fitting symbol for the City of Angels, if there ever was one. Introduced by Andrew Liptack for io9:
“This week, the 6th Street Bridge in LA is being torn down. The iconic structure has been used in numerous films over the years, and Vashi Nedomansky wanted to commemorate its use as a set location throughout cinematic history.
You’ve seen this bridge before, even if you didn’t know its name: films like Terminator 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Drive, Grease, In Time and television shows such as LOST, Fear the Walking Dead and others have used it as a location.”
If I’ve not mentioned it lately, one of my favorite authors is Adrian McKinty. A lovely individual, even if he has truly terrible, misguided thoughts towards The Lads, who writes simply splendid Northern Irish crime noir. A novelist, blogger and book reviewer now living in St Kilda, Australia. Here, reposting his February piece from the Guardian on his blog, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life:
“Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Virgina Woolf amongst others used to write in a shed at the bottom of their gardens into which no one was allowed to enter. George Orwell went further and moved to a damp, isolated hut on the Hebridean Island of Jura to finish 1984. Ingmar Bergman wrote and storyboarded most of his scripts on the small island of Faro, north of Gotland where he drank only buttermilk and ate biscuits.
But my model was Henry Thoreau who moved to a cabin near Walden Pond and lived and wrote far from the distractions of modern life. Well reasonably far – he did cheat a bit by walking to his mum’s house to get his dinner and his laundry done. Still, the idea was a good one. I would get a cabin in the woods and thus inspired and focused I would easily cure my writer’s block and finish my book.”
Once more, the good folk over at Art of the Title blog single out one of the classic title sequences ever, and it’s a western:
“At over ten minutes in length, the nearly silent opening sequence centers on three gunslingers — Stony (Woody Strode), Snaky (Jack Elam), and Knuckles (Al Mulock) — and their arrival at Cattle Corner, an isolated train station somewhere in the Old West. Their purpose is a mystery, but their rough treatment of the locals and general demeanor speak volumes: they’re waiting for someone, and when he arrives it’s not going to be pretty.”
Friend and film noir and western movie blogger, Colin and his Riding the High Country site, again grace this series. Notably, for examining a classic of the former that remains a must for admirers of the dark film genre:
“Over the years I’ve spent a fair bit of time talking about film noir, musing over what it is or isn’t and, perhaps inevitably, looking at quite a few borderline cases. I’m still not sure I could articulate exactly what constitutes film noir – although not being able to do so is hardly a big deal – but I do recognize a clear-cut example when I see it. Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953) comfortably fits the bill with its harsh portrayal of a cruel and corrupt world and the merciless way it treats those who would resist it.”
Well, I’m always going to give one of my favorite filmmakers openings, here. Rodrigo Perez, writing for The Playlist, has…
“Fiercely intelligent and an autodidact known for his near-mythic levels of research when immersing himself in a project — he’s only made eleven features in thirty-four years and abandoned several projects despite years of investigation — Mann’s films often center on the codes of men and their professions, usually revolving around crime. These men often live what Mann constantly refers to as an “authentic life,” and this deep discussion left no stone unturned in terms of the filmmaker’s all-consuming examination of character, motivation, and psychology.”
Entirely enjoyable when your friends online get why a movie you happen to love works onscreen, and even for them. Such was the case with Ruth of Flixchatter and the movie of February:
“4. There are some bad ass women in this movie
Brianna Hildebrand is quite memorable as the brooding Negasonic Teenage Warhead. She didn’t have many lines in the movie, but the brief exchanges between these two are pretty funny. There’s Gina Carano as the villain’s henchwoman (natch!) There’s even a hilarious bit when she dropped to the ground forcefully like Superman, obviously poking fun at the famous superhero landing. I think it’s even funnier the fact that Gina used to date Man of Steel himself, Henry Cavill. I think Vanessa herself is no damsel in distress. Even when Deadpool went to save her, she got some ass-kicking scenes of her own.”
Also, Sara Beth Lowe for Salon makes it personal, and ever so clear, why this film goes beyond the comic superhero genre to make its mark:
“Most of my scars are on the inside, as seen by any of my recent CT scans. After scooping me out like a melon, they stitched me up and sent me home to await my chemo cocktail. The scenes of Wade Wilson’s torture in the film hit uncomfortably home. During my treatment, I was hooked up to an IV and told that the only way it works is to basically destroy everything in its path, not just the cancer. Watching thugs beat the shit out of Wade in order to activate his mutation vaguely reminds me of lying back in a recliner as I suffered an allergic reaction to Carboplatin and passed out from anaphylactic shock. As he’s dipped in ice water, I remember rubbing my feet together like fire sticks, hoping to ease some of the pain out of my joints. I remember putting gauze in between my thighs and watching as the skin peeled off after multiple rounds of radiation. And, like Deadpool, I remember saying “fuck” quite often.”
Jumping back on to blogger Colin‘s bandwagon once more, have to spotlight his Riding the High Country post of a film, based on a story by one of my preferred and prodigious writers (Richard Matheson), that’s a certified sci-fi classic:
“The Incredible Shrinking Man is really a journey in search of oneself and, in the course of this quest, becomes a journey into the self. It’s all a matter of perception, ultimately; Scott starts out as man who defines himself in relation to the way the world around him perceives him. As he becomes physically smaller, so his sense of worth and vitality (even virility when it comes to his marriage) are diminished. There’s an intensifying frustration as he feels himself becoming less significant, transformed into a curiosity at best. But the moment he moves from the world he has known into the now nightmarish frontier that his own basement has become another change begins to take place. Forced to fall back on his own inventiveness and innate sense of survival, he comes to regard himself in a very different light. This is the point where Arnold’s directorial skills and Matheson’s writing make themselves most apparent – Scott’s battle to overcome the obstacles that nature has cast into his path restores his faith, and by extension ours too.”
Author Michael Shelden made the case in the Nexus article for…
“For most of The Third Man, the classic 1949 film noir, its biggest star makes only fleeting appearances on the screen. Cast as a racketeer in post-World War II Vienna, Orson Welles is usually on the run, dodging the police and various criminal rivals as he haunts the shadowy ruins of the old imperial capital. A slow ride on the city’s renowned Ferris wheel provides one of the few moments when his character is allowed to linger in the same spot. Set inside an enclosed compartment swaying on the giant wheel, the scene ends with Orson winning a little sympathy for devils like the thoroughly unscrupulous character he plays, Harry Lime.”
Just in time for the Easter festivities, my friend Mark (who was himself ‘marked’ by Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Raging Bull as a teen) made the most convincing argument for the film auteur’s most controversial work on his Three Rows Back blog in March. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, worth reading:
“No doubt realising its potentially combustible nature, the film opens with a statement making clear that, rather than being drawn from the Gospels it is, like Kazantzakis’s book, a work divorced from the events depicted in the Bible; a parallel universe where the life of Christ follows a similar path before embarking on a final act that is entirely its own.
That final act is the eponymous last temptation when Jesus (Willem Dafoe) has a near-death vision of stepping down from the cross with the help of a figure claiming to be a guardian angel and leading the life of a normal man. Happiness (including consummating his relationship with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey)) comes with a price, however, and it takes his most trusted follower Judas (Harvey Keitel, Brooklyn accent intact) to make him realise just what it is he has done.”
J.D. also came back with another fine Radiator Heaven review before the quarter ended with a look at one of my favorite, dialogue-heavy, films of 2015:
“Michael Fassbender jumps full on into the role as he portrays a brilliant, arrogant man that expects to get his way, like when he tells an assistant that they must turn off the exit signs in the room where the product launch is to take place. When she informs him that the fire marshal will not allow this he replies, “You explained to the fire marshal that we’re in here changing the world,” to which she tells him, “I did. But unless we can also change the property of fire he doesn’t care.” Jobs comes back with a very Sorkian response: “If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits it’ll have been well worth it for those who survived. For those who don’t, less so but still pretty good.” Fassbender’s timing is on fire and this exchange is hilarious.”
Being an ardent fan of OO7 brings with it a certain responsibility. Being open to different interpretations of the character (during his many eras as the longest standing series in cinema) and criticism. Therefore, it’s my sworn duty, and pleasure, to highlight Angie Barry, writing for Criminal Element, offering her scale of the Bond films from a feminist’s perspective:
“10. From Russia with Love
The Bond: Connery
The Bond Girl: Tania, a KGB operative
Bond does the “fake married” trope with mixed results. He’s physically and verbally rough with Tania, who’s just following orders and truly doesn’t know what’s going on. One of the primary baddies in this, Rosa Klebb, is a very capable lady, who certainly knows her way around an evil plot—and has killer taste in footwear.
But then there’s a scene where Bond is “given” two Roma girls for the night because he stopped their fight to the death/saved their camp from SPECTRE assassins.
“6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Bond: Lazenby
The Bond Girl: Tracy, a mobster’s daughter
There’s more than a bit of grossness with her father offering her to Bond like some fatted calf, telling him she “needs a man to overpower her”, but—SURPRISE!—Bond rejects that oh-so-tempting offer and goes on to actually date her before falling in love and proposing marriage.
Tracy’s allowed to be complicated and messy; the first time she meets Bond is when he rescues her from a suicide attempt. She’s also one of the more badass Bond girls, capable of defending herself against Blofeld and saving Bond’s bacon several times. Her death in the last minute of the film, just after wedding Bond, is awful and angering, yes, but she still remains one of my absolute favorite Bond girls.”
James Clark, once again contributing wonderfully at the Wonders in the Dark blog, had his sights set for a classic sci-fi horror film, but not in way most would have suspected:
“I think it’s a big mistake to suppose that the film title, Alien (1979), pertains solely with regard to the ugly killer of most of the crew of a spaceship. To opt for that simplism is to underestimate the sensibility of helmsman, Ridley Scott. Not that seeing Scott at his best is an easy task, however. Fortunately, he sprays about quite a lot of trailblazing self-characterization—often wildly self-contradictory—ample enough to allow those of us, who have been assured that he’s got the right stuff, to wade past a façade of “professionalism” which brazens out an homage to all the journeymen involved in cash-flow (and nothing much else), on the order of The Martian (2015).”
Interestingly enough, Colin‘s Riding the High Country targeted a western by a filmmaker that doesn’t ordinarily gather esteemed criticism. I note this primarily because my Duo Post partner and I will take on the same director’s most well-known (some would say infamous) works to conclude that series for the year. But here, let my friend focus on one not as notorious:
“Lawman was directed by Michael Winner, a man not noted for his subtlety either as a filmmaker or in any other area of life. It became fashionable to dismiss his work as crass and lacking in substance, but blanket judgements are rarely worthwhile and best avoided, in my opinion. Winner will never be regarded as a great filmmaker, which is fair enough, but it’s unjust to simply brush him aside as a hack. Some of his early work is very good – for example, West 11 is a neat little movie – and it wasn’t until mid-70s that a significant decline in quality could be discerned. Lawman does have too many needless zooms and close-ups yet it also has pace and a kind of raw, brutal honesty that’s quite attractive.”
Wouldn’t be a Year of Best catalog without at least one more Art of the Title opening titles piece. This time highlighting the most fun and entertainingly honest sequence of 2016:
“The opening notes of Juice Newton’s adult contemporary classic “Angel of the Morning” drown out what are sure to be the final screams of some extremely unlucky hired goons. Here, frozen in time, in the back seat of an exploding Cadillac Escalade, a hyper-violent tableau takes shape. In what can only be described as some unholy marriage of the Three Stooges and a Michael Bay movie, battered bodies fly in all directions, engulfed in a shower of spit, blood, and broken glass. Guns are fired. Eyes are gouged. Tea is bagged. This is Deadpool… or rather it’s our introduction to Deadpool, the masked mutant in the middle of all that death and debris — the guy deftly executing the wedgie to end all wedgies.”
Oh, I couldn’t let March go past without a post that posited one of my all-time favorite novels. “The spice must flow!” and Jonathan K. Dick, writing for The AV Club, is the Kwisatz Haderach for telling why…
“That’s not to say that Lynch failed at bringing to life Herbert’s brilliantly imagined world and its still relevant environmental cautionary tale. Looking at what the director was in fact able to do with the little he had to work with, the film becomes less a travesty against the sanctity of laser pistol cinema art and more another example in what can go so horribly wrong it’s almost right with movie adaptations of books. It just so happens that this book in particular happened to be densely packed with entire civilizations, religions, mathematics, philosophies, mystery worms, and the entirely imagined ecological makeup of a planet, its inhabitants, and the inhabiting collective consciousness of those inhabitants.”
The entire series can be found here.