Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Winter’s Tear: Year of Bests – 2017

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. Time to get this show on the road for summer.

If so let’s continue, shall we?

All I can say is John Greco‘s Twenty four Frames blog post of a documentary that chronicled one of the darkest points of music as the ’60s came to a bleak close simply brought it all back. And that’s saying something for someone my age:

Gimme Shelter From The Storm: Altamont and The End of The Woodstock Generation

“With the agreement in place, just about everything that could go wrong does. Besides the widespread use of a variety drugs, the Hell’s Angels were brought in for security. Their pay? BEER! Make sure no crazed fans get on stage and drink all the beer you want! The Angels were recommended to the Stones by Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, one of the other bands performing at the free concert. They apparently used the outlaw motorcycle gang for previous events with no problem. It didn’t work out that way this time.”

Good friend and fellow blogger, William Johnson, and I go back with tbe Star Trek television series, in all of its versions through the years, a long way. So, when he speaks up about it (over at another good friend’s blog), I’m all ears. You should be, too:

Guest Post: Rebuttal to Ask JKM: J.J. Trek Haters

“But I am here, with this perception in mind, to defend the TNG films. As JKM said, TNG had a lot of personal journeys that occurred. And his point, not quoted above, about how sometimes Trek had to ‘dumb’ itself down for ratings (more color, action, etc) is very, very true. Think the extraordinary saucer crash in Generations or the goofy ATV ride in Nemesis in which goofy gargoyle creatures shoot bullets at Picard..”

I’ll leave it to my friend and blogger, Richard Kirkham, to explain my similar feelings toward a film and sequel that was equally critically praised and neglected:

Blade Runner 2049

“The women in this film make the strongest impressions. Villeneuve manages to make an initially lovely villainess more and more reptilian as the story develops. actress Sylvia Hoeks provides a face that is made for molding into beauty and fear at the same time. Ana de Armas is the virtual Joi and she feels like the most real character in the plot. She is a voice of reason, a love object and the lady in distress all at the same time. Gosling is a fine actor and holds his own against the ladies, up until the arrival of Harrison Ford in the last hour of the movie. Ford’s Deckard is familiar from the first film. He wants to remain detached, he is very smart but also has some of the limitations of humans, and he has had three decades to drink all the whisky he wants. Ford manages to upstage everyone else in the film even though his screen time is very limited. His scenes with Leto have a James Bond quality as he is interrogated, but he does not have any bravado or fear to throw up as a defense, he simply has his own weariness to assure him that he will win out in the end. Ford seems physically formidable for his age and there are none of the acting crutches that he uses in his other performances here. He did not phone it in for this one.”

Doctoral candidate in history at the University of South Carolina, specializing in 20th-century southern and African American history, Richard Greene II brought another Star Trek series to the forefront with keen insight. His Atlantic piece struck a distinct cord using the Deep Space Nine installment “Past Tense” and how its “…realistic, near-future vision of racism and economic injustice” still applies:

Revisiting Star Trek’s Most Political Episode

“Combining a searing look at homelessness with an indictment of America’s refusal to tackle the crisis head-on, it was arguably the most straightforwardly political story Star Trek ever told. It dispensed with clumsy metaphors to examine public health and mental illness; it also confronted the effects of the country’s waning optimism following Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” a series of domestic programs meant to end poverty and inequality in the ’60s. The script was also written and produced only two years after the Los Angeles Riots, which clearly influenced the story. The episode could perhaps have dug even deeper into its critique of bigotry. Still, “Past Tense” was notable for depicting racism not from the perspective of a well-meaning white liberal, as seen in previous iterations of Star Trek, but through the eyes of people of color directly threatened by violence and indifference.”

Writing for the Disc Makers Blog, author Keith Hatschek brought about whole new level of appreciation for my favorite Beatle, John Lennon. His dissection three distinct songs of his drew awe for both the artist and the piece’s writer:

Songwriting lessons from John Lennon

“To provide variety, with economy, Lennon uses one of his favorite techniques at the end of the second and fourth verses to build up tension leading into the punchline and title of the song, which is repeated twice each time. He plays the normal D chord and walks his own 12-string part with Paul’s bass down from D-C-B-A, building tension to lead into the song’s chorus. It’s reported that Pete Shotton, an original member of Lennon’s first group, The Quarrymen, was present when Lennon was writing the song at home and suggested he add the emphatic “Hey!” at the start of each line in the chorus. It is an attention-grabbing technique that adds an emotional punch. As for the chords used in the chorus, it’s just G, C, and D, but he varies the D chord by using both the D4 from the verse and the D2 versions. It’s a simple but effective embellishment, especially on the chime-like 12-string he favored for many of his more acoustic-oriented tracks.”

Once again, those clever cinephiles over at Cinefix had the perfect subject to take on for October:

Top 5 Horror Tropes of All Time

“Put down your costume making kit for a few minutes and join us as we dive into what makes horror films tick. Of all the tropes that scary movies employ, these are the 5 best!”

Speaking about Blade Runner, since its sequel arrived this very year, let the Vinyl Factory folks let you in on…

“Vangelis was a truly different proposition: his work extended from sometime in mid-1981 through to April of the following year. In that time he composed, arranged, performed and produced each aspect of the music, creating a work of art that reflected a singular, unified vision of his own. This, of course, influenced the work present in the movie, but was also responsible for the final form of the soundtrack.”

Have always found the noted film critic, author, and Yiddishist, Kenneth Turan, as someone worth hearing; whether I agreed with him, his opinion always well worth reading. Especially this one from the L.A. Times:

Why this film critic gave up on horror movies

“Like characters in an old blues song, horror and I met at a crossroads decades ago. I went one way, horror another, and lately, I’ve been trying to figure out the reasons why.

It’s not just the deaths of two of modern horror’s founding fathers, George Romero of “Night of the Living Dead” and Tobe Hooper of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” that got me thinking. Though that played a part.

Equally crucial is the way horror finds itself positioned at this moment as the genre of choice for audiences as well as critics, the sensibility that is front and center in keeping the movie business afloat.”

Okay, that Blade Runner sequel didn’t exactly light up the box office this Fall. It did deserve more scrutiny, though. Perhaps, Brian Formo‘s look at Collider was where some should have started:

The Future Is Female: How ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Uses Gender

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner gave us female pleasure models and it’s not regressive to show that by 2049 there are many different types of pleasure models. In a gross awareness of the likely future—how many animated male sex dolls have you reach about in comparison to female? There’s a race to make the most “realistic” female companion already underway—there are hologram women named Joi. Humans and replicants alike can purchase their own Joi to make a man feel better. In many ways it’s easier to be doted upon, be asked questions, and bask in the glow of someone who possess the agreed upon perfect femme physique via a realistic program than it would be to enter into a relationship with a human woman who might challenge, not always worship, nor find her partner attractive at all times. But you’d lose your humanity in the process, right? Because it places your needs on a shelf without compromise or concession.”

How about we also give ourselves a musical break; let my colleague Bruce from down under on his Vinyl Connection blog soothe any ruffled feathers you have gotten to this point with…


“Given its unusual combination of live and studio material, Moonflower is surprisingly satisfying. While perhaps missing the creative drive of the first five albums, Moonflower is thoroughly enjoyable, due in no small part to the outstanding keyboard contributions of Tom Coster. Choosing a song to cover is a fraught business, but Carlos and the lads got it right with The Zombie’s ‘She’s not there’, a Top 10 single. I often drag Moonflower out as the weather gets warmer; it begs for a long cold drink and somewhere to put your feet up. Or dance, if you’re that way inclined.”

If there was anyone who could take on a list such as this, I’d be more than comfortable with it being in Bubbawheat‘s capable hands. With a blog titled, Flights, Tights, & Movie Nights, who wouldn’t be?

The Greatest Comic Book Movies of All Time, Ranked

“#9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It was around this point in the MCU films where fans started to notice more variations between the standard Marvel origin story. While the basic Marvel framework was still there, this felt more akin to a seventies era spy movie than a typical superhero movie. It had action, intrigue, and still the same great characters that we’ve grown to know and love from the previous films. Enough to rank this on fourteen lists where it topped Diana McCallum’s list at #1 where she had this to say about it.

The Winter Soldier has absolutely everything. A wonderful villain plot, amazing action, twists that are earned and tug your heartstrings and a great arc for not just the title character but all the supporting players as well. It’s entertaining end to end but also has a sincerity and emotional payoff rarely found in superhero movies.”

Always good to welcome back Alison Martino and her take on things that aren’t here anymore (à la Ralph Story…and if the name doesn’t ring a bell for you, please look him up). Her blog post on the institution and cultural touchstone of a certain music store in Los Angeles really does register with more than a few of us above a certain age:

The Legendary Past and Celluloid Future of Tower Records on the Sunset Strip

Tower Records, which stayed open until 1 a.m. on weekends, was a music venue, too. Hundreds of musicians including Rod Stewart, Randy Newman, and XTC performed live inside the store, and thousands of fans wrapped around the L-shaped parking lot to get in when Aerosmith, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, James Brown, Duran Duran, and Brian Wilson stopped by to sign records. David Lee Roth shut the Strip down for several hours when he rappelled down a replica of the Matterhorn built on the record store’s roof to deliver his album “Skyscraper.” Alice Cooper drove up in a huge trash truck to deliver “Trash.””

All I can say is, good of Doug Cooper to look at the recent Blade Runner sequel through the looking-glass of a ’70s neo noir classic over at his Bag of Poop blog:

BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Chinatown Hasn’t Changed Much in the Future

“In that way, the tragic beauty of these films make them the perfect mirrors of their heroes. Finding a bit of good in a bad world is what their struggle is all about. And whether they choose to do so or not, the ultimate decider of their worth.

Over the years, a lot may have changed for LA detectives, but when the time comes, both Jack and Joe will get asked the same-old, fundamental question:

What kind of person are you? When the shit hits the fan – are you the kind of guy who will stick around and try to clean up the mess?”

There’s a reason I called out the opening titles sequence of a certain John Carpenter work a few weeks back — it’s under-appreciated. Annual viewing in my household, and good to know my good friend J.D., and frequent contributor to Sammy Juliano‘s Wonders in the Dark blog (and this series, come to think of it), feels the same. Case in point:

John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness (1987) was made after John Carpenter went public with how dissatisfied he was with the studio interference he encountered while working on films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986). He decided to return to his independent filmmaking roots by signing a multi-picture deal with Alive Films. He would get a $3 million budget per film and complete creative freedom. The first result was a creepy horror film and the second installment of an informal “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with The Thing (1982) and concluded with In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Aside from being heavily influenced by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, all three films feature a higher, malevolent supernatural force that manipulates human beings against one another in order to bring about the end of the world.”

If the name Judy Collins just flies over your noggin, then you must head over — do not collect pass Go or collect $200, either — and read Music Afionado‘s piece by Jim Farber on why you need to rectify that:

How Well Do You Know Judy Collins?

“Collins was hardly the first singer to record the highly-politicized folk songs of the U.K.’s Ewan MacColl, who was also a well-known performer in his own right. Artists from Dick Gaughin to Peggy Seeger offered key, early renditions of MacColl’s work. But, in 1961, when Collins recorded his murder ballad Tim Evans, for her debut album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow, she beat by eleven years the best-known rendition of MacColl’s work—i.e. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a Grammy-grabbing smash for Roberta Flack in 1972. Collins’ recording also predated many well known runs at MacColl’s songs by stars from Donovan to Rod Stewart to The Clancy Brothers. Collins affected a Celtic accent for her seminal recording, something MacColl would have frowned upon. He made a big point of saying that everyone should sing in their own accents. In her defense, Collins was just 21 at the time.”

Whew! Need another break from all this reading? Well, that’s why we periodically head over to the good folk at Art of the Title for their keen insight on the graphics, style, and inventiveness to those movie credits of yesteryear and today. This time for my answer to Dennis Cozzalio’s movie quiz question, “Best nature-in-revolt movie”:

The Birds (1963)

“Pollak’s work that same year for The Birds is another beast altogether. The film’s title sequence is a cacophony of consonance, all shrieks and screams, flutters and flaps; a rush of mechanical bird noises scraping roughly through sheer space.

The birds are black smudges, both shadow and substance moving in and out of frame. They flash across a white void, their sounds overwhelming and menacing. The credits, executed in the blue of a perfect clear sky, are torn to pieces as if pecked apart. The text is destroyed, shattered like the teacups that appear later in both the Brenner living room and the Fawcett kitchen — stark symbols of human civilization being cut down.”

Might as well get back into this with a tribute to the movie legend who departed this mortal coil coming up on almost ten years now. Care of those Assholes Watching Movies (and I don’t mean derogatorily, mind you), and in honor of my mother’s and her sister’s favorite blue-eyed actor, Mister “King Cool”, himself:

Paul Newman, 1925 – 2008

“Paul Newman was a Hollywood legend who, let’s face it, deserved a whole post to himself.

Born in 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, second son to Arthur and Theresa who ran a sporting goods store. His first role was at the age of 7; he played a court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. By 10 he was performing at the Cleveland Play House and was part of the Curtain Pullers children’s theatre program. He was briefly at Ohio University but war intervened (well, war, and the fact that he dented the president’s car with a beer keg). He enrolled at the Navy pilot training program at Yale but was kicked out when his colourblindness was discovered. He went on to serve in the Navy as a radioman and rear gunner. He likely would have died in the war but for the fact that on the day his unit was attacked and killed by a kamikaze pilot, his own pilot was grounded due to an ear infection. Back home, he completed his degree in drama and economics. He toured with summer stock theatre programs before putting in a year at the Yale School of Drama, which he ultimately left to go to NYC to study acting under Lee Strasberg at the famous Actors Studio.”

It must be said that we witnessed in this quarter some extraordinary events, bar none. An overdue Judgment Day of “Corleone” proportions, in manner and substance, for the film world that is Hollywood, and beyond. Sean O’Neal‘s AV Club piece a must-read, then:

We are witnessing Hollywood’s long-overdue moral reckoning

“As one of those liberal showbiz elites so eloquently put it in 2009, “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”

Unfortunately, the guy who said that—Harvey Weinstein—now stands accused of dozens of sexual assaults. And Weinstein’s statement has been gleefully dragged out in recent weeks by conservative pundits as an example of Hollywood’s flagrant hypocrisy, the laughable grandstanding of an industry that likes to portray itself as America’s conscience while also allowing predators like Weinstein, James Toback, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, et al. to flourish behind the “open secret” of their own evils. After all, as Fox News cheerfully points out, Weinstein made that statement around the same time he wrote a passionate defense of Roman Polanski, whose own history of sexual abuse is another of the city’s ugly, accepted truths, largely forgiven and clumsily talked around, even covered up in applause from the likes of Meryl Streep—something those same outlets seized upon when she publicly shamed Donald Trump for his own turpitude. If Hollywood really wants to be America’s moral arbiter, their argument goes, then it needs to start by cleaning its own house.”

And if it’s possible to be critical of one more Hollywood legend, and somehow feel for the guy, then Stephen Metcalf‘s The Atlantic piece, one that leads with, “The actor’s persona was inextricable from the toxic culture of Cold War machismo”, is it. Another you shouldn’t let pass by:

How John Wayne Became a Hollow Masculine Icon

“Schoenberger makes the case that we are confused about masculinity because we cannot accept men like Wayne as heroes. In flight from machismo, we have largely given up on adult male self-mastery. But isn’t it also true that, allowed at last to be confused about masculinity, we no longer accept men like Wayne as heroes? Schoenberger herself alludes, perceptively, to “functional masculinity,” and if I read her right, this is the core of her provocative argument. Masculinity as puerile male bonding, as toxic overcompensation and status jockeying—this is what’s unleashed when masculinity no longer has an obvious function. Divorced from social purpose, “being a man” becomes merely symbolic. So, for example, robots in factories and drones on the battlefield will only make gun ownership and mixed martial arts more popular. To push the thesis further, as men become less socially relevant, they become recognition-starved; and it is here that “being a man” expresses itself most primitively, as violence.”

Darren Mooney another frequently cited here for his marvelous critiques and writing. So, no surprise he once again shows up in this series. Maybe, not just for the subject he wrote up in this November article, which was hosted on his the m0vie blog, but it certainly qualified:

“My World Doesn’t Exist Anymore.” Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and the Rejection of Nostalgia

“Nostalgia has always been a potent cultural force. Indeed, it could be argued that even Richard Donner’s Superman and Superman II were exercises in nostalgia for the versions of the character with which the key creative figures grew up. However, in the twenty-first century, it frequently feels like nostalgia has become the dominant cultural force. Modern blockbuster cinema is dominated by reboots and remakes, to the point that there have been three blockbuster Spider-Man franchises in the past two decades.

Of course, it’s isn’t just superhero movies that are subject to nostalgia. The modern wave of blockbuster nostalgia has seen a revival of franchises that had long been considered over, a form of franchise necromancy with long-delayed sequels like Jurassic World or Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, or even television revivals like The X-Files or Full House or Twin Peaks. The quality of these revivals varied on a case-by-case basis, but there was a clear sense that a lot of popular culture was built around the idea of offering audiences something which they had seen before.”

Always riveted to those articles registering cinematic experiences by longtime viewers on a personal level. Hence, photographer and fellow blogger, John Greco, and his look back in a blog post at a classic work of Sidney Lumet’s, one involving the Holocaust, his Catholic upbringing, and guilt:

Censorship, The Pawnbroker and Me

“In 1965, The Pawnbroker arrived on screens in New York. It received mostly excellent reviews, and Rod Steiger was praised for giving one of his strongest performances. The Legion of Decency condemned the film for scenes of bare female breasts. Though they admitted, the film was a thought-provoking intelligent work; the Church felt most inspired to try and stop the future of nudity on screen. Unlike with Kiss Me, Stupid, I had to see The Pawnbroker. Yes, I was a horny teen, but it was more than that. Among the loads of overblown junk that came out of American films in the mid-sixties, some serious films were coming out that were showing the future. The Manchurian Candidate, The Collector, Bonnie and Clyde and The Pawnbroker were among them. Yes, the guilt was there, but you deal with it. Was I really going to burn in hell for going to a movie with nudity?”

Alright, might as well continue my highlight reel of perennials who haunt this series with another stellar piece by Roderick Heath. Once again gracing Ferdy on Film‘s online pages with a remake destined to shake up train travelers and fans of Agatha Christie:

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

“The plot, as you probably already know: sometime in the early 1930s, Belgian-born, UK-residing private detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh, inevitably) departs Jerusalem after performing a swift and nifty piece of deduction that defuses a nascent religious riot. Travelling by boat to Constantinople (or Istanbul; either way it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night), Poirot encounters the keen and lovely governess Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) and the stoic, upright soldier-turned physician Dr Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr) on the same boat: although affecting to be strangers, Poirot notes their peculiar intimacy. Once arriving in the great city, Poirot encounters a friend, the cheerfully dissolute Aynesworth (Gerard Horan), nephew of the Orient Express’s owner. When the onerous call of duty summons Poirot back to London, Aynesworth promises to gain him a berth on the very next Express to London, a promise that proves difficult to fulfil as the train’s first class compartment proves to be booked solid, a bizarre event in the winter season. Nonetheless Poirot gains a berth, and finds himself thrust in with a motley collective including Mary, Arbuthnot, talkative husband-hunter Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), White Russian exile Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her paid companion Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), hot-tempered Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin) and his drug-addict ballerina wife Countess Elena (Lucy Boynton), cheery automobile magnate Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), sternly moralistic missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), and flinty, racist Austrian academic Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe).”

Count me as a fan of Gustavo Arellano and his writing, in general, and specifically for his keen cultural perspective that this third generation Mexican-American (me) finds astute. So when this former investigative reporter for the OC Weekly turned his scrutiny upon the newest by Pixar for Remezcla, well, it was a combination as fervent as un Dia de los Muertos:

How Disney Redeemed Itself With ‘Coco’ After the Día de Muertos Trademark Fiasco

“For years, they have screamed cultural appropriation at Coco (which some have called the too-obvious “caca”), obsessing over nearly every conceivable angle to paint the movie as little better than NAFTA, yet another move by imperialist Yanquis to profit off México lindo y querido. They were right for a moment: when Disney tried to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” in 2013 only to back down after a furious, righteous backlash a mere 12 hours after activists discovered the attempt.

But ever since then, the armchair Aztecs have been wrong, wrong, WRONG. We should always remain vigilant when big companies attempt to do Latinx anything, especially of the Mexican variety, a culture that the U.S. has demonized and ripped off for more than 150 years. But Coco ain’t it.”

And Gustavo Arellano doubled-down with a wonderful Op-Ed piece for the L.A. Times soon after by highlighting another of my favorite singers and a landmark musical work of hers that spoke to her heritage, along with a great many of her fans:

Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Canciones de mi Padre’ changed my life and my culture

“Ronstadt was the biggest deal of them all. She had used Español before in her career: a Latin American version of “Blue Bayou,” her own composition, on the 1976 LP “Hasten Down the Wind,” and a duet with salsa legend Rubén Blades in 1985. But with “Canciones” she did something revolutionary. Previous generations of American entertainment giants downplayed their ethnic heritage to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Now came Ronstadt, deep into her career, with a bold announcement: I’m Mexican, and what of it?”

As an ardent fan of the audiobook, the format the saved my reading habit when work and family put a dent into it, was so happy when my Duo Post partner Rachel recommended this PBS NewsHour article by fellow While You Were Sleeping fan, Alison Thoet. Give a listen.

A short history of the audiobook, 20 years after the first portable digital audio device

“The biggest question about audiobooks is: Does listening to a book count as much as reading it? Some traditional readers may scoff at listening to a great classic, having tried audio and hated it. Meanwhile avid audiobook listeners say they read and comprehend more with audio, and that it allows them to read more books.

Some studies show that listening to books does not keep readers as focused, and the print versus audio debate goes all the way back to the visual and auditory learner style question. The answer seems to be that it depends on the person, as well as the book.”

Always overjoyed when under-appreciated filmmakers and their work are spotlighted, especially those who buoyed my younger self when the tide always seemed against those like me. Such is the case for the Chicano pioneer Luis Valdez and a film I keep coming back to. Cinematically and musically. So, this native Angeleno gives you Carlos Aguilar, writing in Remezcla, for La Bamba:

30 Years Later, Luis Valdez & Esai Morales Reflect on the Impact of ‘La Bamba’

“Released in 1987, La Bamba was a quintessential Hollywood film from a Latino point of view starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens, the young Mexican-American star that bewitched audiences throughout the 50s until his tragic and untimely death in 1959. Glossy musical numbers reminiscent of other movies set in that time such as Grease and top-notch production design, transported viewers to a bygone era. Certainly, the songs performed by East LA natives, Los Lobos, are also part of what has helped the film stand the test of time. La Bamba earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture –Drama in 1988.

Valdez has more than una poca de gracia, and during the conversation preceding the screening, he share anecdotes about his decision to cast a half-Filipino actor in the lead role of a Chicano story and how rock ‘n’ roll exemplifies American multiculturalism. Here are some highlights from the event.”

Might as well bring back Roderick Heath to highlight yet another stellar and distinctive work by one of my preferred filmmakers, Guillermo del Toro:

The Shape of Water [2017]

“In much the same way that The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth meditated upon Spain’s troubled past, The Shape of Water casts its mind back to a time in American history at once recent but also retreating to the fringe of collective memory, a time of jarring disparity between the flashy, technocratic splendours of the burgeoning space age and racial strife, a time that promised so much and now stirs a twinge of regret in lost illusions. Del Toro links this echoing past with the very stuff of his fantastical lexicon, formative creative influences and dream provokers glimpsed on movie and TV screens and read between covers churned together with the psychic landscape of the past. History plays out at times barely registered by the workaday characters drifting through a landscape, as when Elisa goes to work with the fires from riots blazing in the background, and at other times wilfully drowned out, as when Giles anxiously tells her turn over the TV from news reports on civil rights demonstrations and happily retreats into old Alice Faye musicals instead.”

Nearly every time I stop by over at Keith & the Movies blog, it’s always a treat. Especially when Keith turns his discerning view on another Netflix production gathering critical appreciation:

REVIEW: “Mudbound”

“Rees anchors her film in the right place – with her characters. “Mudbound” is essentially the story of two families. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) marries Laura (Carey Mulligan) in 1939 and soon moves her, their two daughters, and his racist father (Jonathan Banks) to a Mississippi farm he abruptly purchased. Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan giving some of the year’s finest supporting work) is a tenant farmer whose family has worked Henry’s newly acquired land since his grandfather was a slave. Hap dreams of owning his own farm but always puts the aspirations of his kids ahead of his own.

Both families are compelling but in dramatically different ways. Each face the brunt of harsh deep south poverty and both face it the best way they know how. But their struggles and circumstances couldn’t be more different both inside and outside of their homes. And despite their mutual see-through pleasantries and respect, the sting of a morally corrupt social order is felt in nearly every conversation the two families share.”

While the article may have first appeared in 2014, concerning a mid-’90’s film adaptation, good friend and fellow L.A. blogger, Richard Kirkham, made the case, and bares repeating, for one of the better Elmore Leonard stories that made jump to celluloid:

Movies I Want Everyone to See: Get Shorty

“For movie fans, this is a film that should give them a warm feeling in their dreams. This is a gangster movie about gangsters who want to make a gangster movie. There are dozens of colorful characters both in the crime world and in Hollywood as the story gets told. The crime stuff may be accurate, someone with a better sense of that can judge for us, but the movie end of the story cuts incredibly close to the bone that is the film making process. Last year in the movie “Argo”, John Goodman’s character summed it up this way:

John Chambers: [after hearing of the plan to get the hostages out] So you want to come to Hollywood, act like a big shot…

Tony Mendez: Yeah.

John Chambers: …without actually doing anything?

Tony Mendez: Yeah.

John Chambers: [smiles] You’ll fit right in!”

Michael Putland / Getty Images

With a continuing sense of loss and appreciation, Jon Caramanica wrote my favorite Tom Petty appreciation in his An Appraisal piece for the New York Times:

Tom Petty,an Unfussy Rock Star Who Kept His Tenacity Under Cover

“Mr. Petty grew up a student of the Beatles and the Byrds, and was also conversant in Southern rock, new wave and punk. That flexibility allowed Mr. Petty, who had first joined bands in his hometown, Gainesville, Fla., before moving to Los Angeles, to calmly float between eras, never owing too much to any one idea.”

Let’s bring back John Greco and his photographer’s perspective on another subject that bares repeating:

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Joe Rosenthal and Flags of My Fathers

“On Feb 19, 1945, Rosenthal landed on the Japanese fortified island of Iwo Jima with the first wave of U.S. Marines to come ashore. Dodging bullets, Rosenthal’s only weapon was his unwieldy Speed Graphic, shooting shot after shot of dramatic battlefield photos during those first days of the invasion. About four days into the battle, and after suffering heavy losses, the Marines made their move up Mount Suribachi; the tallest point on the island, and the Japanese stronghold. After a fierce struggle, the Marines controlled the mountain. Louis Lowery, a photographer for the Marine publication Leatherneck, arrived on top of the mountain first and photographed the raising of a small American flag. It was the first American flag to fly on Japanese territory.”

Sit back and let Kristen Lopez, writing in Medium, convince you to watch, and enjoy, a movie far too few have seen. Even if you’re not into horror, you’ll gain a new outlook:

The Best Feminist Horror Movie You’ve Likely Never Seen

“The film never shies away from the idea that violence against women is the real horror — and instead of keeping the female characters ignorant to this, the script demands that Rosaleen acknowledge it. Granny takes it upon herself to prepare Rosaleen, and the audience, for the world of men, whose duplicity makes them dangerous. But while most Final Girls would be discouraged from sexual exploration, the advice Rosaleen is given doesn’t preclude her from exploring her own sexual curiosity.”

With the plethora of stories and analysis concerning the latest Star Wars film, if there was one that actually has me raring for another screening, it’s Kayti Burt‘s piece for Den of the Geek. Especially since some of the aspects that bothered me now makes sense:

Toxic Masculinity Is the True Villain of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Kylo Ren is a character who is easy to make fun of (which also happens to be his worst nightmare), but that doesn’t take away from his power as a villain. He is scary because he reminds us of the real-world men whose anger and frustration and sadness have curdled into something ugly inside of them, causing them to lash out at those they perceive to have robbed them of what they deserve.

As it often does, the emotional labor necessary for both Luke and Kylo Ren to (at least partially) work through their issues is undertaken by a woman: Rey. In the same way that Leia and Holdo help Poe work through his hero complex, Rey spends much of the movie trying to get Luke and Kylo Ren to work through their emotional issues so that they can save the galaxy for the good guys.”

So, an exhausting 2017 has come to an end. Between family, work, and our current political landscape, am pretty wore out. So much so, have decided to take a break from this highlight reel series of mine for the foreseeable future. Perhaps, the upcoming annum will re-energize me and make Year of Bests something again to look forward. But at the moment, will take it a day at a time. A happy 2018 to all. 🙂

The entire series can be found here.

11 Responses to “Winter’s Tear: Year of Bests – 2017”

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