Criterion Month Day 22: Thief

Thief (1981)

I wish Michael Mann had started his film career in the early 70s. I don’t know if it’s the De Niro connection on account of Heat, but I like to think of Mann as the west coast Scorsese. While Scorsese was showing off the grit of New York City’s seamy underbelly in films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Mann was doing the same for Los Angles with Heat and Collateral. Both directors have dabbled with period pieces, Scorsese (Age of Innocence, The Last Temptation of Christ), Mann (The Last of the Mohicans)—why is everything the “Last” of something?—and both have dabbled in horror, Scorsese (Cape Fear, Shutter Island) and Mann (The Keep, Manhunter). The difference is Scorsese started his film career a decade before.

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Criterion Month Day 14: The Face of Another

The Face of Another (1966)

“We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we’re capable of.” That’s a quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Dr. Phil. Though I have no respect whatsoever towards Dr. Phil as a medical professional, I figure that quote is as good as any way to start a review about a surrealist Japanese film from the 1960s.

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Girls No More

Going into its final season, there seemed to be a lot of thinkpieces characterizing Girls as the show that launched a million thinkpieces (if you can wrap your mind around that). That said, I really didn’t do a ton of writing about Girls on this blog (apart from a season 3 review) despite being a fairly unabashed fan of it from nearly the beginning. And maybe it’s that unabashed fandom that oddly enough deterred me from writing about it. Continue reading

R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore

I feel like we’ve eased up a bit on our abundance of “RIP posts”, possibly because of the overwhelming volume of boomer-era celebrities dying in the last year or so. But I still have a lot of admiration and adoration for the woman known simply as MTM, even despite the fact that I am a male and missed the ‘70s by a pretty large margin. Because unlike probably around 99.9% of my generation, I’ve seen every episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and a pretty decent chunk of The Dick Van Dyke Show for that matter), and I can attest that despite its very ‘70s aesthetic, is still one of the best comedy series ever made. Continue reading

Because You’re On Twitter, Dummy

I’m sure like many Americans last night, I found myself pacing around my apartment at about 7 PM PST, while the TV played the dispiriting election results which showed that, good lord, Donald Trump might have a serious chance of being our president. Then, from some nearby house or apartment building, I kid you not, I heard someone yell the phrase, “I’m as mad as hell! And I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Which of course is the iconic line from Paddy Chayefsky’s script for the 1976 film Network, which for many years has been my favorite movie of all time, and is also a film that I kind of feel like I’ve been living through for the past year or so. Continue reading

R.I.P. Prince

It was earlier this year, I found myself at a family gathering at my grandparents’ retirement home.  Now, I don’t think I’m unique in saying that family gatherings are not a place I typically want to be.  But my uncle and his family (who I hadn’t seen in over a decade) were visiting from Chicago, so I figured it was my obligation to be there.  Also, my grandparents are both in their 90s, and at this point who knows when they’re gonna go, so it was nice to be able to get all of my mom’s side of the family together, since who knows if this would ever happen again.  Anyways, over the course of the meal we were having, there was a bit of this underlying tension, since my other uncle on my mom’s side isn’t exactly a huge fan of the uncle who was visiting from Chicago.  Which is not surprising.  One of them is kind of out-there and a bit of a weirdo, while the other is an ultra-conservative former bodybuilder.  However, the two managed to be fairly polite with each other in conversation, while I nonetheless wanted to leave, but was more than aware of why it’d be incredibly rude if I did.

Fortunately, my inner music geek was called to attention late in the dinner, as my uncle from Chicago started recalling stories of his younger years when he was going to shows at First Avenue, Minneapolis’s legendary music venue.  Unsurprisingly, this led to him talking about the few encounters he had with a performer known the world over as Prince.  And being that I’ve been a Prince fan for a long time, as well as rock bands like Husker Du and The Replacements who around the same time played First Avenue’s Seventh Street Entrance (the venue’s smaller stage), I was more than intrigued by these stories.  But what I didn’t expect, was to hear my conservative uncle ask from across the table, “You’re a fan of Prince?”  To which my other uncle of course replied, “Yeah”.  And then my other uncle said something to the effect of, “I really like Prince.  He’s a really talented performer.”  And I felt it — a bond.  A bond between these two men that literally have nothing in common with each other besides their relation to my aunt.  And it was over Prince of all things.

With the announcement of Prince’s passing earlier today, I can’t help but think of this moment and why it is so emblematic of what made Prince such a special artist.  Prince was a guy who brought people together.  Whether you were black or white, straight or gay, or whether you could dance or not, it didn’t matter.  Once a song like “Let’s Go Crazy” or “1999” came on, if you weren’t shaking your ass, you were at least envisioning The Purple One shaking his ass all over some gigantic stage and wishing you were there in his glorious presence.  Which is why yes, it is incredibly sad that Prince is dead.  Much like David Bowie, he’s a guy who you’d think would live forever.  But at the same time, I’ve spent most of today listening to KEXP play nothing but non-stop Prince, and it’s impossible not to be put in a good mood by this music, or at least a better mood considering the circumstances.  He just had that power, and you could feel it no matter where you were coming from.

R.I.P. George Martin

It’s a little eery that The Beatles’ record producer George Martin has just passed away, since it’s happened right as I’m in the middle of a pretty heavy Beatles period.  Granted, I’ve been in a pretty heavy Beatles period for about half of my life, since they’re the band that seemed to inform a lot of my early tastes (musical and otherwise), and whose records I’ll often return to for inspiration and enlightenment.  But I’ve been thinking about The Beatles lately because I’m in the middle of reading Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution In The Head, which chronicles The Beatles career by breaking down and examining each song in their discography track-by-track.  There’s a passage I just read where MacDonald says of George Martin’s collaboration with The Beatles, “it’s almost certainly true that there was no other producer on either sides of the Atlantic then capable of handling The Beatles without damaging them — let alone of cultivating and catering them with the gracious, open-minded adeptness for which George Martin is universally respected in the British pop industry”.

And I think it’s Martin’s combination of pop acumen and respect for Lennon and McCartney’s talent, as well as his willingness to try out new ideas, that are not only why Martin was a great producer, but also why The Beatles records are as important as they are.  I have to imagine that part of Martin’s willingness to experiment came from his early work doing comedy records with the likes of British comic talent like Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Dudley Moore, since there was always a spirit of anarchy and penchant for breaking the rules in The Beatles’ records.  It’s no coincidence that what first broke the ice between The Beatles and Martin on a personal level was a joke that George Harrison made about Martin’s tie.  And yet at the same time, like any great producer, Martin clearly had a well-trained ear that knew how to facilitate and expand upon the incredible songs these guys were churning out.

Also, just on a personal level, George Martin’s importance within The Beatles has always been something I’ve been aware of, because my devouring of The Beatles’ albums as a teenager coincided with me watching all of The Beatles Anthology TV series, which Martin is heavily featured in.  So for that I do kind of feel like Martin was really the first person that I knew of who helped make popular art, but from a “behind the scenes” perspective.  Like I’m sure I knew what a film director was at that point, but I think my becoming aware of George Martin’s influence on The Beatles recordings’ made me truly aware for the first time that there are smart, talented people out there that are involved in the creative process, but aren’t necessarily the star of the show.

Yet because Martin was such a secret weapon in The Beatles’ arsenal, I do fear his contributions to The Beatles’ music may be a bit overlooked in the annals of history, since I feel like the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership/competitiveness is what is often thought of as the crux of the band’s brilliance.  But this was a band that after all retired from touring because they wanted to continue exploring their creativity in the studio, and the particular way those records sound is I think a big reason why they still resonate the way they do.  Which is why I’ve never seen anything remotely cheeky about George Martin being nicknamed ‘the fifth Beatle’.