Monthly Mixtape – January 2019

Welcome to a New Year of new music!

Cochemea :: “All My Relations”

Cochemea Gastelum, long-time saxophonist with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, explores his roots, blending jazz with rhythmns of his Native American ancestors.

Abby Jeanne :: “Pleasures Pain”

Abby Jeanne is a young soul singer from Milwaukee.

Georgia Anne Muldrow :: “Play It Up”

Georgia Anne Muldrow of Los Angeles performs hip-hop with heavy jazz influences.

The Gods Themselves :: “Girl Crush”

The Gods Themselves are a disco punk band from Seattle.

Mdou Moctar :: “Kamane Tarhanin”

Mdou Moctar of Niger plays a modern, electronic take on Tuareg trance music.


Previous Mixtapes:

Movie Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

TitleLady and the Tramp
Release Date: June 22, 1955
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

Lady is a Cocker Spaniel given as a Christmas gift from Jim Dear to his wife Darling as a puppy.  Lady grows to find a place at the center of Jim Dear and Darling’s life, but starts to be usurped when the couple have a baby.  Then when they go on a trip and leave Lady and the baby in the care of Aunt Sarah, Lady finds herself completely shooed out of the house.  On the streets, she meets the stray dog Tramp who shows her the good life of a dog with no attachments.  A terrifying rat and a thunder storm provide the drama at the climax of the movie, leading to a happily-ever-after in the conclusion.

There are a couple of dated elements that make it hard for a modern audience to fully enjoy this movie.  For one, it’s full of ethnic stereotypes, which is mildly amusing when it’s Jock, the Scottie, speaking with a Scottish accent, but less so with the Asian exoticism of the Siamese cats or the comedic fake Italian dialect at Tony’s restaurant.  The story also features a macho male in Tramp paired with a docile female in Lady that is old fashioned, and not in a good way.  That all being said, my 7 y.o., who has been reluctant to watch classic Disney movies with me, said she enjoyed this one.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Blade Runner (1982)

TitleBlade Runner
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Production Company: The Ladd Company

It’s 2019, so it’s time for me to finally watch the 1982 movie that’s set in 2019, Blade Runner.  I should note that on the advice of a fan, I didn’t watch the 1982 release, but the Final Cut released in 2007 (and the last of seven different versions of the movie released).  This means that I  got to watch the movie without poorly written voice-overs and a happy ending that many viewers feel marred the theatrical release.

The story focuses on Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police investigator tasked with finding renegade replicants (synthetic humans designed to work on Earth’s off-world colonies) and “retire” them (kill them).  In this instance, Deckard has to track down four replicants who have come to Earth seeking the secret of elongating their lives beyond the four years programmed into their DNA, and in the process Deckard meets an even more advanced replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) who is initially not aware she’s not human.  Deckard and Rachael form an awkward relationship, while Deckard hunts down the other four and eventually faces off against the renegade replicants leader Roy (Rutger Hauer).

With it being 2019, the predictions of the future are largely inaccurate, but interesting nonetheless (I’m particularly amused that Blade Runner, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Until the End of the World, features video payphones but didn’t foresee portable devices).  The vision of 2019 in this film is of a dark, claustrophobic, yet lonely world. Blade Runner imagines the deteriorating inner cities of the 1970s and 1980s simply left to rot while monolithic buildings for corporations and the wealthy are just built above them.  The set dressing features an incredible amount of trash and dirt which the camera lingers on to make the point. Ironically, American cities like Los Angeles are tidier and shinier than when the film was made for the most part.  Omnipresent advertising lights up the sides of buildings and from looming airships floating low above the city, in one of the more accurate predictions of the real 2019.  This movie must’ve hired armies of extras – or expertly filmed the same packs of extras from clever angles – to fill the set’s streets with the people Deckard must elbow through.  And the people come from all over the world – Chinese predominately, even in the advertising – but I heard a whole lot of languages spoken.  The great achievement of Blade Runner is so thoroughly creating a world that feels real and lived in.

I found the movie very uncomfortable to watch, which is not a bad thing since it is definitely designed to discomfort with its dystopian view of the future and examination of humanity.  It’s good that I did NOT watch this back in the 1980s, because it would’ve totally freaked out my younger self.  Despite having accrued a lot of cultural knowledge of the story over time, there were a lot of WTF! moments that caught me off guard.  I’m particularly haunted by J.F. Sebastian’s “toys” which just plain creeped me out.  Of course, I probably didn’t need to wait until I was 45 to get around to watching this movie for the first time.

Blade Runner is a movie that impresses, although I can’t say that I love it.  There’s definitely some good acting from the three leads and of course the sets and visuals are remarkable. But the story leaves me a bit cold, although I’m not sure if it’s missing something, or if I just can’t cogitate the dystopian themes yet.  Nevertheless, I think I will have to revisit it at some point and perhaps check out some of the alternate versions.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Figment by Jim Zub and Filipe Andrade

Author: Jim Zub
Title: Figment
Ilustrator: Filipe Andrade 
Publication Info: Marvel (2017)

The merger of Disney and Marvel creates the opportunity based on classic Disney World attractions.  This series tells the back story of Epcot’s original Journey into Imagination with the Dreamfinder (the comics reveal his given name as Blarion Mercurial) and Figment.  The story begins with Mercurial working as a reasearcher at a university in London in the early 1900s and creating an invention that harnesses imagination and makes it reality.  First he creates his sidekick purple dragon Figment, and then they’re drawn into imaginary worlds where they experience a series of adventures.  The comic basically acknowledges that the 1980s Epcot attraction was steampunk before the word “steampunk” was coined.  The story is basically a G-rated adventure akin to the Five Fists of Science or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  And being set in imaginary worlds, it benefits from lavish illustrations by Andrade.

Recommended booksThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan, The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin, and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction
Rating: ***




Movie Review: Bambi (1942)

Title: Bambi
Release Date: August 21, 1942
Director: David Hand
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

When I was just about 2-years-old, my costume for Halloween was Bambi.  Not coincidentally, I learned that Bambi was re-released to theaters that same year.  I’m not sure if I saw the movie at the time, but I was familiar with the characters, and remember really liking Thumper and Flower.

Nevertheless, it’s most likely that at the age of 45, I’ve just watched Bambi for the first time.  Bambi is an episodic film featuring vignettes of Bambi’s first year or so of life, as he learns to walk, makes friends, and learns to do things deer do like find food.  More seriously, he has to deal with the threats of Man which come in the forms of gunshots, packs of hunting dogs, and wildfire.

It’s an endearingly sweet film with some notably tear-inducing heartbreak.  And while the animals may be too anthropomorphized to be lifelike, I think the creators of this film really did capture the essence of human toddlers in the actions of Bambi and his friends.  The animation is beautiful, with backgrounds that look like oil pointings, albeit they are also too static to represent a real wilderness.

Anyhow, Bambi is a classic for a reason.  Don’t wait too long to watch it.  And keep some tissues handy.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 26

More Perfect (via RadioLab) :: Sex Appeal

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg convinced the Supreme Court to take on discrimination against women, by taking a case involving discrimination against men.

On the Media :: Rethinking MLK Day

The downside of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy in the African-American is how his idea of masculinity is used against women and anyone who doesn’t fit into the perception of respectability.

Hidden Brain :: How Science Spreads: Smallpox, Stomach Ulcers, And ‘The Vegetable Lamb Of Tartary’

This episode focuses on the way in which scientific ideas spread and how they are accepted within communities.  It focuses on the dissemination of misinformation, but also how it is a necessity that we accept scientific ideas without having individually tested them.  I was particularly intrigued to learn about Mary Wortley Montagu, who spread the idea of smallpox inoculation in 18th century England, around the same time Cotton Mather was doing so in Boston.  Rather unfairly, I hadn’t heard her story before.

Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Album Review: Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten

AlbumRemind Me Tomorrow
ArtistSharon Van Etten
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Told You Everything
  • No One’s Easy To Love
  • Comeback Kid
  • You Shadow


Van Etten’s first album in five years features folk song arrangements over synthesizers with lots of oscallation and distortion. The effect is atmospheric and emotionally piercing, especially the lyrics the focus on surviving trauma, falling in love again, and muddling through the ever-messy present. This is a terrific work that is worth multiple listens.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Angola

Author: Jose Eduardo Agualusa
TitleA General Theory of Oblivion
Translator:  Daniel Hahn
Publication Info: London : Harvill Secker, [2015]

This book tells the story of Ludo, a Portuguese woman living in the Angolan capital of Luanda. When a revolution achieves independence for Angola in 1975, Ludo does not join the crowd of colonizers returning to Portugal, but instead bricks herself into a penthouse apartment, surviving on self-grown vegetables and trapped pigeons.  There she remains for 30 years, as Angola suffers Civil War and its original Leftist government falls to one more welcoming of capitalism.

The novel is written more as a series of vignettes, short chapters of sparse text reflecting the isolation of Ludo and other characters, physically and metaphorically.  There are other storylines in the novel outside Ludo’s apartment, which may be things that Ludo is aware from hearing out her window, or memories of earlier days, or just other people’s stories.  It’s never really clear.  And Ludo isn’t completely alone for 30 years as she has encounters with two other people over that time, one that goes poorly, and one much better, but I won’t spoil that here.

A General Theory of Oblivion is an interesting and challenging novel.  For Around the World for a Good Book purposes it also a good introduction to Angola’s history since independence.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Brave (2012)

Release Date: June 22, 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Production Company: Walt Disney Picture / Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar’s story of a rebellious Scottish princess is another instant classic.  Merida enjoys a life where she can spend her time on horse riding and archery and has no interest in her parents’ expectations that she marry a suitor from of the kingdom’s three clans.  The story is very familiar, and one true to life to feudal societies, but it is all a frame to the much more relatable struggles of a her girl with her mother.

Seeking to change Queen Elinor’s mind, Merida asks the help of a hilarious witch – er, wood carver – whose tricky solution is to literally transform Elinor into a bear.  Girl and bear then must face various challenges together that bring them closer together and better understand the other’s point of view.

In addition to a satisfying story, this movie also has a ton of humor, including the comical body movements of characters like King Fergus, Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers, the aforementioned witch, and Elinor’s efforts to learn to be a bear.  It’s also beautifully animated and I was stunned when freezing the movie how lifelike the scene appeared.

If you are like me and haven’t seen Brave up until now, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

Author:Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
TitleThe Only Rule Is It Has to Work
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne  and John Pruden
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2016)

A pair of stats geeks with a podcast are given the opportunity to run a baseball team to see if they can test the concepts of sabermetrics – the empirical analysis of baseball – in a real world setting.  The team they get to try this on is the 2015 Sonoma Stompers who play in the low-level independent league, the Pacific Association.  They face challenges of having a manager and players go along with their unorthodox suggestions for playing baseball, as well finding talented players to sign to the team, since the Pacific Association doesn’t attract the best talent.  To surprise of many, the Stompers do very well, dominating the league in the first half.  The authors are honest enough to admit that it wasn’t always their ideas that contributed to the overall success.  But success has its downside as it leads to many of the Stompers’ best players getting signed to contracts on teams in better leagues, leaving the Stompers weakened for the second half and postseason. Nevertheless, I did find myself drawn into their account and caring very deeply about how the Stompers would do that season.  The book is an interesting case study of putting sabermetrics into action and the real life challenges it may face, as well as just being an interesting baseball story.

Recommended booksThe Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan, Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis
Rating: ***1/2