Monthly Mixtape – February 2019


Billie Eilish :: Bury a Friend

A creepy song written from the perspective of the monster under the bed by a 17-year-old singer/songwriter from Los Angeles.

Gato Preto ::  Mendinga Carnival feat. Lusafro Allstars

The duo of the producer Lee Bass and rapper/singer Gata Misteriosa are joined by lusophone (Portuguese speaking) artists from Africa in this celebration of the creole culture of Cape Verde.

Chaka Khan :: Like Sugar

The Queen of Funk is back with a spectacular new album, Hello Happiness, with this terrific lead single.

Hatchie :: Without a Blush

Australian singer/songwriter Hatchie, a.k.a. Harriette Pilbeam, returns with the lead single from her new album of dream pop, Keepsake, due in June.

Ex Hex :: Cosmic Cave

Mary Timony’s Ex Hex returns five years after their classic album Rips, with the lead single off of It’s Real, which is due in March.

The Prizefighters :: Just Let the Music Play

The warmth of this sleepy ska tune belies the fact that The Prizefighters are from chilly Minnesota.

Shana Cleveland :: The Face of the Sun

Los Angeles-based Shana Cleveland is singer/songwriter with ethereal vocals and dreamy instrumentals.

Sol :: The Kids

Seattle hip hop artist Sol raps about police violence and their victims, the kids.


Previous Mixtapes:

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2019)


TitleUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 4, part 2
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

The final six episodes of the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are technically part of the 4th season, but tonaly are different from the six episodes released last summer.  I was disappointed by the mediocrity of the first half of season 4, but the final 6 are something of a return to form.  Perhaps it’s not as strong as the series was in its first three season, but they’ve avoided the unfunny mean-spiritedness that marred last summer’s episodes. A highlight of the season is an episode that parodies the movie Sliding Doors and shows all the characters’ alternate lives in a way that’s funny and actual develops the characters too.  All in all, this is a satisfactory farewell to a great tv show that may have overstayed its welcome.

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
TitleThe Also People
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor takes Benny, Roz, and Chris on vacation to the Worldsphere, a world populated by the technologically advanced, utopians society of The People.  In addition to the advanced People – who can change their shape and gender – the Worldsphere is populated with sentient artificial lifeforms, including God (who got its name as a joke from watching over the Worldsphere), ships, drones, and even tables, bathtubs, and parachutes.

Because The People are so technologically advanced they have a nonaggression treaty with the Time Lords that prevents them from developing time travel.  The Doctor and God are friendly but also don’t trust one another and dance around a lot of tensions.  And despite saying the visit to the Worldsphere is a holiday, the Doctor also has ulterior motives involving an old frenemy, and a difficult decision for Benny.  When a drone is murdered, the Doctor also volunteers to investigate the crime, and Roz is key in using her skills in the procedural story.

The Also People is inspired by a science-fiction series called the Culture by Iain M. Banks.  I’m not at all familiar with Banks’ work, but it does appear to be another example of Doctor Who crashing into another genre and making another story.

Rating: ****

Walt Disney Animated Features


With plans to visit Walt Disney World for winter break, I decided to see how many Walt Disney theatrical animated features I could watch that I hadn’t seen before.  I made a list which included every movie from the Walt Disney Animation Studios from 1937 to present, as well as every Pixar Animation Studios movie from 1995 to present.  I did not include Disneytoons (mostly direct-to-video sequels but also some theatrical releases), films co-produced with other studios (like Studio Ghibli and Tim Burton), and hybrid live-action/animated films (such as Song of the South, Mary Poppins, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).

My list is below, with movies I’ve seen at least once in bold, and if I’ve written a review for this blog, I’ve included a link and a star rating. One day I will complete this list, but I’m going to take a breather for now.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio ***1/2
Fantasia
Dumbo – ***
Bambi – ***1/2
Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Cinderella
Alice in Wonderland – **
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp – ***
Sleeping Beauty
One Hundred and One Dalmatians – ****1/2
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Aristocats
Robin Hood – **
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers – ****
The Fox and the Hound ****
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Oliver & Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under – **1/2
Beauty and the Beast ****
Aladdin
The Lion King
Pocahontas – **
Toy Story
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hercules – ***
Mulan – ***
A Bug’s Life
Tarzan – ***
Toy Story 2
Fantasia 2000
Dinosaur
The Emperor’s New Groove**1/2
Atlantis: The Lost Empire**
Monsters, Inc. – *****
Lilo & Stitch ****1/2
Treasure Planet
Finding Nemo – *****
Brother Bear
Home on the Range
The Incredibles – ****
Chicken Little
Cars
Meet the Robinsons
Ratatouille – ****
WALL-E ****
Bolt***1/2
Up – *****
The Princess and the Frog – ***
Toy Story 3
Tangled – ****
Cars 2 **1/2
Winnie the Pooh – ***1/2
Brave – ****1/2
Wreck-It Ralph***1/2
Monsters University – **1/2
Frozen – ****
Big Hero 6 – ****
Inside Out – ****
The Good Dinosaur
Zootopia – ****
Finding Dory
Moana – ****
Cars 3
Coco – ****
Incredibles 2 – ***
Ralph Breaks the Internet

Movie Review: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)


TitleThe Rescuers Down Under
Release Date: November 16, 1990
Director:  Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

There are a lot of interesting facts about The Rescuers Down Under:

  • it’s the first animated theatrical film sequel produced by Disney
  • it was released right in the midst of the Disney Renaissance but harkens back to the previous era
  • it was the first Disney film to be completed completely digitally without using a camera
  • part of the digital effects involved bringing Pixar, the first time Pixar and Disney collaborated

Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly engaging movie and doesn’t stand up well next to The Rescuers.  The animation is distinctly different and one of the movie’s strongest points, especially the opening tracking shot and the scenes of Cody flying on the back of Marahuté. Cody is kind of an Australian Christopher Robin who can organize groups of animals but isn’t a particularly compelling character.  The villainous poacher McLeach is another over-the-top Disney villain whose role is to be the scapegoat for humanity’s villainy in the film’s environmental message.  At least his pet monitor lizard Joanna is funny and entertaining.

There isn’t much story here and the movie goes off on odd tangents.  John Candy’s albatross character Wilbur is featured in a lengthy scene where is he trapped in a hospital run by mice who want to perform surgery on him without consent.  It’s a weird and annoying scene.  Another long scene shows Cody leading a team of imprisoned animals to get the keys to their escape, but this scene goes nowhere, and then we never see the other animals again (it feels like a later scene must’ve been cut).

The biggest flaw is that we just don’t get to spend much time with Bernard and Miss Bianca.  The scenes where they are onscreen are the strongest, with Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor showing great chemistry, but these scenes are few and far between.

Rating: **1/2

 

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)


TitleWreck-It Ralph
Release Date: November 2, 2012
DirectorRich Moore
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Wreck-It Ralph does for video games what Toy Story did for toys, depicting the life of what arcade game characters do when no one is playing.  Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a character modeled on Donkey Kong, except he’s a big human rather than a big gorilla, who smashes things up until the hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer), comes to save the day.  Feeling slighted that he’s not invited to Felix’s party for the 30th anniversary of the game, Ralph leaves the game to seek a medal that shows he can be a hero too.

Ralph ends up in a hyper-violent first-person shooter game called Hero’s Duty, where he’s able to get a medal, but also picks up a dangerous Cy-Bug.  Entering an escape pod, Ralph and the Cy-Bug are launched into another game, Sugar Rush, a go-kart race game set in a land of candy.  There Ralph meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a character who is an outsider in Sugar Rush due to glitches that make her teleport.  At first adversarial, Ralph and Vanellope team up and become friends, working together so that they can each find acceptance in their games.  Reilly and Silverman (and the animators) deserve a lot of credit for making the scenes between the two so heart-wrenching.

While not a particularly original story, Wreck-It Ralph has strong characters, brilliant visuals, and a lot of heart.  There are also a lot of gags and cameos that should be a treat for long-time gamers. There’s also some nice touches in giving the characters from older games some 8-bit flourishes even in the CGI animation. There’s also a scene of body horror featuring King Candy (Alan Tudyk, channelling Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter) that challenges Judge Doom falling into the vat of dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for Disney-induced nightmare fodder, so be warned.  Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is another quality family film from Disney.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Bolt (2008)


Title: Bolt
Release Date: November 21, 2008
Director: Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Bolt is a unapreciated gem from the Walt Disney Animation Studios.  The story is about Bolt, a German Shepherd (voiced by John Travolta), who stars in an action-adventure tv series as a bioengineered dog working with his teenaged owner, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus, and by the way, nice trick of getting teen idols of different eras working together).  The conceit of the movie is that the entire production crew treat Bolt as if he is a dog with super powers in order to get the most natural performance from him. In this sense, it’s basically a doggy version of The Truman Show.

When Bolt escapes from his trailer in Hollywood and accidentally mailed to New York City he must find his way back home.  Helping him in this The Incredible Journey type of story is a cynical but tender-hearted alley cat, Mittens (Susie Essman), and the energetic hamster, Rhino (Mark Walton), who recognizes and reveres Bolt as a superdog from watching the tv show.  Along the journey, Mittens has to convince Bolt that he’s an ordinary dog – reminiscent of Woody convincing Buzz that he’s a toy – but with heartwarming scenes of Mittens teaching Bolt to enjoy regular dog things.

I’ve pointed out some similarities that Bolt shares with other movies, but even where Bolt feels familiar, it pieces these elements together in a fresh way.  It’s also a very funny movie, I particularly like the recurring pigeon characters.  In many ways it feels more like a Pixar film of that era (it came out not too long after Ratatouille), than a Disney Animation film of that same period, and perhaps would’ve been better received if it was released as a Pixar movie.  Perhaps not surprisingly this is also the first movie developed after former Pixar chief John Lasseter had control over all of Disney’s animation studios.  And it can’t be denied that Lasseter had good judgement in making movies, even if he is a lousy person who sexually violated his employees (good riddance!).

If you like funny and heartwarming family films, and you like heroic dogs, you can’t go wrong with Bolt.

Rating: ***1/2

Two Sentence Album Reviews


Album: Temporal
Artist: Julia Kent
Release Date: January 25, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Last Hour Story, Sheared
Thoughts: Canadian cellist and composer Julia Kent creates atmospheric pieces with repeated melodies, drones, and tape loops.  The result is cinematic scores for films that don’t exist, and an odd ASMR response.
Rating: ****


Album: amo
Artist: Bring Me The Horizon
Release Date: January 25, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Ouch
Thoughts: What if heavy metal was mixed with electronic dance music? Would the result be satisfying to fans of either genre? Also, Grimes.
Rating: **


AlbumSiku
Artist: Nicola Cruz
Release Date: January 25, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Arka, Siete, Señor de las Piedras,

Thoughts: Electronic music may also be combined with folk musics, in this case the music of Ecuador.  Cruz adeptly brings together traditional drums and wind instruments – the siku of the album’s title – with electronic drones and rhythms.
Rating: ****


Album: 7 Directions
Artist: Nkisi
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Favorite Tracks: III, IV
Thoughts: Congolese-born, London-based DJ Nkisi offers another take on electronic music.  Sounds and rhythms build, pulsate, and swirl with no resolution on seven tracks numbered “I” through “VII.”
Rating: ****


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Movie Review: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)


TitleOne Hundred and One Dalmatians
Release Date: January 25, 1961
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske,  and Clyde Geronimi
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

One Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of the few Disney movies I actually saw as a child. I remember liking it at the time but didn’t know if it would hold to watching it as an adult.  I was wrong.  After rewatching One Hundred and One Dalmatians, I think it’s one of my favorite Disney animated films of all time.

The movie starts off awkwardly as Pongo the Dalmatian examines women to determine which one is attractive enough to pair off with his “pet” Roger.  He then arranges a meet cute with Anita and her Dalmatian Perdita, and they all settle into a happy domesticity.  These bits and some casual sexism throughout the movie are really the only places it loses points.  The rest is creative, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable.

After Perdita gives birth to 15 puppies, Cruella De Vil storms in and tries to buy them, and when refused by Roger, has them abducted.  I’ve written about how some Disney villains are too one-dimensional and over the top, but if you’re going to take that approach, you do it like Cruella.  She’s just so ridiculously evil and singularly focused on killing puppies to make dog skin coats, that it just works.

A part of the movie that I remember from when I was a child is the twilight bark.  It actually takes up a significant portion of the middle part of the movie, and I don’t think they’d spend that much time on it in a modern-day movie.  But I’m glad they did as it sets up a transition from the domestic scenes to the comedy crime caper portion.  Pongo and Perdita walk from London to Suffolk (that’s 100 miles, I checked on Google Maps) to find their lost puppies and then find 84 more!  Hijinks ensue, and even my preteen boy was laughing and said “this is awesome” under his breath.

Everything just seems to click in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and I said before it’s among the Walt Disney company’s best work.

Some other thoughts:

  • I like how the characters spend so much time watching television, especially since the tv shows tell hilarious stories in their own right.  The puppies watch a Western show about a heroic sheriff dog and the dog-napping henchman what a game show called “What’s My Crime.”
  • Near the end of the movie Roger’s song about Cruella De Vil is playing on the radio, perhaps the first wide release of a diss track.
  • There’s a cow named Princess.  She should be included with the other Disney Princesses, henceforth!
  • In a movie about dogs, Sergeant Tibbs the tabby cat is the real MVP.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: American Passage: The History Of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato


Author: Vincent J. Cannato
TitleAmerican Passage: The History Of Ellis Island
Narrator: Jonathan Hogan
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2009)
Summary/Review:

American Passage offers a comprehensive history of Ellis Island from the 1890s to today.  Cannato’s thesis is that the history of Ellis Island as an immigration inspection station parallels the history of American attempts to restrict immigration.  Prior to Ellis Island opening in 1892, there had been few restrictions against immigration in United States history, with the Chinese Exclusion Act of a decade earlier being the first major restriction legislated by the Federal government.

The opening of Ellis Island itself was part of a Federal immigration reform effort that began with taking over the state immigration inspection station at Castle Garden in 1890.  The move to Ellis Island was prompted by three factors.  One, the need for an isolated location to screen passengers for infectious diseases.  Two, to isolate newly arrived immigrants from the scam artists who gathered around Castle Garden. And three, to similarily keep immigration agents seperate from the temptation of bribery and corruption that occurred in lower Manhattan.

While the earliest exclusions of immigrants were for disease and disability, movements soon grew to agitate for greater restrictions on immigration, often based on prejudice and fearmongering.  Immigrant aid societies often stood up to defend immigrants, there were also a good number of naturalized citizens and descendants of immigrants who saw the current immigrants as inferior.  Much of the discrimination was against immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Laws would be made to exclude immigrants based on political beliefs, the suspicion that an immigrant would become a “public charge,” eugenic ideas of intelligence, and moral turpitude.  Major politicians in both parties seemed to straddle the line between welcoming immigrants and stricter restrictions.  Interestingly, three consecutive Presidents (Roosevelt, Taft, & Wilson) ended up vetoing one of the anti-immigrant crusaders greatest desires, a literacy test. Another interesting reform proposal was to create equality by having all immigrants – not just those from steerage – screened at Ellis Island, but was quickly shot down by the elites from first and second class who did not want to mingle with their “inferiors.”

It should be noted that despite all these efforts to restrict immigration, only 2% of the arrivals at Ellis Island were denied entry.  The lack of staff and resources meant that the flood of immigrants passing through each day received only cursory inspection.  And many of the agents were sympathetic to the new arrivals and did not follow the regulations to the letter of the law.  When eugenecists were conducting research on Ellis Island, the immigration station’s doctors were angered that their research interpreted that natural confusion of immigrants in a stressful situation as a sign of inferior intellectual capacity.

By 1924, the anti-immigration forces pushed quota acts through Congress, ending mass immigration. Around this time, the numbers immigrants crossing the borders of Mexico and Canada began to surpass those entering through New York.  Requiring potential immigrants to go through screening at American consulates in their country of origin, also slowed the number of new arrivals.

For its final three decades of operation, Ellis Island served primarily as a detention center.  Noted anarchist Emma Goldman spent her last days in America at Ellis Island before deportation.  Suspected Axis sympathizers – primarily German-American – were rounded up in the early days of the United States entry into World War II.  During the Cold War it would hold communists, or those suspected of communist sympathies.  Ellis Island closed as an immigration and detention center in 1954 as the United States entered into a period of low immigration.

The buildings on Ellis Island fell to ruin over the ensuing decades with various proposals for what to do with the island put forth from time to time.  One of the more interesting ideas came from an organization of African American capitalists who hoped to use the island as a utopian community to help recovering addicts and criminals prosper by producing goods for sale.  The Nixon administration gave a lot of support to the idea as a way that Republicans could make connections with Blacks in a way that was opposite to the Great Society reforms.

Ellis Island would eventually be renovated as kind of a side project of Lee Iacocca’s public-private partnership to renovate the Statue of Liberty for its centennial in 1986.  Cannato discusses the efforts to make a proper museum and shrine that places Ellis Island in its proper historical context.  The idea that immigration is a shared part of American heritage is one that is questioned by people descended from indigenous peoples, those brought to America by force and enslaved, and even Anglo-Saxon Americans who see their ancestors as “settlers” rather than immigrants.

I thought this book was an interesting overview of Ellis Island, although it does have a top down focus.  Cannato offers a lot of detail about the careers of the directors of Ellis Island and the actions of various politicians and elites from Presidents on down.  I would like to also read a book that offers more of the perspective of immigrants passing through Ellis Island, and those detained for longer periods, as well as the everyday employees.  I think that would make a good complement to this otherwise excellent history.

Recommended booksThe Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice by Chad Millman, Five Points by Tyler Anbinder
Rating: ****