Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020
Anthropocene Reviewed :: You’ll Never Walk Alone and Jerzy Dudek
John Green analyzes a show tune that has become a beloved soccer anthem, and the performance of a Polish goalkeeper in 2005.
Code Switch :: A Decade Of Watching Black People Die
The murders, the videos, the outrage, the hashtags – the pattern of Black people murdered by cops and vigilantes is unsettlingly familiar. When will it move beyond a grim voyeurism towards actual justice?
The Last Archive :: The Invisible Lady
The story of a sideshow attraction in 1804 New York expands into a wider analysis of the invisibility of women in public life.
Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Makin’ Whoopee
The history of novelty toys, specifically the Whoopee Cushion, and why we find the sounds of farts funny.
Title: Brother Bear
Release Date: November 1, 2003
Director: Aaron Blaise | Robert Walker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation
The period of around 2000 to 2009 was an odd one for Walt Disney Feature Animation. After the Disney Renaissance era where every film release was a major event, this decade saw the release of several movies that had next to no cultural impact. This era produced one unqualified classic in Lilo & Stitch, but most of the movies I’ve watched thus far are either ambitious but flawed (The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Bolt) or obvious duds (Home on the Range, Chicken Little). I keep hoping to discover a lost classic, and while Brother Bear doesn’t quite achieve that, it is a diamond in the rough.
Set among the Inuit people at the end of the Ice Ages, it tells the story of Kenai, the youngest of three brothers. Kenai comes of age and his tribal leader gives him the totem of a bear representing love. Kenai objects to this totem feeling he’s called to better things. Shortly afterward, in a conflict with a grizzly bear, Kenai’s oldest brother Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) falls to his death. Seeking revenge on the bear, The Spirits along with Sitka in the form of his totem, a bald eagle, transform Kenai into a bear.
Kenai is rescued from a bear trap by a chatty bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez), and they join together to seek the salmon run near the spot where Kenai was transformed. Pixar seemed to pilfer Brother Bear when they made The Good Dinosaur, as both movies feature an odd pairing on a journey of self-discovery across a beautifully animated primeval North American landscape. Brother Bear is a much better movie though. While some of the themes of Kenai finding his way to love and respect bears, and become a brother to Koda, are quite obvious, I was nevertheless surprised by the ending. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas also appear as a comic duo of moose channeling Bob and Doug MacKenzie.
While an enjoyable and heartwarming film, I feel it would’ve been better if like the later Disney film Moana, more indigenous people were involved in the voice cast and creation of the story. I also didn’t think Phil Collins’ musical score was suited to the story. Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch.
Title: Back to the Future, Part III
Release Date: May 25, 1990
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
The finale of the Back to the Future trilogy picks up with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) accidentally being sent back in time to 1885 and Marty is stranded in 1955. Doc is able to leave a message for Marty telling him where the time machine is hidden and Marty gets 1955 Doc help him restore it to working order. Learning that Doc will be shot dead in 1885, Marty decides to go back in time to save him.
In 1885, Marty gets caught up in various Western tropes and discovers that Doc is a successful blacksmith (which he uses as a cover for steampunk-style technology). Lacking fuel for the DeLorean, Marty and Doc work on a plan to have a railroad engine push the car up to 88 miles per hour. Meanwhile, Doc falls in love with the scientifically-minded school teacher, Clara (Mary Steenburgen) and they have to avoid a showdown with Biff’s great-grandfather, an outlaw named Buford (Thomas F. Wilson). Marty also meets his own great-grandparents, Irish immigrant farmers played by Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson.
Despite being set in the rowdy Old West, Part III feels gentler and less violent than Part II. With only one primary setting the story feels more focused and less gimmicky. This movie still doesn’t hold a candle to the first movie, but it has its charms and humor, and it definitely shows the growth of Marty and Doc’s friendship.
If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a new album review since last year. When New Years Day arrived, I thought about how I wanted to make my album reviews more interesting and more meaningful. I came up with the idea that I would listen more and write less. That is I would listen to lots of albums several times and then write about the ones that moved me the most.
With my focus drawn to reviewing movies, writing my A to Z Challenge posts, and the various distractions of the pandemic and isolation, I’ve ended up not writing a single album review in 2020! To address that I’ve culled some titles from various “Best of 2020, so far” lists as well as suggestions from friends on social media. I plan to listen through all these albums and then write and post 1 to 3 album reviews each Friday in June.
If you have any suggestions of any albums I should add to the list, let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to give it a listen.
Tony Allen, Hush Masekela – Rejoice
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
The Ballroom Thieves – Unlovely
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
Vanessa Carlton – Love Is An Art
CocoRosie – Put the Shine On
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Halsey – Manic
Indigo Girls – Look Long
Kvelertak – Splid
Moon Hooch – Life on Other Planets
Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
Jonah Mutono – GERG
Pinegrove – Marigold
Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Pert Near Sandstone – Castles in the Air
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
Sparks – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
SPECTRES – Nostalgio
Moses Sumney – Grae
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Temple
U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Another month in isolation, and music becomes even more important for lifting our spirits and connecting us to our shared humanity. Here are some of the best new songs I heard this month.
Jónsi :: Exhale
Nick Leng :: Music to Clean the House to
Minimal Violence – RAVEBOMB
Ela Minus :: they told us it was hard, but they were wrong.
Mourning [A] BLKStar :: If I Can I May
Jonah Mutono :: The Low
Nation of Language :: Friend Machine
Samia :: Is There Something in the Movies?
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down :: Phenom
Bonus points for creating the first music video to draw on the pandemic stay at home experience by filming entirely in Zoom.
Title: Back to the Future, Part II
Release Date: November 22, 1989
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
Having recently visited one of my all-time favorite films, Back to the Future, I felt it was time after 30+ years to finally watch the two sequels for the first time. Picking up from the end of Part I, but refilmed shot for shot because Marty McFly’s (Michael J. Fox) girlfriend Jennifer had been recast with Elisabeth Shue. Not that it proved to be all that vital because Jennifer will be knocked unconcious and left abandoned in various places for most of these two films. This literal setting aside of a woman character is one of the many odious mistakes of this movie.
As I knew well from previews, Marty and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) end up in the year 2015 where they have to solve a problem with Marty and Jennifer’s children. It’s actually solved fairly easy in scenes which recreate iconic 1955 scenes in a futuristic setting but not as funny. This repetition of classic bits from the first film will be another big flaw of this movie.
What I didn’t know about this movie is that only a small portion is set in 2015. Upon returning to 1985, Marty and Doc discover that Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) used the DeLorean to travel back to 1955 and give a sports almanac to his younger self. This creates an alternate timeline where Biff is a Trump-like billionaire who has turned Hill Valley into a dystopian hellscape. This portion of the film is extremely dark and unexpectedly violent.
Marty and Doc determine that to set things right they have to return yet again to 1955 and destroy the sports almanac. They also have to avoid interfering with the other versions of themselves as scenes from the first movie play out in the background of this story. It all seems kind of lazy and the funniest parts are the scenes from the first movie.
Apart from the problems already cited, there are two other flaws to this movie. First, Marty suddenly has a character flaw that he is unable to back down when someone calls him “chicken.” This is very contrived for a “Marty learns a big fat lesson” subplot. Second, this movie has way too much Biff. Tom Wilson is very funny as a bully antagonist in the original movie, but here we have him playing middle age Biff in 1985, Old Biff and his grandson Griff in 2015, alternate universe megalomaniac Biff, and young Biff in 1955. The character is just too one-note to be elevated to a leading role in the movie.
The movie does have a good cliffhanger ending though, and it sets up what I would so learn is a much better conclusion to trilogy.
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Title: The Age of Miracles
Narrator: Emily Janice Card
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012)
This novel offers a speculative account of the crisis that occurs when the rotation of the Earth slows, lengthening the periods of daylight and nighttime. This incident is referred to by the characters in the book as The Slowing, and it has the effect of causing birds to die off, an increase of solar radiation, a complete inability to grow traditional crops, and even causing some people to contract an illness.
While the premise is fantastical, the way the fictional American society responds to the crisis is realistic. The US government determines that the country will continue to follow the 24-hour clock regardless of what time the sun is shining or not. Some people rebel against this, insisting on living on “real time,” even going so far as forming their own separatist communities.
The narrator/protagonist of the novel is a junior high school girl from suburban San Diego named Julia. From her perspective we see the dissolution of the social order among her family, friends, and school. Any attempts to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence are overshadowed by the crisis that prevents any sense of predictability in the world. Julia narrates from an uncertain future while the narrative focuses on the first few months of the slowing as Julia faces changing friendships and an emerging relationship with a long-time crush.
This novel is dark and emotional and all too real to be reading at this time.
- The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Title: The Lavender Hill Mob
Release Date: 28 June 1951
Director: Charles Crichton
Production Company: Ealing Studios
The Lavender Hill Mob is an Ealing Studios comedy starring Alec Guinness, much like Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955), and directed by Charles Chrichton, who later directed A Fish Called Wanda (1988).
Guinness plays Henry Holland, a fastidious bank clerk who spends twenty years in charge of transfers of gold bullion. While known for his honesty, he’s in fact playing a long game to steal the bullion. The only problem he faces is how to smuggle the bullion abroad so that he can sell it. The solution comes when he meets a new boarder at his boarding house, Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), who runs a foundry that produces souvenirs for the export market. The two men come up with a plan to steal the bullion, melt it down, make it into Eiffel Tower paperweights, and then ship it to France.
Things, of course, go very wrong. But the way they go wrong and how the characters react is where the humor lies. As an added bonus, much of this film was shot on location in London and Paris. We get to see London still bearing the damage of World War II, and a stunning sequence where Henry and Alfred run down the circular staircase of the Eiffel Tour. It all makes for an enjoyable, laugh out loud film with many twists right up to the conclusion.
Author: Elan Mastai
Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Narrator: Elan Mastai
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
All Our Wrong Todays takes the idea of the dystopian alternate universe and it turns it on its head. In this novel, OUR universe is the dystopia where the narrator/protagonist Tom Barren ends up after a time travel experiment goes wrong. In his world, the invention of a machine that provides unlimited clean energy in 1965 has lead to five decades of remarkable technological advancement, peace, and prosperity.
The great twist in this book is that Barren (known as John Barren in our world) is actually much better off in our timeline. A loser in his world, he’s a successful architect in ours. His father is an aloof genius in his world, but a loving dad in ours. His mother is dead in his timeline but alive in ours. He even has a younger sister who he’s very close to in our timeline.
Tom is faced with the struggle of knowing that he is responsible for changing history to our timeline with pollution, inequality, and war, and inadvertently making billions of lives nonexistent, but also wanting to cling what he’s gained in our world, especially the love of a woman named Penny. Be warned that Tom is kind of a terrible person, and an unsympathetic character, but stick with it as his self-awareness is a strength.
This is an enjoyable and creative novel, and honestly I couldn’t stop listening to it once I started the audiobook.
“The problem with knowing people too well is that their words stop meaning anything and their silences start meaning everything.”
Title: The Sword in the Stone
Release Date: December 25, 1963
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
The Sword in the Stone is an animated adaptation of T.H. White’s first novel based on Arthurian Literature (his work also inspired Camelot a few years earlier). The Disney version distills the rich and detailed novel down to a few scenes in which Merlin becomes the tutor for Wart (young Arthur) and turns him into fish, squirrel, and a sparrow to teach him lessons. The standout scene of the movie is a hilarious wizard’s duel between Merlin and the evil Madam Mim.
As a child, I disliked this movie because it was such a poor adaptation of the novel I loved. As an adult, I am more forgiving and can see the movie’s charm and humor. Still, I think The Sword and the Stone is below Disney standards. The limited animation style betrays the possibilities for the fantastical worlds of Arthurian England. And while Wart’s voice is suitably preteen, it’s odd that he is the only character with an American actor while being voiced interchangeably by three actors.