Title: The Mitchells vs. the Machines Release Date: April 23, 2021 Director: Mike Rianda Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Sony Pictures Animation | Lord Miller Productions | One Cool Films Summary/Review:
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a misfit kid who finds her passion in filmmaking and is excited to begin attending film school in California. She’s often in conflict with her overprotective father Rick (Danny McBride) who doesn’t understand her artistic and technological interests. In order to promote family bonding, Rick decides to take the whole family – including mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and dinosaur obsessed little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) – on a cross-country drive to college. While they’re en route, the Apple/Facebook-style company PAL introduces robot assistants who immediately rebel against humanity. Only the Mitchell’s avoid capture and it’s up to them to fight the robot menace and come together as a family.
Overall, this movie feels very familiar (it’s the same basic plot of Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg-Nick Frost’s Cornetto trilogy) and has a lot of gags similar to other recent animated family adventures. The Mitchells have a funny car and a funny dog. And there’s deadpan dialogue like the PAL tech CEO saying ““It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.” Despite the lack of originality the movie is very sweet and has some good, funny bits. The animation is fluid and for added effects, other types of animation are overlaid on the computer animation. Extra points for LGBTQ+ representation in the movie’s protagonist by having Katie be gay without that being a controversy in her family or playing into a romantic storyline. This is a good, fun movie suitable for the whole family.
Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young Album: Déjà Vu Year: 1970 Label: Epic Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“Teach Your Children”
Thoughts: I tend to like the 1969 debut album of Crosby, Stills, & Nash more than this first album with Young added, but we’ll get to that later in the list. This album rocks more than the jangly folk pop sound of its predecessor, and it has most of the big hits that CSN & sometimes Y are known for. And it’s certainly better than any albums created by any combination of those letters after 1970!
Artist: Raekwon Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Year: 1995 Label: Loud/RCA Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Favorite Tracks:
“Rainy Dayz” (featuring Ghostface Killah and Blue Raspberry)
Thoughts: I really missed the boat on the whole Wu-Tang Clan thing and its various offshoots back in the 90s. And I’m learning from this list that I probably had to be there.
Artist: TLC Album: CrazySexyCool Year: 1994 Label: LaFace Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Favorite Tracks:
“If I Was Your Girlfriend”
Thoughts: I was also not listening to R&B girl groups in the 90s. There was one track on this album that I really liked because it sounds like a Prince song. That is because it is in fact a Prince song. Kudos to the TLC vocalist for sounding so much like Prince.
Artist: Oasis Album: Definitely Maybe Year: 1994 Label: EPic Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks:
“Cigarettes & Alcohol”
Thoughts: I remember (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? being a big huge deal in 1995, but Oasis were not on my radar a year earlier when their debut album came out. Listening to it now, it sounds well-crafted but ultimately I feel “meh” about it.
Artist: Elliot Smith Album: Either/Or Year: 1997 Label: Kill Rock Stars Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: I want to say that I’ve also never heard Elliot Smith before, but three of these tracks are in the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. So I’ve heard them but they don’t leave much of an impression. Smith sounds kind of like a proto-Sufjan Stevens to me, but without the ethereal nature of Stevens’ vocals.
Artist: Grateful Dead Album: American Beauty Year: 1970 Label: Warner Bros. Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“Friend of the Devil”
“Attics of My Life”
Thoughts: The Grateful Dead probably deserve a better representation of their work on this list than the two albums on this list. But they are the most accessible albums with their biggest “hits.” And I’ll always love the guy who sings really in the high voice on “Attics of My Life.”
Artist: Tom Petty Album: Wildflowers Year: 1994 Label: Warner Bros. Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: The title track is one of those songs that just about everyone loves regardless of their feelings otherwise of Tom Petty. The rest of the album doesn’t do much of me. I’m surprised that this is the highest ranking of Petty’s albums with or without the Heartbreakers.
Artist: Fiona Apple Album: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do Year: 2012 Label: Epic Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: Fiona Apple is another artist I’m really learning to appreciate through her many appearances on this list. I’m also beginning to notice some common tricks in her music. But I’m not tiring of them yet.
Artist: Nina Simone Album: Wild is the Wind Year: 1966 Label: Philips Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“I Love Your Lovin’ Ways”
“Break Down and Let it All Out”
“Either Way I Lose”
Thoughts: About 20 years ago I first learned of Nina Simone when “Mississippi Goddam” played on my clock radio when the alarm went off. The more I learn about Simone, the more I’m impressed by her talent and intensity.
Artist: Joy Division Album: Unknown Pleasures Year: 1980 Label: Factory Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: Before it was t-shirt, the cover of Unknown Pleasurescontained one of the great albums of the Punk Rock era. The album sounds like it could’ve been recorded by an indie band within the past decade, which is sign of either how far ahead of the time Joy Division was or how rock music has been frozen stylistically for some time.
Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again
500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
498. Suicide, Suicide
497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
487. Black Flag, Damaged
485. Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
483. Muddy Waters, The Anthology
482. The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
481. Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
478. The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
477. Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight
469.Manu Chao, Clandestino
465. King Sunny Adé, The Best of the Classic Years
464. The Isley Brothers, 3 + 3
462. The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin
459. Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day
457. Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
456. Al Green, Greatest Hits
455. Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
453. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
452. Diana Ross and the Supremes, Anthology
451. Roberta Flack, First Take
448. Otis Redding, Dictionary of Soul
446. Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidanada
444. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
443. David Bowie, Scary Monsters
440. Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter
439. James Brown, Sex Machine
438. Blur, Parklife
437. Primal Scream, Screamadelica
435. Pet Shop Boys, Actually
433. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
431. Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive?
430. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True
429. The Four Tops, Reach Out
428. Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising
427. Al Green, Call Me
426. Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams
425. Paul Simon, Paul Simon
424. Beck, Odelay
423. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
Title: Tokyo Godfathers Release Date: November 8, 2003 Director: Satoshi Kon Production Company: Madhouse Summary/Review:
It’s Christmas in Tokyo and the snow is falling. A trio of homeless people find an abandoned baby in the trash and their attempts to care for her lead them into a fantastical adventure. Each segment of the movie leads to a spectacular coincidence, which is usually an annoying element in filmmaking to me, but in this movie it works because of the time put into developing the characters. The leader of the trio is Gin (Tooru Emori), an aging alcoholic who left his wife and daughter decades earlier because he had run up too many debts. Hana (Yoshiaki Umegami) is the heart of the trio, a transgender woman who sees the baby as a miracle and names her Kiyoko. The youngest member is Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) a teenager who ran away from her controlling father.
The movie is very sweet with the three homeless people and the baby making a pseudo-family in a story that reflects the Christian story of the first Christmas. Subtly and effectively the movie deals with themes of poverty and inequality, crime, and mental illness. It also has great humor and scenes of adventure.
Author: Timothy Zahn Title: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good Narrator: Marc Thompson Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2021 Summary/Review:
Picking up from Chaos Rising, Thrawn and his crew are cleaning up from the the last great threat to the Chiss Ascendancy. But a new threat appears in the form of the Agbui who work as kind of conmen to infiltrate Chiss society and gin up conflict among the ruling families with hopes of provoking a civil war. Caregiver Thalias, sky-walker Che’ri, Admiral Ar’alani, and of course, Thrawn return for this middle novel of the trilogy. But we also spend a lot of time with Captain Lakinda, an ambitious young officer from a minor family hoping to gain prestige for herself and her family. Since Thrawn is inept at dealing with family infighting and politics, a lot depends on her loyalty to her family or the Chiss. We also spend a lot of time with Haplif, the smarmy Agbui spy and his marks.
After reading so many Thrawn novels, I finally made the connection that Thrawn is a lot like Sherlock Holmes. He sees things that others cannot see and then explains it to the point of view characters. I like that this novel builds the world of the Chaos with seemingly a whole galaxy of planets and alien races seperate from the rest of the Star Wars universe (who it easy to forget are engaged in the Clone Wars at the same time as this novel). However, it does get a bit confusing keeping all the characters and the families, planets, races, et al straight, but I’m not the most attentive audiobook listener. Nevertheless, this is a fun and engaging story.
Title: Putney Swope Release Date: July 10, 1969 Director: Robert Downey Sr. Production Company: Herald Productions Summary/Review:
This independent satirical film from 1969 feels way ahead of its time but also incredibly dated in the way it deals with racial prejudice and sexual matters, not to mention its frequent deployment of profanity and nudity. After the death of the chairman of the board at New York City advertising firm, the board votes for a new leader with almost every member strategically selecting the board’s token Black member, Putney Swope since they can’t vote for themselves. Arnold Johnson portrays Swope, but his bizarre gravely voice is dubbed by the director Robert Downey, Sr. which immediately brings to mind the use of “white voice” in Sorry To Bother You.
The plot, as much as there is one, involves Swope firing all the white employees (except for a few tokens who are made to ride the freight elevator), replacing them with Black people and renaming the firm as Truth and Soul. Swope becomes more corrupt, firing employees wily-nily as he steals their ideas, eventually becoming a Fidel Castro-like tyrant. Meanwhile the U.S. President (played by a little person named Pepi Hermine) begins to maneuver against Truth and Soul as a threat to national security. All of this is intercut with the extremely surreal commercials created by the firm which are in full color while the rest of the movie is in black & white.
The movie is most interesting as an artifact of 1960s counterculture than anything that is rewarding to watch for entertainment or insight. The movie was clearly made by and for people using recreational drugs and watching this movie while sober means most of the jokes fell flat for me. Advertising is an easy target for parody and most of the jokes are more just raucous thumbing the nose at authority than anything insightful. Putney Swope was made about halfway between two great Hollywood satire films, Dr. Strangeloveand Network, and it has elements of each. But I find it is more of a forerunner for scattershot spoof movies of the 1970s like The Groove Tube and Kentucky Fried Movie.
Album: The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Artist: Valerie June Release Date: March 12, 2001 Label: June Tunes Music Favorite Tracks:
“You and I”
“Call Me a Fool [feat. Carla Thomas]”
Memphis-raised, Brooklyn-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Valerie June combines classic soul vocals with the instrumentation of folk and Appalachian music. She’s also not afraid to mix in some electronic beats from time to time. The result is music that sounds simultaneously timeless and contemporary. The legendary Carla Thomas, Queen of Memphis Soul, joins June on two tracks.
Title: Laura Release Date: October 11, 1944 Director: Otto Preminger Production Company: 20th Century Fox Summary/Review:
I first watched Laura about 25 years ago with a friend named Laura. I’ve long ago lost touch with her which is sad because she was a good person. This is irrelevant of course to the story of this film noir murder mystery. Like many film noir movies, the plot and the actions of its characters don’t make a lot of sense upon thinking about it. But sense is not important with the delivery of sparkling dialogue and camp theatricality delivered by its actors.
Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a young woman who works at a New York City advertising firm. Among the witnesses/suspects he interviews is Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a self-aggrandizing columnist who was Laura’s friend and svengali who was jealous of her attention to other men. One of those men was her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) who had been having an affair with Laura’s co-worker. Shelby is also a kept man to Laura’s socialite aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). As McPherson examines Laura’s personal effects and admires her oil portrait, it appears that he is falling in love with the dead woman.
Laura is full of twists and turns and mostly some terrific outlandish performances by Webb and Price. It’s a great example of Classic Hollywood at its wackiest.
Title: The World’s End Release Date: 19 July 2013 Director: Edgar Wright Production Company: Relativity Media | StudioCanal | Working Title Films | Big Talk Pictures | Dentsu Summary/Review: After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is the third in the trilogy of Three Flavours Cornetto genre comedies directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Pegg plays Gary King, a 40-year-old manchild whose greatest memory is the night in 1990 when he finished school and did a famous pub crawl in his hometown of Newton Haven. Since Gary and his friends made it only to 9 of the 12 pubs, he feels that he will only find satisfaction by getting the group back together for another try. His friends are now all successful professionals in stark contrast to Gary’s endless childhood. The group includes Andy (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and they are also joined by Steven’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike).
The movie is good contrast of youthful ambitions to middle-age concessions. Amid the great comic moments are some really great moments of these men opening their hearts about their troubled lives. And if that wasn’t enough, there is the strange alien feeling of returning to one’s childhood hometown to find that everything seems different and no one remembers you. In the case of this movie, it’s because Newton Haven has been taken over by actually aliens who have replaced the populace with android duplicates.
The movie blends together the science fiction story perfectly with the comedic beats and heartfelt moments. It also has a great soundtrack of early 90s Madchester tunes, including the perfect deployment of Primal Scream’s “Loaded” in the denouement. If I have one criticism it may be the cast is too large and a friend group of 3 or 4 may have been more manageable than 5. But it’s a small criticism in highly-entertaining movie that may just be my favorite of the trilogy.