Comics Review: Star Wars (2020- )


Title:  The Destiny Path
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: November 10, 2020
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Jesús Saiz
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

Star Wars comics picks up from the previous run with stories set after The Empire Strikes Back. If you always assumed that Boba Fett immediately delivered Han Solo frozen in carbonite to Jabba the Hutt, you will also surprised that there were some challenges on his journey.  Also, Luke, Leia, and Lando return to Cloud City (under Imperial control), each looking for something. I kind of felt that unlike the earlier comics series where the stories seemed to be probable adventures of our favorite Rebels between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, that this is more of an attempt to retcon Star Wars.  But we shall see where it goes next.


Title:  Operation Starlight
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: April 6, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas, Jan Bazaldua
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

The Rebel Alliance is scattered across the galaxy and can’t communicate without being discovered by the Empire.  The solution may be found in an ancient droid and Lando’s henchman Lobot!  The series also introduces and interesting new antagonist in Imperial Commander Ellian Zahra, although I suppose her days are numbered since she never appears in Return of the Jedi. This is another good but not great Star Wars comics collection.


 

Title:  War of the Bounty Hunters
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: December 28, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas,
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

This Star Wars story kind of feels like something I would’ve come up with my Kenner action figures as a kid.  What if frozen Han Solo is stolen and is involved a big game of keepaway among Boba Fett, the Rebel Alliance, the Hutts, Qi’ra and the Crimson Dawn, and the Imperials lead by Darth Vader himself.  It’s the ultimate ludicrous crossover story, but kind of fun in a way.

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3


Title: Spider-Man 3
Release Date: May 4, 2007
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Like many blockbuster franchises, Spider-Man 3 reaches the point where they need to raise the stakes while neglecting to make a good movie.  Thus we get a movie with three villains.  First, Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) finally takes on the mantle of his late father and becomes Goblin, Jr., deadset on gaining revenge on Spider-Man.  Next, there’s an alien symbiote that first infects Peter’s Spider-Man suit giving him both increased powers and increased assholery. Later the symbiote attaches itself to Peter’s photographer rival from The Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who becomes Venom.  Finally, an escaped convict with a dark connection to Peter, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) falls into a particle accelerator which turns him into Sandman.

While Peter enjoys a newfound popularity at Spider-Man, his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) struggles personally and professionally.  This leads to tension in their relationship, something that’s exacerbated by the symbiote. The movie also features Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a romantic alternative for Peter Parker. There’s so much going in this movie that it feels more like a clip show of a Spider-Man tv show than a cohesive story in its own right.

There are some good parts in this movie.  I especially like the effects of Marko turning into Sandman.  But overall it is meh, and a sad end to the Raimi/Maguire era of Spider-Man.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)


Title: Spider-Man 2
Release Date: June 30, 2004
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

The second installment in superhero franchises tends to be better because they’ve gotten past all the origin story and are able to focus on more of a straightforward story while ratcheting up the stakes.  This is the case with Spider-Man 2 which I think is the best of the trilogy. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finding that his crime-fighting activity is getting in the way of his college studies, his job, and his struggling relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry (James Franco). Soon he finds himself beginning to lose his spider-powers at inopportune times.  While not explicitly stated, it ends up being a good superhero depiction of someone dealing with depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile another scientist at Oscorp, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), experiments on himself with disastrous results. Four mechanical tentacles are embedded in his body take control of him and becomes the mad Doctor Octopus.  Doc Oc is probably one of the best Spider-Man villains and Molina portrays his Jeckyl/Hyde personality well.  There are also some great action sequences including a fight on an elevated train hurtling through the city.

On the downside there is not much for Mary Jane to do besides scream a lot.  There is so much screaming in this film, and lot of sequences (like a failed surgery on Doc Oc) are filmed like a horror movie, perhaps betraying Raimi’s past work on the Evil Dead series. Overall though, this is a solid superhero movie with good pacing and a straightforward plot.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man (2002)


TitleSpider-Man
Release Date: May 3, 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Despite having become something of a Marvel Cinematic Universe completionist, it was not that long ago that I was someone who was “not interested in all those superhero movies.”  The turning point was watching The Avengers with my kids in 2015. Anyhow, since Spider-Man: No Way Home featured enjoyable performances by earlier actors who played Spider-Man, I figured it was worth checking out the older films.

This iteration of Spider-Man features the origin story that’s familiar even if you haven’t read any of the comics. On a school trip to the Oscorp labs, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-modified spider giving him spider-like abilities.  Maguire’s Peter is perhaps overloaded with nerdy signifiers, but I also appreciate that he can be kind of a selfish jerk.  It feels realistic to a teenager who suddenly has “great power” and the responsibility that goes with it.

The villain in this film is scientist/businessman Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp, whose experiment with a performance-enhancing chemical drives him insane.  He turns into the giggling Green Goblin riding a hoverboard.  In one of the many coincidences of this movie, Peter is best friends with Osborne’s son Harry (James Franco).  Peter and Harry are also vying for the attention of their classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

Overall this is an entertaining film with a good balance of action, character development, and heart.  I felt Maguire and Dafoe were the standouts, but the other actors aren’t given much to do.  This is especially true for Dunst whose Mary Jane just seems to need to be rescued over and over in way that was old-fashioned even in 2002.  Although probably true to their depictions in the comics, Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) seem comically way too old.  J. K. Simmons is great though as the comically obnoxious and corrupt newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Smoke Signals (1998)


Title: Smoke Signals
Release Date: July 3, 1998
Director: Chris Eyre
Production Company: ShadowCatcher Entertainment | Welb Film Pursuits Ltd.
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’ve been wanting to watch for a long time and I’m glad that I finally did because it’s brilliant.  Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams) are Coeur d’Alene people living on a reservation in Idaho, both of whom were saved from a house fire when they were infants.  Thomas is nerdy and embraces the mystical aspects of his heritage such as constantly telling stories.  Victor is quieter and more athletic and harbors a rage just below the surface.

When Victor’s estranged father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), dies in Arizona, his neighbor/companion Suzy Song (Irene Bedard) invites him to collect Arnold’s ashes and belongings. Thomas is eager to accompany Victor on the journey because Arnold saved him from the fire, but Victor is more ambivalent about his father because he abandoned him when he was 12.  Their road trip story is seamlessly intercut with flashbacks to Victor (Cody Lightning) and Thomas (Simon Baker) as children filling in the details of their very different experiences growing up.

Smoke Signals has a good bit of comedy, undercutting Native American stereotypes with some self-deprecating humor about reservation life.  But it also deals with serious issues such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, and poverty as well reconciling troubled relationships with families.  It’s really a powerful movie and I only wish I had watched it for the first time sooner.

Rating: *****

Album of the Week: Age of Apathy by Aoife O’Donovan


Album: Age of Apathy
Artist: Aoife O’Donovan
Release Date: January 21, 2022
Label: Yep Roc Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • Sister Starling
  • Phoenix
  • Age of Apathy

Thoughts:

Aoife O’Donovan is an artist with origins in the Boston area, and rose to fame as member of the string band Crooked Still (I have the not so impressive bragging rights of having attended the band’s first gig at Club Passim).  As a solo artist, O’Donovan is more of a singer/songwriter in the folk pop tradition.  Other reviews of this album compare her to Joni Mitchell, which I guess is fair, but not something that I noticed on my own.  O’Donovan has a powerful voice and does amazing things with it while singing deeply literate lyrics. A few songs stand out (the opener “Sister Starling” and the title track, most significantly) but this is definitely one of those albums listening to in its entirety.

Rating: ***1/2

Song of the Week: “Kurunba” by Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee


Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee – “Kurunba”

For the first single from her upcoming debut album BAMANAN, Mali’s Rokia Koné collaborates with Irish producer/remixer Jacknife Lee.  While musically exuberant and danceable, “Kurunba” deals with serious issues of women’s rights in patriarchal societies where women passed the age of child-rearing face exclusion. Koné previously performed with the supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique which focused on gender equality.

Movie Review: The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)


Title: The Flowers of St. Francis
Release Date: 14 December 1950
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Production Company: Joseph Burstyn Inc.
Summary/Review: I saw this movie at Brattle Theater many years ago in a tribute to Roberto Rossellini (it was preceded by Isabella Rossellini and Guy Maddin’s odd tribute film My Dad is 100 Years Old).  It was my first Rossellini movie and probably my first Italian neorealist movie too.  I remember being touched by the depiction of the simple faith of Francis of Assisi and his followers in medieval Italy.

The movie features actual Franciscan brothers playing the roles instead of professional actors.  It’s broken up into several chapters or vignettes each with a different moral lesson.  This movie is less dogmatically religious as some viewers may fear, but instead focuses on the whimsy of Francis who was known as “God’s Jester.”  It’s a beautifully filmed and touching movie that I think I like even more upon revisiting.
Rating: ****1/2

Favorite Albums of All Time: 240-231


Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

240

Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Title: Straight Outta Lynwood
Year: 2006
Favorite Tracks:

  • White & Nerdy
  • Canadian Idiot
  • Polkarama!
  • Confessions Part III
  • Trapped in the Drive-Thru
  • Don’t Download This Song

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Surprisingly not until 2017 when I did Music Discovery for Weird Al.

Thoughts: Weird Al has persisted as one of the great song parodists for five decades by always keeping with music of the time and by being a talented musician.  And he has a quirky sense of humor that transcends generations. I had several Weird Al albums under consideration for this list and determined that I should widdle it down to just one.  It came to the conclusion that Straight Outta Lynwood was Yankovic’s most perfect album with no real dead spots, which was surprising since it wasn’t one I listened to when it first came out.  A bit of trivia I learned recently that I’ll share with anyone else who has limited knowledge of Southern California geography: Lynwood is right next to Compton.

Bonus Sounds:

  • “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D (1984) was my first of Al’s albums and one I played to death while driving my mother and sister crazy. It includes the classic Michael Jackson parody “Eat It” but also some great originals like “Buy Me a Condo” in which a reggae man goes yuppie.
  • Off the Deep End (1992) was a hit of my college years with Al going grunge on “Smells Like Nirvana.” I, however, stayed around for Al’s original take on sensitive, acoustic love songs ” You Don’t Love Me Anymore.”
  • Mandatory Fun (2014) came out big with eight music videos released in eight days upon release.  After having fallen away from Weird Al and being reunited with him twice before, I knew that I was truly a Weird Al fan for life.  Mandatory Fun includes up to the minute parodies like “Tacky” and “Word Crimes” that may have stood the test of time better than the originals.
  • If you’ve read this far about Weird Al, check out my reviews of his cult movie UHF and seeing him in concert at the Apollo Theater in 2018.

239

Artist: Taylor Swift
TitleRed
Year: Original recording (2012), Taylor’s Version (2021)
Favorite Tracks:

  • State of Grace
  • I Knew You Were Trouble
  • All Too Well
  • 22
  • We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  • Nothing’s New

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Listening to Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums last year.

Thoughts: I don’t think a year or so I would have considered that Taylor Swift would have an album on my all-time favorite album list.  But the more I’ve heard of Swift’s music the more I’ve come to appreciate her songwriting and artistry. I can honestly understand the excitement of this album’s rerecorded release last fall.

Bonus Sounds: The only other Swift album I’ve listened to completely is 1989, which contains some of her biggest hits like “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space.”  I expect there will be more Taylor Swift in my future.


238

Artist: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
Title: Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham 
Year: 1991
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Know a Guy Named Larry
  • Aunt’s Invasion
  • In My Room
  • Who Painted Whistler’s Mother
  • Siesta Cinema

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I got this album when I was a Freshman in college in 1991.

Thoughts: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were a band from Toronto active in the early 1990s who played instrumental music in what is often described as a surf music style. While the songs have no lyrics, the amusing titles are incredibly evocative.  Just goes to show you that the early 90s was not all about Grunge.  I used to play this while I was studying in college, so I credit my good grades to this band of esoteric Canadians.

Bonus Sounds: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are most famous for their tune “Having an Average Weekend” which was used as the theme song for The Kids in the Hall. A lot of the tracks on Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham appear as interstitial music on the show as well.


237

 

Artist: Christy Moore
Title: Voyage
Year: 1989
Favorite Tracks:

  • Mystic Lipstick
  • The Voyage
  • The Deportees Club
  • Missing You
  • Musha, God Help Her

The First Time I Heard This Album …: A co-worker who also appreciated Irish folk music gave me two albums by Christy Moore as a birthday gift in the mid-oughts.

Thoughts: Christy Moore is known for traditional Irish music and folk music, dating back to the 1960s with the band Planxty.  This album is unusual in that it is mostly interpretations of pop songs by other artists with electronic instrumentation supplementing the more traditional instruments.  This could sound cheezy in a very 80s way but here it works atmospherically supporting Moore’s voice.  What is cheezy, in a good way, is the title track which is the perfect metaphor for a marriage.  I also love the cover of Elvis Costello’s “The Deportees Club.”  Costello is a guest artist on the album as well as Sinead O’Connor and Mary Black.

Bonus Sounds: There’s another Christy Moore album coming up in this list, but beyond that I’ve only owned the compilation The Christy Moore Collection 1981–1991 and the concert recording Live at the Point.  Probably should dive into the Planxty and Moving Hearts stuff in the future.


236

Artist: Leonard Cohen
Title: You Want It Darker
Year: 2016
Favorite Tracks:

  • You Want It Darker
  • Treaty
  • Leaving the Table
  • Steer Your Way

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I listened to and reviewed You Want It Darker right around the time of its release in October 2016.

Thoughts: I want to say that Leonard Cohen went out on a high note, but his voice is nevermore earth-shakingly deep as it sounds here.  You Want It Darker was released just 17 days before Cohen died on November 7, 2016 and it shows that he was the master of his art right up to his final days.

Bonus Sounds: You really can’t go wrong with Leonard Cohen, an artist who kept reinventing himself over 6 decades. I have another Cohen album coming up in this list but there are several more that I could’ve added, including:

  • Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
  • I’m Your Man (1988)
  • The Future (1992)

I’d also recommend checking out his live recordings. I had the privilege to see Leonard Cohen in concert and he was a consummate professional in performance.


235

Artist: The Benders
TitleMountain Radio
Year: 2003
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Great Tear of Josie and Ed
  • The Road Home
  • Double Yellow
  • Cheers to the First Snow
  • Shovel Full of Dreams
  • Liquor Is Your Best Friend

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Probably after I bought the album at a Club Passim concert.

Thoughts: This is the first of a couple of albums on the list by the Somerville bluegrass boys.  They weren’t all boys and they weren’t all from Somerville but that’s where they seemed to congregate.  Anyhow, there were a number of bands with fluid lineups in the late 90s/early 00s that I followed that played new takes on old-time music and bluegrass and most of them seemed to involve Sean Staples. The Benders seems to be a common name for bands and thus hard to locate the right one in a search engine but Mountain Radio is on Spotify should you wish to check it out.

Bonus Sounds: This Boston-area folk music scene started a kind of collective that played tunes from the American songbook around the table in the style of an Irish pub session, which was appropriately called Session Americana and they still perform today.


234

Artist: Young Fathers
Title: Cocoa Sugar
Year: 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fee Fi
  • In My View
  • Turn
  • Tremelo
  • Wow
  • Wire
  • Toy

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I listened to and reviewed this album shortly after its release in March 2018.

Thoughts: The Scottish trio Young Fathers are one of the most delightfully genre-undefinable bands of the past decades. The sound is a mix of rap, electronic music, soul, and psychedelia.  Cocoa Sugar is the band’s third and most recent album.  If they continue their upward swing, their next album should be quite good.

Bonus Sounds: I’ve written a lot about Young Fathers over the years on this blog.  Stand out songs from earlier in their catalog include “Low” (2014) and “Shame” (2015).


233

Artist: X-Ray Spex
Title: Germfree Adolescents
Year: 1978
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Warrior in Woolworths”
  • “Let’s Submerge”
  • “I Can’t Do Anything”
  • “Identity”
  • “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo”

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another late in life discovery of the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums project.

Thoughts: Poly Styrene cheerfully embraces the slacker ethos over raging guitars and soaring saxes.  This was the only X-Ray Spex album, meaning that there’s nothing out there that sounds like this.

Bonus Sounds: A documentary released last year, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, will be playing at a theater near me soon, so I hope to see it and post a review for you.


232

Artist: Wire
Title: Pink Flag
Year: 1977
Favorite Tracks:

  • Three Girl Rhumba
  • Ex Lion Tamer
  • Pink Flag
  • 106 Beats
  • Mannequin

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another album revealed to me the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums project.

Thoughts: The debut album from Wire came out during the heyday of punk, but it seems to fit in perfectly with the alternative rock 90s.  Perhaps that’s why Wire had such a long career.

 


231

Artist: The Kinks
Title: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Year: 1969
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Village Green Preservation Society
  • Picture Book
  • Big Sky
  • Sitting by the Riverside
  • Village Green
  • Phenomenal Cat
  • All of My Friends Were There

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I’ve loved the title track for a long time but I only listened to the album in its entirety last year.

Thoughts: This collection of baroque pop and folk rock tunes offers a paean to the pastoral life of the countryside, something that even a thoroughly urban person like me can appreciate.

Bonus Sounds: One of these days I’m going to have to do a Music Discovery and listen to all of The Kinks’ albums in order.  But my first experience with The Kinks goes all the way back to 1982 with the song “Come Dancing” which I think has some of the same nostalgic longing for a simpler time as this album.

Movie Review: Lady Macbeth (2016)


Title: Lady Macbeth
Release Date: 28 April 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Production Company: Sixty-Six Pictures
Summary/Review:

I basically chose to watch this movie because I’ve become obsessed with the acting of Florence Pugh.  And Pugh’s acting is the main reason that this movie is worth watching at all. Despite the title, this movie has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, and in fact is based on a 19th-century Russian novella.  The film is set in the North East of England in the 1860s where Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with a cruel older man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton).

Not permitted to leave the house, Katherine feels trapped.  She finally finds liberation when her husband and father-in-law both go away, and she begins a fling with a servant, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).  After that, Katherine takes matters into her own hands and things get … messy (there’s the reason why the movie is called Lady Macbeth).  Like I said, Pugh’s performance, is great but this movie feels like half-a-dozen indie movies I saw back in the 1990s but doesn’t have anything new to say.  There are several Black supporting characters and the movie may be saying something about Katherine’s privilege as a white woman, but I think the actual intent of this movie is to feel compassion for Katherine.  Which I don’t.

Rating: **1/2