Book Review: Pirates of the Carribean by Jason Surrell


Author: Jason Surrell
Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2005)
Summary/Review:

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my all-time favorite Disney attractions so it was a lot of fun to get a behind the scenes perspective on the history of the ride.  Surrell, who was a Disney imagineer at the time of writing, digs into how the original Pirates came to be at Disneyland in the 1960s (one of the final projects with Walt’s direct involvement although he died a few months before it opened).  Then he explores how the ride was adapted and changed for Florida, Tokyo, and Paris.  The book also does a great runthrough of the ride experience in each location, with quotes from Imagineers who helped design them.  Finally, the book concludes with a surprisingly interesting story behind the making of the first movie adaptation Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. This coffee table sized book is lavishly illustrated with everything from artistic sketches to models to photos of the ride in operation.

Recommended books:

 

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Andhadhun (2018)


Title: Andhadhun
Release Date: 5 October 2018
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Production Company: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures | Matchbox Pictures
Summary/Review:

Andhadhun starts as a rom-com in which a blind pianist, Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana), begins a romance with Sophie (Radhika Apte) after a meet cute where she literally crashes into him with her scooter.  She gets him a gig playing piano at her father’s cafe where he meets the aging actor Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan).  Sinha hires Akash to play a private concert as a surprise for his young second wife Simi (Tabu) on their anniversary.  But when Akash arrives to perform he witnesses Simi and her lover Manohar (Manav Vij) hiding Sinha’s dead body.

You see (pun intended), Akash actually is only pretending to be blind because he thinks it improves his piano playing.  Now he’s caught in a quandary due to witnessing a crime he shouldn’t be able to see.  If all of this sounds spoilery, it’s really just the set-up for an overly long comic thriller with a new twist every few minutes.  I tend to not like the style of writing that relies too heavily on unexpected twists, so I found this movie to be more and more of a drag after a promising premise.  But if that’s your thing, you may enjoy this movie more than I did.

Rating: **1/2

Song of the Week: “Dry” by Kendra Morris


Kendra Morris – “Dry”

“Dry” is featured on New York-based soul singer Kendra Morris’ new album Nine Lives.

Song of the Week 2022

January

February

Movie Review: A Mighty Wind (2003)


Title: A Mighty Wind
Release Date: April 16, 2003
Director: Christopher Guest
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment
Summary/Review:

There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature.

In the third of Christopher Guest’s mockumentary comedies, the subject of the spoof is the 60s Folk Music Revival. At the time this movie came out, I was volunteering at folk festivals and a folk club and found it very true to life.  The death of a famed folk producer launches a reunion concert at New York’s Town Hall featuring three groups who gained fame in the 1960s:

  • The New Main Street Singers – an upbeat and hokey “neuftet” featuring Parker Posey and Jane Lynch.
  • The Folksmen – the trio of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (the same lineup as heavy metal band Spinal Tap)
  • Mitch & Mickey  – played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as a duo who were romantic partners in the 60s but then had a severe falling out affecting Mitch’s mental health.

Bob Balaban also has a great turn as Jonathan Steinbloom, the neurotic son of the late producer who micromanages the tribute show.  A lot of Guest regulars support the cast including John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Don Lake, and Ed Begley, Jr. If there’s a downside to this movie, it’s that the cast is so big that some of the characters don’t get enough screen time (I want more Parker Posey, dammit!).

The secret sauce of this movie is that the music is actually good (I even got the soundtrack back in the day).  What’s funny is the situations such as The New Main Street Singers cheezy cover of “Never Did No Wanderin'” or The Folksmen over-explaining the Spanish Civil War. Or that the Civil Rights anthem ends with an apparent fellatio entendre.  This movie also has a lot of heart compared to other mockumentaries, especially the moment when everyone is wondering if Mickey and Mitch will kiss is played for warmth instead of laughs.  This remains only second to Best in Show as my favorite Christopher Guest Comedy.

To do then now would be retro. To do then then was very now-tro, if you will.

Rating: ****

Favorite Albums of All Time: 220-211


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.


220

 

Artist: The Kevin Hanson Trio
Title: BullsEye  
Year: 2001
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Wish
  • Circus
  • Just Because
  • Make Sweet Love

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Kevin Hanson performed at Club Passim.  I feel like he opened for another artist I was more familiar with or was part of a multi-artists panel?  Anyway, I got the CD at the merch table.

Thoughts: Last time I ranked my all-time favorite albums back in 2009, I placed this album at #4.  I kind of feel like I was showing off by having a rather obscure album ranked so high.  Finding anything about the album online was a challenge, but eventually I found it streaming under the band name The Fractals. And … it’s still pretty darn good music that holds up well. So, check it out if you can.

Bonus Sounds: It was hard enough to find this album, much less anything else by the Kevin Hanson Trio.


219

Artist: Nina Simone
Title: Wild is the Wind
Year: 1996
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Love Your Lovin’ Ways
  • Four Women
  • Lilac Wine
  • Break Down and Let It All Out
  • EIther Way I Lose

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Counting down the Rolling Stone 500.

Thoughts: Nina Simone feels like a one-person review of popular music and still something uniquely of her own.  This album dips into Jazz, blues, folk, and R&B with themes varying from simple love songs to the multi-generational trials of Black women.  It’s really quite amazing!

Bonus Sounds: A good introduction to the life and art of Nina Simone is the 2015 documentary What Happened Miss Simone?


218

Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Title: Superfly
Year: 1972
Favorite Tracks:

  • Pusherman
  • Freddie’s Dead
  • Superfly

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another favorite from the Rolling Stone 500 project.

Thoughts: This soundtrack for a Blaxploitation film also works as a concept album dealing with the struggles of Black urbanites contending with racial discrimination, crime, and substance abuse. The music is also super funky!

Bonus Sounds: An early 1990s compilation called Pimps, Players, & Private Eyes was an introduction to me for  a lot of the funk and soul classics that scored Blaxploitation films in the 1970s.


217

Artist: Marvin Gaye
Title: Let’s Get It On
Year: 1973
Favorite Tracks:

  • Let’s Get It On
  • Come Get To This
  • You Sure Love To Ball
  • Just to Keep You Satisfied

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Early 2000s?  Maybe earlier?

Thoughts: Marvin Gaye puts the most courteous and persuasive request for sexual intercourse to music. The album explores the spiritual and healing powers of sexuality with the same consciousness of Gaye’s social justice songs on What’s Going On? The only flaw with this album is that it’s way too short.

Bonus Sounds: Marvin Gaye will be on this list again, but my first experience to hearing Gaye as a child was his brilliant 1982 sing “Sexual Healing.”


216

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Exile on Main Street
Year: 1972
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shake Your Hips
  • Tumbling Dice
  • Torn and Frayed
  • Loving Cup
  • Let It Loose
  • Shine A Light

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Sometime in the late 80s when I got a bunch of old Rolling Stones albums on cassette.

Thoughts: For most of their history, the Rolling Stones have been a great singles band. But from 1968-1972, the band released four consecutive albums that are masterpieces in their own right. The final of these four albums, Exile on Main Street, didn’t spawn any huge hits and really all the songs work best in the context of the album. Listening to this album feels like going to a roadside bar somewhere in rural America (in a magic place where rhythm and blues and country get equal billing) and listening to the local bands rock out. On a good night, and after a few drinks, you might even exclaim that this is the best band ever, even if no one outside your county has ever heard of them. Except, of course, this is music is from one of the most famous bands ever. I like some of the other Rolling Stones’ albums better musically, but Exile on Main Street is that works best as a cohesive entity.

Bonus Sounds: The Stones like to be known as a Blues band and in 2016 released an excellent collection of cover songs of Chicago Blues classics, Blue & Lonesome,  that makes a good companion to Exile.


215

Artist: Richard Shindell
Title: Courier
Year: 2002
Favorite Tracks:

  • Next Best Western
  • Reunion Hill
  • Fishing
  • A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress
  • On a Sea of Fleur de Lis
  • Are You Happy Now?
  • Transit
  • Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Got it when it came out in 2002.

Thoughts: Richard Shindell is one of my favorite singer-songwriters that I became acquainted with during my Folk Music Period (circa 1997-2005).  Including a live album on this list is kind of a sneaky way of getting past my “no greatest hit rule.”  But having seen Shindell perform several times at Club Passim and elsewhere, I believe him to be one of those artists who just sounds better in live performance.

Bonus Sounds:  I’ve lost track of Richard Shindell’s career in recent years but his early discography is excellent.  I’ve enjoyed all of these albums.

  • Sparrows Point (1992)
  • Blue Divide (1994)
  • Reunion Hill (1997)
  • Somewhere Near Paterson (2000)
  • Vuelta ( 2004)

214

Artist: Franz Ferdinand
Title: You Could Have It So Much Better
Year: 2005
Favorite Tracks:

  • Do You Want To
  • This Boy
  • Walk Away
  • Evil and a Heathen
  • You’re the Reason I’m Leaving
  • What You Meant

The First Time I Heard This Album …:I can’t remember who recommended this to me, circa 2005, but thank you anonymous person!

Thoughts: As I write these reflections on my favorite albums, I’m realizing that I went through a lot of periods of styles of music that I listened to.  One of these periods was my Punk/New Wave/Post-Punk period of roughly 2002-2008.  This meant I was largely listening to music made ~25 years earlier, but it also coincided with new music made for a Post-Punk Revival of which Franz Ferdinand were a prominent part.

Bonus Sounds: Other works of Franz Ferdinand didn’t resonate with me as much as this album.  Another great album from the Post-Punk Revival that I like but didn’t crack my 250 is The Strokes Is This It.


213

Artist: U2
Title: The Joshua Tree
Year: 1987
Favorite Tracks:

  • Where the Streets Have No Name
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • With or Without You
  • Red Hill Mining Town
  • One Tree Hill

The First Time I Heard This Album …: My sister got the cassette right after it came out.

Thoughts: I was never a U2 superfan but I’ve usually liked their music well enough. U2 began to become known in the U.S. in the mid-80s, and among the Irish-American community there was a special pride and curiosity about a rock band from Dublin. My Dad, of course, disliked his copy of War someone gave him because it sounding nothing like Irish trad. The Joshua Tree launched U2 into the level of super-stardom in the U.S. I remember that the album and “With or Without You” were released in March 1987, and thus a lot of the promotion was tied to St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, U2 drew their influence for this album from a mythical America so it’s not St. Patrick’s Day content, at least by the standards of someone like my Dad.

Bonus Sounds: There is more U2 to come in this list, but I gave strong consideration to several of their pre-Joshua Tree albums.

  • Boy (1980)
  • War (1983)
  • Under a Blood Red Sky (1983)
  • The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

212

Artist: Fiona Apple
Title: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Year: 2020
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shameika
  • Relay
  • Ladies
  • Cosmonauts
  • For Her

The First Time I Heard This Album …: June 2020

Thoughts: I’ve come to associate this album with the Stay at Home period of the early pandemic.  It seems suitable since musically and thematically it’s all about catharsis and release.

Bonus Sounds: Fiona Apple first made waves way back in the 90s when she showed that someone who is very petite could sing with a really big voice on “Criminal.”


211

Artist: Run the Jewels
Title: RTJ4
Year: 2020
Favorite Tracks:

  • ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier)
  • walking in the snow
  • JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams and Zach de la Rocha)
  • a few words for the firing squad (radiation)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: June 2020

Thoughts: Another album from the hell year of 2020 that I associate with the summer of rage in response to the murder of George Floyd.  The album was obviously not created in response to Floyd’s murder but reflects the sad repetition of the devaluation of Black lives.  That being said, this album also has moments celebrating Black joy.

Bonus Sounds: Run the Jewels previous album Run the Jewels 3 was also under consideration for this list.


 

Movie Review: The Brink’s Job


Title: The Brink’s Job
Release Date: December 8, 1978
Director: William Friedkin
Production Company: Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for some time because it’s set in Boston and based on the true-life “Crime of the Century” Brink’s Robbery in 1950.  The movie is directed by William Friedkin, shortly after his back-to-back hits with The French Connection and The Exorcist. I’d say The Brink’s Job is stylistically different for Friedkin, however since these are the only three Friedkin movies I’ve watched I can’t make that assertion.  What I do know is that for a cantankerous guy, this was a rare occasion when Friedkin attempted to make a comedy.  While there are some funny aspects to the Brink’s Robbery, the films attempt to make the robbers a bumbling gang when they really weren’t doesn’t quite work.

Where this film does work is a period piece.  I’m particularly impressed by the location shooting in Boston that makes the city in 1978 look like the city in the 1940s and 1950s.  The cast is also strong, lead by Peter Falk as the lockpick Tony Pino.  Peter Boyle plays the shady fence Joe McGinnis and Warren Oates is great as the unstable Specs O’Keefe (although for some reason he’s never wearing the glasses the real life figure was known for).  Allen Garfield and Paul Sorvino fill out the gang.

I’d say that everything up to the heist (about 3/4’s of the film) is really well done with some great moments of real tension.  After the robbery, the film blows through about 6 years of loose threads without any real narrative focus, until the gang is finally rounded up days before the statute of limitations expired.  The finale is good, though.

There are a lot of books about the Brinks Robbery, and one that I enjoyed was The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow.

Rating:

Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward


Author: Catriona Ward
Title: The Last House on Needless Street
Narrator: Christopher Ragland
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio, 2021
Summary/Review:

The Last House on Needless Street is a strange and unsettling horror/mystery where it’s clear that something is very wrong, but one doesn’t know what it is. The story is told from the point of view of four different characters:

  • Ted Bannerman is a man who lives in a ramshackle house with boarded up windows, is haunted by the memory of his authoritarian mother, and has frequent blackouts.
  • His teenage daughter Lauren visits from time to time, but Ted doesn’t allow her to go out of the house, and its unclear where she goes when she’s not at Ted’s.
  • Ted’s pet cat Olivia (yes, part of this book is narrated by a cat) who is deeply religious and, well, catty.
  • Dee, a woman who moves in next door.  Her little sister was abducted a decade earlier and she’s been looking for her ever since.  The police searched Ted’s house at the time of the crime but have since cleared him.  Nevertheless, Dee suspects Ted to be the kidnapper.

The book slowly unravels the mysteries in a story where no one is who they appear to be.  I have to admit that I got frustrated in the early going and had to look online for plot summaries to get through it (which are hard to find since no one wants to spoil the book).  But I did find that later parts of the book to be satisfying and it has a more positive, upbeat ending than I imagined was possible for a book like this.

Recommended books:
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)


Title: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Release Date: 31 March 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Production Company: Defender Films | Piki Films | Curious | New Zealand Film Commission
Summary/Review:

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a 12-year-old orphan of Māori descent who the child welfare officer Paula Hall (Rachel House) refers to as “a bad egg.” He’s placed in a home on a remote farm with the warm and loving foster mother Bella Faulkner (Rima Te Wiata) and her laconic husband Hec (Sam Neill, who I never realized was from New Zealand).  When Bella suddenly dies, Ricky and Hec shattered and uncertain for their future. Ricky wants to stay with Hec, but Hec wants no part of parenting. Through a series of events I won’t spoil, they end up on the run from the government in the bush, becoming celebrity outlaws in the process.

This film has a lot of heart, and Dennison and Neill are terrific in their acting of two men needing to break through their defensive shells to bond.  It also terrifically funny with a lot of quirky humor.  The landscapes are quite beautiful too, and reminiscent of the New Zealand scenery scene in Lord of the Rings (something that Ricky alludes to).  I was late Taika Waititi’s movies, but I think I’m going to have to watch all of them going forward.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Heterosexuality by Shamir


Album: Heterosexuality
Artist: Shamir
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Label: Antifragile Music
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gay Agenda
  • Cisgender
  • Cold Brew
  • Nuclear

Thoughts:

The latest album from Shamir has an industrial sound that underscores the frustrations and rage of queer people suffering continuous trauma and indignities.  Much like last week’s artist Mitski, Shamir has shrunk back from the spotlight of fame. Lyrically the songs deal with hopelessness and harsh introspection.  Above all this is Shamir’s powerful voice which asserts his refusal to conform to expectations.

Rating: ***1/2

Related post: Album Review: Revelations by Shamir 

Album of the Week 2022

January

February

Song of the Week: “On My Way” by A La Una (feat. Kimmortal)


A La Una – “On My Way” (feat. Kimmortal)

Vancouver-based Kimmortal raps over a bombastic soundscape provided by the Toronto duo A La Una (formerly DATU), who create modern Filipino music with electronic sounds.

Song of the Week 2022

January

February